1870 : Openings by David Kass
1870 : Endgame by Hans Torvatn

1870 : Openings

David Kass
21st August 1997

The 18xx games have 3 components: corporate operations (cashflow/financing and train purchasing), board play (rail building and token placement) and stock investment. 1870 emphasizes the board play and stock investment aspects (not to say the corporate ops aren't important, but they tend to be more straight forward and have fewer decisions). Thus the companies are primarily evaluated based on the board position (and tokens). Privates are considered in light of how they affect company board operations and players stock investments.

I think I've seen all 10 companies started initially and most have been used to win the game. All 10 of them are potentially good opening companies. They can be divided into four rough groups based on how likely they are to start. (I use the actual RR abbreviations, listed on the tokens, for the company names).

Will start:
FriscoAutomatically floats (otherwise it would probably be in the last group)
KATYNeeding only 5 shares, someone almost always floats it, especially since it is an all-round good company.
Will start half the time:
MoPacAssuming you have the bridge, runs to Chicago for megabucks.
GM&OVery good with the port, and even without, lots of green runs.
Normal companies (usually need some condition):
SoPacGood all around company, but hard to get to destination.
CottonDecent close destination, needs bridge to be bought early (not as critical as the MoPac though)
SantaFeNeeds a token in Kansas City to be a good company.
T&PNeeds the SoPac to open so it has rail it can get to, also needs help to get to its destination.
The least likely (need significant conditions--but can be good):
ICNeeds either the GM&O or Cotton to float, but not both; sometimes a decent start if the bridge won't be bought in for a while but the GM&O has already opened.
BurlingtonReally needs at least two of KATY, SantaFe or T&P to start and works best if all three have started.

Unlike 1856 and 1830, the privates in 1870 have a large effect on the strategy and play of the game. All of them are useful for more than just snarfing in for extra cash. What companies get opened will very much depend on whom has which privates and how much cash they have. Here are my thoughts on the privates and what to do with them (our group uses nicknames for some of them, so I hope its clear what I'm referring to). Note that like all the 18xx games, there is a certain amount of group think involved here. The prices/uses I suggest are for a very nasty group that has played the game extensively. We've tried most of the obvious strategies and have found decent counters/limits.

Gambling Boat
The classical blocker used to set off the cascade of auctions. It does have a good investment return, but is really too cheap to be worth it alone.
This is a game controlling private. With it, you can set the pace for the entire opening game. While it has a good printed price/profit ratio, it is often bid up quite high ($60 or even $65 are quite common winning bids). To get full use of the bridge's abilities, the MoPac and Cotton are the companies to start. On the other hand, it can be good to start the SoPac or some other company that doesn't want to cross the river until late. This will stunt any company that needs to cross the river (notably MoPac and Cotton and Frisco to a lesser extent).
Nice, but a bit weak compared to others. The cattle token is nice, but needs to be used early for best effect so it can be used lots (increasing 40/50 cities to 50/60 isn't too exciting)--You're going to want to hit it 8 or 10 times before it goes away. While $100 in cash isn't to be sneezed at, it is only really 1.5 shares of stock, usually not enough to start a company an SR early. In 5 player games (and 6 player to an extent), it tends to be better since the owner can usually still start a company (while the bigger privates usually require waiting a bit). The cattle works with just about any company except IC and GM&O (the Cotton is also not great with it). Particularly good is the MoPac in St. Louis (if you're absolutely sure the bridge will come out...). It usually goes for $60, but I've seen $80 before.
Very good, both for you and your company. The $20 extra turns any dinky city into a great one until '6' trains come out (when you should have access to much more of the board). Like the Cattle, generally it is good to use it early. $160 into your hand is often enough to start your second company an SR early. Good companies to start are the GM&O, Cotton (if the bridge will be sold), and SoPac. The T&P and IC can also work well. This is a big enough private that you really need have a company that can use it. Often goes for around $110--$115 (especially in a 4 player game where this leaves enough cash to open a company--a common bid is $113).
An interesting company. Being able to operate with just the president's share is very nice (especially since shares still in the Initial Offering pay into the company). Since it usually start with a par of $100, it is well financed. Unfortunately, the company itself is rather weak. It needs the KATY's help to do well initially (and since it usually runs before all the other new companies, it tends to end up behind the profit curve). Be careful to make sure you can protect it (especially if the owner of the KATY private starts a company at the beginning). Buying too many shares in it can hurt you since they are probably the weakest around. Depending on the day, anywhere from $145 to $170, although lately, we've been seeing $145 or $150 in our 4 player games. It often goes for more in 5 and especially 6 player games (hey, you get a company!).
KATY Private
Generally a very good private. If the other players aren't careful, this can be used to run away with a game. Any company you can start is good:-). If you have a choice in the initial or next SR, it is often good to start a weaker company since you are going to loot it anyway, especially if your first company can build rail for the one you plan to open next. Depending on what the bidding player have already bought, it usually goes for $180 to $200 (the more players, the more it tends to go for--in a 4 player game, $181 or $185 are common prices). It doesn't tend to be as strong as the PRR private in 1830.

There is no real standard opening to 1870; it depends so much on which companies start and who has the various privates...

David Kass

1870 : Endgame

Hans Torvatn
24th February 1998

Having read and commented on rec.games.boards the David Kass paper on 1870 Openings I decided to write a comment on the really important phase of 1870, namely endgames.

Why are endgames important in 1870?

Endgames are more important than openings because much more money flows through the game at this stage. In the last operating rounds it is not unlikely for a railroad to earn $350 per operating round, this means that $9,000 - $10,000 will be distributed among the players the last set of operating rounds. Add to this the increased value of stocks, and the total amount of money distributed in the last three to six operating rounds of the game is probably larger than the rest of the game together. It is highly unlikely that this money will be evenly distributed, so in order to win you need to get more than the others. Also, you need to minimize your expenditures for train purchases, because the really big trains ('8'-'12') can be very expensive. Therefore endgames are crucial to winning an 1870 game, whereas opening and mid-game are "only" preparations for the endgame. (Of course, if you are not properly prepared you will not be able to play well at the endgame.)

In order to win at 1870 you have to do at least two things: Acquire a second company and the right combination of big trains. This is more difficult than it sounds, because when it is optimal to start a second company, and what trains are optimal to buy (from where) varies from game to game. However, there are certain important factors that you could use as criteria for deciding what to do.

Acquire a second company

In order to win 1870 you need to own two railroads. I know there is no rule that states so. The criterion for winning is simply money, and you can theoretically win without owning any railroad. If you work a little I am sure you can construct an example of it too. Based on my experience from more than 50 games I conclude that two companies are necessary in order to win. One reason is of course that the president 20 percent stock certificate provide an "extra" ten percent share towards your share limit, thus giving more dividends during railroad operations and adding to your total stock value at the end of the game. If you control two companies you own more shares than those controlling only one or no companies.

However this is not the most important reason why you need two railroads. The most important reason is simply that if you own two railroads they can buy trains from each other. When you enter the endgame your oldest company is likely to have two trains (two '4', a '3' and a '4' or two '3'). If you only own one company you are stuck with these trains until somebody else buys a '6' or '8' and makes your '3' or '4' obsolete. Remember, you cannot drop the trains you do not want. You have to wait until forced.

If you own an additional company you are likely to have at least one free slot for buying trains, and probably some money in it to. Depending on the actual situation you can sell one of your old trains to your new company, thus providing your first company with money, hopefully without interrupting payments from it. Or you can sell your brand new big train from your new company to your old company for any price you want, thus distributing money better between the companies, and keep the money flowing and stock value rising for the old company. Or something completely different. With one railroad you can do nothing, with two your possibilities are (almost) endless. (Certainly enough to make mistakes too.)

Two different strategies for your second company

When you start your second company you will have to decide whether you want a high priced or low priced company. A high price company starts at $100, a low price at $68 and open for quite different strategies. (Forget the other values, they are stuck in the middle.)

If you follow the high price strategy you get a company with a good amount of cash, able to buy any train except a '12'. If you buy a '5' or a '6' train early you might be able to buy a '3' or '4' train from your first company, thus providing the first company with additional money (or a slot for buying trains, equally important). After the first operating round your new company will provide you with cash, and the second company will end at a fair share value.

The problem with this strategy is that you are likely to end up with a poor mix of trains. You may sometimes end up with a '6' and a '8' among your two companies, or you may sit with a '5' and earn chicken feed until somebody buys a '12' and forces you to do the same. Put simply, the cash flow from your two companies might be too small.

In the low price strategy you go for stocks in the yellow part of the market. You want a '6' train to start with, but since you will not pay dividends in the beginning you are also preparing to buy a '12' train. Further, you have no money from your new company to boost your old company with. Your cash flow from this new company will be zero for several operating rounds, but increase dramatically as soon as you have the right combination of trains. Further, you will have the opportunity to buy stocks in other companies because your yellow shares do not count towards the limit. Thus, at the end of the game you may get income from several more shares than the other players.

Both strategies could work for you. The earlier you are able to implement it, the better the high price strategy is. But, providing you have enough cash to survive the period of low income the low price strategy can be very attractive, especially if you start your second company at a time when everybody else are going for a high price strategy.

How many, and what kind of trains do you want?

If possible, try to get the '8' trains. The '8' trains are a reasonable mix of price and yields. They arrive early, they will run for a relatively long time, and their income is not much lower than a '10' train, or even a '12' train in some circumstances (depending on the tiles and the station markers). The '10's are also quite good. The '6' trains should be avoided if possible, unless you manage to get two of them. Their income is to low compared to the others, and since the '8' trains arrive almost at the same time you will earn to little relatively to the others. The '12' trains are the most difficult to evaluate. They are expensive, and do not always generate high income. They do however scrap the '5' train, something that may force others to buy, and increase the length of the game. Further, in some instances they do generate lots of money, and then you might want them. My experience however indicates that you are usually better of personally without buying a '12' train. Again, if you go for a low price strategy, you need a '12' train.

In the end game you also have to decide how many of the permanent trains you want. If you control two companies you obviously need at least two trains, but do you need three? The third train provides a lot of cash when operating. However, you have to invest in it, and you might even have to withhold dividends from one of your companies in order to get money / slots to buy the third train. Is the additional cash flow worth it?

The answer to that question depends on several factors. First of all, if you are following a low price strategy you want to get three trains. The same goes if your total income is markedly lower than the others, then you need to change things, an additional train is a good way to do this. Further, if you can get a third train paid fully or almost fully by a company you would want to do it. You should make an estimate of your future income with three trains. If you believe you will earn money go for it, otherwise, stay put.

Sell your own stocks?

The stock rounds at the end of 1870 are usually quickly completed. People buy whatever they can get hold on up until the certificate limit and then pass. Still it is legal to sell shares, and you might even profit of selling your own shares. This sounds strange, because in most cases you want to prefer that nobody sells shares in companies you control. However, at the very end you might sometimes prefer to sell your own shares, even if you are not able to get rid of the presidency. This is only interesting if you have reached the certificate limit, you can substitute the shares sold with shares with higher income (including rise in share value), if you are willing to lose the presidency and train development has stopped. But, if you see that the income from one of your companies is poor and the game is ending in three more operating rounds, why keep more shares in that company than you need?

Prepare for endgame from the beginning

Some of the advice offered here might not be technically possible to implement in all circumstances. In order to succeed in the endgame you need to prepare for it earlier.

Good luck!

Hans Torvatn

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