Thoughts on 2038

Every group has different opinions on how this game proceeds. One of my favorite aspects of this game is that it is so different each time. I've had the most experience in 4-player games, so most comments will be pitched towards that environment. I've played a few 5-player games and have thought about 3 and 6, but never played them.

Interestingly, this set of notes is significantly longer than the rules.

Starting Packet

In a four-player game, each player gets $450 starting capital. The starting packet looks like this:
0 Planetary Imports $50 Private
1 Fast Buck $100 Independent
2 Ice Finder $100 Independent
3 Drill Hound $100 Independent
4 Ore Crusher $100 Independent
5 Torch $100 Independent
6 Lucky $100 Independent
7 Free Base Private $120 Private
8 Free Refuel Private $140 Private
9 Free Claim Private $160 Private
10 TSI Directorship $180 Private, briefly
11 AL Directorship $180 Private

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.

Initial "Positions"

A few combinations are pretty nice. If the TSI owner has a private and an independent (hard: $180+$120+100 = $400, so he will get outbid on something) the game is over. As soon as Phase 2 starts, his independent will get trains from TSI and he'll get full value out of his private, too, putting him turns ahead of everyone else. Since this is too powerful a position, he won't get it; in particular, I think he'll have to pay at least $220 for TSI. It's hard to see how to win with TSI without either an independent or a private, but even in a five-player game (initial capital = $360) he ought to be able to get one. I think an independent plus TSI is best, but there's a danger of losing TSI with only two shares, so (in a 4-player game) the owner can't afford to pay too much more for those things. If he pays $226 for TSI, and $140 for the independent, he'll only have $84 left, and won't be able to get a third share of TSI. That means he has to trim $16 off his costs or go for a private. If he's paid $226 and $120, he'll be able to buy a $100 share to have as a starting position four shares of TSI. That's a tenable opening, perhaps even a good one. Note that $226 starting means that the TSI owner will not be able to buy either of the expensive privates.

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.

The First Pair of Operating Rounds

The first operating round, the independents have to choose which type of train they are going to buy.

Fast Buck

Fast Buck usually buys a 3/2 train, planning to run it to the $30 transshipment point two hexes away. The second turn, they'll do one exploration and pick up whatever they find, then drop it at the transshipment point. At the end of this run, they'll have $40 in cash ($30 from bonus, $10 from exploration) plus any starting funds. If they started with $20, then the initial run will always be large enough to buy a second train. If they have $10 in capital, it'll be very unusual for them not to be able to afford a train. Whether or not they buy it, however, depends on the owner's prospective funds. He will need $100 at the beginning of the share dealing round to buy one of the TSI shares, so he'll want to be able to pay out half. With $20 capital, plus the $40, that means he needs to run for $80 to pay half and buy a train. That requires finding a 50/60 ice, which is pretty unlikely. Most likely, instead, is that Fast Buck will pay half and buy a claim if he found something good, or save and buy a train the 3rd operating round. The second set of operating rounds will see Fast Buck exploring a second hex and running one or two trains with one or two claims all to that transshipment point. Within four operating rounds, Fast Buck will often be pulling down $200, half to the owner.


Torch always buys 3/2 trains, since in his hands, they are 4/2 trains. This bonus is so powerful that I've seen two players spend $300 on Torch in order for them to get two trains the first turn. I think this strategy is a huge inefficiency wrto money, but the perpetrators didn't do all that badly; one only lost by $6. Torch's first move is to explore due West and deliver what he finds either to Mars Mining's home base (+20 for Ice) or to the $30 transshipment point (most likely). Depending on what he finds, he'll continue to explore in that direction, possibly saving for a 2nd ship (sweet, very doable if he finds ice) or buying a couple of nickel claims. Torch will usually get a second ship pretty fast and can make a bundle.

Drill Hound

Drill Hound needs some starting capital. I think the best way to play them is to head due East with a 5/1 train, planning on selling what they find at the RU base, then exploring one hex at a time thereafter. Their first $60 will go towards claiming their first rare, preferably a 30/60 or larger. If they find a medium rare the first turn, they can afford the claim ($20 initial, $20 explore, $30+10 payout) and still split income with their owner, assuming $20 initial capital. This position has very low long-term prospects as an independent. For them to do well, they need to find three or four decent rares and get growthed into Venus Prospectors (VP) early on. If they do that, they can be very powerful. Otherwise, they'll join the AL as soon as they can. Perhaps, therefore, a 3/2 train intending higher initial payouts and no growthing might be best. Only 28% of all tiles have rares on them. That means that checking one tile will give a 49% chance of finding some rare. Checking two will get a 74% chance of any rare, and a 50% chance of a good one. Since there's a 29% chance of getting a good rare on the 2nd tile, ought Drill Hound take a 20/50 rare on the first tile? I'd do it instinctively, but that prevents them from being able to claim anything the first turn without withholding dividends.

Ore Crusher

We normally buy a 5/1 train with them, but that might or might not be right. The 5/1 train gets to do a lot of exploration, which allows Ore Crusher to get his two claims out early. He'll plan on a second train and two claims delivered to the Lunar Enterprises (LE) base. Two 20/60 nickel claims is an income of $160; Ore Crusher with a 5/1 and a 6/2 train can pick up three loads and make $200/turn. A 4/3 train can possibly increase that to $240, with the real upside's being that when phase III occurs, they'll still make $200. Ore Crusher could buy a 3/2 train and deliver back to its base. If it's owned by the TSI director, TSI can do some of OC's exploration for them, but no one has ever attempted this in any game I've been in. I'm curious how it works out. I tried running Ore Crusher with a 3/2 train. I got extremely lucky and watched TSI's probe explore two nice ices for me the first turn. TSI didn't particularly want them, so I got to run for 90 for a few turns. That got Ore Crusher a second train, which let them make nearly $200 for awhile. My feeling was that this won't generally work.

Ice Finder

Ice Finder has two choices. It can either buy a 3/2 train and run to the $30 transshipment point to the south, or it can buy a 5/1 train and try to head for OPC's base. The first turn, the 5/1 train can explore two hexes, which is nice, since ice is pretty likely to show up. I tend towards the scout, since Ice Finder is probably going to be most valuable growthed into Mars Mining, which will only be tenable if it finds a lot of nice ice nearby.


Lucky has two transhipment points two squares away, so he usually tends to get a 3/2 train. I am not sure if this is best; his special ability means that if he does a bunch of exploration, he'll live in a very rich environment. If he's planning on going growth, however, exploring later with a 6/2 train will probably work fine, so we generally buy a 3/2 train with him and try to find something nice to claim early. Note that he doesn't really care all that much about the transshipment point to the East's being worth only $20, since he'll have a good shot at something good in the hold.

The Second Share Dealing Round

No one will have much money, so that which gets sold first are the four or five remaining TSI shares. It is strongly worth arranging your money by paying half dividends with an independent in order to get a share. They are going to be worth a lot very soon.

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.

The Second Pair of Operating Rounds

Most likely, TSI and the independents are the only companies running now. I'll cover TSI's development separately. If growth companies have formed, all sorts of stuff could happen. Nearly always, by the end of this turn, the game will be in phase II because the independents will have enough money to buy a second train by now, so TSI will probably buy a 2-train. The decision for TSI to enter Phase II or not is a tricky one. The advantages are that they can drop refuel stations and bases and buy that private company for major bucks, or possibly sell a train to their friendly independent; the disadvantages are that growth companies can start. TSI will probably get this decision to make; I've been very successful in choosing to enter Phase II. If I were not to have a private or independent, however, I think I'd not do it, though that depends on the board position and how valuable I think growth companies will be. Certainly, if I've made the gaffe of ending up with TSI and AL, I'd try to avoid letting growth companies start at almost all costs.

The Third Share Dealing Round

This is a key turn. Growth companies can form if the game has entered Phase II, which is very likely. The priority deal will have a great impact. Unfortunately, there's just not much one can do to affect who has it, since its position is determined mostly by the initial bidding.

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.

Growth or Public?

Deciding whether or not to open a growth company is a game-making or breaking decision. Being stuck with a bad growth company not only means the loss of the independent, and the loss of the $125 AL share, but means having a bunch of crappy stock in hand when the share limit gets tight. As a result, one ought not start a growth company unless it is going to do very well. It's far better to have a crummy independent than a crummy growth stock. Usually, independents who are doing poorly do not make good growth companies; it's the ones who wish they had more claims to lay who'll be the winners.

Launching a company public is pretty straightforward. I think the companies are valued in about the following order:
but circumstances can make VP awful or MM excellent. It's great if one can start a company at a par of $100, since that's extra capital. Unlike most of the other 18xx games, companies have to pay for claims and bases and such, which is pretty expensive. By the end of the game, TSI will have 10 claims, one base, and three refueling stations in play. That'll be at least $800 worth of "stuff," probably more, since it's often right to buy a 2nd claim for $100 early on. More capital means a higher stock price, because there'll be fewer withholding turns.

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.

Major Corporations


2038 allows a company to pay out half dividends and still rise in price one box on the market. This is very helpful and ought to be used a lot. Companies need money. It's not hard to figure out how much you need outside of trains. Set a target train and try to get the money you need for all of that without ever withholding all dividends. This trades off money from your hand, but there will be times in which that is not critical.


I usually run TSI in one of a few ways. I buy a 3/2 and a 5/1 train the first turn as well as a claim if I can. If I have an independent, I'll usually buy another 3/2 train, planning on selling it to them for $1. As soon as Phase II begins, I put a refueling station on Ore Crusher's base, and run nickel into LE's base, and rare into VP's base. The next operating round, I put a refueling station TSI's home base. Later on, I put a base and usually a refueling station somewhere else. Where exactly depends on what exploration has found. Often, I put it three or four squares due east of TSI's home base. The other refuel can go on Ice Finder's home base or on the base TSI builds.

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.

Resources Unlimited

RU is fun to play. They often hold a pivotal role in the midgame, since they can afford a lot of ships. This is, of course, due to their not having to pay very much for claims. They can't pay much for bases and refuel stations, because they don't have many.

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.

Venus Prospectors

VP is a perfect growth company. I like running them by growthing from Drill Hound. Their first turn, they put refuel station on RU's base and try to obtain a 6/2 train. The pilot runs the 6/2 heading SSW of RU towards the VP base, looking for rares to claim. Next turn, VP puts a refuel station on Fast Buck's base (if it's available) and thus can bring a 4-train into their home base for the 20 rare bonus. I've seen VP run for $790 doing this route, after starting as a growth corp. It might happen that they base out a spot along the way in order to facilitate getting the rares in, especially if the rares are not positioned well. Remember, the pilot only gets to run one of the ships, so trading off income vs. exploration will happen. VP ought to explore a lot of squares, so a significant portion of their capital will be the $10/hex.

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.

Lunar Enterprises

LE can go in one of two ways. The obvious way to run them is to get a base near Ore Crusher's and run all the nickel down there into their home base. Unless there is a lot of it, however, they won't do all that well in this aim. They are competing with Ore Crusher and TSI for good nickel claims in the area, and there's no good place to put the refuel station. If there's a lot of unclaimed 20/60 nickel there when they start, they ought to follow this plan, but most of the time there won't be much. If they are not growthed from Ore Crusher, they'll also possibly be competing with the Asteroid League for claims down there, and that's bad.

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.

Mars Mining

I think Mars Mining could be a very strong company; it's VP for ice, but it hasn't seemed to work out that way. They have to buy a base somewhere early, presumably out near RU's base. I think their success depends on what Torch did in the area, and what Torch claimed. If Torch is still around and is willing to help out by selling claims to MM, that could work out great. Problem is, most of the time, Torch will have done most of the exploring and will have failed to find much ice, which makes MM start in an iceless environment, which is bad. On the other hand, MM is the only company who can run a 5/1 company for 90 without a claim, so if they start in a nice icey area, they can be very powerful.

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.


Of the two last-tier companies, OPC is the better one, I think. The reason is that they start in their base and each company is going to be delivering nickel to RCC's base. RCC will have to find another place to put a base; OPC has one immediately.

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.

The Asteroid League

The AL is the highest-variance company out there. If all the independents go growth and Phase III is massively delayed (I've seen this happen) then the AL is garbage. One game, they made $120 total for the whole game. If no companies growth and the game moves quickly, then their stock is super. Since they start at $125 and are likely to sell out the first turn, generally everyone buys a share, if it's available.

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.

The Stock Market

2038's market isn't all that active, I've found. Once in awhile a company gets looted and dumped, and once in awhile some stock bashing gets done, but all are rare. The reason for this is that there are only 72 shares in play, and 64-65 get held at the end of the game. As a result, 2038 is more of a "develop and invest in good companies" game than a market game. Usually, most of the leftover shares are in one company, whichever is doing the worst. Certificate limits are usually reached at about the time RCC and OPC are launched, or possibly in the next share dealing round. Once everyone's hand is full, the main reason to sell stock is that something that's left is better than something you own, which, if you've invested wisely, will not happen often.

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.

Train Tactics

2038 is a train game, and train tinkering happens. Remember that TSI cannot sell a train before Phase II. Owning more than one company is a good thing because of the freedom in moving trains one gets, in particular the ability to avoid train lock.

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 Routes

The "used mine" chits that come with the game are a pain in the neck. We use small dice or Magic tapstones to indicate used mines. Not only are these more obvious, they are much easier to pick up. We normally don't mark used claims, since no one else can use them anyway.

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.


There are a lot of II trains. Sometimes it will happen that no one has sufficient incentive to buy the last III train, and the game will get stuck in Phase III.

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:
Phase I 105/13/2
Phase II 106/24/3
Phase III 67/35/4
Phase IV 58/46/5
Phase V 29/57/6
Phase VI -9/7
16 phase II and III trains seems like a lot. Indeed, since there will be only 9 companies (excluding independents) running around phase III, each company can have two trains and three can have three without destroying the phase II trains. At least one player will usually want to maintain this status quo; usually the player in the lead, and possibly one or more who think (perhaps wrongly) that they have too much to lose by the big trains' coming out. Unless the game is extremely close, too close to judge, at least one player, however, strongly needs something to change. That player must make it his business to buy up those phase IV trains. Once that happens, usually someone is going to help, since they have to worry that you'll suddenly buy a phase V and do a $700 upgrade, leaving a company without a train. As the leader, it is wise to prepare for this, but sometimes it costs too much to prepare and then that player won't be the leader anymore. The size of the bank is such that it can happen that the bank breaks during the forcing of the large trains, or even before, depending on how effective the player(s) who are trying to accelerate the game are. That means that one can gamble on keeping one's phase II/III trains and not preparing for their destruction. If the game ends early, you win; if it goes to phase VI, however, you are buying a train out of pocket. That is usually too expensive to allow a win despite it, although I have won a game after doing so, but that time it only cost me $150; the rest was company credits already present. More often, the player who buys a $950 train out of pocket is history.

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 think TSI is very powerful. We usually use the variant that their starting stock value is $88. This removes from them $120 of capital. It doesn't really reduce the value of the TSI shares, though, since the stock will move to the top row of the market very quickly.

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.


These are my personal experiences. I'm sure there are lots of ideas I've not encountered. Please suggest!

See also: Mike's 2038 page.

Jeff Goldsmith,, Jan. 31, 1996