It was "variant" night, tonight, at the Mayer house. Kim and I decided that the "western rhombus" (the cities Boise, Billings, Salt Lake, and Cheyenne) just don't get enough use, so we decided to make any load delievered to the cities worth +10. Also, we decided to allow players to turn in 1, 2, or 3 cards for new ones instead of the normal way of turning in exactly 3 cards.
I wanted to test out the western rhombus variant as much as possible, so I was happy to have my first draw be fruit to Salt Lake and then Sugar to Detroit (a run that's possible even without the +10). After that I drew a marvelous series of runs to the northwest, getting top dollar for Cotton in Calgary, Coffee in Seattle, Steel to Boise, and others. It was an easy victory. But was it fair?
I say no. All in all, I gained +40 from the variant bonus, which I think is too much. However, I'm glad we tried it because it made me realize that the nortwest routes through the mountains are actually nothing to scoff at. I've always ignored those cities/routes before now, but from now on I'm going to give them a fair chance. I think they are more than viable.
As for the 1-2-3 turn in, we like it and we'll keep playing with it.
Update: We played again without the rhombus bonus, yet I still focused on the NW and built out from there and wound up winning, even though Kim went with the sure-fire "coffee to everywhere strategy." But she won the next game, so nothing in life and Empire Builder is certain.