Posts about Muck And Brass (old posts, page 5)

Playtest feedback systems

There has been some delay since I opened Muck & Brass to external playtesting. The delay is because I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to receive and collect feedback.

Historically I’ve used a mixture of email and BoardGameGeek geekmail. That worked fairly well but was also less interactive than I would have liked. In particular the feedback was always private (I’d prefer public feedback) and there was never any cross-discussion among the different groups (a side effect of privacy). (I think) I’d like a more facile system which not only more easily supported discussion between playing groups as well as between the groups and me, but also allows photographs and other non-textual elements to (more) easily accompany the discussion.

There is also the very small question of how to distribute the game files in the first place. The rules, shares and tracks sheet are already freely available. All that’s left is the map image. I’d like to know where the files are going and to track who has them. I can’t do that perfectly of course, but I’d like at least a good notion.

Email works well except for the privacy problem already noted. For large photo or movie sets which were clumsy to send via email1, I’ve provided an FTP site where they could upload the images and then reference the upload in their email. That worked well but the disconnect between the email and the FTP upload was occasionally jarring. I’m a habitual IRC user and am on #bgdf_chat pretty much 24/7/365. IRC is great for discussion and could be used for the file distributions via DCC SENDs, but it has concurrency and ephemeracy problems. I’m likely to have playtest groups scattered about and would like them to be able to communicate to me and each other asynchronously and IRC just doesn’t do that. Another option is to use the comment system built into this blog (Wordpress). Groups would post their feedback as comments. This Wordpress installation currently doesn’t support attachments to comments, so media components would still have to posted via FTP and I’d have to come in later to attach them more directly to the blog. We could also create a game entry for Muck & Brass on BoardGameGeek and have the reports posted there as standard session reports. That seems like an abuse of the system to me but others clearly have different views on that area. BoardgameGeek session reports also don’t come for free as supporting images couldn’t go through moderation, thus requiring them to be either hosted off-site or in contributor’s individual galleries, both of which solutions have their own ephemeracy problems. Movies and other media forms are also not supported by BoardGameGeek unless hosted off-site (YouTube et al), introducing yet other dependencies and problems.

I suspect there is no good easy answer, but I’m still thinking about it. I suspect I’m going to end up doing all of the above while encouraging the combination of this blog and #bgdf_chat as the default venues, the FTP site being used for asynchronous media. Perhaps.

  1. I’ve had groups sending turn-by-turn pictures of their entire games or even movies of several turns or some of the debates or discussions among the players which happened during or as a result of the game (both were highly appreciated) 

Returning clarity

The Muck & Brass rules are being exposed to a rather larger audience than they’ve had before. I’d greatly appreciate comments as to their clarity and utility, any problems with comprehending the game. unanswered or difficult to answer questions the rules left you with, etc left as comments on this entry. I am particularly interested in gaps, contradictions and unnecessary repetition. I’ve laboured to cover every possible contingency in the rules, but only just the once.

I have a rather non-traditional rules-writing approach (passive voice, no examples, close to minimum spanning tree etc) which approximates my ideals for rules. I’m interested in other’s perceptions of the rules as written. I should note that I’m actually not averse to examples, but I dislike putting them in rules until the very last minute (ie right before publication) as otherwise I find it too easy for the examples to start supplanting and extending on the actual rules rather than just exemplifying them. I loathe rules in which the examples actually define or supplant the game’s rules. The Platonic ideal of course is for the rules to simply not need examples as they are already so clearly obvious!

Establishing dot products

I somewhat inadvertently opened Muck & Brass to external playtesting on BoardGameGeek:

I (currently) have not provided a playable map image (the posted images are deliberately too small). The online rules are maintained at the latest version (don’t worry if they look like crap in Acrobat, they print beautifully). Within some limits I’m willing to send printable map images to interested folk. You’ll need to provide perspex and pens, shares (I’ve posted share images; I use glass bits) and income/action/etc markers (I use 1cm cubes from an educational store). As always, YMMV. As a game Muck & Brass is roughly in the middle of the set formed by Wabash Cannonball, Pampas Railroads, and West Riding/The Riding Series and yet is little like any of them. It bears little similarity to the rest of the Historic Railroads series after Wabash Cannonball (Preußische Ostbahn, Gulf, Mobile & Ohio etc).

What you’ll need

To produce a working copy of the game you’ll need:

  • A copy of the rules. The fonts may appear poor on-screen due to bugs in your PDF viewer. Don’t worry about it as it will print beautifully.
  • To print the map. Contact me to ask for a copy of the image file. Be persuasive. I print it on 24”x12” paper. You can also split it over several smaller sheets. Whatever works for you. Problems in getting a good print, paper, printers, scaling etc are your own. Really.
  • To print the income track.
  • ~30 shares in each of 10 colours. 3 of them should be market shares, the rest merger shares. I cheat and use glass blobs and don’t visibly distinguish between market and merger shares. I could as easily use the same 1cm cubes I use for the income markers etc below and likely will in future. If that doesn’t work for you I’ve produced PDF share images which can be used instead (I wouldn’t and don’t bother). Print three pages of each share onto coloured construction paper (see your local office supply store). They are sized to fit well in penny sleeve card protectors.
  • BGR shares PDF
  • CR shares PDF
  • EUR shares PDF
  • GWR shares PDF
  • LBSCR shares PDF
  • LMR shares PDF
  • LNWR shares PDF
  • LSR shares PDF
  • NER shares PDF
  • SWR shares PDF
  • Track markers, ~50 in each of 10 colours (same colours as the shares). Settlers-of-Catan road markers are ideal or you can just use wet-erase pens and put the game map under a sheet of perspex when playing as I do here. As wet ease pens come in only 6 colours, either hatch the rail lines when you run out of colours (yet to happen here) or have the merged company used the darkest of the merge-company pen colours and quickly scribble the previously built track in the new colour to free up the other pen colours (ie what I do).
  • Income markers, one in each of 10 colours, ideally the same colours as the shares (I use 1cm cubes from an educational supply store).
  • Action markers (I use 1cm cubes again). They can be different colours or all the same. You could also use cards or tiles instead. It really doesn’t matter as long as the distribution is right and you track the durations properly
  • 3 Capitalise (3 months)
  • 5 Develop (1 month)
  • 7 Expand (2 months)
  • Player markers each of 3-6 colours (however many players you have) for the player action track. Again I use 1cm cubes.
  • Money, lots of it. I use poker chips. I haven’t formally estimated bank size but $7,000 should work comfortably.
  • A General Dividend marker. I simply scribble with a wet erase pen on the the map as each one is paid. You could also use a marker if that works better for you.


I’ve not figured out how I’d best like feedback. I’ve no privacy bones. Email or comments here on the blog are likely best. I’ll work out something.


Ricochets toward stability

I haven’t gotten as much Muck & Brass played lately as I’d like, but I’m not complaining too hard given what else managed to hit the table (mostly a lot of 1889). That said and forgiven, I’m particularly pleased with how the new action selection method is working out in practice. The recent changes are two-fold:

  1. Action distribution changed to 3 Capitalise, 5 Develop, 7 Expand
  2. A Neuland/Thebes/etc-like combined action costing turn order mechanism is used to control turn order1.

The result is surprisingly dynamic. Wabash Cannonball has a fairly rote sequence of action selections in each round: 3 Capitalise followed by 5 Expand. Conversely Muck & Brass averages somewhere between 1 and 2 Capitalise actions per round with both 0 and 3 Capitalise actions in a round occuring if infrequently. The shift away from Capitalisation not only leads to increasingly cash-strapped companies but to a hurdy-gurdy pattern as the players struggle to balance short-term need with long-term viability. The patterns are delightful.

The core of the pattern is that a Capitalise early in the round takes so long (3 months) that it grants an enormous range of options and flexibility to the other players. Given the game’s blinding focus on liquidity, that’s simply unaffordable. The only players who seriously consider Capitalisation are the high-cash players who can be assured of winning the share. The result is that the early portion of rounds are dominated by Expands and Develops, the Develops usually being used to slip in an extra free action while catching up to a player earlier in the turn order. Then, as the end of the round approaches, usually it is the players early in the turn order who have the most control over when the round ends. They could Capitalise but their low cash position (which puts them early in the turn order) makes them unlikely to be able to win a share and none of the positions have developed enough to make alliance hunting/breaking viable – and in the meantime the Expand and Develop are both about to exhaust, ending the round anyway! Thus there’s great incentive to not Capitalise.

Which is fine and great until the companies start to run out of money. If a share isn’t capitalised those companies are dead ducks. This point usually hits either late in the second round or early in the third round, at which point there’s an added complexity. The fourth round is approaching, with its support for mergers, ports, double Expands, etc. The players are torn in multiple ways. They are still desperate for personal cash but they also want to start the next round with low cash (and high income) so as to have the positional control of early turn order, they have to get their companies Capitalised if they are to remain viable, and they have to build a tactical position to offer personally-advantageous ports-builds and mergers for when the fourth round starts. And just to make it worse, buying good shares will all too often earn such good dividends as to put the player late in the turn order! Arghh!

Then the fourth round starts, strong share-holders strive to merge their companies, accumulating their incomes and hopefully setting up a domino trail of mergers, weak share-holders build expensive ports to cripple their low-stake companies, leaving those companies prostrate to be merged into, hopefully by the companies they have larger holdings in. Meanwhile little tactical Expands, setting up honeypots and barriers for mergers and ports continues setting the scene. And again, companies are running out of money – except that now there are no shares left to sell to raise capital (only 3 per company)! Meanwhile the second round companies start to float, merging with the first round companies and injecting capital into their treasuries.

Often the game will end in the 5th or 6th round. It seems to only run until the 7th round if players have been really aggressive with the second round companies, blocking them out, building up their revenues and delaying the game while their income rate recovers their cash position. Certainly proper control and prediction of the second round companies can make the Wabash in Wabash Cannonball seem like a cakewalk.

It is all very delightfully tortured.

  1. Actions are assigned costs in terms of time: Capitalise (3 months), Develop (1 month), Expand (2 months).. As players select actions their markers are moved forward on a track. The player that has spent the least time and started the round with the least cash has the current turn. Iterate until two players have used more than 5 months. 

Reposed mumbling recovery from a shower

The recent play of Muck & Brass has been occupying my sleeping nights and bedraggled shower time. I’ve no great conclusions other than that 5-days-for-everyone is a Bad Idea (see below). The rest is just terrain mapping.

The standard action pattern in the recent game was a spate of Expands followed by a mix of Develops and Capitalises. Typically the final actions were chosen to either force the round closed, or to put the next player in a position to force the round closed. The only times Capitalise was selected early was when either all of a player’s companies were broke or in the late game in order to float more secondary companies in order to extend game length (it was set to end in the sixth General Dividend with only two companies left operating but we called the game early mid the 5th round due to other constraints).

Unlike Wabash Cannonball early capitalisations were not seen as critical early moves, in part due to the high opportunity cost of the Capitalise action (time), but also because there are simply so many shares available (10 unsold shares) and relatively little to differentiate among them. The result is that Muck & Brass is mostly not about temporary emergent alliances but about the old standards of arbitrage, opportunity and tactical position.

In a four player game the dance is straightforward:

  1. Stay low/early in the turn order to get more Expands for your companies
  2. Buy lots of shares (difficult when you’re low in the turn order)
  3. Buy shares that players lower than you in the turn order also have so that you profit from their activities
  4. Try to keep your own shares undiluted

The lack of a Chicago-style golden target to create a discontinuous value set is the main characteristic that precludes temporary emergent alliances. What alliances there are, are happenstance collisions of mutual interest rather than deliberately managed affairs. As such the player relationships are much closer to Preußische Ostbahn’s management of temptation and exploitation than Wabash Cannonball’s forthrightly collusive work-together-and-we-both-make-more.

In our game, because of the high opportunity cost for capitalisation, Capitalise was usually used as a round ender to re-invigorate a cash-less company or to setup turn order for the next round. Thus the first round looked something like:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2/E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-D1/2 P4-E2/2 (E3/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/4 P2-E2/4 P3-E2/4 P4-C3/5 (E0/D5/C2)
  • P1-C3/7 P2-C3/7 (E0/D5/C0)

The second round was a little more interesting as London started to be developed, thus freeing up a host of other possible Develops for other companies:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2/E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-D1/2 P4-D1/1 P4-E2/3 (E3/D4/C3)
  • P1-E2/4 P2-E2/4 P3-E2/4 P4-C3/6 (E0/D4/C2)
  • P1-D1/5 P2-D1/5 P3-C3/7 (E0/D2/C1)
  • P1-P1-D1/6 P2-D1/6 (E0/D0/C1)

The third round was similar, but with even less Capitalisation:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2/E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-D1/2 P4-D1/1 P4-E2/3 (E3/D4/C3)
  • P1-E2/4 P2-E2/4 P3-D1/3 (E0/D3/C3)
  • P3-E2/5 P4-C3/6 (E0/D3/C2)
  • P1-D1/5 P2-D1/5 (E0/D1/C2)
  • P1-D1/6 (E0/D0/C2)

Such a lower rate of capitalisation encourages companies to run with broke treasuries, for positions to be more heavily invested, and for strong player differentiation, both positional and financial (low cash high income versus lower income and high cash). It also encourages players to forgo Capitalise and instead Develop heavily as it has similar effects on income (and slows the game down). From a design perspective these are all desirable patterns, not least the slowing of the game.

The players clearly valued Expand higher than the other actions. I’m not convinced they were wrong. Getting to London is critical for most companies and building out of London not only offers a larger income delta than any other activity (once London been developed once), but also positions for ready mergers with the three companies surrounding London. In our game the B&GR built 5 connections out of London. When London was developed up to $9, that was $45 income for the B&GR: $14/share just for London alone!

Consider a hypothetical 4th round of a game:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 (port/merger) P1-C3/5 P2-E2/2 (port/merger) P2-C3/5 P3-E2/2 P4-E2/2 (E3/D5/C3)
  • P3-E2/4 P4-D1/3 (E2/D4/C3)
  • P4-D1/41 (E2/D3/C3)
  • P3-E2/6 (float or merger) P3-C3/9 P4-E2/6 (float/merger) P4-C3/9 (E0/D3/C3)
  • General Dividend (two players past 6 days)

Four secondary shares were sold. There is potentially only one company left in the mix. The game could have just ended. Or, more likely there are less ports and mergers as there’s just not enough money in the other companies/players for the Expands required for ports and mergers. The players early in turn order are likely to have shares in companies with cash for ports and mergers:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 (port/merger) P1-C3/5 P2-E2/2 (port/merger) P2-C3/5 P3-E2/2 P4-E2/2 (E3/D5/C3)
  • P3-D1/3 P4-E2/4 (E2/D4/C3)
  • P3-D1/4 (E2/D3/C3)
  • P3-D1/5 P4-D1/5 (E2/D1/C3)
  • P3-D1/6 P4-C3/8 (E1/D0/C2)

Two secondary shares just sold and one arbitrary share was capitalised. Assuming that mergers were done instead of port builds there could be as few as 3 companies left in the game. Assuming instead that P4 had a share of a company that could merge with a single expand the last actions set could have been:

  • P3-D1/6 P4-E2/7 (merge) P4-C3/10 (E0/D0/C3)

In which case there could potentially be only two companies and the game would be over depending on what share P4 force capitalised. P4 has three choices:

  1. Capitalise the first share of any secondary company. This clearly makes sense if P4 will win as the game ends
  2. Capitalise the second share of a secondary company which is already connected to a company in which P4 is invested. This assumes that one of the earlier players capitalised the first share of that company. In practice this usually means either the NER, LNWR or GWR and only makes sense (again) if P4 is will win as the game ends
  3. Capitalise the second share of an unconnected company. This will put three companies back in the game causing the game to not (yet) end.

The choice-set is interesting because P1 and P2 control whether #2 is even present as a choice, and which company fits #3 (likely one near their investments). Neat!

More immediately useful is that without the forced 3 days for the merger there’s a reasonable potential for a merger storm in the fourth round that instantly ends the game. The real problem is that it is absurdly difficult to control or predict the values generated by such a merger storm from the preceding rounds making the game results essentially a crap-shoot. Scratch that idea!

The other perspective is that ports effectively offer several values to minor investors:

  • Cause a special dividend
  • Impoverish a company such that it can’t afford to drive future mergers
  • Ability to capitalise a share that encourages a merger-via-Capitalisation along with its related Special Dividend (ie a connected secondary company)

Mergers deliver all the above plus the following:

  • Accelerates game-end condition
  • Builds a combined treasuring which is likely large enough to afford another merger or port

Mergers are generally better for major investors as they provide two forums for special dividends for their heavily invested shares. Ports conversely offer only one future venue for additional secondary dividends but protect other investment’s special dividend capacity from predation by a steamrollering behemoth.

The other advantage for forced 3 day capitalisations is that players are now encouraged to capitalise more heavily in the early rounds in order to get enough cash into their companies to afford special dividends be they from ports or mergers. However this early capitalisation rush exposes another phantom that pushes back on such heavily capitalisation. Imagine the following perhaps not-quite-so-fantastic evolution:

  • P1 is invested in the L&MR (possibly even a minor investor), Expands to a port in Liverpool and force-capitalises the NER
  • P2 is invested in the L&SR (possibly also minor), can’t afford a nearby port and so merges with the EUR or LB&SCR for a special dividend. P2 then force-capitalises the NER to make a L&MR/L&SR/EUR/NER merger for yet another special dividend.
  • P3 is desperately behind and merges the LB&SCR or EUR into the new huge agglomerate, thereby removing the merger possibility from the agglomerate and securing their share’s dividends. P3 Capitalises something. Anything.
  • P4 has a potentially remarkably ugly decision as there are only two companies left in the game, the huge agglomerate and the B&GR.

That’s two actions spent for 3 special dividends. Oof. What’s different is that huge gobs of money have just been thrown into the mix by the three mergers. P4 is really wishing he owned a good spread of the northern companies at this point. Double oof.

  1. By exploiting time-position P4 gets in two Develops 

Ploughing submarines

The new map fits on 18”x12” paper easily enough with broad empty swathes down the edges. It is a bit tetchy at that scale. A few of the short links such as York/Selby, Preston/Blackoool and Dover/Canterbury get to be awfully short – going smaller would present significant clarity problems. For the Europeans printing on A3 is the best bet despite being a smidge shorter than the not-quite Super-B I’m working with here. (I’d test that conjecture here if I could find a reasonable supply of A3 or Super-B paper about San Jose).


I’ve updated (increased) the port costs back to within reason. If ports are too cheap then they are used exclusively rather than mergers. As the goal of ports is to a provide way for minor shareholders to drain gobs of cash from companies and to thereby ensure that they are not able to cause mergers, the cost of ports has to be high enough to provide the needed drain and yet low enough to prevent casual use. (ie more than $30 but not too much more) Meanwhile other players push for mergers as they solidify share positions and aggregate treasuries for further dividending activities.

Unfortunately the empty spaces along the edges of the new map aren’t large enough to fit the income track or the bank pool spaces. Instead I’ve made a separate tracks page that will fit comfortably on letter or A4 for those details:


And of course some rules polishing. The changelog:

  • Ports and mergers cause a (forced) capitalisation
  • Forced capitalisations cost 3 days! (This is big)
  • Added rules section for forced capitlisation
  • Sized bank described as ~$4K
  • Pumped port values most of the way back up
  • Removed several ports
  • Clarified glossary
  • Clarified double build language
  • Development rule WRT London clarified to account for Liverpool and York.
  • Added scoretrack page.

The forced capitalisations for ports and mergers is a huge question. There are good reasons to think it is a great idea, as a control on late game velocity, but also good reasons to fear it slows down the effective rate of capitalisations in the late game which in turn delays the rate at which secondary companies enter the game and that is a problem. I’m finding modelling this problem fiendishly difficult; it is so sensitive to exact player positions and incentives that I’m not yet able to predict broad pattern behaviours.

In partial response I’m considering changing the round-end determinant yet again. Currently it is two exhausted actions or two players at or past 6 days. While that’s a nice pattern it is also a wee bit slow. The new thought toy is to end the round on two exhausted actions or when all players have used at least 5 days. In a 6 player game that ensures that all rounds will end on two exhausted actions. With lower player counts it will often be all players at 5 days. Hmmmm.

New rules.

Peen hammer toccata


  • Reduced port fees (perhaps too much)
  • Auctions clockwise from capitalising player (faster and simpler)
  • Clarified multiple home stations for merged companies
  • Fixed action supply length and colours on map
  • Correction: Capitalise may be chosen for any available company or one of their own shares
  • Clarified that non-floated company treasuries are discarded when scoring
  • Clarified that merger-forced capitalisations take 3 days (Okay, added)
  • Clarified that merger-auctioneers are not required to bid
  • Fixed language about summing incomes for auto-merges

New rules.

Smelting for copper

Four of us had a go at Muck & Brass with the new action system this afternoon. In short, it was wonderful, really wonderful and far less unstable than the earlier version. Early conclusions:

  • It was more intuitive to describe the action system in terms of days than points. Actions take days (time) and the players take turns in the order in which they are available
  • Ending on 7 days or two exhausted actions is too rich. It wasn’t terrible but we always ended on actions rather than points. 5 days may be too short but it is clearly either 5 or 6 days
  • The secondary companies are odd. Simply, odd. It is tempting to have them float on one share, but that feels too large a change for their modest oddity. I’m not sure they need to be addressed but it is tempting
  • The Foreign ports are probably over-priced by ~30%
  • 3 Capitalisations, 5 Develops and 7 Expansions seems right
  • The requirement for London to be the most valuable city forces the early game into an expansion frenzy. This is good, but I’d forgotten it in my earlier thought cases.
  • One player strongly disliked the action/time track being way from the geographic map. That’s easy enough to fix.

In all, an excellent outing.