- Dave BerryScotland
If you’ve played 18GB, you’ll have noticed that the track tiles, and the rules for upgrading them, are subtly different from other 18xx games. In this article I explain why I designed them this way and give some hints as to how they may affect play. So, if you’ve been puzzled, or even frustrated by this aspect of the game, I hope this article will provide some relief.
TL;DR: In many cases, one company builds the route it wants in yellow; another adds its own route in green; then the brown upgrades take care of themselves. There’s no need to over-analyse the upgrade paths.
Act 1: Motivation
Scene 1.1: Birmingham
I find it easiest to explain with an example. Let’s assume the LNWR has started in its home city of Birmingham and has connected to London, with the other part of its route heading north. Let’s also assume that the MR, which starts in nearby Derby, is heading towards Birmingham. If we used traditional 18xx tiles, the MR could connect to Birmingham, place a token there, and immediately start running the same route as the LNWR. This would make the two companies pretty similar at this stage of the game.
Given the scale of the map, with companies starting close together and a concentration of cities around the middle of the board, this borrowing of routes would have been commonplace. I wanted the companies to develop different routes, so that there is more distinction between the companies and therefore more decisions when it comes to buying shares.
So I replaced the traditional 18xx green tiles with new ones that added a completely separate route. Now if the MR builds to Birmingham, it can build its own route, perhaps heading on to Bristol, or looping back towards London. Both companies benefit from the boost to the city’s income, but they have separate routes.
This reflects the historical development of the railways in Birmingham. In the first half of the 19th century, different companies build different stations and routes through the city, with no connections between them. Similar separate developments happened in many other major cities across Britain.
Scene 1.2: Bristol
A similar situation can be seen in other major cities on the map. To take Bristol as an example, the GWR may start and build a route to London. If the adjacent LSWR were able to connect to Bristol and borrow the GWR’s line, the LSWR could simply end up as being a copy of the GWR. As with the Birmingham example, I wanted more differentiation between the companies, in order that the players would values the shares differently.
The 18GB tile mix means that if the LSWR connects to Bristol, it has to build its route beyond. If it wants to connect to London, it must build that route from the LSWR’s home station (until it can lay a token somewhere different).
Note that in both these examples, it is the second company that gets to define the route. The LNWR and GWR can’t just upgrade their home cities to block a second company from building in these hexes, at least, not unless they spend crucial track building tempi to do so. That is why the rules only allow an upgrade if the company can run on some of the new track.
Act 2: The tile mix
Scene 2.1 Yellow tiles
Now let’s look at the actual tile mix. We’re looking at tiles for the cities labelled OO and XX, which are most of the cities on the map. (The single-station cities are the smaller cities historically and they generate less income at all stages of the game).
The yellow tiles are straightforward. They have track connecting two sides of the hex, either as a straight line or a gentle curve. There is little to say about them.
Scene 2.2 Green tiles
The green tiles add a second track, connecting two other hexsides. The two pieces of track don’t connect on any of these tiles. Pretty much every combination of connections is available, so there is a wide choice of green tiles, albeit only one or two of each configuration.
By the time that several green tiles have been laid on the map, a network of different routes can build up in what is a fairly dense space.
Scene 2.3 Brown tiles
When the brown tiles come out, the situation changes. Unlike the yellow and green tiles, the brown OO tiles have different track layouts than the brown XX tiles.
The brown OO tiles are conventional 18xx tiles, with the two stations joined and connections to five hexsides. When the map has all the brown OO tiles in place, it will look similar to other 18xx games, with the routes defined by where the companies have placed their tokens. (And there should be a lot of tokens in the key cities by this point in the game). The following picture shows the map with all the OO and XX hexes upgraded to brown:
This also reflects the historical development of the railways. Later in the 19th century, companies learned to share or trade running rights for sections of track. In several cities, stations that had been separate now had track connecting them.
The brown XX tiles still have two separate stations. Each station now connects to a third hexside, giving more route options while retaining some difference. The separation means that each game of 18GB will have some difference in the routes around the XX cities, particularly around the adjacent cities of Leeds and Manchester. This also reflects the historical development of routes in these cities.
The brown XX tiles may take a little getting used to, if you haven’t played with similar tiles such as the grey tiles in 1825. They are simpler than they may first appear. When you are placing them, look for which cities are connected to which hexsides.
Act 3 Effect on Play
Act 3.1 Yellow tiles
Playing a yellow XX or OO tile is reasonably straightforward: you just connect the two hexsides where you want the company to build its route.
One thing to look for is where track will be built to upgrade the tile. The company placing the green tile must be able to run on the new track, which will not intersect with the yellow track on the tile. Often, this upgrade will be made by a different company (possibly even a company controlled by a different player). So it’s worth thinking about which company may want to build towards this hex and make sure that it will be able to connect to a blank hexside on the yellow tile.
When there is another company building in the same general area, you may have a choice of whether to connect your company’s track to the other company’s track directly, which may give you a longer route immediately, or to head to one side and allow that company to upgrade the hex, giving both companies higher income from that city.
Some OO and XX cities are adjacent to pre-built track on the edge of the map. Bristol and Edinburgh are examples. By connecting a yellow tile to this pre-built track, you will make it easier for the company to spend some tile actions to connect back to the hex and upgrade it, should you wish to. (In the cases of Bristol and Edinburgh, this connection will also guarantee a connection to the bonus income when the blue tile is laid in the adjacent estuary).
Act 3.2 Green tiles
When a company reaches a yellow OO or XX tile to upgrade it, the upgrade is reasonably straightforward: you just connect the two hexsides where you want the company to run its route. The only restriction is that the new track can’t connect to either of the two hexsides connected to the existing route.
There is a possibility that the tile you want may have been used elsewhere, so you may have to take an alternative option. (It is extremely unlikely that you won’t be able to place any upgrade at all).
I never worry about which brown tile this will upgrade to. I take the attitude that the brown tile will look after itself.
The main difference from other 18xx games is that a company can’t just upgrade an OO or XX city that it already runs to – not even if the hex is the company’s home city. To upgrade, the company will have to build other track such that the new track on the tile will extend one of the company’s routes. Often, this isn’t worth the effort; it is better to get a second company to do this upgrade instead, while the original company focusses on extending its route.
Some companies, including the NER, SWR, MR and GSWR, start in single-station cities next to an OO or XX city. For those companies, it can be easy to lay both the yellow tile and upgrade it to green, by building a separate route from the home city into the OO or XX hex, as shown in the following image:
Act 3.3 Brown tiles
Upgrading to brown OO tiles is straightforward. Unless the tokens already on the tile block the operating company from reaching the new track, any company that can reach the hex may place the upgraded tile.
Upgrading to brown XX tiles is also reasonably simple. Each station in the hex will connect to one new hexside, so work out which station you wish to connect to which hexside, and then find the matching tile. If you aren’t used to these tiles, it may take a bit a practice to find the right one. Fortunately, there will be at most four brown XX tiles on the board, so this shouldn’t take too long overall. As with the OO tiles, you do have to check that the company placing the upgrade can reach the new track, past any tokens that are already on the tile.
The tile mix and restrictive upgrade rule may track laying in 18GB a bit different from other 18xx games, especially for the OO and XX cities. At the point of laying or upgrading a tile, the choices are reasonably straightforward: just lay the track that connects where you want to go. Don’t worry about future upgrades; in almost all cases, they will take care of themselves.
It is slightly harder to get used to the idea that a company can’t just upgrade a yellow OO or XX city that it connects to, and instead an upgrade requires a separate connection. In many cases, this is best achieved by a different company. This holds even when the hex is the company’s home city; it is often more efficient for the company to build track elsewhere and let another company upgrade its home.
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- Jon Cant(Yrael)United Kingdom
Quick video to explain as well 🙂
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- Christopher Giroir(Kelsin)United States
- This is such an awesome post. I love all of the reasoning explaining the why behind one of the most interesting aspects of this game. Thanks so much!
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