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Subject: Not much of an Empire for me in this game. rss

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Stephen Smith
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Second Game: Empire Builder

After dinner and some talk, we decided we wanted to play one other game before going to bed. Jared thought that Christine should be allowed to choose the next game. This was fine by me as I was pretty confident she would choose Empire Builder as the game to play. However, I was concerned that Becky would not want to play. The first time she ever played, she didn't really seem to enjoy it all that much, and she has actively avoided playing since. However, I was greatly surprised that she was indeed willing to play with us. On with the game,

The object of Empire Builder is to be the first player to earn $250 million and connect five out of the six major cities (ours is a third edition). Players spend money to build track connecting cities, which is drawn directly on the board. Players make money by picking up goods in various and cities and taking them to cities that need them. This is determined by the demand cards held by each player. Each card lists three cities, each with a desired commodity and the offered payoff. Once you fulfill one of the demands on the card, you draw a new card, which will have a new set of demands. Now, since each delivery is a losing proposition on its own, you must optimize your track building and use in order to make money. One other catch--mixed into the demand cards are event cards, which cause problems for players, often depending on where they are on the board. As a general rule, we do not play with the event cards much anymore.

As always in these crayon-rails games, the initial build is extremely critical. Not only do you have to maximize the use of the demand cards that start in your hand, but you are also laying the foundation for your future network. If you can lay track now that you will use a lot over the course of the game, you are setting yourself up to do well. In order to speed things up, we start with $60 million and three initial building rounds. My initial builds were connecting Omaha, Kansas City, Santa Fe, Chicago, and on up toward Sudbury. This allowed me to make my early runs pretty easily. However, at this point, things became much more difficult for me. From here on, for most of the game, I rarely was working on two loads at a time. That is pretty much the kiss of death in this game. A little bit past the midway point (for me), I ended up heading on to Seattle, thus connecting the sixth city. I really do not like to do that in this game for several reasons. The most important is that it is a massive investment in capital, usually at a point when you want to concentrate on making money. In hindsight, I should have just dumped my cards and tried something else. Oh well.

While I was doing poorly, Christine was really tearing it up. It seemed like every time she dropped something off, she drew a card that not only had a commodity she could pick up nearby, but was also going in the same general direction she was already headed. In addition, when she did not have these really good deliveries going, she made some really good choices in her building and the deliveries she undertook. Needless to say, she ran away with the game.

Final Result: (in millions)

Christine -- 264
Jared -- 186
Becky -- 165
Stephen -- 144 (+62)

Christine really put on a nice show in this game. Since she so rarely wins, I am really happy for her. On the other hand, I had a really atrocious game. I thought I should have had a lot more money than I actually did. Given how close in color the $1 and $10 million money is, I think I might have mixed the two accidentally and pulled out some $1's when I should have been getting $10's. At any rate, if we had finished the round we were in when the game ended (so that we all had equal turns), I would have picked up an additional $62 million, which would have given me a more respectable finish. Not that it really matters at all. Still, it was a fun game. On another note, we had a little bit of unusual building in this game. Almost always, you see a lot of connections between New York and Atlanta (at least in our games). In this game, there were no such connections until nearly the very end of the game when Jared completed the connection. Surprisingly (for four players), our total game time was under three hours.

12/30/2005
 
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Bryon Petrie
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"As a general rule, we do not play with the event cards much anymore."

These are what make the game interesting. Getting derailed, flooded without $3000 to rebuild a bridge, taxes; these are all make the game
a challenge. Why play at all?
 
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Stephen Smith
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Quote:
Quote:
As a general rule, we do not play with the event cards much anymore.

These are what make the game interesting. Getting derailed, flooded without $3000 to rebuild a bridge, taxes; these are all make the game
a challenge. Why play at all?

If you find it interesting, then you are welcome to play with them. Our experience is that it makes the game less interesting. For one, it unnecessarily lengthens an already long game. The game is not more fun for having them present nor is additional fun created by lengthening the game.

Another reason, in a game that should reward careful resource management, these randomly strike people and cause harm whether or not they have been careful. In fact, they often thwart careful management. In addition, one or two timely events can effectively take someone out of the game, particularyly if it occurs early in the game. Late in the game, they just knock you further behind or, worse, allow a person who has played poorly to catch up to someone who has played well.


 
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david landes
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I can see playing with or without the event cards based on preference. I think it is really the derailment cards that provide the most chaos. They cost a turn and perhaps a crucial load and may randomly hit one person all game and not another. The floods may hurt, but every river floods. You build across a river, you plan to rebuild at some point (unless that flood has already trasnpired). If a delivery is crucial, plan to have 3 dollars handy if needed.

A thing to ponder with events is that they hurt the person who draws them the most. Derailments are point events, but many events such as floods, snow, hurricanes, strikes, etc all continue through the END of the drawing player's next turn. This means that only the drawing player gets hit twice (or three times in the rare case of a flood for two turns and then building a bridge without movement on the third). However, knowing this informs the strategy of delivery and one can plan around avoiding marginal deliveries which may cost turns. Profitable deliveries which cost turns are just a little luck of the draw, but really no worse than the luck already introduced by the difference between a "good" delivery card and a "bad" one that you will eventually have to pitch.

The one event that "non-event" players may need to include is the Tax event. The good news is that all players are impacted without regard to train position, so this is not really a matter of luck. The other reason to include it is that after this card is drawn, players may always know how much money other players have. Of course, one could ignore this rule and caveat that other players will always know or never know.

If you are an Iron Dragon player, the Rainbow Bridge card will have to be used... or house rule employed to enable the connection between those two cities.

Cheers
 
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Stephen Smith
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I think it is really the derailment cards that provide the most chaos. They cost a turn and perhaps a crucial load and may randomly hit one person all game and not another.

I agree, these are ridiculously random. Unfortunately, I don't carry non-crucial loads. You shouldn't be carrying any non-crucial load.

Quote:
You build across a river, you plan to rebuild at some point (unless that flood has already trasnpired). If a delivery is crucial, plan to have 3 dollars handy if needed.

Sure, you expect the rivers to flood, and only a fool wouldn't keep $3 in hand to rebuild. The problem is that whenever one of these comes up, someone invariably loses multiple turns. As you mention, it is possible, and in my experience relatively common, for someone to lose three turns to one of these cards. To compound this, it almost always occurs in a situation where there is nothing else profitable to do while you are waiting.

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A thing to ponder with events is that they hurt the person who draws them the most.

Only if they affect him. And that's the kicker. By making a delivery, you are moving closer to winning. Therefore, you have essentially a random chance of any player being pushed back. That just doesn't make sense to me. I can just imagine if everytime someone spent cards in Settlers, the dice were rolled and on a seven a random player had to lose a turn and half his cards. Ouch!

Quote:
However, knowing this informs the strategy of delivery and one can plan around avoiding marginal deliveries which may cost turns.

My issue here is that you should never be making "marginal" deliveries in the first place. Every delivery should be your optimum delivery. If you follow your idea to its logical conclusion, you won't be building efficient networks, you won't be making good deliveries, and you're going to lose miserably.

Quote:
Profitable deliveries which cost turns are just a little luck of the draw, but really no worse than the luck already introduced by the difference between a "good" delivery card and a "bad" one that you will eventually have to pitch.

Let's see, lost one turn for a delivery and exchange one card. Lose one turn to pitch cards and exchange all three. That doesn't seem equal. That seems three times worse. And that's only if you lose one turn.

Quote:
The one event that "non-event" players may need to include is the Tax event. The good news is that all players are impacted without regard to train position, so this is not really a matter of luck.

While they are impacted without regard to position on the board, they are impacted based on their financial position. This effect can be a significant matter of luck, particularly when players are clustered around the break points and near the end or beginning of the game.

Quote:
The other reason to include it is that after this card is drawn, players may always know how much money other players have.

I've never really understood this. If you want to know how much money a player has, it is completely trackable. While I understand many people don't want to put forth the effort to actually track this, I think that serves as an idication of how important it really is to know another player's holdings. As for me, I'm trying to make as much money as possible, as efficiently as possible. Those decisions in no way depend on the amount of money my opponents have.

Quote:
If you are an Iron Dragon player, the Rainbow Bridge card will have to be used... or house rule employed to enable the connection between those two cities.

Why? There are plenty of ways to build a connection without the card or the connection. After all, that's what you have to do if the card never comes up. Besides, in the errataed rules, this card goes away in one turn just like any other Event card, so you would (most likely) still need to build if you wanted to connect.

You originally stated that the event cards were the only thing that makes the game a challenge. Nothing you seem to be saying here seems to indicate this. In fact, it basically seems as though you would be playing the same way with or without them. How is this indicative of an additional challenge.
 
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david landes
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You seem a little confused in your rant against 'all things event cards'.

1)
You said "You originally stated that the event cards were the only thing that makes the game a challenge"

I never said that, what I said was "I can see playing with or without the event cards based on preference. " I am not sure where you picked up the attributed quote.



Additionally, I think you picked on some semantics and could have looked slightly deeper.. or in the alternative, considered the viewpoints a little more closely.

2)
You said "You shouldn't be carrying any non-crucial load."

I guess you can define crucial then. Depedning on the game, in a cross board delivery, after a train upgrade to be able to carry three loads, it is typical for two of the cards to match and one not to be associated with the route intended. In this case, it is best to carry three laods.. one of which is non-crucial. Perhaps you would prefer to call it speculative. This is more applicable in some of the Rail titles than others as the value of "heavy freight" or its eqivalent varies.

3)
Everyone chooses to build across a river. Most rivers are avoidable, though not all. It is a risk of building, and needing to cross the river at a specific moment, that causes the problem. Still, I am in basic agreement with you that the two and half turn loss is overly disruptive.

4)
You said "My issue here is that you should never be making "marginal" deliveries in the first place."

During the course of a game, choices are always made as to whether to deliver, or whether to pitch cards. Wherever you draw the line and say 'Gee, I will deliver these, but for a dollar less, I would pitch them'.. that IS the marginal delivery. When you account for potential losses due to Event cards.. the margin changes and now you will want a few extra dollars (millions actually) versus a pitch. That is the margin... and every player always has a marginal delivery point and is delivering to it.

5)
You said "Let's see, lost one turn for a delivery and exchange one card. Lose one turn to pitch cards and exchange all three. That doesn't seem equal. That seems three times worse. And that's only if you lose one turn."

This is non-sensical. The point is that turns are lost throughout the game for a variety of reasons. Most of these lost turns are NOT event card related. Empire Builder is really a game about who can connect five major cities and amass $250 million in the fewest possible turns (change the # of cities and $$ depending on the title). Any time one chooses which deliveries to make, one is choosing to spend a certain number of turns with a certain eventual expected return. Introducing Event cards is merely changing the risk factor associated with the valuation of the expected return... raising the risk. From a game perspective, I would agree that it introduces potentially uneven, random factors that may favor one person over another. From a 'reality' perspective, rivers DO wash out, hurricanes and weather events DO happen, and an entrpreneur calculates all these as part of the risk/costs of doing business, despite their unpredictability. So it is not altogteher unrealistic. Whether you lose turns through less valuable delivery options, or through event cards is strictly a matter of luck of the drawpile, though both may be mitigated to a greater or lesser degree by planning.

6)

You said "While they are impacted without regard to position on the board, they are impacted based on their financial position. This effect can be a significant matter of luck, particularly when players are clustered around the break points and near the end or beginning of the game."

You are correct that the timing of the Tax card can introduce luck, once again, players can manage the luck. Using your break point example, players at the beginning of the game who have $50 or more (the minimum to be taxed) are likely not operating to maxmimize their cash value. While I could come up with a specific scenario where at the start of a game, a player could have 50, it is very unlikely that the player should not have invested that money in track or train to improve their position and remain below 50. To your other example, late in the game, I believe this is just designed to be a catchup factor as the graduated nature of the payments indicates.

7)

You said "If you want to know how much money a player has, it is completely trackable."

Agreed. However, in this case, the rules formalize asking and not wasting time mentally trying to track it (for those few who might). Still, Puerto Rico has its hidden victory points, Settlers has its commodities, Goa has its money, etc, etc, etc. Many games have this factor and I agree with you that if it COULD be tracked, it seems a little silly to FORCE players to track it mentally. Nonetheless.

You also said " Those decisions in no way depend on the amount of money my opponents have. "

Not accurate. Particularly late in a game where players are close to victory conditions, knowing the EXACT number of turns a player will take to finish will change whether I choose a lower delivery which will not win, versus pitching in hopes of getting better/shorter payoffs to enable me to achieve victory first. This can be especially true if I just delivered on a run and have a speculative load on board worth quite a bit in that part of the geography.

8)

You said "Besides, in the errataed rules, this card goes away in one turn just like any other Event card, so you would (most likely) still need to build if you wanted to connect. "

Never saw these rules. I will look for them and thanks for the tip. I hope no other rules have changed that we have been wed to. Still, my point was not that the card is irreplaceable, it is that a significant rule (as I understood them) would be impacted and should be accounted for.. one way or another.. if removing the event.

All in all, I think Events are a matter of taste. You seem to hate them and I understand why, and house rules seem to be a way of life, which is good, because you can eliminate them.
 
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Stephen Smith
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Quote:
You seem a little confused in your rant against 'all things event cards'.

1)
You said "You originally stated that the event cards were the only thing that makes the game a challenge"

I never said that, what I said was "I can see playing with or without the event cards based on preference. " I am not sure where you picked up the attributed quote.


You are right. I attributed something to you that was mentioned further up. For whatever reason, I thought you were the same person. My apologies.

As for the Event cards, to each his own. They detract from my enjoyment of the game, as well as those I play with, so we remove them. If someone ever wants them in, I'll put them in without complaint. (OK, I might roll my eyes just a little.)

If you like them, great. I certainly don't want to take away from your enjoyment of the game. Happy railroading.
 
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