Playing by the standard Mayfair rules, the small cities of 1870 (and a number of other 18xx games as well) are generally considered a liability. They count against the train limit on revenue runs but are worth only $10 in the early game and at most $20 if upgraded to a brown tile. So players tend to avoid these small cities as much as possible to focus on running track through the more profitable large cities. Whereas players will actually spend money to cross both rivers and mountains, it is rare to see them willing to place track on these small city hexes, even though the cost is often free. In fact, the small city locations are often so ignored by players that they might as well be unplayable hexes. Consequently these hexes are generally relegated to the role of being obstacles for normal track placement.
The variant proposed here attempts to give these small cities a more realistic and historically appropriate role in the 1870 game.
Variant Rules for 18xx Small Cities
1. Add $10 to the value of all track tiles depicting small cities. Thus, small cities on yellow or green tiles now are worth $20, and on brown tiles they now are worth $30. These tiles are placed and upgraded per the regular rules.
2. When calculating income, small cities are now an exception to the rule [on page 21 of the rules book] that "All cities along a route must be counted." Rather, the company can use as many or as few of the small cities on its route as it wishes, but each small city that is used does count against the train limit. The route must still include a city containing the company's station marker token.
3. When these variant rules are used, a pair of 2-trains may be
to link three cities (including red off-board locations) into a route
revenue purposes, as if the two combined trains made one 3-train. Only
type 2-trains can be double-headed. (For example, a pair of 2-trains
collect revenue from a route linking Mobile with Meridian and Corinth,
the two small Mississippi border cities to its north. If all
of these cities were on yellow tiles, the total revenue would thus be
Note that if the route ran from Mobile to Chicago by way of four small
cities on the east side of the Mississippi, the player could choose to
count Mobile, one small city, and then Chicago, having skipped the
three small cities.)
4. For Connection Runs,
maintain the original rule from the Mayfair 1870 rule book, page 23,
that reads: "To be eligible, a company must be able to run one of its
trains from its starting location to its destination." "Able" is
the key word, and the game's original rules point toward the Connection
Run being established as soon as all the conditions are met.
Thus, once track connects the starting location to its destination,
only an excess of large cities along the route can prevent the
connection from being established. The small towns in this
variant are intended to be neither a hindrance nor an excuse to prevent
completion of the connection. So, for example, if a player has a
5-train and there are only five or less large cities counting from the
starting location to the destination, it has achieved its destination,
regardless of the number of small cities along the route, because it is
"able" to make the run if it does not count those small cities.
If one takes an 1870 map and draws in the historical mainlines and major routes of the ten railroads in the game, all but one of the small cities on the board are found to be included in the routes of one or more of those railroads. (One of the two cities in the hex that is three hexes west of Chicago is the only one that would not connect to track of one of the railroads in the game.) The four cities west and southwest of Springfield, Missouri, would have multiple connections, as would Hope, Texarkana, and Shreveport--the three cities to the east of Dallas. Both the IC and GM&O historically had mainlines running through all the small cities shown east of the Mississippi. Moreover, Junction City, the small city west of Topeka, Kansas, was the true starting point of the Katy. Since the small cities were actually historically significant stations for the game's ten railroads, one purpose of this variant is to make it possible for the historical routes through small cities to be viable in the game, without diminishing the importance of the game's large cities.
For example, the Frisco player normally pays to build through the mountains to get to Little Rock rather than clutter his route with one or two small cities to his west and southwest. Furthermore, unless the Bridge private company remains in a player's hand and they have no other option, the IC and the GM&O are not likely to build track through the small cities east of the Mississippi, even though historically their land grants dictated that they follow those routes. Likewise, the SP and the T&P normally bypass the two small cities east of Houston and opt to build through Alexandria instead, despite the greater cost.
Perhaps if the routes through large cities were for the most part blocked with tokens, those small cities would seem useful for players who needed to enlarge their runs to maximize the use of large trains. Unfortunately, by the time large trains appear, there often aren't enough turns (or perhaps not enough tiles) left in the game to link up all those small towns into a highly profitable route. So, in general, using small cities on a route normally isn't economically viable when playing by the standard Mayfair rules.
However, small cities in this new variant are now worth $20 instead of $10, and are upgradable to $30 with a brown tile, so they are worth looking at more closely. Since they can't be blocked by tokens, the small cities could become even more valuable on a board crowded with station tokens. Moreover, at the beginning of the game these small cities would not be a detriment to a company since they would be worth as much as the large cities. This is at least as good as connecting two large cities on yellow tiles.
In the early stages of the game when yellow tiles predominate, those small cities would therefore have a value more commensurate with their worth to the railroads in the latter part of the nineteenth century. As the game progresses, however, their value would mostly stagnate compared to the large cities. They naturally become the whistle stops at which trains may later cease to stop as economic conditions change for the railroads over time. On the other hand, they are still available to be used as stops when one's 10- and 12-trains are otherwise blocked by unfriendly stations at large cities.
Essentially, once a route with small cities was started, it would have potential as the nucleus of a longer route in the later stages of the game when the big trains are in play. Since the small cities can be counted against the train's city limit if revenue is desired to be collected, but could also be ignored if the player wishes, the small cities would never be a liability. Thus, a player could build from Mobile to St. Louis through four small cities, yet still connect Mobile and St. Louis with a single 2-train. But a 6-train, or anything between a 2-train and a 6-train, could also profitably use the same route later in the game. Towards the end of a game, some of these cities might be useful in lengthening a route used by a very large train.
In any case, it is highly likely that, using this variant rule, more of the small cities would be included in revenue routes rather than be bypassed. Here are possible applications in 1870:
A late-starting GM&O that finds Memphis and/or Jackson blocked with tokens could still run through the many small cities (Meridian, Corinth, Jackson TN, Cairo) that are east of the Mississippi so as to get to St. Louis, just as the GM&O did historically.
The Southern Pacific might be more inclined to follow its historical route through Beaumont and Lake Charles on the way to New Orleans, rather than bypassing these small cities to head inland to Alexandria where it must pay a river fee to build track. Coastal or river access to New Orleans is already expensive enough without adding in yet another river cost.
The Frisco might prefer to circle west through Muskogee and Fort Smith rather than blaze a trail straight through the mountains to get to Little Rock. Or it might send out another "historically built" line through Tulsa to Oklahoma City, and then place a token in Oklahoma City to later benefit from the routes built by the Katy and Santa Fe to the SW.
These are only a few of the possibilities. Players should find more
as they play with this variant. Finally, these rules could
also be tried with other games in which small cities appear to be often
ignored or bypassed.
Note: Playtests within my gaming circle have shown that this
variant plays very well. We have found it more enjoyable than the
original version, and we have no hesitation at all in building track
through the small cities. Even when most of the tokens have been
placed on the map, the corporations are usually able to keep their
larger trains busy on useful runs. Since the small cities now
have a larger role in the game and are not merely obstacles to be
avoided, there is a greater variety in the routes that are built and
run, and the overall feel of the game seems more satisfactory.
For anyone who has ceased playing 1870 because they were too often
frustrated by tokens blocking routes or players using up tiles to
prevent alternate routes being built, please give this variant a
try. I hope you will find it rewarding and that it will resurrect
interest in your 1870 game.