Alec Chapman(ALGO)United Kingdom
And finally, on Monday evening my wife and I rolled out Empire Builder. She tells me she likes it because she loves maps and it doesn’t involve directly smacking each other in the face since even with the honeymoon variant there are often ways to diversify.
A quick word for anyone who doesn’t know Empire Builder. It’s the one where you draw with crayon onto the board. Yes, directly onto the board. It’s the wanton pseudo-destructiveness of this that got Mrs C to try it the first time. Once you have your track you can run your very abstract pawn from town to town, picking up the goods they produce there and delivering them where your demand cards tell you, balancing the cost of building the required track against the income you will get from this and future deliveries. Repeat until rich.
She’s never legitimately won one of these games before so it was with some relief that she finally managed to come out on top yesterday, making her crucial delivery just one turn (actually four mileposts) in advance of me. I always find it amazing how close the ending of this game is, and since I have a massive soft spot for its central crayon based building mechanic I will happily play this one despite it usually devolving into a race to the finish line at twelve steps a turn for a few interminable rounds.
I do have some caveats.
1. I like this game mainly because my wife does. It’s a gentle, semi serious experience and not hardcore game fare by today’s standards until you reach the extremely experienced level of knowing the decks and best connections etc. I do not intend to reach there and the pickup gamer would not either as UI find the game is simply too long and repetitive for, for example, one hundred plays to be viable.
2. Whoever put six players on the box is insane. With two players we’re talking two to three hours and with more players you can probably add on another hour for each. I’ve played it, in Eurorails form, with three and four with fun results, but by the end of the four player game I was flagging like a hitchhiker in a hailstorm.
3. Black and Yellow are poor choices for a player colour. The yellow crayon only shows up in direct sunlight and given the potential playtime and time of commencement involved you will not stay in such light for the duration. At several points yesterday it felt like Mrs C was chugging along on invisible track! The black crayon causes problems of obscuring and looking like part of the board art. I used purple with the black counter. A much better choice.
4. Older versions just aren’t as nice as recent editions. I have an older copy of iron dragon and its component limitations render it even less attractive – all white counters with pictures only and no words (fail!), poor cardstock and the old style card art is less user friendly and discourages me from even trying it at this point. I hate to be a snob about such things, but since I’m going to be looking at this functional board art for a long time the rest of the pieces being a bit more polished makes the latest editions of Eurorails and Empire Builder a lot more enjoyable – I would only purchase versions of this quality in future.
5. I bought great big washable crayons for two reasons – first, trade value stays up if the original crayons are intact (this point is now moot since I dropped the games and they both sport major dings); second, they draw thicker lines and you can see them that much more easily. I recommend this approach wholeheartedly.
I would recommend any of the games above for similar groups – even crayon rails is especially good for partners who want to feel a bit of the buzz of planning a long term strategy but without the searing need to fight tooth and nail for each small step towards it. If you’ve never got your partner into gaming perhaps this could be the game that does.
Is having a less good time yourself worth it if it gets your partner gaming? I think so, though your experience may vary.