This is a very tricky game. Many people, in many different languages, including English do not get all the rules correct the first game. Give yourself a break. Though the rule book is only 11 pages long, it is quite dense as it allows for great flexibility, in spite of its restrictions, but it encompasses numerous triggers for potentially complex interactions and procedural activities. Though they all make some sort of sense, just exercising these operations is taxing at first. Trying to envision the exact outcomes, while completely predictable, except in the case of the mine tiles, can be mind boggling at first. After a few games, most of the charts are easily memorized because all the increments are direct and simple quotients of 24 divided by the number of railroads, or simply 5 in the case of purchasing stock or paying/not paying dividends.
Bullfrog simulates a Gold Rush. Think about it, you simply will not have time to set up your stock portfolio, build infrastructure and rails, all in a competitive fashion at your leisure, with the gold ore just sitting there waiting for you only. So the challenges always include shortfalls in income potentials and exigencies in the race to claim your “share”.
Roll Selection on the first turn is, unfortunately both crucial and very challenging. Since this is not a game where you can ”go with the flow”, roll selection is directly related to strategy development, so you are challenged immediately out of the gate. They are all good, but each only in its own timing. First time playing, simply choose the card that best suits your plan, ie. if you want to buy stock, the Stockbroker, etc. Don't worry about turn order. By the second game, turn order will become more crucial as you try to outperform your adversaries by getting the "jump" on them.
The buildings, while an abstraction, served a real purpose. How would you like to work hard in a mine or a railroad all day and sleep out year round in or near Death Valley (besides the well known heat reaching 135 Fahrenheit in the shade, there are other climatic extremes in the area including severe flash floods, sand and dust storms, sub zero temperatures and wind chill factors of incredible coldness. These buildings representing the towns that were built included some of the finest architecture and amenities then available worldwide. These included electricity, plumbing (both tapped hot and cold water and sewage treatment), elevators, telephones and telegraph. After all, some people were getting rich on these gold and silver ores. Getting a building or two before making as mine railroad connection is a necessary step to obtain maximum growth in stock values. Though it costs an action, the cost is well worth the investement. This is one of the many times when role selection is important to obtain the chance to acomplish the whole proceedure in one cycle to receive the maximum potential dividend payout durring the administration phase.
The stock chart in the game has elements similar to many train games including the 18xx series (stock), Silverton (mining) and Chicago Express (track laying and buildings). But not only does it have its own unique elements, more drastically, it is the myriad of ways that the elements combine that gives Bullfrog both its distinction and the difficult learning curve. It is not always directly intuitive, yet houses simplified and realistic simulations of outcomes of the complex interactions between various activities to mine, smelter and ship the precious ores. The stock chart itself is just about as simple as can be 1-100 even with the stock value limits imposed by the buildings. This is one step harder than Chicago Express (a 1 hour game) with a very simple chart of just numbers. It is about 6 steps less complicated than 18xx (6 – 8 hours) with forced liquidation, income ledges, par value vs. current value, share limits, more than 3 times as many shares to manage, priority marker rules, price protection, etc. Silverton (3 hours) manages quite well but includes die rolling and numerous charts. Another similar game is Namibia (2 hours) which I highly recommend, while it is not as flexible with its commodity restrictions and Government Railroads, it has some great elements including bribing Colonial Officials, shipping and trucking, prospecting, besides the rail laying. Its stock values include fluctuating values for various commodities, current market price per cube, converting cash to reputation, oil prices, etc.
Stock purchasing and selling is fairly direct but houses the ponder-able “you set the par value” mechanic. The higher values can be set to force out the competition, and gain high yields with minimal actions for mine stock. The trick here is considering if the high price will prevent you from purchasing more of the same stock as well, leaving you with 1/3( the dividend of) x (probably 25 = 8); compared to a possible dividend of 35 for full ownership. (Purchase charter at 10, next share at 10, last share at 15.) Taking in to consideration the smaller final cash outlay (25 vs. 35) and 2 less actions to achieve it. The main problems include available cash, what are you planning to do with the other actions and what are the other players doing. This kind of math is not that hard, but considering net value of the stock holdings at the end, is hard since you cannot be sure that it will be solvent. Compairing this with all the other occurrences happening in the game state at any given time is staggeringly difficult.
In the case of facilitating R. R. companies ability to become solvent, setting the higher pars can be crucial. Both these options (buying more stock, or setting higher par values) are regulated by the available cash on hand, which is often regulated by dividends, so that it is a quandary for a new player just to grasp the mechanics let alone the results of scrupulous purchasing and timely selling. Selling after the 3rd dig tile has been revealed is your last opportunity to escape mine holdings that might plummet. But this must be measured against utilizing the action for a possibly more lucrative one.
The rail laying is as simple as it gets (except for TransAmerica, or Paris Connection, both ½ hour games), yet so many things can happen as a result of the connections. So placing 1-4 trains per action, though it sounds simple, requires a tremendous amount of decision making, much of which is influenced by other players decisions. Planning ahead is not that hard; buy stock in R. R. buy stock in mine, buy building and then lay track is a normal course that can be achieved in one round with the proper card, ie. Assayer, Stock Broker or Building Contractor.
My advise is to realize that there is a hefty learning curve and your play group probably will not get it all right the first time.