Deep Dives

18xx: A History [Part 2]

18xx is a series of games that have a railroad theme and often involve a stock market and tile laying.

I adore the 18xx series of games, I might have a slight addiction because of Access to all of these fun game titles got me thinking. What commonalities do games with in the series have? Differences? Which games inspired others? While I tried to be as comprehensive as possible, I know I didn’t get all of the details. Leave a comment if you see anything that needs to be changed!

Many of the statements below are generalizations about the genre of games and do not apply to all circumstances. The stats listed do not include data points from every game. I love the 18xx series because you get to see all the exceptions.

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Stock Round Analysis

Sell/Buy Order

Buying and selling stock is one of the most important factors in the 18xx series. So, of course, games put some restrictions on how buying and selling stocks work in a stock round (SR). The classic mode for an SR is sell-buy-sell. This set up gives a lot of freedom to the players. Being able to sell twice in a round is powerful if you want to manipulate the market.

Being able to sell after purchasing something also can help manipulate the market while avoiding liability because you can get rid of stock immediately before someone has the opportunity to drop a potentially drained company onto you. 

Only 10% of games have the freedom of selling stock, buying stock, and then selling again. I found this to be rather low, especially since this is a classic rule of the early games within the series.

Many games lean towards being able to sell and then buy shares. This limits some of the stock shenanigans – especially what I like to call blinking. Where you buy a stock and then immediately sell in order to drop the stock price. I’ve seen this done to hurt other players positions or manipulate turn order. Buying stocks to hurt another company now comes with risks.

Float Percentage

Major companies often need a certain percentage of shares to be sold from the initial pools in order to “float” or become operational. A company that hasn’t floated will not run (i.e., no laying track, no placing out tokens, no buying trains).

The classic percentages of shares needed to be in the wild is 60%. This is a core rule from 1830 and about 40% of games have adapted this rule. Many games modified this rule down to 50% but it does give a lot of flexibility in games. I think games did this to be more streamlined version. Also 50% seems more memorable that 60% since it’s a common split.

A few games had multiple floating percentages based on which company was started. Or the 20% shares which were more likely to be true of incremental games (see section below).

Capitalization Type: Full vs Incremental

Within the 18xx world there are two major types of company capitalizations: full capitalization and incremental capitalization. These typically refer to the amount of money a major company receives once floated.

In a full capitalization game, a company will receive ten times its initial value. I believe this is simulating the company being fully bought out by investors and the bank. These games can have either a fixed or fluctuating par value. I have found that will full capitalization games, stocks will pay out to the company only when they are in bank pool and not the IPO.

In an incremental capitalization game, the company will receive the amount of value paid for the share at the time the share is purchased. This shows the company owning all their own stocks and being compensated accordingly. I love the balance of selling stocks to investors versus selling stocks to the bank. Selling stocks to the bank will get fast money but it will also hurt your market value. Stocks in these types of games will only pay out to the company while the company owns them.

Partial Capitalization games receive a set amount that is between the incremental amount and the full amount. This is not standard terminology, but it was the best thing that I could come up with for those games that were in between the two classics.

I figured that the full capitalization type game was popular with designers (I mean, 53% seems popular to me). But, it surprised me how many incremental type games were out there. I think I expected this to be lower but that’s probably due to the games that I have access to.

Operating Round Analysis

Type of Track

There are two types of tracks used in the 18xx series: Curvilinear and Lawson. Curvilinear track is one way when it comes to upgrades and has direction (See tile 41 above). Lawson track doesn’t have a dictated direction so it’s a little more open in options since all turns are available (see tile 82 above). While I expected Curvilinear to dominate, games using Lawson track stepped up. I really thought it would under 10% of games. Maybe I need to play some more games.

Track Lay Ability

When laying track, there are always rules that these games follow. The major three laying types are permissive, restrictive, and semi-restive. Permissive track lays feels like of like the wild west. Some of the track on the newly laid tile must be reachable by the company laying it. I.e., as long as you can reach one part of the track, you can lay anything.

Restrictive is the most limiting train laying type where some of the newly created track must be reachable by the company. So, if laying curvilinear track and you want to place the tile from the wrong side, might as well let go of that thought. It’s really hard to change the mindset between permissive and restrictive games.

Semi-restrictive games lie somewhere between the two rules previously mentions. The newly created track must be reachable by the company laying the track. This rule is ignored if the track upgrade increases the value of a city that the company can reach.

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