1817 starting strategies

January 7, 2020

1817 is a board-game that belongs to the family of 18xx games, most of which are based on an economic engine. The general idea is to build a network and then use this network to earn money which can then be re-invested to build a better network thereby netting out bigger profits. 18xx games are called as such because they focus on the early 19th century when railroads were being developed around the world. Each game is titled with a particular year and focuses on a particular region in the world with the companies and the geography of that period. Players participate in starting railroad corporations and building a rail network as best as they see fit.

1817 takes place in eastern United States and is a little bit special because it has much more of a stock market focus. It also features mergers & acquisitions where companies can either merge together or buy out other companies. While there is quite a bit of literature on 1817 strategy, this article is a summary of my game playing experience and what seems to work (mostly by observing others).

First things first - the whole point of this game is to make money. The more companies you have, the more track you can build and the faster you can start profiting from your well-built network. However, that being said, 1817 is a lot about relativity. If your opponents have all started lots of companies then it might be in your favor to start fewer well-funded companies and try and squeeze your opponents on the loan interest.

Initial bidding for privates

In order to maximize the number of companies one can start, the initial bidding is very critical. Given a minimum initial investment for a company at $110 (which will start it at $55/share and allow it to take 2 loans + the initial withhold), you want to start SR1 with $330 in cash (adjusted accordingly for the number of players). Note that as the rules suggest, the privates really are only worth about ¾ of their value. Thus bidding on fair value on a couple of small privates seems to be the best strategy.

Another effective strategy that I have seen was to get some of the bigger privates at fair value and start 3 companies leaving a smaller private in hand. A 4th company was then started with the private at a higher par value and a preferential location.

Depending upon how the bidding for privates goes, starting SR1 with more bidding power is also not a bad thing as it allows one to focus on starting companies in good locations with a high par. Synergy with the privates also matters. Mountain engineering with a coal or two and the Pittsburgh tile lay is a winning combination. Supplement that with a company operating out of Cleveland (or even Charleston) and you have an incredible starting position.

Finally, in order to not have to pay extra money to guarantee track lay, it is very important that the companies operate together in the same area. Location pairs are outlined below:

  • Charleston (+ Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Blacksburg): can run 2 trains to Atlanta with 4 track lays for $50 each (without coal).
  • Albany (+ NYC): can run a train to NYC and one to montreal with 3 track lays for $60 and $40 respectively.
  • Philadelphia (+ Baltimore, NYC, Pittsburgh): can run a train to NYC and one to Baltimore with 3 track lays for $60 and $50 respectively.
  • Baltimore (+ NYC, Philadelphia, Richmond): can run a train to NYC (or to Philly) and one to Richmond with 4 track lays + $40 terrain cost for $70 (or $50) and $50 respectively.
  • Richmond (+ Baltimore, Blacksburg): can run a train to Baltimore and one to Raleigh-Durham with 3 track lays + $20 terrain cost for $50 and $40 respectively.
  • Boston (+ NYC): can run a train to the Maritime Provinces and one to NYC with 4 track lays + $60 terrain cost for $50 and $70 respectively.
  • Toledo (+ Cleveland, Detroit): can run a train to Detroit and and one to Cleveland with 2 track lays + $20 terrain cost for $50 and $50 respectively.
  • Indianapolis (+ Louisville, Cincinnati): can run a train to Chicago and and one to St. Louis with 3 track lays for $50 and $40 respectively.
  • Cleveland (+ Toledo, Pittsburgh): can run a train to Toledo and one to Pittsburgh (if the Pitt tile is looking to be laid) with 4 track lays + $40 terrain cost for $50 and $60 respectively.
A potential Charleston opening run of $130.

There are of course, many more cities and combinations possible but they generally only provide $40 runs and are therefore usually not considered at the start of the game. Some locations such as Scranton might be useful if you have a lot of coal to lay down and nobody blocking your path. Note that the profitability of a company depends on its debt. If there are 4 players and 12 companies with each taking and average of 1.5 loans, then you are looking at an interest rate of $20 which means a $40 interest payment for 2 loans. Thus, a half payout would only keep the interest at bay whereas you ideally want to be able to either make a full payout or repay a loan with a half-payout in OR2.2 because the 3T would have opened up by SR3 and your companies need a capital infusion in order to be able to get it :).

A word on loans - loans are great as long as the payouts can keep the interest at bay. For a 5-share company that has 2 shares in the treasury and 2 loans with $25 interest and a $150 run, a full-payout will net the company $60 for interest payments.

There is a lot of head scratching math right off the bat and some critical errors include buying a 2T that does not run. That's why it is beneficial to be somewhat alone in an area in order to guarantee the outcome. This game is very unforgiving and players fighting each other only helps those who are not involved. However, players teaming up with each other can also be very effective especially at the start and is usually recommended.

In a future article I will discuss some mid-game strategy especially with respect to mergers, acquisitions and shorts. Stay tuned!