Friday, June 17, 2011

Surprisingly Old, Surprisingly Good; Empire Builder

The other night we played Empire Builder, a build your rails across America and haul freight kind of game. I could tell it wasn't the newest game out there, something about its components and what-not, but when I went to log my game however I saw Empire Builder's date was 1980! For an older game, it was pretty good, for a thirty-one year old game, I was blown away. Also, given its date it's got to be the first "train game" of the modern age.

A lot of the same premises apply that you might find in, say, Ticket to Ride, but it's much more in-depth. You're dealt cards and they give you destination cities and what commodity that city is looking for. Get the commodity to the destination, and you get money. However, you have to get the commodity from its point of origin, which is usually far away, and everything's gotta be connected by rails to boot, which costs money to build.

The winner of the game is the first to hit a prescribed amount, usually 200-250 million bucks, with destination deliveries giving you anywhere from 5-40 million bucks per completion. Buying train tracks costs different amount if you're going through mountains, crossing rivers, going into cities, and the like. Plus, you can upgrade your locomotives to haul more freight and run faster, the whole "spend money to make money" fits like a glove.

Empire Builder only shows its age in components, the rules and gameplay hold their own to today's standards quite easily. It was fun and didn't take too long to get the hang of things. Getting the right routes and building the right rails was the biggest trick, but that's the whole crux of the game. Now I'm not going to run out and replace Ticket to Ride, which is much more accessible across a wider audience, but I'll play it again for sure.


  1. Hey! Empire Builder! I love that game ^.^ Something my family did to protect the board is picked up a sheet of clear acrylic (or clear vinyl, we have both), then use wet erase markers instead of the crayons it comes with to mark the rails. If you like EB, there are a lot of 'crayon train games' using that system, my personal favorite called 'Iron Dragon' set in a fantasy realm, with added complexities of foremen, ships, and even more terrain types.

  2. Thanks for chiming in Oniakki. The other guys around the table that night had mentioned Iron Dragon, and yeah, after playing EB, I'm very interested in its fantasy cousin.

  3. There's also several sci-fi variants, "Lunar Rails" & "Martian Rails". These are kinda fun because there's lots of in-jokes - a cargo of fruit is "Roddenberries", one of the engines is the "Wrath of Conrail", etc.

  4. Thanks Leadhead, I wasn't aware of all the 'crayon-rail' games out there. The sci-fi variants sound just as cool as the fantasy one, if not more so!