Saturday, August 12, 2006

1825 Unit 1

Tim introduced some of us to the 18xx family at Sunriver this past spring, and there have been a few other games that have popped up in the interim. The 18MEX game we played at Sunriver went on far too long for a number of reasons, so I've been loathe to try another one unless the length was shorter. Eric, who is looking at his gaming vanishing into the sunset with the impending birth of his second child about a week away, talked myself, Tim, and Wes into coming over on a Thursday night and giving 1825 Unit 1 a try.

First of all, I think that a serious 18xx habit is more expensive than golf, at least in terms of initial outlay. Of course, you have to buy all of the clubs at once in golf, or at least a set of woods or irons at a time. Most of the good 18xx games are small-print-run publications, and while very nice they are also very expensive. $50 per box, and they don't get discounted much. To play the three 1825 units together with expansions will set you back over $200. Not that I ever want to play 18xx with nine people, mind you. Even I have my limits!

25U1 is set in southern England, skipping the Cornwall peninsula and the midlands west of Bristol. England and Manchester are the big cities. Towns are a bit of a conundrum: you have to count them as a stop, but they don't add anything to your run, and you can't end a run in them. However, you can upgrade towns to cities by upgrading the tile, and this is a critical part of the game. However, I found myself a bit hosed in the late game when I realized that none of the upgrade tiles could be legally placed in one town I wanted to upgrade, and I lost out on about $100 over the course of the game as a result.

The stock market is linear, and you don't lose value for selling stock, only for not giving out dividends. In this particular game, the sole reason not to give out dividends is to build up money to buy trains and stations, and as such you may withhold once or twice per game per company.

Privates are randomly distributed early on, and none hold any benefit other than providing steady income. There is only one minor company in the game which doesn't appear until the end, and only seven majors that come out in a fixed order. As far as 18xx games go, it would be hard to find a version that is friendlier to the novice than this one. Our play finished in three hours with four players, making this an even better choice.

Tim started out by taking the big first company early, the LWNR (I am almost certainly messing up these company names, for which I apologize), and we all dutifully bought shares in it and the GWR, which Wes was running. I got the GER, followed by Eric with the LWSR, me with the SECR and the last major whose name completely escapes me, and Wes got the minor at the end of the game. The LWNR did quite well, as did the LWSR, and the GER did well for me as did the final major. What hurt me was having to sell one of my two shares of the LWNR to finance buying the GER shares, and starting the SECR when I should have let someone else take it (it never paid out particularly well, although my shares were worth quite a bit by the end of the game compared to the initial price).

What really worked, however, was getting into a stock early and watching it go up and up. The market is not exactly linear, with values increasing exponentially as you go up the table, but not always. For example, you might go up 15 points one turn, then 10 the next. If you pay out twice as much money as the stock is worth, you get to move the marker up two spaces, but in one case I managed to gain 25 points while another high-value stock went up 30 with an increase of one space. Understanding the stock board is critical in these games.

As such, Tim managed to win a squeaker with his high-value LWNR railroad, which came in at around $300/share at game end. He beat Eric by less than 40 point in a game where the winner had 5000. That's less than a percentage point. My own total, at 47xx, was 94% of the winning total, and even Wes's 43xx was a very respectable 86%. I could easily see a couple of points where I could have won the game with a little patience, and certainly that extra LWNR share that Tim got was huge for him.

Certainly my funnest 18xx experience so far (not that there have been many), and it's whetted my appetite a bit for this sort of game. While I do worry that there can be a scripting to these games that can make it feel like you're playing a course of study (similar to the way I feel about chess - he who studies the game's millions of books on the subject will have an advantage), there is certainly a fun, quick (relatively), and clever game here that I'll have to try again sometime. Not sure if I'll get this particular title, as there are dozens to choose from, but it has restored my faith in the overall system and I'm looking forward to giving it another try soon.

Thanks to Eric for hosting, and we're all thinking good thoughts for you and Jodi and the Invader To Be Named Later.

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