St Ives, Sydney
Played Australian Rails for the first time, a cool feeling playing on a homeland map rather than the perennial USA or European maps. Its of course a crayon rail game in the Empire Builder series, with the winning condition that you must link to Perth plus 3 of Adelaide / Melbourne / Sydney / Brisbane, plus $250m.
In real life there's one train track from Adelaide to Perth and another one from Adelaide to Darwin and occasional track from an inland mine to the coast for shipping. All other track runs thru the eastern states. And if you've ever toured Australia, the unbelievable barrenness and desert that is the central and western states makes trains so understandably unprofitable as to require no thought as to why there aren't any more. The major form of transportation are road-trains (three or four trailers connected to a truck) that hurtle, especially in the Northern Territory where there are no highway speed limits. Its quite frightening to be overtaken by one as the earth rumbles and shakes and the trailers sway disconcertingly at you. Which is why everyone aims to speed faster than the road trains.
But to make a decent game and allow gamers the opportunity to build in the west and be profitable, the designers have had to include every 2 bit mining town out there they can excusably include. Which makes for disconcerting moments as two Aussies play and one asks the other "Rawlinna! Where the hell is Rawlinna?". I think there were about 10 towns I've never heard of, all of which have the population, sometimes literally, of 5 people, 2 dogs and a signpost.
In our game, Rick started in the west and I created a star pattern in the southeast with a spur up the coast. Whenever I had cards that meant I had to go west I'd ditch them and get new ones to allow me to concentrate solely on runs up and down the eastern seaboard - real-life economics brought to the table. This meant about 7 ditchings, 3 of them in a row one-time. In the end I was looking for a double or triple payoff to Perth to fund the $49m track I needed to build from Adelaide to Perth to fulfil the winning condition and so won the game comfortable.
I'm not sure if the game is unbalanced towards building in the east or not after just one playing or whether it was the ditching strategy that payed off. Rick built far more track than I which hampered profits. It was an enjoyable game though. I enjoy the economics of planning and building that it offers, and look forward to each turning over of a new contract to see what it has to offer. This for me successfully counters the lack of interaction that the more-or-less solitaire mechanics provide.
After 2 playings, I give the Empire Builder series a neat 7 for 'good games, usually willing to play'. The downtime that occurs when people plan their building after pulling a new contract makes it an ideal game to play while watching the Windies get hammered in the cricket! :-)