18GL: Observations on the Private Companies

by Lou Jerkich

After playing a number of games of 18GL, of which several were via Cyberboard, some considerations regarding the Private Companies stand out.  What follows are my observations of a tactical and strategic nature about these Private Companies, here listed in the standard order in which they are available for purchase in the game.

C&E (costs $20, pays $5)

This company controls tile building and upgrades in Cleveland and Ashtabula/Erie. In most games, the player with the C&E has opted to begin with the Nickel Plate starting in Cleveland.  Is there any other good choice?  The NYC has one more token than the Nickel Plate, but it could be blocked by someone else starting the Nickel Plate and thereby blocking Cleveland with a token.  For some groups, the Nickel Plate may appear in every game, and the NYC may be a second-stringer if it even appears at all.  However, if one owns the C&E, I consider the NYC to actually be a better company to start than the Nickel Plate.  For one thing, the owner of the C&E cannot be prevented from placing the tile at Cleveland whenever he wishes, along with a station of a company he owns, be it NYC, PRR, B&O or even DT&I.  The NYC is also capable of earning more than the Nickel Plate if run correctly.  If it can arrange for three runs out of the East Coast, it is likely to be the game's early cash cow.  The C&E can also be used to guarantee the PRR or the B&O access to Cleveland.  One may have to warn off other players that they will see no upgrades in Cleveland if they start the Nickel Plate, for the Nickel Plate's home token could block some revenue and future development options just by being there.  Should they start it anyway, then follow through on the warning so that in the future they won't be tempted to start the Nickel Plate when you have other plans for the Cleveland region.  The C&E is, in my opinion, such an important Private Company that it appears to be seriously undervalued.  [One Variant rule that prevents it from falling into the hands of the first player is to place it second after the EJ&E so that players have an opportunity to bid it up to its true value.]

EJ&E (costs $40, pays $10)

No corporation can build track in the reserved EJ&E hexes that lie west of Chicago until permission is given by the owner of the EJ&E company.  Once the permission has been granted to a corporation, it may lay track in one or both of the two EJ&E hexes, but if both hexes are used the track must connect to each other.  These track lays are in addition to the regular track lay of the corporation.  Once even one track is laid in these hexes, the EJ&E Private Company closes.  Most players would not bid on this Private more than $5.  This company appears to give the greatest benefit to the Wabash corporation, which can use it to build a route from St. Louis to Milwaukee in a hurry.  The Milwaukee Road and the IC may also find the EJ&E useful, but those two probably are better off with the RailWorks card which allows more flexibility.   On the other hand, if you have both the EJ&E and RailWorks, start the Milwaukee Road at $70 or better, and lay three tiles in Operating Round #1 by placing tile 730 in Milwaukee, tile 8 southeast to southwest in C11, and tile 5 northeast to north in B12.  The C11 location is the EJ&E bonus placement.  Buy two 2H trains to run for $140 on these two new routes (Chicago-Milwaukee, Chicago-Rockford) on your next turn.  The next objective is to connect Rockford to the Great Plains, St. Louis, and to the Twin Cities via Madison.  In Operating Round #2, if phase 4 has not yet begun, lay tile #6 in Madison to connect Rockford to the Twin Cities and place a token in Rockford to make a $90 run from there to the Twin Cities.  Otherwise (or in Operating Round #3), upgrade Rockford to a green #14 tile connecting to the Great Plains and also heading north/south.  RailWorks can then be used to build track south through Peoria to St. Louis.  This, along with the purchase of a 4H train, should lead to Milwaukee Road revenues of at least $350 by Operating Round #3.  One can clearly see that the EJ&E/RailWorks combination is quite excellent.  [One Variant rule makes the EJ&E the first private company followed by the C&E.  The EJ&E remains a $40 private.]

Three Rivers Bridge Company (costs $50, pays $10)

The benefit conferred by this private Company on a corporation is to cut the costs of bridging a river in half.  The DT&I seems to be the company that would most value this card (or the Pere Marquette if using that Variant), with the Monon or the Milwaukee Road possibly finding it useful as well, depending on when they start and in which direction they head.  Most of the river hexes are west or southwest of Detroit, so unless the DT&I is building in that direction this Bridge bonus may not even benefit that corporation.  On the other hand, if the DT&I builds to Fort Wayne via Toledo, the $110 track-laying price tag for that enterprise will be reduced to $55 in costs.  That is significant.  Should the Milwaukee Road attempt to build several lines to the Twin Cities, the bridge will be of use from Madison to Wausau.  However, at most I've ever seen only one route to the Twin Cities by the Milwaukee Road, so the bridge is far from critical for that corporation.  This Private Company remains open even after the Bridge is used.

The Indiana-Ohio Excavating Company (costs $50, pays $10)

As it is with the Bridge, the "Tunnel" reduces expenses in hills by half their cost.  Clearly this is a valuable card for the PRR or B&O, since it cuts hilly terrain costs in half.  This Private Company would help the PRR or the B&O to get out of their hilly eastern corner at the least expense.  The NYC and perhaps the Monon are other contenders that could make use of it.  Even the Nickel Plate might want the Tunnel if it chooses to head to West Virginia or Pittsburgh rather than Toledo.  The Tunnel also does not close when it is used, but lasts until all Private Companies close.  Note that there are some hills in the northwest corner of the board but the LSI rarely would find a use for the "Tunnel" private if it has the Mine.

Lake Terminal Railroad (costs $50, pays $10)

This private company gives a benefit akin to the Southern Cattle Company in the 1870 railroad game, for it adds $10 to the targeted city.  It can be used at Gary, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Ashtabula (a small town) and even the inland city of Akron and the off-board area of Pittsburgh!  I wouldn't pay a high premium for this one.  In fact, there are better private companies to seek out, so I would probably only take this if it fell into my lap at face value or for $5 more.  Still, at a key junction where it would be used by two trains for many turns in a row, it would add to one's revenue and pay for itself.  If combined with the Port token at a key junction through which multiple trains pass (such as Cleveland, Toledo, or Gary), it would be more valuable.  The corporations most likely to benefit from it are the DT&I, IC, Nickel Plate, NYC, and PRR.  This Private corporation is closed when the Corporation places the Lake Terminal token.

[Note: only one of the above three companies (Bridge, Tunnel, Terminal) is available for use in a given game unless a Variant Rule is used to make all available.]

RailWorks (costs $60, pays $10)

The RailWorks Company allows a one-time bonus of two yellow tiles to be placed, or one free upgrade.  It can help a corporation launch itself out of a corner or get it well on its way to a key destination.  Any of the corporations starting on the east edge of the map (GT, NYC, PRR, and B&O) would especially find this useful.  Also, the Monon and Wabash could use it to rapidly reach dominating positions around Fort Wayne, Toledo, South Bend or Gary.  The Milwaukee Road could use it to reach the Mines in Michigan, or Madison and the Twin Cities, and the LS&I could use it to quickly reach Sault Ste. Marie.  Since all corporations (except CONRAIL) get to lay two yellow tiles on their first Operating Round after they float, the addition of two more tiles due to the RailWorks gives the player who owns it a chance to push the track of his initial company five hexes along before it runs its first train(s).  Or, RailWorks can be saved for a later point just before a new train needs a longer route.  A nice touch is to use RailWorks to reach a city and place a token there before the competition can do so.  Once its bonus track has been placed, this Private Company closes.  RailWorks is such a strong advantage to a player that I see this as one of the most valuable of the Private Companies.  It can be used with any of the corporations, so to my mind it is worth a higher premium than most other 18GL Private Companies.  (See EJ&E above for the use of Railworks in conjunction with the EJ&E private company.)

Lake Superior Mining Company (costs $70, pays $15)

Since this Private doubles the value of the Mine in hex E1, many players find this to be a good alternate to control of the C&E and running a company in the vicinity of Cleveland.  This company also does not close when its power is exercised, so it continues to pay the owner its usual $15 revenue.  The owner of the Mining Company usually starts the LS&I so as to profit immediately from his investment.  I have tried starting the Milwaukee Road and using Railworks to reach the Mine faster, but that was still not as good, in my experience, as starting the LS&I.  The Mining Company plus RailWorks will let the LS&I reach Sault Ste. Marie faster so as to set up some very profitable runs for use with larger trains.  On occasion I have seen someone take the Mine and start a company that cannot use the Mine.  While this prevents another player from benefiting from the Mine, that collateral result doesn't seem strong enough to warrant purchasing the Mining Company if one doesn't plan to use it.  This company is probably worth a medium bid.

American Locomotive Company [ALCO] (costs $75, pays $15)

Getting a +2H bonus tacked on to one of one's trains can come in useful for any corporation, so this particular Private Company, as with RailWorks, is one that all corporations can use.  However, if one waits to use it with a 6H train one may find that it does not have a long life before the 6H trains rust.  A 4H seems a better choice, since it turns that into a 6H train.  The 2Hs can also benefit, but the 4H in my experience is likely to be the best choice.  This company is worth a small bid, although I would bid more for Railworks.  ALCO combined with Railworks can be useful since longer early routes need longer trains.

Great Lakes Port Authority (costs $80, pays $20)

This Private Company will add $20 of value to a selected Port city.  These cities include Cleveland, Toledo, Port Huron, Alpena, Traverse City, Muskegon, Gary, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Escanaba, Marquette, and Sault Ste. Marie.  Cleveland, Toledo, Gary, and Milwaukee are the most commonly selected sites, but players should not ignore the opportunities presented by the token being in one of the other cities.  (I can't, however, imagine Sault Ste. Marie being a good choice except in the most bizarre of game situations.)  When more than one train can make use of the Port bonus it becomes especially valuable, and mated with the Lake Terminal it can make a city truly a rich destination.  The one disadvantage of this Private company is that it closes when the Port token is placed, thus denying further $20 revenues to the player holding the card.  On the other hand, the earlier it comes into play with a corporation the higher will be the revenues earned.  One must balance the personal revenue one receives from the Port against the needs of the corporation that would use the Port and choose where it will do the most good.  I would normally not start the Wabash, Monon, or B&O if I had the Port, but all the rest can find some use for it.  (If, through use of the Railworks or EJ&E privates, one of these three companies can reach a port city by the time it first runs, then the Port Private might work with that company.)  This private can be worth a small bid price.

Lake Michigan Ferry Company (costs $100, pays $20)

I have seen this company's Ferry benefit go unused because the player who bought it doesn't build track to a Ferry point before the private companies are closed.  Sometimes the chosen corporation was not one that could make good use of the Ferry.  This is a terrible waste of cash since the Port also pays $20 and costs $20 less to buy.  If one buys the Ferry, it should be with the thought of using it to create a route.  The Ferry is expensive enough that one may wish to avoid buying other expensive Private Companies if planning on getting the Ferry.  (One needs a minimum of $300 to float a corporation on one's own at the lowest price of $60.)  Cleveland is a good terminus for the Ferry, making the Nickel Plate or the Grand Trunk two good starting corporations for a player who has the Ferry.  The general consensus is that the other Ferry locations don't provide sufficient revenue early on to make them as good as Cleveland.  The Ferry can still be useful if thought of as a long term investment, for when 10H trains and the Diesels appear a Ferry route may increase revenues considerably.  In fact, with a Diesel, even a long Ferry route such as the route from Owen Sound to Northern Ontario can be quite useful.  [Since the Ferry appears to be underutilized by players, I have also created the 18GL Pere Marquette Variant for players who wish to see lower Michigan more involved in the game and to see the Milwaukee-Muskegon Ferry Route more desirable.  In this variant, Detroit ceases to be a corporation home base.  The DT&I charters, shares, and tokens become that of the Pere Marquette Railway with a home base in Lansing.]

Camden & Amboy Private Company (costs $140, pays $25, comes with Presidency of the Pennsylvania RR)

The player who gets this private Company is assured of being able to float a railroad.  Even in a six-player game in which all players begin with $400 and a minimum of $300 is needed to float a corporation, the owner of the Camden & Amboy is assured of being able to buy another three shares to float the Pennsylvania RR if he or she wishes.  Or, the C&A owner can invest in other corporations while earning the $25 per turn that the C&A provides in revenues until the PRR buys a train.  The C&A can be combined with control of the C&E Private company to give the Pennsylvania RR an entry into Cleveland and a dominating position in the east.  The Tunnel is also another private Company that can be quite useful to the owner of the C&A since it will give the PRR a chance to save $45 getting from Pittsburgh to Akron and perhaps save more on additional train runs as well. 

Further Considerations

At least one person has claimed that the purpose of the 18GL auction is to avoid buying the Ferry.   Personally I don't believe that there are any bad private Companies in the game.  Rather it is poor judgment that turns a decent Private Company into something less useful.  Every private Company in 18GL can be helpful to a player's position.  The key is starting the right corporation based on the Private Companies that one has bought.  Of course, one should give careful consideration to how a Private Company would work together with another and with which corporation before one spends the money to buy it.  In the long run, a well thought out plan holds the best promise of paying great dividends.

David Hecht has observed in a Yahoo 18xx Groups email on  January 28, 2008, that "the LSI, IC, and Milwaukee will open for sure along with the NKP and (possibly) the NYC. Maybe the PRR. The next company in the hierarchy is the Wabash."  In my experience so far, the LSI almost always opens as well as the NKP or NYC, but generally only one of the Milwaukee or the IC seems to open.  I have seen my wife open with the Monon and eventually win.  In fact, I have seen almost every company in the game be an opener, but the ones that David mentions are indeed the most likely.  The B&O appears to be the least favored, perhaps because it appears likely to fare poorly in comparison with the nearby PRR and NYC.  But then perhaps in my playing group we haven't given it a fair chance yet.  (Note: I have created the Columbus Variant to encourage the B&O to start early.)

At any rate, the mix of Private companies that one owns should influence the choice of starting company.  A bad fit will probably cost a player position, but a good meld of Privates Companies with a public corporation can lead to great success.

Players cannot afford to pay too much for Private Companies in 18GL or they may find themselves short of cash to start a new corporation.  The C&E is worth a premium, however, if a Variant Rule is in use that places it later than first place among the Private Company offerings.  In that case, I might expect nearly all players to place a bid on it so as to prevent someone from getting it too cheaply.  Some of the others, such as RailWorks, ALCO, and the Mine can also be worth bidding upon.  For most of the others, I would probably not spend more than $5 to $10 to buy them.  Rather, I would make the most of taking what Privates companies can  be bought at list price. On occasion, it can also be worth paying a little more to get two or three Private Companies that will work nicely together with one's planned corporate purchases.  However, if you end up later in the sequence for buying a Presidency, then you may find someone else has taken the corporation you hoped to start.  Therefore, even though it is sometimes hard to determine, players should give some thought to the playing order likely to occur after all Private Companies have been bought.

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Created 25 April 2008.  Updated 26 June 2008, especially in regard to the EJ&E.  Some slight additions made on 7 March 2011 to EJ&E, the Bridge, the Tunnel, and the Port Companies and to a few other sentences.
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