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Subject: Back to the Beginning rss

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All gaming hobbyists can usually pinpoint their gateway game, that game which opened the doors for them into the wider world of board gaming. For many people. This is usually a game like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride. While Risk was the game which gave me a taste for better board games, my gateway game is a game called Eurorails. I had never heard of the game until I sat down to play it but I fell in love with it instantly. I loved the strategic planning involved in both building your railways and planning your train deliveries around Europe. A wonderful game.
So after Eurorails, I began to explore more board games and eventually learned that Eurorails was not alone. It was in fact part of a series of 'crayon rail' games which were similar in style but different in location. And Eurorails was not the first of this series either; that distinction belonged to ca game called Empire Builder. Empire Builder was actually released ten years before Eurorails in 1980 and is set in the rugged lands of North America.
I debated with myself on whether to buy Eurorail's predecessor since it seemed like almost the same game with a different map. Luckily that decision was made for me as some friends, knowing of my affinity to Eurorails, game it to me for my birthday. It was really neat playing a game which felt tried and true to me, but still felt different as we delved into the historic origins of one of my all-time favourite games. So how did it hold up?

Gameplay

Empire Builder and Eurorails are identical in gameplay other than the map itself which involves different route strategies. Otherwise though, its pretty similar. The game has two main parts; building railroads by connecting dots with a crayon and moving your train on thosee tracks to pick up and deliver goods around North America. You are given options of what goods to deliver where through route cards, which also denote the amount of money which the delivery will pay.
There are a lot of options here as you choose your routes. You can stick to doing a lot of smaller routes around the industrial Midwest and gets lots of small payoffs, or venture into the far reaches of British Columbia or southern Mexico to get those big pay-offs. The game can be long and sometimes the winner can be easily determined early, but often that isn't the case. Its an exciting game which provides a lot of satisfaction from creating rail networks and scoring big deliveries.

Components

This is where I can really compare Empire Builder to Eurorails since their major difference is the two different maps. The map of Empire Builder consists of Canada, USA and Mexico while Eurorails consists of almost the entire continent of Europe. When it comes down to it, Eurorails is a better game than Empire Builder because of the map. The Europe map has a few more features which make the game that much more interesting, such as the ferries to Britain and Scandinavia, the hard-to-cross barrier of the alps, and the peninsulas of Iberia and Spain which make feel like you are taking great leaps to venture onwards. Comparatively, Eurorails has one large barrier involving the Rocky Mountains which is more annoying than interesting, and other than the stretch into Mexico, there's not a lot of variety in land area.
The commodities are different too, but this really doesn't have much effect on my opinions of the games themselves. The different commodities simply reflect the different economies of the two places. The latest edition of Empire Builder has improved their components slightly by colour-coding their commodities and especially their event cards which look like newspapers articles now. But the heart of the game, the crayons and washable board surface, are still as classic as ever.

Conclusion


Playing Empire Builder is a great experience for me since it is a lot of fun delving back into my board gaming roots while building the foundations of North America and also experiencing the history behind one of my all-time favourite games. Empire Builder is a thirty-year old game which still has what it takes to provide a great gaming experience. It is the predecessor of the crayon rail series and any game that can spawn so many spin-offs, from Euorails to China rails to even Lunar Rails, must have something going for it.
Even though Empire Builder came first, my introduction to this series was its most notable sibling Eurorails. So which do I prefer? I must confess that Eurorails is still the better game. Despite their gameplay similarities, Eurorails simply has the better map which leads to the better pay-offs. Empire Builder's lack of ferries and hindrance of having essential just a large slab of open land compared to Europe's twists and turns causes it to fall behind slightly.
With that being said, it is still a nice change of pace to change up locations every now and again. Sometimes a new map is just what is needed to make an old favourite seem fresh again. I am glad I have Empire Builder in my collection for this reason. It compliments Eurorails nicely and also allows me to appreciate the history of one of my favourite games.

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Pete Storz
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I started with Empire Builder then progressed to EuroRails, Lunar Rails and India Rail, in that order, getting the latter nearly a year ago.

North American geography is what it is. It's a big, largely contiguous land mass with few peninsulas or need for ferries. EB does show its age in how it treats the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada Mountains. I believe both ranges are about as tall as the Alps, yet EB lacks the "Alpine" type of mile post. I'm not sure how much difference that would make in actual play, though, since there are few cities in the Rockies and there are good moderate or low altitude routes around or through both mountain ranges.

EuroRails is, IMO, the more challenging of the two. Alpine mile posts and ferries complicate rail net building. The load-destination mix on Demand cards is more difficult, generally, I think. Also, there are quite a few Demand cards, 5 or 6, I think, that are somewhere between wastes of time and wastes of $$ and time (or have one playing as if one only had 2 playable Demand cards for an extended time). OTOH, Event cards affect EB play more often than EuroRails in my experience.
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david landes
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I am an Empire Builder series lover. If you are playing with North Americans, EB may be better for first time players as they will be more familiar with where cities are geographically. In the first game or two learning curve, NOT having to hunt for every city is a benefit. This is a minor thing though.

A couple other comments in no particular order (all opinions):
- I think which game you play also depends on number of players. With 5 or 6, I would always choose EB (though many hate 5 or 6 player games as they take forever). With 2, or even 3, Nippon Rails is excellent as there can still be a fair amount of route blocking as you build track.
- If you love the series and want a larger change, try Iron Dragon. It adds engineers, boats, and more/different kinds of terrain. It will also cause the game to take a little longer.

Enjoy!
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Pete Storz
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Quote:
If you are playing with North Americans, EB may be better for first time players as they will be more familiar with where cities are geographically.

That was kind of our approach, back 3 1/2 years ago. We were most familiar with North American geography, and started there. Europe was next and soon, the geography being almost as familiar for me. Lunar Rails is pretty much abstract, fantasy. Then personal interests pointed toward either India or China. The reviews on the China Rails board here suggested that it needed significant revising, so we went with India Rails. Russian rails is a likely next choice at this point, though a new revision of China Rails could change that choice.

Having familiar geography does make the learning curve for a first crayon rails game does make the learning curve less steep. But it's not imperative.
 
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Stephen Smith
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Quote:
The reviews on the China Rails board here suggested that it needed significant revising, so we went with India Rails. Russian rails is a likely next choice at this point, though a new revision of China Rails could change that choice.

This is interesting. The China map has become one of my favorites in the series. I certainly don't think it needs any revising. Russian Rails, however, is my least favorite -- and that by a long shot. It's just not an interesting game to play (for us).
 
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Pete Storz
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This is interesting. The China map has become one of my favorites in the series. I certainly don't think it needs any revising. Russian Rails, however, is my least favorite -- and that by a long shot.

Interesting. And Russian Rails got excellent reviews on that BGG discussion forum. The criticism of China Rails was that it's distribution of high paying commodities and Demands for those commodities made for a consistent winning strategy of getting, as soon as possible, to the far west, where the commodities were located and then shuttling those commodities to the coastal areas. Is that over-simplified? OTOH, Russian Rails got excellent reviews on its BGG discussion forum.

One thing I wonder about is how much players' personalities (and maybe personal strategic limitations) come into their reviews.

I'll definitely give China Rails some second thoughts. The four EB series games we have now each has its own "personality", but I do like them all. Any chance you could wander over to the China Rails forum, http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/23919/china-rails, and add your ideas to the largely negative stuff there?
 
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Tim Luptak
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And now, with Empire Express, the learning curve is even more reduced, with a map that includes only the Northeastern US. Also, the load cards include only a choice of two loads, greatly speeding up decisions.
 
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