Evolving Strategy in 1861

by Bruce Beard

I. Personal evolution of strategy and tactics

The first time I played 1861 was 2.5 years ago at PrezCon. I overbid on the P1 and P2 and started the NIK at $220. We stopped our 3-player game due to time constraints and I think I was in last place.

A friend brought home a copy of 1861 from the Chattanooga Rail Gaming Challenge that year and we started playing at the DOK game club on Saturdays. I won the first 7 times I played it without any strategic design at all--just instinct and tactical decisions. The standard strategy became sucking up 1 or 2 privates and getting a Moscow RR. Privates were going for 5-20R over face. I developed a counterstrategy of, in 4-player games, opening the KK-KR-MV at $100 each, and merging the KK & KR early to get two 3Ts and a token in Voronezh (MV home), thereby having 1 minor and 1 major with 3-runs from Ekaterinoslav to Moscow even with no Moscow token.

In those days, we rarely opened green minors except for the E and the MB.

I went to RailCon that year and played 3 games of 1861. I won the first two easily and was glad it was chosen for the final. I finished last to Todd Vander Pluym, James Robinson and Ian Booth (who might be three of the 5 strongest players in North America).

Todd (whom I had beaten earlier in the week) and James developed the following strategy:

A. keeping their minors out longer

B. starting green minors just to get the 3Ts

C. transferring the 3Ts to their starting yellow minor; and

D. letting the green minor be absorbed by the RSR and getting most of their money back.

This was a huge strategic breakthrough and I immediately adopted it. I am sure it has been independently discovered several times in various parts of the 18XX globe and is now standard operating procedure at tournaments and when we play in Delaware.

Last year at Chattanooga (I attended for the first time and finished third) a lot of people were waiting until they had a 100R between two RRs and then doubling their 2Ts to get another 2T. They would make a lot of money for a round or two but they had space issues getting 3Ts in the right company and the 4T killed most of their trains. I could never decide whether this was right or not.

I decided that if doubling 2Ts was right then the sooner you did it, the more money you would make. After some thought, I realized you could get 3 2Ts for 200R by the end of OR1B.  For example:

KK @ 50

KR @ 50

KK buys 2T, lays toward Kharkov

KR lays toward Kiev, takes a loan for a second tile which it lays toward Moscow (buttering up the MK owner) and buys a 2T from the bank and a 2T from the KK for 10R.

In 1B both of those trains run and the KK buys a third 2T with 2 loans and 10R.

For the rest of that spring I just destroyed everyone I played in 1861. But the good players adapted. They started bidding a little less for the privates and Moscow RRs, a little more for the KR and the SpW (you can do this with MK-MV; MK-KR; KK-KR or SpW-RO). Also, if one player does this with KK-KR and another does it with SpW-RO, you get to the 4T that much quicker and it does not work as well. But last summer (2008), all the tournament regulars knew both how to play it and how to defend it.

I think those are the two big strategic breakthroughs in 1861. Since then, the improvement has all been about tactics and timing.

II. Recap of 2009 Origins Final - 1861 Strategic Concepts in Action

P1- Todd @ 30R
P2- Todd @ 45R
P3- Mike @ 70R
P4- Rick @ 85R
P5- Rick @ 90R*

Rick's opening was extremely dangerous. The "no minor opening" usually only works out if 8 minors start and buy all 10 2Ts. Then you can start in OR2A with an instant 3T. If you have to buy a 2T in 2A it is not nearly as strong. And you usually do unless the other players are asleep. But Rick likes to experiment.

NIK--Todd for $165 (leaving him with exactly 100R at SR2)
MK--Mike for $160**

Some people prefer the MNN to the MK. I disagree. The MK can decide whether to tie in the MV, KR or KK. By the time the MNN reaches E-Kat, all three Moscow RRs will have access to the "perfect 3T run" of Moscow-NN-Ekaterinburg. Let the MNN do the dirty work and pay the $. Start the NIK or the MK.

MNN--Charles for 150R
KK--Bruce for 100
KR--Bruce for 105***

I may have lost the game right here for a flippant remark. I had 150 left and Charles had 100. Charles asked me which minor I wanted. I said: "I am taking the KR. You can make me pay an extra 5R if you want." He bid 100 on the KR. Later, Mike's NW came on at 135 and Todd was able to buy a share. I had 132 and was not. I only lost by 180. That share cost me 15 of stock increase, 18 dollars of run and tempo in purchases. It may have cost me another share later. There is a multiplying effect. But I am a smart-ass and fun is as important as winning. I would do it again.

MV--Charles @ 100

I used the KK-KR extra 2T opening detailed above. I probably use it too often. Having invented it, I am emotionally attached to it. My baby....(Sigh)...Isn't it cute?

Todd bought a 2nd 2T in the NIK in OR2A so that later he could move $ into the NIK from another minor without having the NIK fall back.


Rick started the SpW @ 180

Todd started the KB @ 100

Mike started the RO @ 100****

This decision is questionable. The RO is a very slow starter without a cooperative SpW. The OK might have been better. OK runs for 60R its first turn and the RO for 50R. Mike later merged the RO and the the MK at 135R but might have been better off waiting for the MK to grow up and letting the RO (or the OK) go into government. Personally, I would rather have a major company at 100 than 135 in most situations. Also, only 2 2Ts were left.

I had 105 and did not start a minor. This decison is also questionable. My reason was that, as the only person running an extra 2T, I was better off extending the yellow phase as long as possible. My extra train meant that I was making as much money in my hand as those with privates while making more money in RRs.

Mike ended up having to buy the 2T across from the MK and the MK bought the first 3T with loans. But he had less than 135R in the critical SR3 round and could open no minor.

In SR3, Todd got the D @ 160, Charles got the MB @ 180, Rick got the E @ 145 and the SV @ 140 and I got the V and the TR @ 140 each.*****

140 is the perfect price for a green minor because you can buy the 3T for 135 with 2 loans and still have 5R left to buy across a 2T to make room for the 3T in your yellow minor.

Rick and I, by having the most $ in SR3 (I had 322 and he had 287) got 2 3Ts each. The other players had 1 each.

In the first merge round, Mike merged the MK and the RO to form the NW @ 135. He had the money to buy 2 more shares--taking him to 40%. I like to get to 50% (so that I am not losing income) but reinvesting in MR1 is usually good. If he waits he can grow up the MK @ 100 and just let the RO die. He can get to 60%. That is what I would have done.

Charles also merged the MNN and the MV @ 150 and was only able to buy 1 more share (taking him to 30%).

This was questionable. In 1 turn he could have grown up the MNN @ 100 and got to 60% (using, in part, the money from the defunct MV). It was also VERY, VERY good for Todd.

Charles bought the first 4 on the GRR, Mike bought the second 4 on the NW and the RSR bought the third 4.

In MR 3B, Todd grew up the NIK at 120 and bought 4. It sold out. He had moved the money from both the KB and the D into the NIK and it had a 3T and 1050Rs. He bought the last 4T and the first 5T.*****

Had Charles not grown up, I argue, too early, Todd would have been looking at 2 4Ts and would have had 1 fewer payouts running 3 trains out of Moscow (he had a 3T that came with the NIK conversion, a 4 and a 5). That would have cost him about 1 share of stock in the next SR--and the game.

In SR4, both the Blue (Todd) and the Black (Mike, with Todd heavily invested) were sold out. I sold 1 of each and bought RED (Charles). I did not want the 2 RRs Todd was holding to float. Unfortunately, others did the same. Todd and Mike both bought in the shares and Todd got enough $ for a 2+2 that ran once and Mike a 5+5E that ran once (which gave Todd an extra 194R on the last turn. So this may have been a mistake on my part.

In MR4A, I merged and got a 5 and later the 2nd 6. Rick grew up the SpW and got a 5 and the first 7. The RSR got the 2nd 7T.

Mike formed a new RR in SR6. He and I bought 2 each, Rick, Charles and Todd 1 each. Later he said he should have let me start it since he would not fill up anyway (and did not need the president's share) and then it would have cost more $ to buy trains. Had he done so, I would have made 104R more.

Todd beat me buy 184R (or maybe 186). We took very different openings (but, I think, the two best) and lots of little things affected the outcome.  Rick and Mike were 2R apart for 3rd. It took 3 hrs. 45 min.. Not bad for a final.

It was, I think, a good game. I made a couple of little mistakes that cost me the win. Todd played very well. That is why he is "The King of Train Games."

[Note, this article originally appeared in the form of a message sent to the Yahoo! 18xx group on June 29, 2009.]

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