18Korea first impression

Today we have for you something special: the text from my friend who wrote a long impression after his first play in 18Korea. It was originally written in Polish, so my job was to translate it. It was published on the Polish board game forum in the native language.

This impression is after one game for 4 people.

As part of the continuation of the highly substantive series “I played it once, I’ll tell you” a few words on the subject of 18Korea. The very fact that the game was released on Korean support and only in the Korean language (yes, the texts on the cards of private companies are also only in Korean) must have aroused the desire to play. And since there are people of goodwill among the 18xx’s friends (of course – foxikos it is for you), who not only bought the game for some unimaginable money and brought it to the country. I had to use the first opportunity when they asked for a review.

And so we have a bunch of disorganized observations emerged:
We usually start by familiarizing ourselves with the rules. The publishers of the game ‘took abow’ to this more western part of the globe and published English translation of the rules. And here is the first problem. The rules look as if someone pasted the Korean original into Google Translator and uncritically published the result. For example, at the beginning of the rulebook, we learn that cities are divided into regular cities and metropolises (marked with letters). After which, in many places, the terms “city” and “metropolis” are used, in my opinion, quite arbitrarily. And now it’s up to you, dear reader of the rules, to interpret whether metropolis in a given sentence really means metropolis or just any city. In addition, there are a lot of understatements in the manual that need to be interpreted somehow, because either something is literally according to the rules, but illogical, or vice versa. Once we go through the rules, it turns out that theoretically, it is an ordinary 18xx with a few oddities, which it is not entirely clear what they can be used for.

And so:
From a pool of 24 companies (12 North Korean and 12 South Korean), we draw lots to enter the game: 5 North Korean and, depending on the number of players, 6 or 8 South Korean. In addition, the latter are divided in half into pre-war and post-war (we will talk about the war later). So we have 5+3 (or 4) companies to start with, and 3 (4) will appear later. And there will be no more of them. After the private draft (more on that later), we alternate between the stock round and always two operational rounds.

We open companies by bidding (we bid for the right to open a given company). The person who wins the auction pays the appropriate amount to the bank, after which he normally opens the company, setting its par and paying the appropriate amount to the company (incremental capitalization). Before the war, it is forbidden to open post-war companies (logical), after the war, North Korean companies (also logical). The company floats immediately after the sale of the presidential share. We have a limit on buying shares from the company (up to 60%) but not from the market. By buying from the market (if someone sells earlier) we can have 100% in our company.

The order for the next SR determines the order of passing (all in all, a cool solution, although taking into account the understatements in the manual, it requires some arrangements between the players before the game). There is an unusual phase change. Green tiles can be placed when the first train to buy is 3T (it doesn’t have to be bought). Similarly brown, when the first train to buy is 5T (after buying/exporting the last 4T). But the trains are already rusting in a standard way – “two” after buying the first four.

Non-permanent trains are exported. After OR 1.1, all unsold 2Ts fall out (they are unlimited – the scheme is exactly the same as in 1817), which guarantees that in OR 1.2 there will be a 100% green phase (see point above). After that, one non-permanent train before each SR.

Home stations of companies are not reserved (you can place your stations there). However, the lack of space for the station does not block the possibility of opening a company, because if it is its starting place, it can put its station “on the side” despite the lack of space. The notion of an “extra” station emerges, which is generally a normal station, but may not be in some situations. 

When building tracks, the company has 3 “build points” as a standard. Placing a yellow tile costs one point, and an upgrade costs two points. However, it is not possible to place a yellow tile within 3 points and immediately upgrade it (each tile can only be used for one build/upgrade action). So you can place up to 3 yellow tiles.

Trains: At first, they are fully standard 2T, 3T, 4T. Then there are the “E” trains that jump over the villages. If we have several “E” trains – we calculate the route for the weakest one and multiply it by the number of “E” trains. So if we have 5E and 8E, we calculate the route for 5E and multiply by two. If I’m right, the same mechanism is in New England. There are no half-payouts. In order to grow on the stock exchange, we must pay out a minimum of the company’s value. A double jump is also possible, with a payout of twice the value of the company. It is possible to buy trains from another company, provided that the companies are connected by tracks and not blocked by stations along the way. All in all, logical – if we buy a train, it must reach us somehow 😀

So far, it looks like standard 18xx, mashed together from familiar mechanics from other games, with a few twists that it’s hard to tell if they’re more interesting or annoying. But there are two more interesting details. The first one is the North-South divide and the Korean War. As I wrote earlier, 5 North Korean companies and 3-4 South Korean companies are available to start (4 with 5 players). Northern companies undoubtedly generate a diametrically higher income per round. The farther from the poor south, the bigger it gets. After the purchase/export of the penultimate four train, the Korean War breaks out. More precisely, it does not explode at the exact moment of buying the train, but at the end of the current OR set. And that’s when miracles happen. Everything north of the border ceases to exist. Tiles and stations fall. Companies that had stations only in the north cease to exist (i.e., they are nationalized by the communists without a dollar of compensation). From now on, you can’t do anything in the north. Even to lay a yellow tile. The south is also affected by the war. While the normal tracks and stations remain, all cities are flattened (i.e. all city tiles fall). Post-war companies become available (3 or 4) and we play a bit from scratch on a map half the size.

One could say that this has already happened actually, only on a slightly smaller scale, for example in 1882 during the revolution. So now the second curio – private companies. Of course, private companies are nothing new, they are in almost every 18xx game. Well, yes. Only, these are not ordinary private companies. These are mega-twisted and hyper-overextended private companies. If you played Marco Polo, then when you learned the rules of the game and the skills of individual characters, it’s similar here, only much more. Do you want to place stations not only for free but also with an additional payment? No problem. Do you want to upgrade tiles freely regardless of the current phase? Here you go. Or do you prefer an extra permanent train? No problem. And such examples could be multiplied indefinitely. First things first. There are a cosmic amount of private companies. They are divided into three groups – A, B, and C. Before the game, we draw as many companies from each group as there are players and place them face up on the table. Then each player chooses one for free, one at a time. The first time in order from first to last, then twice from last to first. It’s just that each time from a different group. As a result, each has one company A, B, and C. However, the properties of the companies are not balanced in any way. They’re private just a little hoked up. They’re hoked up a lot, and they’re hoked up so much you don’t want to believe what the manual says. Private ones can be given to your company for free at any time, just before the war (even on another player’s turn). And it’s private which makes 18Korea a game different from all the 18xx I know, but about that in the summary, i.e. my impressions.

Overall, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it introduces a lot of changes to the standard rules that are more of a hindrance than a help. Apart from the atypically operating phase change (described above), it introduces, for example, very unintuitive rules regarding “extra” company stations and their operation. “Extra” stations appear when we open a company in a city where all station slots are occupied (it was discussed above), but some private ones allow us to insert such an additional station in an occupied city. The operation of these additional stations is incredibly unintuitive (I deliberately do not describe them in detail here) and very poorly and vaguely described in the rules. In general, sometimes they are stations, and suddenly they may stop being them for some time.

On the other hand, the game presents the player with interesting choices – to start in the north, richly and without major consequences (because the company will disappear before the perms), or maybe in the long term in the south, but with much less income. Or maybe in the north, but try to break through to the south and hit at least one station in the south? It would be nice to open one company in the north and one in the south and just before the war move all the big money from the north to the south, but in order to buy a train, companies must see each other… The choice is so difficult that there are actually many companies to open. And since the game hasn’t been smoothed by AAG, these are companies with very different perspectives and it may turn out that after painlessly abandoning the northern company, we don’t really have much to do with the huge cash we have.

The game is very rich. Companies generate billions of coins, which means that by the time the twos rust, each company has a perm, and often two. This results in an incredibly short “late game”. One of the game-end conditions (probably the most likely) is to buy the most expensive train. Given how much cash there is in companies, it happens almost instantly. As a result, while the game may seem incredibly long at the beginning, its ending is unexpectedly very fast. All in all, it can be counted as a plus, because the tedious release of diesels for “10 more” is not the most interesting part of any eighteen.

And private. They are incredibly bent and even more unbalanced. This means that, first of all, the order of the players is of the greatest importance at the very beginning of the game (here it is not enough to draw the priority, but it is worth drawing the whole order). Secondly, already at the start, someone has definitely downhill, and someone else is very uphill. As a result, combined with the joy of letting trains for hundreds of yen / won or whatever you pay, it awakens in me the feeling of party eighteen “to beer”. Sober, you have to draft the best private ones, and then it’s going to be okay, so let’s drink, let’s play, let’s run trains and it will be joyful and fun. But it is this feeling of relaxation and joyful fun that makes me want to play the game again. Especially on those harder days when I need fun more than hard thinking about how not to go bankrupt here and where to take the train.

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