The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

1846 Strategy by People Smarter than Tao

I have recently taken to playing 1846 online (at board18). I learned 1830 in the 90s by the traditional method: getting repeatedly stomped until I managed to hold my own and — eventually — start competing then winning. I’ve had an OK record in 1846 in games with my local group, but in this online group I am clearly the weak player at the table. (We play on Board18). So I decided to maybe use the newer method of “maybe just learn without losing as much by reading.”

After perusing the strategy articles on BGG I found that most of what was there seemed … merely OK. Well, since I had an online discussion group with people who have play counts in the hundreds, I thought — “Why not just ask them?” So, I lobbed up questions and gathered responses.

A PBEM Game in progress on Board 18 — and some doodling with extra tracks and tokens.

The below has been edited for clarity (and sometimes to turn several fragments into a single sentence or paragraph). So, this should be considered to be paraphrased, instead of exact quotes (though they often are). Occasionally I have re-ordered some comments that had others interspersed because of multiple people typing at once, and removed some examples to specific games, jokes, and ramblings. Mistakes should assumed to be mine (as I also had to untangle a few threads going at the same time).

Also, several people would agree via emoji, so I will just put “(Agreement)” after some statements to indicate these got a thumbs up or two from other participants.

I thank all the participants involved. (Some of whom I do not quote here).

The Participants (I decided to go with first names only, not because I’m trying to hide the full names — most of my readers can identify everyone — but because I don’t put my own name on this blog and it felt odd to do so for other people):

  • Dan did not provide a count of 18xx
  • Discoking7 has around 60 plays of 1846 with approximately 600 plays across 18xx.
  • Eric is a noted ambassador for 1846, posting rules videos, answering questions, and generally exposing the game to the wider community for over a decade. He has played 290 times (at the time this bio was provided) and roughly the same number of 18xx games other than 1846.
  • Jeroen has played 1846 roughly fifty times, and many other 18xx titles.
  • Joe H has played 1846 282 times, and other titles 185 times.
  • Joe R has played 1846 roughly 250 times, and many other titles.
  • Mike has played 1846 roughly 30 times, and the other 18xx titles (combined) slightly less.

Tao — One of my general biases (or learned strategies) from 1830 is to start low, run for a good P/E ratio, loot, then start a second company. I’ve witnessed several people using what I would think of as an “Endgame” strategy right away in 1846, even from OR1. This seems viable. For example, taking the Big 4 and selling it in OR1.1 is a loss, but the speed it gives your company is huge. Some of this is clearly going to be the privates you have access to, but What are your thoughts about the “fast buck” vs “aim for early E-W run” and early PE vs capitalization costs…..

Dan — Running an early company for money and then dumping it for a second company can be viable, with the big caveat that if everyone is running a company early (almost always the case) there are only two extra companies, so you have to make sure you can start one. You have limited control over the priority deal – it’s more viable in a three player game.

Tao — Yes, that is a concern, and one that is structural into the game. Being familiar with Tom (and having recently watched the interview with Tom about 1846 on Wheel Tapping) the company limit and cert limits are clearly designed to make this a tipping point of the game. But, to move from theory to practice — if you somehow magically knew you could get a second company, where would fast buck as a strategy be as compared to others?

Mike — I’ve increasingly gotten the sense that opening a second company in 1846 is a last resort – to be taken by players who are unable to buy up the great paying shares, or who need to help their first company with trains or track to make it good. The companies that open early tend to have the best token infrastructure for the endgame and the late-starting companies are rarely able to catch up.

Dan — I think ‘last resort’ is a little strong, but I agree that the classic way to lose 1846 is to start a second company too early, while there are decent shares to be bought.

Joe R — FWIW, I try to make money early. I do not equate that with “looting the company”, since I assume I will be running the same company for ever. But running well in the beginning means I can invest and invest better, which is the most important thing in 1846.

Tao — Perhaps looting is too strong, since in 1846 you can only sell for face value. It will rarely be terrible for a company to buy out privates, not like selling the Cambden & Amboy for $320. (Note — In 1830 you can sell privates for up to 2x face value).

Dan — yes, another classic way to lose is not buying enough shares early.

Joe H — Or, put another way – getting behind in the share race.

Joe H — The best way to earn money is with a bunch of shares of a company with an earning boost – Meat Packing, Steamboat, or a quick E-W run. The best way to make back your investment in privates is by buying privates with a good P/E ratio. The best way to set up for the mid-game is starting at a high stock price, so that you can get two green trains.

Joe R — When I start a company in the first round, I think of all the things Joe said. And usually I am predicting how many shares I can end up with at the end of Stock Round (SR) 2. Not just SR1. It is not difficult to plan that far ahead.

Dan — Having enough cash going into SR2 is key. (Agreement)

Joe H — Or, put another way, having enough shares leaving SR2. I looked through 18 completed games. The net position of the winner, at the end of Stock Round 2, was a total of 1 more share than the other players. The best position for the winner was +3, the worst was -4.

Tao — You mean that someone was four shares behind the “leader” (of most shares) and won? Presumably that was a fast buck player who went bankrupt (or otherwise took a major hit).

Joe H — Oh, yes – and how are you going to convince others not to buy your stock.

Discoking7— I always play 1846 with the endgame in mind. My decisions are weighted towards the long-term (with the already mentioned caveat of keeping an eye on the share count). This is because of my biased preference for playing this way, but it is also a very successful approach in 1846. I have not seen a looting strategy come to much in this game (you’ve already gotten the details of how such maneuvers are curbed a bit by the rules). To me, the competition in 1846 is on the board and in company financing. Attacks come in tile/tokens and by investing early in other companies.

Eric  — First, I focus on what my stock holdings will look like at the end of SR2. If I have more/less money in privates, I will be able to put less/more money into the corporation in SR1, but after buying in the privates, I’ll have more/less to spend in SR2. So it’s the net of all that that matters.

Second, I’d “prefer” to run only 1 corporation. I did a study at one point to compare the results of 2-presidency players with those of 1-presidency players. In 3- and 4-player games, the 1- and 2- presidency players win about equal number of games. In 5 player games, the winner almost always has only 1 presidency.

Third, our opponents’ ability to and interest in cross-buying into your corporation makes a big difference. One drawback to starting low is people snapping up cheap shares. Sometimes you have to respond to that by dumping the corporation in SR3 (typically.) If you decide after SR2 that this will be your plan, you pay out full in OR2.1 and 2.2 and let someone else worry about the permanent train.

Fourth, The main reasons to launch a second corporation: a) Provide capital to help your lead corporation buy a permanent train (or a second one.) b) Get extra track-laying power to reach an E/W or route around a token-ed out city. c) Spam tokens around to ruin other people’s routes. d) There’s nothing left to buy in the early corporations. In recent months I’ve launched my first corporation as low as 50 and as high as 112. I’ve had success with both approaches. Tom (Lehmann) has explicitly said he wants the choice of starting price to be non-obvious (unlike 1830, where you always start your first company low.) Check the Long View podcast episode with Tom Lehmann

Jeroen — Another obvious question is where is your second permanent train coming from; and the power of half-pays (especially when double-jumping: “Joe’s rule”).

(Joe’s rule is — If you can pay out half your dividends and still double jump your stock value, do it — unless your company no longer needs money).

A five player game, OR 3.2

Tao — For some reason 1846 reminds me of Go. In particular, the initial draft has far reaching consequences that are not always obvious. I am actually wondering if this may be a barrier for entry. In an auction, you can see what everyone is bidding and get an idea after a game or two. But a draft may still be bewildering to new players — even if they can’t shoot themselves in the foot as easily, that’s different from playing well. The only real advice I see is “don’t spend too much” but clearly you can spend $200 and do fine. What thoughts do you have on the draft? What is ‘too much?’

Eric — I really don’t stress over the draft. I don’t see a way to ruin your chances in the draft other than by overspending. And note that it is impossible to spend more than $380 in the draft, even with everyone colluding and playing “double dummy”. But drafting MS, Big 4, Mail, and C&WI for $380 would indeed be ruinous. I don’t think $200 is a hard spending limit; I’ve seen people spend as much as $260 or $280 and do okay. But when I’m giving advice to new players, I warn them against spending more than $200 because it takes skill to manage those situations in which you spend a lot on privates. I will admit you can get good combinations in the draft. I am fond of both the (MS, Steamboat) and the (C&WI, Meat Packing) pairs.

Joe R — FWIW, people often get hung up on some of the privates because they think it dictates what they should do. On the other hand, I will take, e.g., the Michigan Central without ever planning on going to Michigan.

Dan — Yes, the $40/15 privates should certainly not drive strategy. I think the key for beginners in the draft plus SR1 plus planning OR 1.1-2 is “how do I enter SR2 with a decent amount of cash?” (There are) lots of ways to do that but also lots of ways to not do it, e.g. buy one cheap private and then open high, buy a bunch of privates and then don’t capitalize your company enough to buy them, etc.

Tao — The player with the priority has the benefit of knowing he can open whichever company he wants. How do you react as player 4(ish) in the draft, knowing that company choice will be limited? Do you aim for teleporters, independents, huge cash?

Mike  — When I’m in the last seat for SR1, thus the first pick, I prioritize making a pick that either teleports whatever company I get to where the action is (C&WI or MS) or something that is not bound up to tightly on the map (noting that MC and O&I are tied to specific hexes but they provide just good ROI for low cost that I’d happy to take either of them even without the track abilities). That means I’m probably avoiding Meat Packing and Steamboat in that seat, unless they are still in the pack for my 2nd pick

Joe R — Suppose meat and steam boat are in the game and I can choose meat as 4th player in a 4-player game. Then I am happy if I get Big 4, MS, or CWI as my second pick. There is a good chance I will, because one of the three players may pick steamboat, leaving the other three. In addition, for companies, will I be able to get GT or PRR sitting fourth? Those are not prime choices, so the answer may be yes. Either of those can be made to work with meat. Again, I think of all this as I am choosing the first private. FWIW, I would rather go last than first. Company choice is limited, but I have more knowledge as to what to par and what others will likely do.

Dan — I agree that sitting in a later seat has its benefits. For example, in [ a recent game] I would have much preferred to be later so I could see more of the par values. I felt I had to open fairly low sitting in second seat; had I been later I would have opened higher…

Joe H — To run counter to Mike, somewhat – I think Meat Packing and Steamboat are fine choices; Steamboat + B&O is sufficient unto itself to run reasonably, and Meat Packing works well enough with PRR or IC or even GT that I assume some useful company will come my way. (The people in this chat) IMHO, seriously undervalues the Mail Contract. Knowing that, I have intentionally run plans based upon expecting to see the Mail the second or third time around.

Eric — I have put Steamboat in Toledo with NYC or Erie and gotten +20 on three trains. I think of Steamboat as a flexible (and capital friendly) option.

Tao — Its funny that you mention GT as weak, because in my early plays we found the GT very good (and BGG had several forums echoing that), mainly because its so obvious and doesn’t require any thing that goes against 1830 instinct. Just run quickly for money, then go EW in one of the shorter routes. Now that I’m playing more it does appear fragile, but still a reasonable choice.

Eric — GT is like the military strategy in Race For the Galaxy. (Note by Tao — Also designed by Tom Lehmann). It’s obvious and easy to run, so in beginner games it often dominates. Other positions require more expertise to run well. GT suffers from having only 3 tokens. If it can get one special token (ideally C&WI or MS, but even Big 4 gives a base from which to run southern routes,) it’s much better. GT is prone to running well early, having its shares bought out, limping its way to a 5T, and running for revenue in the mid-30s at the end (plus possibly the Mail bonus.)

Eric — Back to the draft. The two private companies I never draft the first time around are the Big 4 and the Mail. It’s not that I don’t like them; it’s rather that they cost a lot of money and thus limit my options so early. You might wonder why this doesn’t apply to the Michigan Southern. The MS is even more expensive, but its station in Detroit and substantial treasury will help you carry out a low capital strategy. Whereas the Big 4 is much less of a help, and the Mail Contract is something that (IMO) doesn’t go well with a low capital strategy. It wants a corporation that’s into green trains asap.

I will take the Lake Shore Line, Michigan Central, or Ohio & Indiana without regard to geography, just for the revenue. Any use of the powers is gravy (and for this purpose I rank them LSL is better than O&I, which is better than  MC.)

(Tao’s Note — The discussion also included a few “surprising maneuvers that have since been copied,” including:

  • Connecting Cairo directly to St. Louis,
  • Buying in the CW&I (in OR1.1) and then driving from Chicago to Detroit,
  • Buying in the Big 4 in OR1.1 (then going to Cincinnati in OR1.1 and Louisville in OR1.2)

Tao — Also, After a few plays with novices, when looking at online shark games, it is astounding how much you can squeeze in OR 1.2 by buying independents (and possibly privates) in OR1.1, sacrificing profit for good company/speed. Any guidelines for newer players? (This is admittedly a more specific “Fast buck vs good company” dichotomy, which may certainly be false).

Mike — I like Eric’s heuristic which is “Buy in Big4 in OR 1.1, and everything else in 1.2, unless you have a good reason to to otherwise” The most common reason I see to buy in C&WI or MS in 1.1 is to use your track lays in that part of the map right away. Sometimes you’re so close to the wire that the extra $10 or $15 in private revenue being in the company lets you lay a track or a token in 1.2 that you otherwise wouldn’t have gotten, but I’m not yet seeing those spots, because most of the time they’re pretty marginal. Hindsight can maybe teach us something on this front – how often do you have an extra $x at the end of SR2, where #x is the revenue of a private you sold to a company in 1.2? Would it have been better if that $x was in the company treasury instead?

Eric — The reason I want to buy in Big 4 early is that the 2T will run much better in OR1.2 in a corporation (usually) than in the Big 4. Plus, you only give up a single track lay. If you buy the Michigan Southern in early (which sometimes makes sense,) you give up a $60 run (you’re probably not going to do much better in a corporation, and you may lose some of it to the pool or cross-investors) and you give up two tile lays in a critical area.

Joe H — $60 or possibly better. If the MS heads west it can frequently upgrade Chicago in OR 1.2.

Eric  — Another issue that’s not separable from this is “what trains are you going to buy in OR1.1 and OR1.2?” You can’t be sure, but you can guess based on what situation your opponents are in. It’s easier late in priority order. I hurt myself last night by buying two 2Ts with IC to go with the Big 4 2T. I should have only bought one.

Joe H — I’ve begun looking at Big4 as a way to get my real company a 2T for $40 of my money. I particularly like the Big4 with a high-cap company, to secure it a 2T – though often that doesn’t suggest an immediate buy-in.

Joe R — Oh, and I still think “Fast buck vs good company” is a false dichotomy. Reminds me of people who would ask me whether I would rather get good grades or learn something. Embrace the power of “and”. Another thing about the draft: I am finally past just doing a greedy algorithm for my choice (“which of these is best”), but starting to think about what others may have chosen, what am I likely to see again, how do those answers affect my choice of major, etc. Asynchronous play and the draftbot have helped a lot.

(Note — Mike A. wrote a discord bot to automate the 1846 draft by IM’ing people their choices and requesting one).

Tao — Switching gear to the endgame….as mentioned above getting a second permanent (or perhaps a ‘better’ permanent) seems to be the key feature of the endgame. Some companies will cap out at $30-40 dividend per OR, so they will not advance as far on the stock track (and may not sell out). But how do you set up for a ‘good’ company? Not having your sells share early (so you have more capital). What else?

Joe H — Building two E/W route possibilities. One of the advantages of the NYC and Erie. It’s not required to make two trains run well late, but it does help.

Eric — Some games end too quickly for the second permanent to be worth it. It all depends on how the group plays. Our group routinely aims for two permanents (perhaps driven by Joe H, who loves to build track and run trains — not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But I wonder whether some people are hurting themselves by supporting the “two permanents” policy.

Dan — it’s also perfectly possible to win by running a 5-share (or less) presidency with one permanent and owing a lot of shares in other companies with two (Mass Agreement).

Joe R — Especially if your company started low and thus is still double jumping with a single train (say with the mail contract).

Tao — Final question. What separates the intermediate 1846 player from the shark? Is it simply experience, or is there an insight that the intermediate is missing? Any final tips?

Joe H — Maybe the shark is simply the person who learns from other’s errors and successes rather than having to try everything out themselves. I, of course, have to try everything out myself, so I’ll never be a shark.

Eric — One thing is that they not only know the standard things to do in various situations, but they know why to do them, and in addition they know when the situation is such that they need to step back and re-think their course of action from first principles. Joe H is especially good at this, and I’d classify him as a (chaotic aligned) shark. Joe has stolen someone’s presidency early in several games I’ve been in when the other player either launched a second corporation or bought a second share in Joe’s (decent) corporation, allowing Joe to dump the corporation not for the usual reasons, but to lock up the other player’s liquidity so they could not defend their first presidency.

The Tao of Gaming thanks everyone for their generous gift of time and knowledge in answering these questions!

 

With careful play, I was able to come in fourth…

 


 

Written by taogaming

July 20, 2020 at 6:46 pm

Posted in 18xx, Strategy

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. Thanks for putting this together, Brian!

    Eric Brosius

    July 26, 2020 at 8:01 am


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