April 24, 2015, 9:00 pm
Image: LCD Detail of 18SP main board

18SP is an 18xx game based in the relationship between coffee and railroads in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. It's still in the early playtest phase.

These were my musing on this game after the third playtest, in 2015.

The development of 18SP was subject to a long hiatus, due to a series of unforeseen events in my personal life. Recently, my interest in this game was rekindled, and I went back to my notes.

In these past six years, my view of the dynamics of 18xx games changed somewhat, and my knowledge of railroad history in São Paulo grew a bit. I was especially impressed with the strong correlation between railroads and coffee during the late XIX century and the early XX century, and I decided that this should be a prominent feature of 18SP.

This is the second iteration of the design of the game. The first iteration was very much a 1856 clone, which wasn't very satisfactory. Several changes were made.

I abandoned the idea of small companies, even if they are a common feature in many 18xx games. In their place, I increased the company count from 8 to 20, and now all companies start as minor companies. No company is tied to a specific geographical location. Minor companies do not have shares; their operating capital comes from the player (par value) and from the bank (also par value). All dividends are shared 50/50.

During Phase I of the game (yellow tiles), only minor companies can be opened. During Phase II (green tiles), a minor company can buy another minor company by any agreeable price --- half goes to the controlling player, half goes to the bank. The assets of the bought company are incorporated by the buying company, which becomes a major company. Major companies can also buy minor companies, with no further status change.

This allows for two desirable effects. First, it enables a player to plunder company funds, one important effect of small companies in other games. Second, it showcases the drastic change in financial regulations which occurred in Brazil at the last two years of the Empire and the first two years of the Republic.

In this period, known as Encilhamento, Brazil abandoned almost all regulations of financial activities. The result was a free-for-all environment, which ended in disaster. In 18SP, the Encilhamento corresponds to Phase II, which includes some features to represent widespread speculation.

Phases III (brown tiles) and IV (gray tiles) feature a more sedate financial market, akin to other 18xx games.

Another abandoned feature from the first iteration was the special São Carlos-Santos run. It was intended to showcase the importance of the coffee trade, but the end result hadn't been very satisfactory.

In order to tie the development of railroads to the coffee trade, now several of the hexes in the map are coffee hexes. Whenever a rail tile is built on one of these hexes, a coffee plantation marker is put on top of the tile. The tile can have a town, but if this town is upgraded to a city, the plantation disappears.

At the start of every operations round, a coffee token is put on every plantation marker which does not have a token already. The coffee plantation can be used as a stop, and the coffee can be collected, but only if the operating company has a run to a port in the same OR.

During Phase I, the only port is Rio de Janeiro, and the valley of the Paraíba river is thus the only effective coffee growing region. When Santos is opened to the coffee trade, during Phase II, the coffee plantations expand with the railroads.

After the Encilhamento, coffee prices are somewhat reduced, but they keep stable for the rest of the game, as a result of the price protecting policies of the Brazilian government (resulting from the Taubaté Agreement).

All these changes were put to the test during this past weekend. On April 18, I played with other four players. Three of them had played 1856 before, but not very often; the other player was a 18xx novice.

The game dynamics was well within the expected, except for the transition to phase II, which I thought occurred rather early. Even so, this did not result in any imbalance. Some glitches in the rules were corrected. The game ended halfway through Phase II, due to the late hour.

On the following day, the game was played by another five-player group; this time I didn't play. One of the players, Sérgio, is a very experienced and competitive 18xx player, and two of the other players were complete 18xx novices. The last two players have played several 18xx games, but do not have the experience level of Sérgio.

Again, the dynamics of the game was quite satisfactory. This game was also ended during Phase II, again due to the late hour; but I left all game components with Sérgio, and he has promised to playtest it further, and especially to try for a longer game.

Again, some glitches were identified, and corrected. Some more fundamental problems were noticed, especially on the train rust sequence, and I'll address these problems for the next tests.

In all, I'm quite satisfied with the results of these tests, and I believe 18SP is off to a good restart. I present some photos of the playtests below.