Interestingly, this set of notes is significantly longer than the rules.
|7||Free Base Private||$120||Private|
|8||Free Refuel Private||$140||Private|
|9||Free Claim Private||$160||Private|
|10||TSI Directorship||$180||Private, briefly|
I haven't figured out the starting packet entirely, but this is the best I've judged.
I think the most valuable item in the starting packet is the TSI director's share. At $180, it's seriously undervalued. It comes with two shares of TSI, worth $100 each, plus $20 income the first turn. Additionally, owning TSI gives one a great amount of control over the company with the best resources in the game. TSI will pay dividends nearly every turn, sometimes full, sometimes half. Deciding when that happens in order to suit one's own purchasing needs is helpful. The director will also always skim funds/resources out of TSI to help his other companies. That ought not concern TSI investors; our TSI director's motto is, "of course I'm going to loot TSI...and they'll still be the best company." With the quadratic stock market and the early start TSI gets, those shares will likely be worth $100 more than any others. $200+20 = $220, so I think that share ought to go for at least $220. $226 is a popular price to pay; $231 is a little steep because of the starting capital. In our games, the TSI director has won most, but has been hammered, too, when he has paid too much for it. There is a big danger that he'll lose the directorship if he pays too much for the shares, in which case, he's out of the game.
The independents are probably next best. A good independent company will produce $100 a turn for the owner into phase four or so, plus hopefully provide a nice boost of cash when the independent joins the Asteroid League. Of the independents, our most popular is Fast Buck. We tend to get some bidding on him, so he goes for about $140. That $20 plus his $15 income each turn gives him a great chance to get a second train early. The second train (I call spaceships "trains") will allow that $100 income, so the sooner the better. Torch is also very nice, and is a good candidate for a second ship early because his bonus makes 3/2 ships very attractive. Ore Crusher, Drill Hound, Ice Finder, and Lucky can be good or can be not so good. All (except Ice Finder) are prone to taking 5/1 trains early, which makes it hard for them to produce huge incomes, but makes them potential growth company sources. Ice Finder is flexible and can take many paths. Because they don't need to claim their ore, they are pretty rich, which, assuming no competition, will allow them to make a bundle. All of them except Fast Buck ought to go for more than $100. $140 is a nice amount because it gives them $20 initial capital. That means the 2nd turn they have a decent chance to buy a claim or perhaps even a train. Fast Buck doesn't need it since he makes his own additional capital, but he's good enough that if you get him for $100, you've perpetrated a steal. I wouldn't bother to bid $100 on Fast Buck, though, since it's a wasted bid, and bidding opportunities are dear.
The Private Companies are pretty good. Their big bonus is that they come with a $100 share of TSI. That means that they really only cost $20, $40, and $60 each, for which prices they are a steal, since it's not hard to sell them for face value if one owns a public corporation. That money comes in the midgame, however, and isn't as valuable as the early money made by the independents, so they are a little less desirable. Their special powers are quite useful, especially the $160 free claim. That claim was going to cost the company $60 or $100 anyway, so buying that private is a decent deal for a public company. The refueling station is usually more valuable than the base. The key to them again is that they come with a TSI share.
The last big item is the Asteroid League director's share. It produces $30 a turn for a long time, making it an OK share for that reason. It will turn into $250 worth of stock in Phase III or later. That's not much of an improvement; these paybacks are not as good as other shares. The reason to buy the AL directorship is to control the AL. To do that, one will need to have an independent company and not growth it. How valuable the AL directorship is depends on how the game proceeds. If the game has a large number of growth corporations, the AL will probably start pretty late in the game and be pretty weak. If there are zero or few growth corps, then the AL will be very good stock. Having two independents and the AL directorship will help ensure that's happening for the director. $180 for the directorship and $200 for the two independents means that this position only has $70 left over to outbid those competing for its independents, assuming a four-player game. This can be a good position, especially if the AL holder has two of the most likely to be growthed independents, which are approximately in order: Drill Hound, Ore Crusher, Lucky, Ice Finder. In a five-player game, $360 starting capital makes this position unavailable. My experience has been that the AL owner usually does well, but usually does not win the game, often coming in 2nd.
Planetary Imports is a decent card in terms of pure production, but I'd never buy it unless it were my goal to see most auctions and sales resolved immediately. If I have the only bids on a few items that will go to sale and expect competition (e. g. if I've put a $180 bid on TSI) then I might get to snag them by having the auctions resolve. Unless that were the case (and it often is, so be careful about someone else's doing this) I don't think it's wise to invest in PI. It'll pay back in very short order, but everything else will pay back more.
The AL share is best with two independents. $450-180 = $270, so one at $130 and one at $140 is likely to be able to happen.
Other than those two openings, I don't know what one ought to plan. It's too risky to plan on growthing a company from the beginning, and it's impossible to predict if one will get any specific public corporation, so if one is not involved in the TSI or AL bidding wars, getting the most for your money is the key factor I know so far. Fast Buck and Torch are good enough to build an empire around. No two independents or privates work together effectively, so there are no really good combinations available. One nice combo is to have the $160 private and VP, perhaps via growth from Drill Hound. VP can really use another claim.
TSI is often very well-served by having Ore Crusher as its independent company. It can control the competition for claims in that section of the board and Ore Crusher often has trouble getting its second train. TSI makes that easy. Ice Finder is near TSI; if they have conflict, TSI nearly always wins, which is a weakness of Ice Finder. If they are owned by the same player, TSI can do some exploration on Ice Finder's behalf, which is a minor plus.
Perhaps the best rule of the opening is to try to get a few shares of TSI. It's not critical to have three or four, but if someone else has a four-share TSI lead on you, it's hard to recover, since those shares will be worth somewhere between $250 and $400 at the end of the game.
Some strange things can happen. If the AL directorship is not sold in the initial packet, the rest of the game will be massively changed. My feeling is that this is a huge bonus for TSI, so it's probably to be avoided. If one of the privates does not sell, TSI does not float the first turn. It gets to run its probe, which is pretty nice for the director; he gets $40 from the privates plus $40 from exploration. That means the TSI share is earning $40/turn for the first two rounds. I judge this to be much less than TSI would earn, but since most of TSI's normal income is stock value, that's hidden. The extra $80 is probably quite worthwhile to the TSI owner since it comes so early.
If it has happened that Phase II has begun, then someone can start a growth corporation in the second share dealing round. It would be a great idea, I think, but it's very unlikely to happen. The first company would have to be Resources Unlimited (RU) since they are the only company available. If I had the option, I'd probably growth Lucky into RU during the 2nd share dealing round. That'd allow Drill Hound to become VP, which would also likely happen. Ore Crusher, if he's had a great first turn, will also become LE. I could even see Ice Finder's growthing into Mars Mining then. I doubt Torch or Fast Buck would get into this, but it could happen. If Fast Buck found a 40/70 rare his first turn, he might think about becoming VP now.
2nd share dealing round growth companies will be very lucrative.
One major decision will center around the launching of RU. If someone has $500, he can launch it at $100 par and be sure to own a bunch of the stock. That isn't too likely, but $440 can happen. More likely, however, is that the prospective director will ask the next player(s), "if I open RU at $100, will you buy a share?" Next player thinks, "if he does that, I can growth Drill Hound into VP..." "Sure will." The major alternative is to growth RU. RU is a very very powerful growth company; because it doesn't need to pay for its claims, and can save all its capital for trains. If the independent growthed into it already has two claims, it will have somewhere around $800 for trains. That's fine.
I try to start VP as a growth company. Their biggest weakness is that they only have five claim markers. Growth companies' weaknesses are that they don't have enough capital to buy both claims and trains. VP gets the most out of its claims, so they are a perfect match for growth operations. It's silly, however, to growth VP unless the independent in question has two rares available then. The location of the independent isn't that important (OK, Ice Finder isn't so hot, since it'll have to travel through TSI) but Drill Hound's pilot is really nice for VP, partly because of the $10 bonus, but mostly because of the exploration bonus; VP needs rares to survive.
LE works as a growth company, too. I would strongly consider growthing Ore Crusher into LE if I have found 6 nickel mines by the third share dealing round, or if I've found 5 20/60s and TSI hasn't claimed any of them.
Ice Finder ought only go growth if it's found great ice all over the place, in which case, they'll work since they can spend more on ships and less on claims early. They are also less likely to see investors as the other companies, so they'll get more capital from their growth shares.
After this, the game will have probably diverged from any previously-seen path, either due to extraordinary (or awful) finds somewhere on the board, or someone's choice to take a high-risk strategy, or just how things have worked out.
Launching a company public is pretty straightforward. I think the companies are valued in about the following order:
Note that growth companies usually operate after public companies. This is very important when considering train purchases. It's very dangerous to launch a growth company unless they know from where their Phase II train is coming, because if a couple of other companies start public, then Phase III might start before the company gets a chance to buy a train, leaving them without one for a turn. Not only does this blow two stock boxes, but more importantly, it ruins their income from growth shares, which is usually only available for a short time. Losing that means that they are going to be cash-poor all game. Buying a 3-train out of pocket isn't such a big deal, but it's going to make it hard to win the game.
When launching a growth company, one ought strongly consider what it needs to buy its first turn of existence. To that end, the director will probably have to buy a share or two at $67 to get them the money to buy a train, some claims, and a refuel station. Do it.
All this means that it's very dangerous to launch a growth company in the fourth share dealing round. If the game has gone slowly, it might work, but one is risking not having a train by the time the company operates. Furthermore, the company loses a notch in the vertical direction of the stock market, which is important, and two boxes horizontally. The big drawback of growth companies is that they start at a share value of $10, so they have to come out early, or their stock will be garbage at the end of the game. This also has the effect that one ought not buy growth stock unless planning to keep it for two share dealing rounds (at least if considering buying them the turn they launch) because you take a loss in stock value by selling the shares. Selling doesn't hurt the company because they are usually pinned along the bottom of the market. The market, by the way, encourages growth companies to pay full dividends every turn but two, and half dividends those two times. If they pay full every turn, they run into a right wall on the market, so generally plan on taking half company credits zero or two times during the company's life. Usually, it's best to do this when their earnings are at their peak, and hopefully, it'll produce enough money to buy the permanent train they want.
An interesting facet of 2038: deciding whether to growth a company or not in a marginal case might be judged by determining whether other players have or will do that. If you can judge what they'll do, do something different. The player who does something different will likely gain from such a decision.
The hardest decision with TSI is choosing whether to emphasize nickel or rare. That'll depend on what comes up, but unless TSI owns the $160 private's free claim, they can only waffle about this decision until six claims are placed. During most of the game, each company will run more than one train, but if the game enters Phase VII, they'll probably run only one (except AL). TSI will hopefully have a 9/7 freighter. That means that they do best if they have seven claims of the same kind, therefore only three of the other. Rares are more lucrative, but nickels are more prevalent.
TSI ought to claim any 20/60 nickel mines between their home base and Ore Crusher's early. Any rares worth more than 20 ought to get claimed, except for those south of Ore Crusher's home; those will be difficult to deliver, even if they are only one square away. A 40/70 ought to be claimed regardless, however, since TSI cannot get nickel better than that ever. In general, claims placed along the routes that a company intends to run are better than ones elsewhere, but better claims are sometimes worth getting a faster ship, particularly for companies with few claims.
TSI ought probably pay $100 to get an extra claim or two in the beginning if they have good stuff, because they'll get more train capacity than claims for awhile. Predicting their near-future train capacity so as to have enough claims is possible, but they'll usually run some ice or unclaimed ore in for much of the early game. $100 is a lot for a claim; I'd try to avoid doing it more than twice, or even that often. It'll pay back quickly, though.
TSI will usually spend its initial capital very quickly. It'll be making $30-40 a share by then. For the next several operating rounds, I suggest splitting dividends half-and-half to rebuild the company treasury and to be able to buy one claim a turn for quite awhile. Once their end position is fixed in mind, it's not too hard to optimize when to withhold half. If done right, it's usually possible to avoid withholding full dividends with TSI for the entire game.
Perhaps the biggest strength of TSI is that they can be mismanaged, looted, and generally messed around with and still be very strong. Even if a player who is not known for effective company management owns TSI, it's usually still a good investment. No other company in 2038 has that characteristic.
I like to play RU by placing their refuel station on Drill Hound's home base and delivering nickel into the RCC base. They claim mostly 20/60 nickel in the area, and any big rares Drill Hound has left behind (yeah, right) or they find themselves.
RU has to be careful to avoid train lock, since they'll be able to run a bunch of trains early. Unless the owner has a second company, this could be very troublesome.
RU works well as a growth corporation, especially if growthed from Lucky. In that case, they'll be running trains both from their base (put the refuel in the same place) and Lucky's. They can afford to do this without too much planning ahead, since they have lots of claims, and can afford to waste a lot of them for early profits.
VP has to make some tough decisions about claims. They ought to claim every 30/60 or 40/70 rare they see, but do they claim a 20/50? Since they only have five claims, there's a decent chance that they'll find something better if they wait. It's something to think about while running a pretty obvious route.
The other sensible approach to take with them is to buy a 6/2 train and get a base six squares northeast of home. Put the refuel marker on Lucky's base and plan on dropping nickel off at the RCC base. This tends to work out well; the center of the board around the Asteroid League's base is often unclaimed, and they will be able to get a bunch of claims there and deliver them. They get first crack at exploring the east central part of the board and will get at least 2-3 good claims there most of the time. The drawback with this is that they must use scouts early.
If the southwest is very nickel-rich, I like to growth Ore Crusher into LE. That's easy to run and is a great company. The way to know it's right is to be thinking, "gee, I wish Ore Crusher had 8 claims."
It is tempting, but foolish, to try to combine these strategies. LE has only 9 claims and hopes to run a 9/7 train in the endgame. Only two can be elsewhere from their main run. Get the northern ones first.
That MM only gains $10 from an ice claim is something very good for them; they can cheap out and not pay for claims when money is tight. The problem with this is that someone else might use them first, particularly those pesky independents. Worse still, if MM is up in the northwest, RU will sometimes feel like messing with them and has claims to burn, so they can just steal that 50/60 ice out of malice. Convince RU to invest in your company if you are running MM :)
MM can be growthed from Ice Finder if Ice Finder has headed North. One time I saw this happen they made $440 their 2nd operating round. MM can also be growthed from Torch; that base is very nice. This has the added benefit that MM gets Torch's claims and avoids having to compete with him.
Whichever of these two (OPC and RCC) to go first has a significant advantage. The refuel station on Lucky's base is super valuable. If LE or someone else hasn't taken it, OPC ought to grab it asap. RCC, too.
These two companies are more wildcards than any other. Since when they get launched can vary so much, they have different needs from game to game. An option, particularly with a late-starting RCC, is to buy a base near the middle of the board and run claims from there. It's not impossible that those claims can be a bunch of rares that no one else can reach conveniently, perhaps because VP has used up all its claims. If so, RCC might consider ditching home and running into the VP base. That sort of move might be the only way for them to find a reasonable number of claims, too.
No matter what, OPC and RCC will do OK; there's always 10/50 nickel around somewhere, although the area between their bases (out to about Lucky's base) is going to get filled with claims pretty fast. That's a highly-competitive area, so claim in there first.
Running the AL is tricky. The first turn, they'll have only the routes that the independents that joined them have already set up. Most likely, these are not so great or the independents would have stayed open unless they had no trains or the end of the game is in sight. Thus, the AL needs to buy a bunch of stuff very fast. I suggest they strongly consider buying three claims the first turn. (They are the only company that can do this.) By the time they come into play, usually all the good refueling spots have been taken. They need to base out a tile in order to place refuels. Most likely, they won't need too many because there just are not a whole lot of ways to use just one or two. It's reasonable to try to get a cross-board network going with them, but it's probably not worth the money. The AL has the money, though.
The big strength that the Asteroid League has is the ability to hold four trains. Since the owner of the AL is usually a bit behind the owner of TSI, and generally the AL has few 2-trains, usually it's in their interest to see Phase VI trains come out. This has the further effect of lengthening the game, making the AL payoffs (and they can be very large) last longer. I think the AL ought to buy as many IV trains as they can get their hands on. That'll usually cause the other companies to save for trains. If the AL has 2 IV trains, someone is going to have to buy a train out of the director's pocket. A minor goal is to get the upgrade for a Phase III train and end up running 2 IVs and a VI. I think this stuff is still a little too late to salvage the game for the AL owner, but there's a good chance he can come close if it works. Somone is likely to get nailed by the train evaporation, too, and if he's the leader, then the AL owner might sneak first.
One thing the AL can definitely do is screw up other companies by claiming mines that the other companies were using unclaimed, particularly good ice. If they have nothing better to do, messing with Mars Mining is usually pretty easy because Torch doesn't often growth.
Just be careful not to open oneself up to too easy a loot and dump---company credits are very valuable and someone will happily dump a shell of a company on you if you do. Once a company has lots of claims and such, however, it's unlikely that they'll do this because you probably have a spare II or III train to give the company, so you are not forced to buy a train out of hand.
Ought you sell your TSI shares? Around share dealing round 3 or 4, one may be very tempted to sell those TSI shares that are only paying out half (about $30) and are worth a lot in order to open a new company. I think this is a very risky move. TSI shares are going to accelerate in value as the game goes on. Because of the certificate limit, it's hard to own enough really good stock and TSI will probably never withhold full dividends. I'd only sell my TSI if I had a very very good reason, and then I'd think twice about doing it. I think the opening is one of trying to acquire TSI stock, not trying to make a quick buck on it. In some games, however, this is totally backwards. Sometimes TSI will be spread out enough that the director rarely pays dividends and uses it to buy trains for his other companies. This will stop if one player sells TSI and the director buys the shares. If he owns 4 shares, he very much wants to get their stock price into the far end to take advantage of that quadratic term.
I-trains go away with the purchase of the first III-train, but the 10 IIs and 6 IIIs don't go away until the very end of the game, when Vs and VIs come out (more or less simultaneously). That means that companies with three IIs and IIIs can get stuck in the endgame, not being able to buy a V or a VI on their turn, and ending up without a train shortly thereafter. Avoid this. The best way to avoid it is to have a spare slot in one of your companies; that's why there's a great incentive to own more than one company.
Running a route is a little tricky until you get the hang of it. Placing refueling stations 3 hexes apart will make life much easier in general. You'll have some number of "extra" movement pips above the 3 it takes to get from one refuel to another. Just count where you are using those and that will make counting easier.
One common trick is to start at a base with a refueling station. You can explore a neighboring hex for two movement, return to the base with a third, then refuel and do what you intended in the first place...$10 for free. If you have a spare pip and are running through an empty space, you can slow down to explore it and earn $10. Better still, you might find something good. On the other hand, if you already have a claim you really want and are afraid someone else will get, maybe you should wait until next turn to explore. The new thing might be worth $100, though. I usually explore.
Early in the game, it's hard to figure out whether or not to pick up newly-found cargo. There's a chart that comes with the game that is a little opaque, but contains all the odds for finding various materials given some number of hexes to be explored. Once you understand the question this chart is supposed to answer, it becomes much clearer. Note from it by the way, that Ice Finder rates to have the best initial run of any independent if he chooses to go south.
Generally, do exploration first during your turn, if possible, with the exception being that one ought to run routes that are totally inflexible first. It reduces the options and makes running routes easier to see.
To compute income, it's generally best to count up claims rather than accumulate along runs. I find it easiest to count, "TSI ran in 4 $70 nickels, 3 $80 rares, and 1 $90 rare, so $280+240+90=$610."
All in all, running routes is a new idea, but not all that tough to learn. One can generally determine what is going to happen before your turn and move reasonably quickly when turns come.
It can also happen that the bank is getting low in funds, so no one is willing to risk saving company credits for a new train. This can happen as early as Phase II and will often happen in Phase III, IV, or VI. Predicting whether this will happen is crucial.
2038 is different from any other 18xx game in this respect; the game often ends before the first VI train has been sold. I have seen it end without any share dealing rounds in Phase III, and several times seen it end before a permanent train has been purchased. That possibility makes it very appealing to invest in Phase II trains, since they might end up lasting the whole game. The downside of such a strategy is that if you own enough IIs and IIIs, then others will then have an incentive to make them obsolete. It's a tradeoff, but it can often be arranged to make the game end early, and at least half of our games do.
2038 does not have diesels. A 9/7 train is no better than a 5/4 and a 6/3 unless you really need speed, which is unlikely. Note that 2038 also always allows tradeups of permanent trains, but in Phase VI, the game is very likely to end before the next share dealing round, so such investments, while likely to pay back quickly (especially for the AL) are not usually worth saving any company credits to accomplish, unless you already have nearly all the cash available.
Here's a list of trains:
It's quite difficult for one player to manage to force the trains on his own. I did that once, but I controlled three companies: AL, OPC, and RCC, so I think that's unusual: it takes two to do this.
I'm thinking of removing one of the phase III trains, and possibly one of the phase II trains. My feeling is that the AL doesn't come out early enough to be competitive, it's too hard to force the game into an endgame, and the independents can be profitable until forced to close, so making them close an operating round or two sooner will increase the emphasis on long-term company management. It'll also decrease TSI's effectiveness, since their heavy investment into phase II and III trains will be of lower value.
Another possible change I'm considering is to reduce the minimum cost of the AL Export Co. to $160. If it's really worth more than that, this won't have much effect on play, but I'm not convinced it is. I have yet to see the owner of that item win the game, although he's been second a whole lot.
We have seen TSI's stock price reach $500. I don't like stock prices pinning in any train game; it tends to encourage directors to pull silly sell-offs. I think 2038 ought to use the "split" rule, so that if a share price reasches $500, the next time it moves up, it moves to $250. That's a one-turn no-gain, but thereafter, it continues up. Each share is worth double the stock value, and split stocks always go before unsplit stocks in the turn order. This ought not be a major issue, since the game is usually in imminent danger of demise when TSI reaches $500, but the end of the market seems too artificial for my tastes. Alex Simmons brings up the point that sales of aplit stocks probably ought not move the price down one row, but I don't care much. Selling stock that has split seems so foolish as to be a non-issue, but TSI could have a train liability, in which case, the massive stock hit seems ok.
See also: Mike's 2038 page.