1826 Strategy: The Battle of the Belge

Beating the Belge at its own Game - A Strategy for the Chemin de Fer de Paris

By Rick Carson*

[* This article appeared as an email message in the Yahoo 18xx Group on April 20, 2005.  In converting this from an email into an article, it has been edited by Lou Jerkich in a few minor ways to enhance its esthetic appearance and appeal.  The author's content regarding the Paris strategy remains unchanged.]

This is an article about improving the success rate of the Paris, by fighting a Belgian lockout.  In the process, I hope to restore a fraction of the Paris' tarnished honour, especially in groups where aggressive action by the Belge has led to loud complaints that the Paris Private is massively over-priced in the Initial Auction.

On the face of it, with no outside interference, the Paris has two basic options:

(1) Connect to its destination immediately and run two 2H trains as soon as possible.  If the par price is set at F110 and floated, the Paris will have F330 cash to start with. Building over two rivers at F40 each and then placing the token for F60 is a total of F140, leaving us with F190, which is F10 short of two 2Hs. So in order to make this work we also require the F20 Bridge-building Private.

Total cost: F290.
Revenue: F110 per operating round (F66 to the player, F44 to the company)

This is not too shabby.  Also it is very easy to defend against the Etat formation.  Simply convert to a major, sell some shares and buy a 4H.  You don't have much in the way of good track options after that (the Ouest blocks you from Paris), but with the 4Hs come green tiles and you can expand north or south as you see fit.  Not exciting, but not awful either.  Yet we cannot always ensure that we have the Bridge Private.

(2) Expand toward Lille and London.  Place a token on Lille for F80, build one bridge for F40, and then infiltrate Belgium.  After expenses of F120, this leaves F210 in treasury, enough for two 2Hs!  The first revenue will be a paltry F30, but the second turn we add London-Lille for an additional F70.

Total cost: F270.
Revenue: F100 per operating round (F60 to the player, F40 to the company).

It would seem that the first scenario is much better, but there are much better 4H and 6H routes up in Belgium than in the Paris area, and particularly if we are working with the Belge (rather than against it), the Belge and the Paris will quickly become very high revenue companies.  So many players consider this to be the 'ideal' Paris setup, particularly if you don't have the Bridge Private (and so scenario #1 isn't even an option).

In addition, instead of buying two 2Hs, we could buy a single 2H, run it from London to Lille for F70, and then later purchase a 4H to run between Lille and Paris for F80, a total of F15. This gets better as either track is upgraded or the rest of Belgium becomes available.

However, in this scenario there are much greater dangers than in scenario #1. 

The first is that you may be forcibly folded into the Etat if you cannot get hold of a 4H. Once the 4Hs become available it will take at least two turns to get to your destination before you can convert.  If the 4Hs go quietly and sedately this is not a problem.  The Paris and the Alsace have the most to lose by being folded into the Etat, so keep an eye out for what the Alsace is trying to do.  If the Alsace heads north, be very careful, or you may both end up in the Etat.

But far worse than that is that the Belge can lock you out.  By using its double build, it can reach Lille via Mons and Amiens on the first turn (and even token Lille to add insult to injury).  The Belge will have completely locked out the Paris, since it will be unable to lay track into Lille, or run trains there until a couple of turns after the green tiles become available.

(3) Expand toward Lille and London.  Get locked out by the Belge.

Total cost: F270.

Revenue: F0.

Game over, man; game over.

While the Belge has much better things to do (i.e. build much more profitable runs) than to lock out the Paris, it is this ability to remove an opponent from the game in virtually one stroke that will perhaps tip the balance of anti-social behaviour towards the Belge choosing this option.

This depends on your playing group.  In some groups there will be a lot of social pressure applied to prevent this tactic,  perhaps based on who is doing the giving and who is doing the receiving. (You *did* remember to bring a second bag of potato chips for 'diplomatic purposes', didn't you?) But in tournament play you should not expect to receive mercy, nor for your competitors to do anything other than egg on the Belge, since it hurts the Belge, and *ruins* you.

Perhaps the only good news is that the mid-game is not one but two minefields, and ultimately the game is so utterly dependent on how the TGVs fall out that you may actually be able to recover from this disaster.  Sell your third share, ditch the treasury shares at earliest opportunity and pray for a decent Etat, for which, sadly, you will have grossly overpaid F145 for a single share.

So, given these choices, what do you do if the Belge owner is hostile, you missed out on the Bridge Private, and you got the wrong flavour of potato chips?  Give up?  Complain loudly on the 18xx forum about how the Paris Private is overpriced?  All this and more....

Vive la counter-revolution!

There are a number of options available to the Paris president for fighting against a hostile Belge.

(4) Don't throw good money after bad: Don't float the Paris.  Just wait.  Calmly collect the F25 per turn, and look for investment opportunities elsewhere.  Once all the 2H trains are gone, you can float, connect to your destination, convert, and buy not one, not two, but *three* 4H trains in one OR (with the aid of a loan of course).  Or... if you want to be boring, buy only one 4H.  Either forgo the loan (by not placing the token on your destination), or take the early loan and keep the money handy to buy a 6H when it becomes available.

(5) Float low, sweet chariot.  The intention is to force the Belge to operate before you in the first operating round.  At that point the Belge president must choose to lock you out (without knowing what you will do), or he will lose the opportunity forever.  So set the par price below what you think the Belge president will set the Belge price at.  Even at the minimum share price for floating (F75), you at least break even on your Paris Private Company (F150 worth of shares plus £F5 of revenue > F160).

Of course you do not know if the Belge president will set the par price a little lower than could be expected.  He might even undercut you by setting the par price below yours, or at F75 itself.

If the Belge president 'ups the ante', by floating at F75, just fall back on scenario #4, and refuse to float the Paris by yourself.  Just keep collecting that revenue from the Paris Private, and the Belge president will have a lot more cash tied up than you will, and a much slower cash flow if he decides to 'up the ante' yet again by not floating the Belge.  (There may be loud booing and jeering from the luckless owner of the Belge Private.)

(6) Set the par at F75 and watch someone 'force' you to float because he bought one share.  In this case the company will have a mere F225 in cash.  And if we follow scenario #1, tragically our expenses of F140 will leave us a mere F85 in the  treasury--not enough for a measly 2H.... Oh, what will we do?  That's right, take a loan and end our train problems.  Grab 2 2Hs, then when 4Hs are available there'll be enough cash left over to convert to a 10 share company and grab a 4H as well.

Total Cost: F16.

Revenue: F110 per operating round (F44 to you, F22 to your co-floater, and F44 to treasury)

But to prevent you from getting the loan that person might (in a fit of madness) buy the *fourth* share of the Paris.  At this point you have two options: either buy the fifth share yourself, or set up your 'friend' to have a dead Paris dumped on him.

(7) Fully capitalize at a par price of F75 per share.  This places F375 in the Paris' treasury.  If you go with scenario #1, you spend F140 (leaving F235) and then have plenty left over with which to buy two 2Hs.  The 'friendly' boost you've received unfortunately will not help the share price rise at the end of each round, since five-share companies never rise when all five shares are sold.  Still, when you need to print money for your next set of trains you can just convert and dump shares.  Alternatively, milk it for what it’s worth, and then dump it on your friend just before it would join the Etat.

(8) Create a four-share Paris with you having the priority in the next share round (ahead of your 'friendly' co-investor).  This gives you the opportunity to make a play for scenario #2 - the London-Lille 'optimum'.  You only have F300 in treasury, and potential expenses of F120, so its not enough to buy a second 2H.  Of course, in the next share round, if the Belge president, out of the kindness of his heart (or perhaps deciding he does like that flavour of potato chip after all) hasn't locked you out, you can buy the last Paris share, providing the funding required for the second train.

If the Belge does lock you out, well... you've got first rights on dumping (if you don't, see scenario #7 instead).  You'll have spent F160, gathered F£25 in Private Company payouts, and then sold out your Paris shares for F140--a net gain of F5.  In the process, you've done massive damage to your 'friend' (who will have paid F150 for his single share of the Etat), done considerable damage to the Belge revenue... and been paid for the privilege!

However, I have found that some people when they play the Paris just cannot bring themselves to set the par price at less than F110, even in the face of a hostile Belge.  Something in them just rebels at the very thought.  They see that as 'losing' F70.  They would rather have an asset which starts at a high value and earns nothing and declines in value, than the cheaper asset which pays dividends, and will soon surpass the 'better asset value' in capital gains.  In any case the initial Paris payouts are fairly limited, and so the Paris will quickly hit the point at which it cannot continue to increase in share price.  This gives the 'worse' par price time to catch up.

But, if no amount of logic will budge them, and they *must* set the par at F110, they *still* have good options for fighting a Belgish bully.

(9) Go North young man, but go a little slower.  Set the par price at F110 as per scenarios #1 and #2.  Now we place our two tiles north west of Paris, but instead of connecting from Rouen west to our destination at Le Havre, we exit in another direction (northeast or east).  This slows us down one turn from reaching Lille, but it gives us the comparative luxury of knowing that even if the Belge does lock us out, we are still collecting revenue, and so there is no 'knockout punch' as in the standard Belge lockout.  If the Belge cannot kill us entirely, the Belge president may not even bother trying to lock us out at all. (Why tempt them?).  And while it is slower by one turn to get to Lille, it is also faster to connect to the destination.  (A simple green upgrade will do).

The northeast option looks more useful, but Belge can complete the Lille-London route and lock you out a second time.  On the other hand, the eastward option has the advantage that you can at least continue to lay more track, building a track line underneath the Belge's lockout position.  This isn't great, but at least its something to do while you wait for green tiles.  It is also only two track placements from Lille.  So if the Belge doesn't lock you out in the first round, it won't get the chance again.

Comparison of Scenario #2 and #9 payouts with 2 2Hs (best case, no Belge lockout)

                 OR1     OR2      OR3      OR4      Total
Scenario #2      F0      F30      F100     F100      F230
Scenario #9      F0      F60      F60      F130      F250

Interestingly, this 'low risk' option is actually better for the Paris after the fourth and subsequent ORs (and is only £10 behind on OR3).

Now for the worst case Scenario, with a Belge lockout.
                OR1      OR2      OR3      OR4      Total
Scenario #3      F0      F0       F0       F0       F0
Scenario #9      F0      F60      F60      F60      F180

Hmmm.... I know which one I would choose!

If all goes well (or if the Belge doesn't even float), you can run a 2H out of Paris for F60, a 2H into London for F70, and a 4H between Lille and your destination for F80, a grand total of F210.

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This page last updated on 26 September 2005. 
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