Welcome to my first ever review here on BGG. Over the course of the last 2-3 years or so, a group of friends, my wife, and myself have enjoyed playing Empire Builder. There are many other games that I would like to review, but as this seems to be our go-to game, I thought I would start with it.
As a child, I used to play the usual games like Monopoly, Risk, Trouble, Sorry, and The Game of Life. It wasn't until 2007 when my father asked me what I wanted for x-mas that this all seemed to change. I told him that I wanted a board game for x-mas because I missed playing them with friends and family (I had 2 years prior moved to an isolated community with my wife and kids and didn't really have any games to play). As it turned out, my dad went to a hobby shop in London, Ontario and ended up purchasing Ticket To Ride for me (a game I will hopefully be reviewing at a later date). With him getting this game for me for x-mas was honestly a life changing gaming experience. I now have over 130 games in my collection.
So the question is, why am I reviewing Empire Builder over any other game for my first review. My reasoning is quite simple. This is a game that I play the most often and it is also a game that I really wish I had owned when I was younger. Ultimately, this is the next rail style board game that I bought myself after my dad ultimately helped reintroduce me to the hobby. In my review, it is my intention to describe the game, the good and the bad, and what I really like most about it, so here goes.
How to Play:
To start, each player will get 50 million dollars that can be used to spend on track building for the first two turns of the game. They will receive 3 load cards that they will use to decide where they want to build on the board.
The first two turns are designated only for building track. On each turn, you can spend up to 20 million dollars to buy track. Keeping in mind that building into cities can cost either 3 million or 5 million each and building into mountain areas cost 2 million dollars. Building over rivers is also 2 million dollars. Building your routes strategically over time becomes important. It is often encouraged to start small and expand as you earn your money.
After the first two turns, you are now able to move your train. From this point on, you must move your train down your track first and then you can build second (this becomes important if you want to deliver something but forgot to build on your previous turn/couldn't afford to build). At the start, you can only move your train up to 9 mileposts on the board. As time progresses and you make money, you can upgrade your train in one of two ways. You may upgrade its speed (allowing you to move 12 mileposts or you can upgrade your loads to 3). The maximum you can upgrade to is 12 mileposts and 3 loads.
Your cards will dictate what you need to bring to cities on the map and how much you will get for delivering each load. The further away the destination is from the point of origin, the more money it is worth. Usually routes that go from coast to coast or north to south are worth lots of money but are not easily attainable at the beginning.
Winning the Game:
The first player to connect to at least six of the seven largest cities on the board and earn 250 million dollars is the winner.
1. Interactive - You interact frequently with your opponents in cases of borrowing track and friendly banter.
2. Educational - This game allows you to learn where basic resources are produced in North America and also where places are located.
3. Strategy - In my opinion, you must lay your track strategically to have any chance of winning this game. To me, it is beneficial to start somewhere in the midwest or eastern seaboard. The sooner you can earn money and build into Mexico, you are set.
4. Complexity - The instructions for this game are pretty well laid out. You move, you build, you earn. It's as simple as that (with a few odds and ends). The game is not a heavy game and lends itself to be played by most players from their teens to late adulthood.
1. Time - In a 4-player game, it would be best to allot yourself at least 3 hours to play (and in most games I've played in, much longer than that). I have only played with 6 players and it went on for over 6 hours.
2. Components - I like the puzzle pieces for the map, but I find that the crayons used to draw your routes can be finicky. We purchased erasable markers to help (but hands on the board still erase them at times)
3. Analysis Paralysis - There are a few players that I have encountered over time that just cannot plan ahead very well. When it gets to their turn it takes 5-10 minutes for them to make a decision. If you know people like this, it may pose a problem if you don't like AP.
In recent years, I have heard many complaints about how this game is outdated and stale. I think that this is eliminated by the amount of cards that are in the game. There is always choice as to the routes you have in your hand. I know some people say that towards the end you may get cards that are unattainable. That might be true (if you didn't plan your rail system very well). Building a north to south and east to west system will help you in the end if you do it effectively. By doing this, you can get routes in Canada, Mexico, and the east and west USA.
I think that Empire Builder lends itself best to a 4 player game for time purposes. Once you figure out the ins and outs of the game and are able to play faster, the game is great. It forces you to think ahead so that you don't end up in situations that will otherwise cause you to lose the game.
Deciding when you should upgrade your train vs. continuing to build track is also crucial. There comes a point when if you don't upgrade your train you will be at the back of the pack and it's a steep climb upwards. Upgrading your train is necessary for any success in this game.
My final point goes out to the amount of time it takes to play Empire Builder. Many people do not like long, drawn out games. To some extent, this can happen in Empire Builder. There is, however, a method around this. Some gamers might disagree with me, but house rules come in to play if you want to minimize your time. For example, begin the game with a 12 speed train or 3 loads. You could also decide that instead of 250 million dollars, you need 150 million or 200 million to win the game. House rules are meant to be in place to enhance the game for those involved. If you want to include them, do so and make the game as much fun as you want. Empire Builders is a perfect game to do so. I have done this multiple times and found that it did not detract from the fun of the game.
To conclude, my father passed away in September 2016 and was my inspiration to begin board gaming again. Empire Builder is a direct correlation to my father because without his support, I would probably have never played this game. I like this game immensely and have lots of other games to talk about. I encourage anyone that has not played Empire Builder to give it a shot. For those that haven't played in some time, try it out again as I am sure you will have lots of memories from playing. I hope you have enjoyed my first game review. Let me know what you think below
My wife and I really enjoy playing it as a 2-player game, though we like it better with more. We can often play two 2-player games in 2 1/2 hours.
The first two turns are designated only for building track. On each turn, you can spend up to 20 million dollars to buy track. Keeping in mind that building into cities can cost either 3 million or 5 million each and building into mountain areas cost 2 million dollars. Building over rivers is also 2 million dollars.
Actually. this is a rule you may have missed--you should almost never pay $5 million to enter a major city because you can always start building from a major (limited to twice per turn), as you approach a major city, stop at a $1 milepost and then build out from the city.
There are many variants that have been released over the years: British Rails, Euro Rails, Martian Rails, Nippon Rails, Russian Rails, etc.
My final point goes out to the amount of time it takes to play Empire Builder. Many people do not like long, drawn out games. To some extent, this can happen in Empire Builder. There is, however, a method around this. Some gamers might disagree with me, but house rules come in to play if you want to minimize your time. For example, begin the game with a 12 speed train or 3 loads.
Better is simply adding movement points to the trains, from 9 & 12 to 12 & 16. Or use the trains form Iron Dragon/Martian Rails/Lunar Rails:
Class I: 10MP-2 Loads
Class II: 10MP-3L or 12MP-2L
Class III: 12MP-3L or 14MP-2L
Class IV: 14MP-3L or 16MP-3L
Class V: 16MP-3L
Each upgrade costs $10
You could also decide that instead of 250 million dollars, you need 150 million or 200 million to win the game.
The problem with this is that it cuts out the fastest part of the game: At the end of the game you spend less time and money building track--mainly completing short connections that you need. Cutting from $250 to $150 does not cut 40% of the game time. It maybe 5%-10% of the game time.
- Last edited Sun Dec 11, 2016 4:19 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Dec 11, 2016 4:02 pm
Another house rule which I like, but doesn't take away too much is to start the game by dealing 5 (five) demand cards to each player. Each player must discard 2 of those before any track is built.
It helps mitigate some of the bad draw at the start of the game without too much imbalance ensuing.