I was asked to make a spreadsheet for 18Traxx 2020: Great Plains Railroading, one of five games recently released by 18TraXX Games. Not the easiest task if you’ve never played the game, so I quickly put up a basic sheet signed up for a test play. Little’s been said about this title, so here I’ll quickly present some impressions. A friend I played with independently wrote his thoughts and I think that they are worth sharing, so you’ll find them at the end of the post.
As a note, I wanted to call the game just by “18TraXX”, but apparently there will be more releases whose name begin with that (18Traxx <Year>: <Subtitle>).
I didn’t make a P’n’P copy, but I have access to the files. The components are standard, except for the map which doesn’t have coordinates — in consequence, privates say “Controls two hexagons” instead of “Controls AX and BY”; less informative – and whose preprinted tracks don’t match those on the tiles (they miss white borders). There are no shares for minor companies, but they still count towards the certificate limit (their charters are considered double shares).
Some of the privates and 2-trains
The document covering differences between 18TraXX 2020 and 1830 has 16 pages (so not so Winsomesque, that one :D) and is the weakest part of the game. I’m sure no one had learnt the game from the rulebook before it got released. There are missing/vague parts as soon as in privates description (by the way, I spotted a contradiction between a text on one of them and that in the rules). I find it unacceptable in a game that’s being sold. The questions we’ve collected can be found here, hopefully the rulebook will get fixed.
You begin with minor companies that don’t have market price (only par value) and operate in order of their names. Classic minors paying 50/50. From Phase 3, after each OR, you’ll have a Merger Round in which you can (this time in par value order) convert minors (more on that later) or merge them (if connected).
Minors may buy rolling stock (trains and very (too?) strong Pullman cars that let you add towns to the route without counting them as stops) before they operate for the first time.
TraXX is a national company that assumes any company that can’t afford a train or doesn’t have train upon a rusting event. That’s right, you don’t even wait for its next operating round, it gets eaten immediately. Hence, there is no emergency fundraising (except for TraXX itself which issues bonds before it comes to that; I don’t see this ever happening). Players are compensated at 50% of the value of lost shares, then may purchase up to the same number of TraXX shares (which are 5% each and are 30 in total).
There are special hexes—Boomtowns—that may be either town or city, and this may change via an upgrade! If such a city is replaced by a town and it hosted the only station of a company, the company gets assumed by TraXX.
Board’s state at the end of our game
As for the game itself, it starts promising, with many minors operating (and I find them operating in numbers order cool). However, by OR3 the board is pretty much filled and then the game stalls—you just copy paste the revenues. In the stock round, I never had dilemmas as to what to do: I was starting minors wile it was viable, then switched to buying shares of majors that already opened in the merger round. Generally, the game felt static and linear to me.
Let’s say you have 4 cheap minors at 50. In a merger round between two operating rounds, you decide to convert all of them to major companies. In order to convert a minor companies, you exchange the double share against the president’s certificate, then have to buy 4 shares (so 60% of the new company is out of IPO, as usual). To do so, you can raise cash by selling any shares. The new company receives 8 times its par price (which is the same as was the minor’s).
Let’s go back to the example. By investing only $200, you can generate $1600 (8 * 50 * 4)! (you sell shares of the new companies to raise money for the next conversion and so on). No risk of someone stealing a company (remember, you’re between two ORs). And no liabilities—even if a company finds itself without a train, it just gets assumed by TraXX and you have right to buy its shares (that are very valuable). In fact, it’s the only way to get TraXX’s shares from IPO.
It’s definitely something worth trying to exploit. The alternative–merger–fades in comparison. Although there are 8 major companies (that can be reopened), so not enough for everybody.
Xenir’s first impressions
- As pointed out before, the rulebook is far from perfect – inconsistent, lots of loopholes and contradictions.
- The early game is way too long for my taste. It took three full ORs to buy all the 2Ts and first 3Ts. Early SRs (after the first one when a lot of companies are started) are pretty much non-existent.
- Pretty much no decision space during the SRs – start a minor when you can early in the game, later focus on buying shares. There’s no fear of becoming a proud president of a pile of mess. It doesn’t make sense to dump a company on someone, because there’s no liability for the player that was “gifted” with that company.
- Speaking of which – there’s no real liability of not having a train or not having enough money to buy one. The company is simply assumed by the TraXX, with all its remaining funds, stations and other assets. Then you get a recompensation for your failings AND you get to buy shares that are going to pay A LOT.
- Speaking of TraXX – isn’t it too strong? It gets all leftover money of assumed railroads and, on top of that, $1000 extra upon launching. How can that company not be good? Plus, after rusting event the company without a train is instantly assumed, even if it has funds to buy a train from the bank or from another railroad of the same owner. It’s too easy to get more capital into this company
- It seems to be close to impossible to go bankrupt in this game, as the only player who can bankrupt is the president of TraXX. But first, he would have to issue all 10 bonds (adding another $1000 to the treasury) and then fail to repay the interests for them. With that amount of additional capital (plus assumptions of other companies), I can’t imagine how one could run this company so badly that he’d bankrupt. The one situation when it could happen would be dumping TraXX on someone else, but it doesn’t look so hard to somehow recover from that.
- There’s no strong incentive to keep a company as a minor company through the game. Only thing I see could be the cert limit (same payout for one cert as per four), but the minors do not increase in value and are easier to block having no additional stations and can’t upgrade tiles. That may be my inexperience with titles where you start with small companies and then somehow evolve that into more complex structures. So far in every game of that type that I’ve played, there was some incentive to keep a small company running throughout the whole game: 1817 – you get 100% of the income and other players can’t short-sell your company; 18IrePL – you get the same percentage of the income in 2 shares as with 5 shares in a major company. Won’t speak about 18Ireland, because I’ve never played the original
- The map becomes full pretty quickly and there’s nothing to do other than running the trains for the same value over and over. The inability to lay green tiles does not help with that – I can see some points to that (plan the track lays better), but it’s too limiting for too long and simply becomes boring.
- The previously mentioned potential strategy of converting every possible minor in one MR. Let’s assume we have 2 ORs in the set and we’re about to start the first MR. I have N minors parred at 100. I convert the first one, buying 4 extra shares and getting $800 to the treasury. Then, I convert the second one, by selling 4 shares of the previously converted minor and buying 4 shares of the next minor. Repeat that N-2 more times and you have $800 times N capital for just $400. It’s a lot of money for free. With only 3 companies it’s $2400 of pure cash, which is 30% of the whole bank. Of course, you’d lose on the stock value, but you’d get a lot of money in the companies. Then you have a whole OR to spend that money or transfer to the company where you still have 6 shares (the last one that got converted) and just let TraXX assume other companies when their time comes. I think it’s worth to playtest that.
- Can’t speak of Boomtowns, didn’t pay much attention to that, probably because my companies were spread across the borders of the map. They seem to be a cool idea – one can easily close another player’s company when caught off-guard, but when played carefully it shouldn’t happen – but the switching from a town to a city didn’t look like a big deal in our game.
- It fails to deliver the goals that are stated on the https://traxx-denver.com/games/ page: Find a place to experiment and create a game around a McGuffin (or two)—according to the rules, there are at least 10 so-called “McGuffins” in this game (p. 14 of the rulebook); Be “Winsomesque” in spirit. Winsome Games is an inspiration in this regard—sorry, but I don’t see that. 16 pages long rulebook, which should highlight differences in between this game and 1830, is nowhere near the Winsomes
Try it yourself
Those were our impressions. Note that we both prefer another, more brutal approach to 18xx games. So even if we’re not fans, you may like the game and you can test it yourself. You can play on https://prod1.board18.org (as I write these words, it hasn’t been uploaded yet, but it’ll be soon) and the sheet is available here. You can also buy P’n’P files here.