1870: Tips on Strategy

by Bruce Beard


In my opinion, 1870 is the best train game ever designed. Any of the 10 public companies can be the best stock at the end of the game. It provides an excellent balance between stock value, operational revenue and anticipating the train purchases. Price protection, redemption, reissue and the yellow zone provide multiple opportunities for complicated decision-making.

Private Companies

GRSC - $20. It's main purpose is to keep anyone from getting a more valuable private cheaply.
Bridge - $40. Usually purchased by a player planning to start the MP or CB. The MP can run for a lot early; the CB can reach destination quickly.
Cows - $50. Works well with Frisco, Katy, ATSF or FW.
Port - $80. Usually purchased by player starting the GMO. Also works with IC, SP, TP, CB.
Frisco - $140. The Frisco can start with just 2 shares. You can get $1000 of capitalization for just $145. Works well in combination with other privates.
Katy - $160. Comes with one share of Katy and the largest embezzlement opportunity. Sometimes bid up over $200 in a 4 player game and $190 in a 5. Not as valuable as the C&A in 1830 but usually worth an auction.

Public Companies

The Frisco, MP, Katy, ATSF and SP have 4 tokens (technically the SP has 4, but one is off the board and does not block anything) so they have greater long term possibilities and are often superior in the end game. The IC and GMO have an advantage in that they get to double a $60 city for their destination. The SP and TP have a disadvantage in that New Orleans (their destination) is expensive to get to by the direct route and time consuming by any other route.

Because the Frisco always starts and the Katy often does, the ATSF, CB and MP can be good first companies because track will develop quickly in their region. But if two players start together (IC and GMO; 2 of the 3 Texas railroads), they can develop track just as quickly.

Stock Rounds

Buying and selling other people's shares to take them out of the Initial Offering and to get instant profits can have value but doing so religiously will probably put you dead last in the priority SR after SR. This is usually fatal. Pick your moments.

Track

First priority is usually to get the full number of cities you have the train capacity to run. Second priority is either reaching your destination or upgading the cities on your run to full value. This depends on how big your train is, how far away the destination is, etc. As a general rule, the only early company that should sprint to its  destination is the Cotton Belt.

Tokens

The $40 token is almost always worth laying but the $100 tokens of the 4 northern companies (ATSF, Katy, MP, and Frisco) are an iffy proposition. Don't lay one if it is going to keep you from getting the train you need or force you to withhold an extra time. (If you own 60% of a company, a withhold can cost you $300 in stock value at the end of the game in addition to the lost revenue of the one turn).

Trains

In 1870, the most valuable trains are the 3-trains and the 6-trains. The least valuable are the 2-trains.  1870 is not about mindlessly pushing trains but about when you push them. I have often seen 2-trains that were purchased in OR1 and never ran at all because the first 4-train was bought in OR2. A train, even an $80 train, that never runs is overpriced. But every decision in 1870 is based on what the other players do (and what you think they will do). That is why it is endlessly fascinating and not sitting in the bottom of my closet.

As previously stated, the 3-trains and 6-trains are the best trains in 1870.  It is usually worth a great deal of forethought and some maneuvering to acquire two 3-trains if you can.  Two 3-trains is almost always right and three 3-trains is sometimes right. The math is simple enough. 1 2-train and 3 3-trains cost $620. 2 2-trains, 1 3-train and one 4-train is $640. 3-trains cost 60% as much as 4-trains and run for at least 75% as much. They can get 100% of Chicago, or a Port or Cow bonus (raising that 75%). Since track is not always fully developed, they may also get 100% of a 4-train's payout for awhile.  Frequently, 3-trains and 4-trains  disappear on the same stock round, since 6-trains are the cheapest permanent train and they consequently sell very fast. Often, the 3 6-trains and the first 8-train are bought on the same operating round.  So 3-trains often last as long as 4-trains and 4-5 times as long as 2-trains.  The people I run into in 18XX tournament finals put a high premium on getting two 3-trains.

The period between the purchase of the first 3-train and the first 4-train is critical in 1870. If you can get your private company bought in before the other players, you will have two ORs in which you own more shares than they do. Also, if you can get two 3-trains and your full embezzlement, you are far better off than a player who gets 1 3-train or 1 4-train and his embezzlement.  Moreover, any player who has to fall back trainless to buy a 4-train is obviously worse off.

What I see most often in a 4 player game is one player buying 2 2-trains and 3 buying 1 2-train. That means if one of the other 3 players want their rip (embezzlement) early he has to buy 2 more 2-trains and the first 3-train. He gets all (or maybe only part) of his money 2 ORs early but he guarantees that he only gets 1 3-train. 2 of his opponents will likely get 2 3-trains and one may get a 3-train and the first 4-train. He gets an advantage in shares at the expense of weakening most of his shares in his initial company.   If a second player buys a 2nd 2-train, then one player may get 2 3-trains and his embezzlement.  That player is in the driver's seat (or maybe the engine).  What you do not want is to give a player 2 3-trains and their full rip. That is too good. If they have to buy 3 2-trains to get the early rip it is a mixed blessing.

Sample Scenario with a 4-train appearing in OR2

OR1:
PLAYER 1 - Frisco (started at $100, also has Cows) Buys one 2-train.
PLAYER 2 - MP (started at $76, has Bridge and GRSC) Buys 2 2-trains.
PLAYER 3 - Katy (started at $68, has Katy private) Buys 2 2-trains.
PLAYER 4 - GMO (started at $680) Buys 2 2-trains, 2 3-trains & Port for $160 (exactly $680).

STOCK ROUND

OR 2:
FRISCO - Buys 3 3-trains and cows (He has spent $840 w/ track but can run up in the KC/Topeka area on Katy track and down to Little Rock or Memphis. Moreover, as the only player with 1 2-train, he should push trains).
MP - Buys last 3-train and 1st 4-train.  (He has now spent $720--assuming MP's token is placed but it is going to be running for $20 a share for a while.)
Katy - Falls back after having purchased one 2-train too many in OR 1 (the one mistake).  He has to to buy a 4-train with no run and only gets about $200 for the Katy private in OR 2B.

By buying 3 3-trains, the Frisco player has eliminated 1/3 of his competition. His chances of winning have increased.  Other than the Katy player, no one did anything insane or lost $1 out of their private company embezzlement. And 4 of the 2-trains never ran.

I do not argue that this scenario is inevitable or even superior to other ways of playing. But no one did anything insane or bought a train that they knew they could not use. Buying 3 3-trains is unusual but the Frisco player was justified in this scenario.

5-Trains

As a rule of thumb, it is usually good to own one 5-train but not more than one 5-train. If you own none, you often have to buy a 6-train and an 8-train before you are ready and therefore end up selling off shares. If you own 2 or more 5-trains, the other players have a strong incentive to make certain that 12-trains come out and kill the 5s. But sometimes buying a lot of 5s can force a bankruptcy at 8-trains, in which case 12-trains will clearly not come out. Figuring out the distribution of the 5-trains and 6-trains is as important as the 3-trains.

Second Companies

Go where the track is. Some players choose a 2nd company they think provides the best synergy with their first company, but this is only a tie-breaker. Usually, whoever opens that company will lay similar track to that which you would lay. Always select the company with the best track at the moment you are selecting.

Yellow Companies

Yellow companies, or companies that withhold to get into the yellow stock zone, are valuable in 1870. They can help your first company buy trains and provide you with extra shares. In a 3- or 4-player game, it is often wise to take your third company into the yellow. In a 5- or 6-player game, it is usually your second company that goes into the yellow. The more players in the game, the less valuable yellow companies are.  (This is partly because it costs more of your potential shares and revenue to take the company back and partly because the more players there are in the game the more likely that 5-trains will survive to the end and that the game will terminate 3 ORs sooner).

If there are 2 or fewer yellow companies, yellow shares are extremely valuable. But if there are 4 or more yellow companies (or 3 and a lot of shares redeemed into companies), "real" shares are more valuable than yellow shares and should be bought first.  Also, the more yellow companies there are the less danger there is of a company being dumped. All the shares will be sold out and the dumper will have nothing with which to replace them.

Withholding

1870 is a cash-rich environment (certainly compared to 1830). Often, you can play an entire 1870 game without withholding except with a RR you plan to take and keep in the yellow. Withholding with "real" stock should only be done rarely (like once to secure a 6-train and when you would just be falling back the next OR anyway if you do not get it). 

Share Redemption

Players are more likely to over-utilize than to under-utilize share redemption. It is usually wrong to redeem shares before the 3-trains break. Redemption before you know how the 3-trains and 4-trains will fall out is dangerous.  It might cost you a train or force you to withhold when you otherwise could have paid. It is usually wrong to redeem shares when it costs you position on the Priority Card. Be careful that you do not redeem a share and then discover that you needed that money for a marker or terrain payment. Only if none of these things are true should you redeem.

Share Reissue

Don't reissue shares unless you will be using that money for something (trains, tokens, terrain) on the next set of ORs. When you reissue, you are doing a favor to the person who will buy those shares and get an instant profit. Be very careful reissuing shares that will be bought by your main competition for victory. 

Also, it is usually right to buy the shares you yourself will want in that SR before you reissue. That helps you get the best shares and also helps you with the Priority Card as players buy your shares for the instant profit.

Mobile and the Port  Token

Letting someone run two 2-trains and a 3-train out of Mobile (or anywhere else) with the Port is insane. Buy three 3-trains if you have to. The first 4-train will appear. One 3-train with the Port is $10. Two 3-trains is $18. Two 3-trains with cows is $20. Portboy is now losing.

Play a lot

Success in 1870 is mostly about experience.  Practice, practice, practice.  If you have a regular group that meets weekly, you will get very good at 1870 or any other 18XX game you enjoy. If you go to tournaments, you will meet good players from outside your own "group-think" and learn even more about the game. Also, playing other 18XX games gives you new ideas (cross-fertilization) and keeps you from getting bored. There are a lot of good games out there and a lot of good players waiting to meet you. When you meet someone who loves the game as much as you do, you are halfway to making a new friend.


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This page originally posted on 31 August 2008.  Slightly revised on 6 Sep. 2008 and 9 Oct. 2008.  A few corrections made 14 May 2011.
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