SHARE COUNT (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

Because my train-and-stock games tend to put a great emphasis on stock value versus cash on hand, and because the opportunity to buy stocks can be rare – London & Northwestern, The Soo Line, and Dual Gauge limit each player to a single new share between each operating round – it stands to reason that the player with the most shares in the best companies has a stronger chance of winning, and that getting ahead in the “share count” gives you an advantage.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that: in order to have the cash to buy good shares in the first place, a player is going to need to be invested in companies that pay decent dividends. And in a game like Dual Gauge specifically, where the rate of a stock’s increase or decrease isn’t tied to the value of its route(s) but rather the degree to which players are invested in it, a player invested in companies of middling value but who is collecting a large income can often thrash a player who is one or perhaps even two shares ahead, with a more valuable portfolio, but smaller dividends. As usual, it depends.

Dual Gauge’s base game maps, Portugal and Detroit, each have five companies, though at 3P, only four of those companies are used. So, at three or four, one player is going to win two shares in the initial auction. Since the game’s release, I have heard from folks who feel that this moment often decides the winner of the game. While that player will likely be cash-poor going out of the auction round compared to their rivals, they’ll be collecting income from two railroads in the first OR, and so are likely to be flush going into the first stock round.

I’ve also heard from folks who see “getting stuck” with the second share in the auction as a handicap that’s hard to overcome: one of those companies are bound to be undercapitalized, requiring fresh infusions of cash in subsequent auction rounds when you could be cross-investing and diluting the shares of your opponents.

Both are right in their way, and once again it’s very much a case of it depends. Because of course these shares aren’t fungible. Even two companies that have the same starting stock value – the same amount of cash - are going to have different board and initiative positions. On the Portugal map, blue and red both start in Lisboa. Blue builds before red, and red starts with a free train, and these two things together make red a much more valuable company than blue. But let’s assume both are valued rather low at $16 in the initial auction.

The blue company will pay $12 in the first OR, and end up with a $12 share value (back two spaces for the train, up one space for the payout). If blue built standard track, red will choose a standard train as their starter, running for $14 and ending with a share value of $20 (up one space for the payout, because of the free train). If blue and red are owned by the same player (and goodness, the other players should not allow this to happen), blue is almost certainly going to build standard track to facilitate red’s run and a total income of $26. Compare this to $12 for orange and yellow, and $8 for white, and you start to see the problem.

But if blue is held by another player, then quite possibly they will build a narrow track. Their run and stock value remain the same, but red must now buy a second train if they want to get that $14 run, and will end up with a $12, rather than $20, stock value.

Unless the red player also nabbed orange, which builds before any other railroad, and used it to build east. Because at that point, a red company that buys a second train can run from Lisboa to Abrantes for $24. Orange’s $12 on top of that is a whopping $36. Now, blue will have the same run as red in the next OR after buying their second train. But so will orange, and if neither share is diluted, a red-orange player is earning $48.

The trouble, then, is letting the red player also win the orange or blue share. What about yellow or white? Well, neither will be able to help red obtain a better route given their remote starting locations. Red-yellow will see that player exit the first OR with $26 in total earnings, and red-white would result in $22.

But don’t let red-white’s slightly lower revenue deceive you. White’s special ability is that its winner starts with two shares instead of one. If the winner of white also wins another company’s starting share, they will go into the first OR up two stocks on everyone else. Probably they parred white fairly low – white doesn’t need a whole lot of money – which means they can grab a third share of white without breaking a sweat, maintaining their two-stock lead in the share count. White is going to be moving up the stock chart a lot faster than the other companies in the early game, which encourages cross-investment, and bumps it up even faster.

Like red-blue or red-orange, letting someone get white-anything is a must to avoid, a complete impossibility, better take it from me. The question is, how do you prevent another player from pulling it off? The order in which shares are auctioned off is randomized, after all, and because the player who wins one share starts the bidding for the next, they have a tremendous amount of influence on that auction.

They also have a potential liability, in that if they can place a legal starting bid (of at least $12), they must place one. Even if they don’t want to. Even if, say, they just won orange and want red but the next share up is yellow. Begrudgingly, they open up the bid at $12, and everyone else passes. Now, they’re stuck with orange-yellow, which isn’t terrible – it’s still $24 at the end of OR 1 – but also isn’t ideal.

Of course, there’s a good chance that someone outbids them for yellow in the hopes of winning red – again, red-yellow is the worst combination for them, but $26 and two shares is still $26 and two shares – and there’s the rub. Hey, I didn’t say it was easy.

This maneuver is a little more obvious of a weapon on the Detroit map. On the Portugal map, some companies – and combinations of companies – are much better than others but none of them are really bad. Detroit on the other hand has one company that’s straight-up rubbish, and one that’s conditionally so. Yellow, the clearly rubbish company, starts with a Debt token. Until it sells its second share – okay, let’s be honest, until the sucker that got stuck with it bergrudgingly buys the second share – it’s never going to advance on the stock value track. It can only stay in place or fall backwards.

No one in their right mind is gonna want that one; the player that opens the bidding on it is going to be the one stuck with it. This might poison somewhat the share that comes before it in the auction; the player who wins that share will of necessity have to swallow yellow along with it. That player might be “ahead” in the share count, but it’s not going to feel like it.

The only thing worse than winning yellow as your second share is winning it as your first. This of course is only going to happen with competent players if it’s the first share up in the queue. The player who wins yellow is going to go into every auction but the last with less money than at least one other player; the only way you’re going to win a second share is if you overpay for it. That’s still going to be better than going into the first OR with only a single share of yellow, which has the added twist of the knife of letting someone else get two companies that actually work well together.

The strongest of these hypothetical combinations is red-white, which makes red’s connection bonus more tenable, or red-orange, which works well for early-game builds. Blue especially is eager to team up with red or orange, as that halves the chances of being blocked by a second token in Monroe.

Again, like melted cheese on fish, these are things that should never be. While all players should be seeking a potential advantage in share count over the course of the game, it’s in their best interests to ensure that a player who begins with that advantage pays dearly for the privilege.

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