The Importance of Multiple Trains in 1825 by Lou Jerkich


In common with other 18xx games, a player in 1825 wins the game by having more cash and stock assets than any other player when the game ends.  One maximizes his or her cash holdings by maximizing dividend income.  The final value of one's share holdings depends on where the individual components of one's stock portfolio have ended up on the stock market on the last turn of the game.  In most 18xx games, the corporations which attain the highest values on the stock market are not necessarily the ones that are paying out the highest dividends.  For example, it's possible for a company formed early in the game to rise high in market value yet be paying low dividends because the company ended up owning only one small permanent train and has a poor route to run.  On the other hand, a corporation formed later that has withheld earnings several times in order to save cash to acquire two large permanent trains may ultimately pay fantastic dividends but consequently lag behind on the stock market.  The player who manages to be heavily invested in a company that ends up among the highest in stock values and that simultaneously is paying among the highest dividends has an obvious advantage in an 18xx game, and if such a player owns many shares in several such companies he or she will probably have the winning edge.

In 1825, those companies paying the highest dividends tend to be the ones that are also valued the highest.  The reason has to do with the way the stock market value is adjusted at the end of each company's turn.  In most 18xx games, a company paying out dividends advances one space to the right on the stock market, resulting in a higher market value.  In some of the more recent 18xx games, this rightward advance may be increased by more than one space.  This is also the case in 1825.  If the total earnings are at least twice the current share value, the marker token on the stock market will advance two spaces to the right.  Similarly, if the total earnings are three times or more than the current market value, the marker will advance three spaces.  The maximum rightward advance is four spaces when the earnings equal or exceed four times the current market value.  The flip side of this is that a company whose earnings do not at least exceed half its current share value will remain in place on the market, unless it has no revenues or pays no dividends, in which case it's marker moves left on the market to decrease the company's value.  The result of this market adjustment process in 1825 is that a company with several trains which together earn a high revenue will normally advance rapidly on the Stock Market, often becoming one of the top-valued stocks.

Obviously, a large leap forward on the Stock Market by a company in a single Operating Round is good for increasing both the cash received from dividends and for stock value appreciation.  A player of 1825 soon learns that it literally "pays" to retain earnings to buy one or more additional trains if one has the routes upon which to run more trains.  For example, suppose a company's token is plodding along advancing one market space per turn.  Eventually, it may cease to advance altogether if it reaches a stock value more than twice the current revenues being earned.  Let's suppose the company can advance two spaces and then must remain in place.    Now imagine the same company deciding to retain its earnings in order to buy a larger train.  After three turns backing up on the market to retain its earnings, assume that it buys a train.  Then on the fourth turn it finds it can advance four spaces on the stock market, and three more on the turn thereafter.  Thus in five turns it has a net gain of four spaces forward from its starting point.  Compare this to the alternative of advancing two spaces and then being stuck in that place for the next three turns.  Clearly, the second train helps attain sufficient new revenues so that the drop in the stock market value is quickly recovered.  Moreover, if that greater sum of cash from the revenues of two trains is used to buy yet another train, the amount of dividends that company pays out and the ability to make large leaps on the stock market will increase even more.

The ability of a company to achieve high revenues from running its trains thus depends in part on the number of trains it can run.  Obviously it also depends on the availability of suitable routes, and perhaps even more on the quality of those routes.

Example
Let's follow an actual Unit 2 game (played 22 January 2006) which used the advanced trains of Kit K2 but did not use the Phase Four Kit K3.  In this sample game we will especially compare the performance of three companies.  The game begins with the LNWR and the NER being floated.  Both companies start off buying two 2-trains and backing up on the Stock Market to £90 and £76 respectively.  The NER player now belatedly realizes that he cannot run his trains because their routes cannot end at a small town.  Oops!  So for the next two rounds while he lays track, the NER continues to back up, reaching the £67 spot.  Meanwhile, the LNWR has gone forward to £100 and then £112.  In Operating Round (OR) 3, the Midland also begins operating, backing up to £76 before buying  a 2-train and a 3-train.  Over OR4A and 4B, all three companies pay out dividends, with the LNWR and the Midland each advancing one space per turn to end at £142 and £90 respectively.  The LNWR also buys a 3-train in OR4A, as does the NER which advances one spot to £71 in OR4A.  On the strength of running three trains and earning £190 in revenues in OR4B, the NER is then able to advance two spaces to £82.

At this point, the LNWR Director begins retaining earnings for three successive ORs (5A, 5B, and 6A) so that it returns on the Stock Market to its original starting point at £100.  It also buys the first 5-train in OR6A which then eliminates all 2-trains from play, leaving the LNWR with one 3-train and one 5-train.  Meanwhile, the Midland  has retained earnings in ORs 5A and 5B, dropping back to £76, but it bought a 4-train at the end of OR5B.  Earning £230 in OR6A, it now jumps forward three spaces from £76 to join the LNWR token at the £100 spot.  The NER chooses to pay dividends of £210 in OR5A which thus allows it to leap forward two spaces to £100.  It then backs up twice to £82 again while retaining revenues to purchase a U3 train at the end of OR6A.  All three companies now have two trains each (LNWR 3,5; Midland 3,4; NER 3,U3).  In OR6B, all three companies then pay out dividends.  The LNWR can only advance one space to £112; the Midland two spaces to £126, and the NER two spaces to £100.  At this point, in terms of market value appreciation from their respective starting points, the LNWR has gained £12, the Midland £44, and the NER £18.

In the following turn this changes dramatically as the LNWR with earnings of £260 can advance two spaces to £142.  Meanwhile, the Midland and the NER each retain earnings, dropping back to £112 and £90 respectively.   In OR7B, all three companies retain earnings so as to each buy another train.  The LNWR is at £126 with trains 3, 5, and 3T;  the Midland is at £100 with trains 3, 4, and 5; and the NER is back to its original £82 with trains 3, U3 and U3.  In the meantime, these three players and a fourth one have been floating other companies and buying trains for those companies.  The LNWR player owns no other company, but the Midland player also has control of the North Staffordshire Minor and the NER player is running the GCR.  A fourth player controls the L&Y and the Furness Minor.  The GCR, which has a 5-train, runs after the NER and buys one U3 train from the NER, leaving the latter with only one 3-train and its other U3 train.  Both the NER and the GCR are at a  Market value of £82 at this point. 

So, at the end of 11 turns, the three original companies and the GCR have advanced only one or two spaces forward from their starting value.  The Furness and North Staffordshire are at £112 and £100 respectively, the same points from which they began.  The L&Y has advanced the most--four spaces--from £71 to £100 over 6 ORs and despite backing up twice.  This is a lot less progress in Stock Market Values than may be seen in other games.  There has been considerable focus on acquiring multiple trains, but the players have alternated retention of revenues with payments of dividends.  This is due to the need to acquire sufficient stock certificates to fill one's hand.  Failure to do so will result in diminished income compared to those who have more shares bringing them greater total dividends and price appreciation in their shares.  In addition, shares bought while their prices are low are obviously going to be a better deal than those bought when their value (and thus the cost to purchase them) has multiplied several times.  Thus one cannot merely retain earnings every turn and allow the company's stock price to fall too severely, even if the subsequent earnings will allow advances at the pace of four spaces per turn on the Market.  If one does so the other players may buy up the bulk of the best shares, and then leap ahead themselves at a more profitable rate.

With the two exceptions of the L&Y which retained earnings to buy one last train in OR7C and the North Staffordshire which held back in OR8A to buy a 6-train, from this point on in this sample game, all companies paid out dividends each turn.  By upgrading routes and placing an occasional token, some companies improved their earnings.  At game end in OR9A after five more ORs, the current earnings and final Stock Market Values had reached the following points.  The final sum is the total appreciation of each company's market value per share over the course of the game:

LNWR - £540, to value 320  (an advance of 9 spaces); £220
Midland - £560, to value 340 (an advance of 12 spaces); £258
NER - £260,  to value 205 (an advance of 8 spaces); £123
GCR - £340, to value 230 (an advance of 9 spaces); £159
L&Y - £510, to value 300 (an advance of 10 spaces); £229
Furness - £290, to value 205 (an advance of 5 spaces); £93
N. Staffordshire - £300, to value 180 (an advance of 5 spaces); £60

The winning player owned 80% each of the Midland and the N. Staffordshire, 10% L&Y and 20%  Furness.  Stock (5170) + cash (2621) = £7791.
Second was the player with a mix of shares headed by directorship of the LNWR.  Stock (4180) + cash (2783) = £6963.
Third came the Director of the L&Y and the Furness.  Stock (4630) + cash (2211) = £6841.
Fourth was the Director of the NER and the GCR.  Stock (3615) + cash (2712) = £6327.

Observations on the example
The three companies owning three trains each had the highest earnings (£560, £540, £510) respectively.  The player who came in fourth only had two trains in each company, which resulted in smaller earnings and less stock value appreciation than in the other three large companies.  Had even one of his two companies had a third train, the impact on his position could have been considerable.  Two companies (Midland and L&Y) gained value in the last five ORs at a rate of two or more spaces per turn.  This was only possible due to having multiple trains.   Both of these started at £100 in OR7C, so were able to make faster gains initially over the LNWR which began that turn at £126. 

Another interesting point is that the winning player trailed in shares held during the earlier part of the game.  His focus was a bit more on gaining the multiple trains and less on gaining stock.  However, in the end game, he managed to acquire the Directorship of a Minor, which provides 4 shares for one certificate.  Ultimately, by acquiring 80% of the top-performing Midland, and 80% of a minor, he had the equivalent of 19 shares in a game with a certificate limit of 13.   His opponents, in order of finish, held 15 shares, 17 shares, and 16 shares respectively.  The fact that the player who came in second had the fewest shares yet the most cash says much about the earnings provided by her three LNWR trains and also from her 20% share of the Midland Railway Company.   The fourth player was second in cash assets, but had he managed to get at least one more train in one of his own companies, he would probably have led in cash assets and would have increased the value of his stock to make him a stronger contender.  Had he acquired more shares in Minors to increase his number of shares, he would have also fared better.  Note that the winner had 10 shares of Minors, the third-place player held 6 shares, and the other two held 2 shares each.

Conclusions

For a game with a linear stock market there was considerable action in that market.  Each turn some of us were retaining revenues in order to buy additional trains while others were paying out to buy more stock.  Share values moved up and down constantly on the market track, but near game end the multiple trains powered major market price shifts.  In addition, players reacted throughout the game to market activity and company prospects by selling off stocks and buying new ones.  On the board, players were actively placing tokens to maximize route possibilities for their trains and to prevent loss of routes.  The Minor shares were eagerly bought up by some of us, even though their initial route prospects looked poor.  By end game their routes had improved considerably.  We all had to weigh the decision to pay more dividends so as to buy more stock or to delay the stock purchases in order to buy additional trains.  (I won, a bit to my surprise, by a stronger focus on the latter strategy.  I was the last to fill my hand to the certificate limit.)  All in all, it wasn't the 'bits' so much as the player and company interactions and strategies that made the game fun and interesting.  It was definitely not dull.

For anyone who feels that 1825 lacks sufficient excitement, I wonder whether it is being played with too few people (four or more is probably best), or perhaps the players haven't had enough experience to plumb the depths of its strategic possibilities.  If at least one person focuses on retaining cash to buy more trains for his companies it is essential that the other players consider doing likewise or they may possibly be strongly out-performed in the end game.  1825, more than any other 18xx game in my experience, rewards the acquiring of multiple trains.  In fact, in the final phase of this game, the Phase 4 of Kit K3, companies may hold an unlimited number of trains.  It is quite a delicate balancing act to both obtain those trains yet acquire additional stock at the correct pace.

If your games have not been like this, then I suggest that you've missed out on the real joys of 1825 and should try it again.  If your games were as I've described above yet you still found them dull, then I wonder what constitutes an exciting 18xx game for you and which games those would be?   

Caveat
Having argued for purchasing multiple trains, I must now add a caveat gained from experience.  The multiple trains strategy works very well in games employing Kit K3's Phase 4 which permits companies to own an unlimited number of trains in the phase.   It also requires a reasonably large bank, and this factor is even more significant than using Phase 4.  Games that have small banks and/or no Phase 4 need to be played very carefully.  One could conceivably retain earnings for two or three rounds so as to buy a larger train, only to have the game end too soon due to a small bank that has been depleted by the paying out of dividends to companies that kept moving forward on the market and didn't bother with saving to buy more trains.  In my experience, a bank of £9,000 or more will allow the multiple train strategy to successfully work.   It works extremely well with all Units and all Kits and a bank of  £24,045.  But in any single Unit basic game using the original bank sum (Unit 1 = £5,011; Unit 2 = £4,984, Unit 3 = £4,050), a player must be very mindful of the current bank level and the pace of the game to be sure that he or she doesn't overdo the withholding of earnings while others march ahead at a steady pace to win the game.  In the end, it comes down to a delicate balancing act based on potential earnings and market value but tempered by the activities and strategies used by the competition.  In a game with a small bank (£4,000 to £5,000 and perhaps up to £7,000 or £8,000), the earlier your company can buy a second or third train the better.  Just be careful that you don't find yourself with too many trains, too late.

Nevertheless, when the opportunity presents itself to plan for the long haul and you have the routes to run them on, multiple trains are a very satisfying means to a successful winning strategy.  Try it.


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This page created on 15 July 2008.  Updated with a "Caveat" on March 25, 2009
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