I recently began my review of the top 10 board games every family should play. This is the list so far:
Top 10 Board Games for Families:
9. Empire Builder
Designers: Darwin Bromley and Bill Fawcett
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Players: 2 – 6
Time: 90 to 240 min.
Fun to Age Ratio: 6
Empire Builder is a classic crayon-based railroad game of goods shipment. This was my first introduction into the railroad genre and remains one of my favorite examples of the transportation theme.
This is a medium weight strategy game, but despite the rather daunting instruction manual, it’s actually quite simple in concept: build railroads and ship goods.
It is considered a gentlemen’s game of concentrating on one’s own development rather than impeding the progress of others, and what is truly exciting about the game is watching the growth of your railroad empire as you progress from short affordable routes to longer, more profitable ones. That doesn’t mean it isn’t competitive, though, as land and rights to enter cities can be limited.
The game board is a map of North America, including the United States, Mexico and southern Canada. Train routes are constructed by drawing lines with a crayon between mileposts which are evenly spread throughout the map. There is a cost for each line drawn between mileposts, with a premium on those that go through mountains, over water and into cities. Each player has a railroad token which moves along his route, picking up and delivering goods. Trains can be upgraded to move faster, carry more goods, or both. Each city supplies one or more type of good. Players are given three demand cards, each of which has 3 cities and the good that city demands with the amount it will pay. The further a city is from a given goods supplier, the higher the payment. Once a player completes one of the demands on a demand card, he receives the appropriate payment and the card is discarded and a new one is drawn. This continues until a player connects six of the major cities and has $250 million in cash. That player is declared winner.
The crayon system may seem a little antiquated, but it actually works pretty well. Crayon marks easily wipe off the board between games. However, it should be noted that only the washable-type crayons supplied with the game are guaranteed to wipe off. Don’t use regular crayons, as they may leave permanent marks. Some hard core players have made plexiglass covers for their boards to keep them clean.
Empire Builder can be long, particularly with more players. However, this is easily adjusted by lowering the cash requirement for winning. You can also remove the negative-effect Event Cards which occasionally pop up in the demand card pile and slow players down. The rule book contains other variants for faster games as well.
Empire Builder has spawned numerous games with other country maps, such as Eurorails, British Rails, Nippon Rails, and Australian Rails. There are many railroad games out there, but for me none capture the spirit of goods transport and railroad growth any better than Empire Builder.