After a first game of 1841 (version 2), the four
of us who played it felt that we were playing too conservatively and
had a lot to learn. (None of us had ever played version 1.) It took
much of the day to learn the game and stumble our way through it. None
of us really knew what kind of strategy we should be pursuing. One of
our players who began with the Leopolda and Maria Antonia down in
Tuscany found himself controlling the Livornese company after the
Tuscan Merge, but the merge process destroyed his position and he
languished behind for the rest of the game. (The Livornese had ended up
with three 3-trains in the merge process.) That player finished the
game with only about two fifths of the assets held by the winner!
It is rare in our group for someone to have that big of a score
discrepancy in an 18xx game in which no one has gone bankrupt. We also
didn't manage to get any non-historical companies into play until the
late phases of the game when the 6-trains were already in play. (The
first non-historical company in play bought the first 7-train.)
Moreover, we never developed any track in the original Conservative
Zone area although the rest of the board was well-developed. The winner
was the player who started with the Ferdinandea and got control of both
daughter companies. We all felt that the game was interesting and
challenging, despite the learning curve. Yet we were sure that our play
of the game was far too conservative and that we had done many things
wrong. So we sought advice and tips regarding 1841 strategy.
Steve Thomas provided the following responses to our specific questions
and in doing so imparted considerably more advice about the proper way
to play 1841.
Steve's Responses to Our Questions
Q. We would
appreciate some advice on strategy, how a typical game plays out, etc.,
so that in the next game we have a better grasp on the proper ebb and
flow of this game.
The first observation is that you played much too conservatively. 1841
is much less about running trains profitably than any other 18xx game,
though large earnings certainly still have their place. The rules allow
a great deal of flexibility for companies making money by investing in
other companies and by merging, and, properly used, these can inject a
great deal of cash into the game. If someone's doing that, anyone not
doing it will trail a long way behind the technology curve and become
doomed. Too, you can improve your own position by suitable investments
One way to make money personally is for a company to launch another
company at 340, and then after the new company has run once merge your
low-priced company with it. Sure, you halve your number of shares, but
they're worth far more, and you can reinvest in the ensuing stock
Perhaps better is to launch a company cheaply in the stock round, buy
60%, and then merge with your medium-priced company as soon as possible.
The Conservative Zone isn't of much use for actually running trains,
since the cities there are worth at most 40 or 50 and that's somewhat
derisory compared with Milan or Rome in the end game, but it has loads
of places in it to launch new companies. In consequence it tends to get
a lot of track built in it, but that track rarely gets upgraded to
brown until the more "central" spots (i.e. near Milan or Rome) have
been fully developed.
Q. Among other things, in a
four-player game, how many of the 8 concessions usually get bought by
the players? Is it better to start two companies at game start or focus
on just one? At what value would they normally be started in a four
player game with players starting with L.840 in cash?
Most get started. The SFTC is a complete lemon in v1. In v2 it's much
less so, though I lack experience in evaluating it properly. The Tuscan
companies tend to be poor payers in the middle game (when they've
formed the SFLi) but if you're going to end up running the SFLi it's
best to ensure that you own most of the components and, furthermore,
have all three components fold in. This makes owning the SSFL somewhat
more attractive than it might otherwise be. Even if the merger goes
reasonably well, SFLi is usually short of funds, and a merger (often
with a company launched in Genova) will solve the problem. Selecting
the right price for your companies is tricky. Personally I tend to set
SSFL high (144 or 216), SFLP and SFMA low (68), and anything else
either 100 or 144 depending on how the cash seems to work out.
Launching low will mean you attract investors, but leads to long-term
cash shortages. But a merger or two will fix that.
In fact, that's a general observation; in 1841, the answer almost
always lies in the merger rules, pretty much independently of the exact
nature of the question.
Q. Our player who had the SSFL and
the SFMA when the merger with SFLP took place ended up feeling
impoverished and short on shares. I take it from your explanation that
he should have dumped his SFLi initial offering shares as soon as
possible to start a company in Genova and then merge with it.
That's one way of going about it. Another is to launch a company
(probably at 68) in Genova personally, and merge. Ultimately, you'll
want to own 60% of any company that's any good, and in general it's
better to buy them at 68 and merge up to 242+ than it is to buy them at
full price. Of course, you should always watch out for other players
launching at 68; it's probably going to be profitable to invest in one
share of it.
Q. In our game, the starting values
for the initial companies were:
IRSFF - 100
SSFL - 216
SFMA - 100
SFLP - 68
SFTC - 144
SFTG - 144
SFTN - 100
Did we start SSFL too high? SFLP too
low? How about the others?
Those don't seem particularly out of line. If a player is launching two
non-Tuscan companies it's probably better to have one at 68 and one at
144 than it is to have two at 100, because that way you can profit by
mergers more easily.
Q. When the SFLi formed out of the
Tuscan Merge it was at 127.
That seems low. Its price should be almost the average of the SFMA and
SFLP prices plus the SSFL price at the time of the merge, and it's hard
to see how you could have knocked down prices so dramatically by the
time of the Tuscan merge.
Q. At the time of the Ferdinandea
secession, the SB and SFL were at 111. The SFL actually did far better
than the SB in train revenues, but the SB had twice the stock value at
game end: 298 vs. 152.
My experience is with v1, where the analogues of SB and SFL are minors,
but your experience doesn't seem unreasonable given your unwillingness
to merge. Milan is worth much more than Venice, so of course SFL
revenues, when it has a train, will be higher. On the other hand, the
fate of a company at a price of around 100 should be to merge with
something to get its price higher and inject capital.
Q. I wonder how aggressively
companies should be buying stock in other companies? My SFTC ended up
with five certificates. Others mostly ranged from 2 to 3.
Don't forget that companies selling stock will usually depress prices,
and doing this aggressively will probably prevent other players' stocks
rising through paying dividends. (I.e. they rise off the ledge when
they pay, only to fall back when someone sells; repeat ad infinitum.)
In the meantime, of course, your company has profited by one payment
and one stock increment. Corporate stock buying steps are a scarce
resource, though, so the choice of buying for profit and mayhem, and
launching a company to stay solvent, is a toughie.
If SFTC ended the game owning five stocks, it was definitely doing
something wrong, though. Once your company owns two permanent trains
and is at a price above 242, it's basically done and shouldn't be doing
much other than running and paying. The one exception is buying and
selling stock to
depress prices, but to do that you only need about one share's worth of
If I keep banging on about mergers being the route to salvation, it's
because most players don't do it anything like enough. In fact,
experience at other 18xx games can be a positive handicap at 1841,
since the usual seat-of-the-pants heuristics of most other games
will lead you astray. It is possible to launch and merge too much, as
various members of the Kentish Mob have shown, but novices at 1841
probably won't err that way. And as Robert Jasiek has implied, strategy
will only take you so far. As some point tactical considerations will
overrule most of the strategic tips we've given. Learning when to apply
that particular bit of strategic advice is something only experience
can do for you.
Q. The box cover for 1841, v.2,
says that the game takes 4-7 hours to play. Is this accurate?
Even amongst experienced players, 4 hours is rather on the rapid side.
It can be done, but it's rare. 5-6 hours is reasonably common, though a
slow player or two can easily stretch the game beyond 7 hours.
1841 is probably the 18xx game with the greatest strategic depth.
There's almost always something you can do beyond the basics of laying
and running trains, and much of the time there's something you ought to
be doing. So it's never going to be a quick game.
to Lou's Game Corner: Railroad Game Links Return
to Lou's Game Corner
This page posted on 10 January 2007. One small change made
in the Introduction on 19 Feb. 2007. If you have a
game interest or question, you can leave a message by writing to
I use earthlink.net.