We started with 5 players, but one had to bow out fairly early so this might not be the best representation of the variant rules we were trying out. Still at the end of the game, I think for the most part it was a successful experiment. Of course, there is always room for improvement.
With that little introduction, we were working with 3 major house rules. My normal group has always had a problem with the interaction in this game and the time issue (we normally only have 3 or 4 players so the lockout of cities isn’t a big factor. The other major issue is the amount of ‘luck’ that sometimes that demand cards can give you (let me explain this one, if you are say in the area about Mexico City looking to head north with a single good, there is no good reason NOT to also pickup a load of coffee. The ‘chance’ of snagging a demand card with that good on it once your initial delivery is made will reap a lot of money with no real negatives).
The house rules used:
1. Public-Locking Rules (see ‘Links’ section below for the rules): Having a pool of demand cards that everyone plays from has always been in my mind to help the interaction of this game. After looking over the rules provided, I felt that this is something that would work wonderfully to spice this good game up. The only thing we didn’t do (since while explaining the rules, I forgot to see it) was that you had to lock a demand before you could deliver it. Honestly, I like the way we played it.
2. A player could never load more of a good type than showing on the current demand cards and no player may keep any good once there was no demand for it. For example: If coffee was on 2 demand cards, a player could load 2 but not 3 coffee tokens. If someone managed to deliver (and thus remove) one of those coffee cards, once the player delivered the second coffee to the location (assuming of course, he locked that good in), he would have to drop the second load unless a coffee demand showed up on any newly turned over demand cards.
3. End game was first to 150M with 6 of the 7 major cities connected (this was mainly a time issue since it was getting late and we wanted to finish the game in about 1.5 to 2 hours).
4. Speed increase and die movement: I know that some players would just stick to the faster trains (12 and 16 respectively) to speed up the game. However, I had read somewhere about adding dice to the game and figured that we could try it out (this change might take some of the strategy away, but would allow a race-like feel to the game that I thought would be a fresh touch):
Level 1 train: Roll 2d8 (average 9) or you may choose to just move 9
Level 2 train: Roll 3d8, drop the lowest (average 11) or you may choose to just move 12
Level 3 train: Roll 3d8 (average 13.5) or you may choose to just move 12
The actual session:
Since we had a couple of new players (and one decided early that he was ‘never going to win’ and took off), we went through the normal rules and then the above changes giving the new players help in designing and starting their rail empire. Each player got 2 privately owned cards per the rules and decided the best locations to start. Starting out I thought that I was going to really be able to make a good run for the victory. I had 2 southeast cities demanding Lead so I started in Denver and picked KC as my starting build city.
The first part felt fairly similar to the original game since everyone was slowly working their way through their first 2 demands. Once people had made those deliveries and started to use the public demand cards, things got interesting. There was always a race to pickup a good so that you could lock that demand on a card before anyone else could. There were many times in my game that I had a perfect delivery plan only to have it interrupted by someone else.
I think this (and poor important dice rolls) ultimately brought my empire to a screeching halt more often then not. After I delivered my goods to the southeast, I found some good markets back to the west and build out to Salt Lake City and San Diego locking the goods as I went. Again, I felt that I was in a good position since I was able to find 2 close pickup goods and 2 close delivery cities. Then I found 2 more runs but this time taking me into Mexico. Building out of the west down to Mexico City and made another 2 solid runs. Of course, by this time, all 4 players were looking at the public demand cards and my options for coast-to-coast shipping had dwindled into nothing. My mid-game was a lot of moving up the west coast looking to grab some decent demands for the east, but always falling a little short (by other players locking the cards for their own demands). By the time, I had a couple a great demands locked away, I was about 50M behind the leader and the rest is history.
In retrospect, having to run my train up the west coast to move goods from Mexico to the eastern cities was the killer. When the game ended, Mike had amassed 150M and made all the needed connection, but I was only at 74M and the other 2 players had barely made any headway (not even making the needed 6 connections).
The first 3 house rules worked wonderfully. I really think it brought a lot of suspense and interaction to the game and were a big hit. The idea of having to fight other players for the demand cards makes for some serious ‘fist waving’ (‘Curse you, I was going to use that card for fruit’ __shakes fist__). It also makes you really wait to deliver your current goods before you start to think about the next runs (since too much preplanning will be moot if someone ‘steals’ the demand card from under you).
As for the final house rule we were trying, I don’t think it worked that great. I wanted to put a little randomness in the movement of the trains, but using d8s for this makes it a bit TOO random (might be fine for some, but I thought it was too much). The range of the numbers that can be rolled on d8s can really make an impact if you get really good (or really bad) set of rolls. I know that one time while at Level 1, I rolled a four for movement twice in a row which really hurt me in picking up and thus locking a card that I needed. Perhaps determining a different die type or method would be a bit better (or just going back to the 9 and 12 or 12 and 16).
All in all however, it was a fun game and clocked in at about 2 hours (which is a good timeframe these days). I can see the public demand system becoming a must used house rule for many additional plays.
Interesting read. I couldn't tell if you actually played where you locked the public demands. It sounds like you allowed locking, but did not require it -- is this correct? We've played many times with public demand cards, but left them open to first come first serve. This seemed to add much more interaction than simply allowing people to lock a card up. The problem we had is that the playing this way tended to lengthen the game, not shorten it.
As for playing to only $150 million with all but one city, the original Empire Builder rules only called for playing to $250 million and no connection requirement. The connection requirement was added as part of the "Empire Builder" version of the Empire Builder rules -- confusing, huh. I've considered in the past playing to only $250 million for a shorter game. However, we've never actually cared to try.
Interesting Die variant.
I am surprised that, after Iron Dragon and Lunar Rails], Mayfair are still stuck in a timewarp with the [9-12]/[2/3]gauge (e.g Russian Rails etc.)
We ALWAYS use the [10-16]/ [2/3] gauge in ALL 'Crayon Rail' games.
The slower speeds (9-12), plus the increase cost of up-grade ($2,000 instead of $1,000), and to inferior stock (max speed 12!), makes a long game excessively, and unnecessarily longer.
Other speed variants:-
(i) Express: - if you ONLY move - i.e. take NO other action - you may add 1 to your speed.
(ii) 'Empty' trains: - for each empty compartment you may add 1 to your movement.