With apologies to Charles Dickens, it was a major change; it was no change. It was a new venue; it was the same game. We had a new facility; we had the same participants. It was a different journey en route; it was a familiar set of maps. It was a vastly different environment, it was the traditional set of rules. In short, it was the WBC 2016 Empire Builder tournament. For the first time ever, we gathered at Seven Springs to determine this year’s best player. On Monday morning, Bill Peeck commenced the event by teaching a handful of prospective players the rules to our favorite board game at the demo. It continues to gladden the family of crayon rail game enthusiasts that a 34-year old game still attracts new players.
This event is unusual in how it handles the preliminary rounds. There are 14 published titles/geographic maps in the series. They include: Agent of Change (AoC), Australian Rails (AR), British Rails (BR), China Rails (CR), Empire Builder [without Mexico] (EBno), Empire Builder [with Mexico] (EB), Eurorails (ER), India Rails (IR), Iron Dragon (ID), Lunar Rails (LR), Martian Rails (MR), Nippon Rails (NR), North American Rails (NAR), and Russian Rails (RR). In addition, GM Bob Stribula brought a Mayfair-being-evaluated copy of Möbius Rails (MöR). Nonstandard Agent of Change, aka West Virginia Rails, is disallowed in tournaments. Empire Express, the introductory variant is also disallowed. Players are welcome to place any of the permitted titles on a table and solicit opponents. As long as four gamers are willing to play it, the game may start. With odd numbers of players remaining, 3-player games are allowed.
The first time each player registered for a game, they were given a new train card. The GM had designed and printed sufficient cards for the expected number of players. The new double-sided card introduced speed 15 trains. One side pictures the European Thalys high-speed electric passenger locomotive and carries two loads. The flip side depicts a Conrail SD-80MAC freight locomotive and carries three loads. At the beginning of each preliminary heat, an announcement was made. If all players at a table agreed, with minimal arm twisting, they could pay 20 M as an additional upgrade for the new train. The new train worked with any of the terrestrial maps. (If a table used the upgrades, it will be noted when the specific map is listed, e.g., EB-15.) Play testing with EB Pronto had previously determined that, even including the additional expense, the faster trains reduced the typical game by a few turns.
A record 14 tables saw action during the first heat on Monday at 10:00 A.M. Better yet, all were 4-player games. At two hours and forty minutes, the first table to finish was won by Brian Smith (ER). Five minutes later Donna Balkan also won a game of Empire Builder. Her win was notable in that she delivered $101M worth of goods to Seattle and Portland, OR. They used the new train card. Six minutes later, Chris Gnech scored his win (EB-15). At the three hour mark, Trella Bromley easily won her game (BR-15). Ken Gutermuth continued to demonstrate mastery of Iron Dragon. The score sheet states that Ken had Cattle to Eaglehawk and drew Hops to Eaglehawk and Saadah. He delivered all to pull away in what had been a close game. Verity Hitchings won a very close game against Jamie Tang (BR-15). Both declared. Verity had 265 M to Jamie’s 263 M. Other first heat winners included Eyal Mozes (EB), Mark Kennel (LR), Amy Rule (ID), Bob Stribula (MöB), Eric Brosius (IR), and Michael Holmquist (EB-15). Rich Meyer, 2011 champ, won his EB game and relearned two facts. There is no Coffee in Mexico City and Silver is not the same metal as Nickel. He knew Coffee is found near Mexico City. He built track and rode it to Mexico City. Later when he attempted to deliver Coffee, it was noticed that no one had built track to Veracruz where the Coffee is found. Despite his mistake, Rich was able to recover for the win. The last opening heat game was called after four hours. Harald Henning had a moderate lead in Russian Rails. He only had 142 M but was adjudicated the winner.
Heat 2 began at 6:00 P.M. on Tuesday. there were seven 4-player and two 3-player games. First to finish at the 1:40 mark was our future Convention Director, Ken Gutermuth (ER). Ken never had to dump cards and every card was playable. Next to finish was a Senior Director from the Train Gamers Association (TGA), Jeff Jackson (ER). Over the previous four years, the TGA has been sending members to WBC and demonstrating a very high standard of play. Other winners were Brian Smith (EB), Bob Stribula (LR), Verity Hitchings (BR), Trella Bromley (ID), and Jim Fry (CR). Trella Bromley won her game of Iron Dragon with some drama. She had 267 GP but was waiting for the Rainbow Bridge event to connect her last city. She eventually had to connect the old-fashioned and expensive way via island hopping. Glen Pearce achieved a very close Möbius Rails victory over Mark Kennel, 251 M to 248 M. Glen rode Mark’s track three consecutive turns for his final delivery. After four hours, Debbie Gutermuth won her game (EB). She wrote, “[We] nearly went through [the] whole deck, leaving only seven cards. [We] hit all events/disasters. Second place never bought a Super Freight.” In every crayon rails game, it is usually less profitable and, consequently, very unusual to not upgrade your train as much and as soon as possible.
On Wednesday at High Noon, 35 gamers lined up for Heat 3, including five playing for the first time. They were joined by 18 truly dedicated crayon railers embarking on their third game. Those participants playing for the Train Gamers Memorial Award (see below) wanted to play a different title. Another nine games were played in Heat 3. Two hours after the round started, Chris Gnech won his game (EB-15). Other winners were Chester Lanham (EB), Ken Gutermuth (BR), Tony Newton (ER), Bob Stribula (MR), and Christopher Ellis (ID). Eric Raymond won a close game (IR) over Debbie Gutermuth, 254 M to 245 M. Harold Henning won another adjudicated game; three novice MöB competitors and one relatively inexperienced MöB player struggled to complete a Möbius game. Finally four hours and 45 minutes after the heat began, Kaarin Engelmann won her game of Empire Builder. The four contestants and the officiating GM continued it to completion.
Only one of the 32 Preliminary games had two players declare meeting the victory conditions. Of course, the “Equal Turns” rule is designed to handle that. Verity Hitchings should be a fan of the Equal Turn rule. She declared and won after Jamie Tang had already declared. There were other close games where another turn or two would have made a difference. However, Verity won the game with the closest finish.
There were 17 players who had not played in this tournament during the previous eight years. Of the 14 allowed Empire Builder titles, ten were played. During the 32 preliminary games, Empire Builder [with Mexico] was the most popular map with ten plays. The other titles in order of plays were: British Rails (4), Eurorails (4), Iron Dragon (4), Möbius Rails (3), India Rails (2), Lunar Rails (2), China Rails (1), Martian Rails (1), and Russian Rails (1).
From the results of the Preliminary Heat games, the following players deserve special recognition.
Each had the highest winning cash total in the named titles:
||Winning Cash Total
|Empire Builder (EB)
|| 295 M
|British Rails (BR)
|India Rails (IR)
|Iron Dragon (ID)
|Martian Rails (MR)
|Lunar Rails (LR)
|China Rails (CR)
|Möbius Rails (MöR)
Train Gamers Memorial Award
The Empire Builder players continued to remember the friends we’ve lost. Previously known as the Tom Dunning Memorial Award, we changed the name of the medal to the Train Gamers Memorial Award. It continues to commemorate our previous GM, Tom Dunning. After their untimely deaths after WBC 2014, we added the names of Bill Duke and one of our Assistant GMs, Paul Van Bloem. The memorial rewards expertise across the entire spectrum of “crayon rails.” Players total their ending cash from three different games. Given that the semifinal was to be Empire Builder with Mexico, and that the Final was Eurorails, contestants were not allowed to count those titles. 18 players participated in all three preliminary heats, but only six of them met the stated requirements. After two heats, Trella Bromley led this competition with a total of 549 M. However, she was unable to play in the third heat. Trailing her, Mark Kennel, Glen Pearce, and Bob Stribula decided to engage in a head to head playoff for the medal on the rusted sands of Mars. They started the game with scores differing by less than 70 M. When the red dust cleared, Bob’s score of 790 M was the highest combined score. Bob earned the medal on the three science fiction themed railroad games. Mark Kennel’s total was 661 M and Trella Bromley’s was 549 M (in two games!). Glen Pearce was next at 548 M. Mark Kennel had previously won this medal three times and presented the Train Gamers Memorial Medal to Bob at the start of the semifinal round.
Best Möbius Rails Medal
A medal was also presented to the player with the Highest Cash during any preliminary heat Möbius Rails game. The game’s designer was disqualified from winning this medal. Twelve player positions were filled in three Möbius Rails games. Ten individuals participated. The designer won the Heat 1 game. The Heat 3 game was adjudicated for time and finished with a low score. Bradford McCandless and Inger Henning both specifically chose to play the game in Heats 1 and 2. Glen Pearce won the Heat 2 game against these two and Mark Kennel, a multiyear playtester. Glen’s final cash of 251 M was the best score in the round. Mark Kennel, the previous year’s winner, awarded the Möbius Medal to Glen in front of the assembled semifinalists.
The qualifiers gathered for the semifinal games at 9:00 A.M. on Thursday morning. There were 23 unique winners from the 32 preliminary games. Bob Stribula and Ken Gutermuth each won three games. Brian Smith, Trella Bromley, Chris Gnech, Verity Hitchings, and Harald Henning won twice. Of those 23 winners, four played and won their only preliminary game. 13 won their first game but elected to play additional games. Given the number of participants in the event, the convention’s rules allowed 25 players to advance to the semifinals. Once again, winning one game was sufficient to guarantee advancement. 22 of the 23 qualifiers appeared. The alternate list needed to be referenced. Given that top seeds almost always are available, few alternates were present. To seat the 25th player, we worked through the list and selected down to the 41st seed. The five top seeded players were rewarded by being placed at different tables. In groups of five, the seeds were seated in reverse order. Teammates, family members, and the GM/AGMs were placed at different tables. The previously declared map Round 2 was Empire Builder with Mexico.
A 5-player semifinal game usually takes longer than a 4-player preliminary game. The additional player and the extra deliberation by most players cause the game to proceed slower. Therefore before the round started, the GM reminded everyone that the elimination rounds were each allotted four and one-half hours. This year, no semifinal game needed to be adjudicated. In less than three hours, Trella Bromley (253) posted the first win. She bested Harald Henning (124), Jim Fry (123), Eyal Mozes (115), and Eric Raymond (44). Trella won without connecting her network to Mexico City. Mexico is considered to have the best commodities and often contains the most lucrative destinations. The next game to finish was won by Ken Gutermuth (252). He triumphed over Michael Holmquist (224), Mike Zorrer (191), Rich Meyer (154) and Tony Newton (111). Mike Z should win the nice guy award. He offloaded a Sugar load so that Michael H could pick it up. Michael had deadheaded to the West Coast for that Sugar. That Sugar moved Michael H ahead of Mike Z in the game’s finish order. Eric Brosius (254) won the third semi to finish. He bested Brian Smith (213), Jeff Jackson (172), Mark McCandless (170) and Mark Kennel (135). Eric left the usually avoided Seattle out of his network. After 4 hours and 23 minutes, Chris Gnech won a close victory (257) over Debbie Gutermuth (242). At that moment, Debbie was once again in position for the best second place finish and sixth place in the tournament. Chris also bested Christopher Ellis (182), Chester Lanham (169) and Verity Hitchings (151). Chris left New York City out of his network.
Finally, at four and one-half hours, Glen Pearce (256) won a highly contested victory over Donna Balkan (244) and Ron Secunda (237). Amy Rule (195) and Bob Stribula (126) rounded out this table. This game was notable in that the players cycled through the deck and had the Tax Card hit twice! Bob Stribula made a classic blunder. He tried to pick up Bauxite in Birmingham. Once that was corrected, he didn’t have enough cash to reach his first destination, Culiacán. Ron was planning to build there but not until he moved to Veracruz, Denver, and then back to Mexico. Bob didn’t wait which led to him pitching cards until he found something he could deliver. Late in the game, Glen was leading. This led to a flurry of pitching in hopes of great cards for the pitchers or disasters for Glen. This merely delayed the inevitable. Meanwhile, Bob rode Donna’s track from Atlanta to Raleigh and on to New York and Buffalo for three deliveries. This helped Bob finish with a respectable score but, more importantly, gave Donna just enough cash to catch and surpass Debbie’s score for the coveted Sand Plaque!
After a short break, the finalists gathered for the ultimate challenge. Trella Bromley, Eric Brosius, Chris Gnech, and Ken Gutermuth had all been to the big game previously. It was Glen’s first time setting foot in Round 3.
Eric’s four cards contained the highest single load and, therefore, he drew track first. On his first build turn, Eric drew from Ruhr towards Bruxelles and from Paris southwest. Trella secured the cheapest, two Major city, no river-crossing route: Holland to Ruhr. Ken built from Ruhr, across the Meuse, toward Paris and from Paris southwest. Chris built from Wien towards Beograd and from Berlin toward Bremen. Glen built from Berlin to Wroclaw and west from Berlin towards Ruhr. Since the Crayon Rails games use a switch back start, Glen started the second build turn. He continued his track to Ruhr, through Antwerpen, to the Oostende-Ramsgate Ferry, and towards London. Chris finished his route to Bremen and built southeast from it, through Leipzig and towards Wien. Ken connected Ruhr to Frankfurt and continued his route towards the north end of the Pyrenees Mountains. Trella, crossing the Meuse and the Rhine, built through Antwerpen and Bruxelles and towards Paris. She used the remainder of her allotment to build southwest from Paris. Eric, securing the southern pass in the Pyrenees, built near Toulouse and Barcelona to Valencia.
Turn 3: Eric started his train in Valencia with Oranges; he finished his route through Bruxelles to Paris. Trella started her train in Ruhr, loading Tourists and Steel. Building before Ken, she locked up the cheapest, most direct pass through the northern Pyrenees. Ken could have said “Zwei Bier, bitte!” in Frankfurt, connected to Paris, and was stuck building a zigzag path towards Bilbao. Chris loaded Machinery in Bremen and filled in the gaps in his track to Wien. Glen secured two Copper in Wroclaw and moved northwest. He completed his path to London and connected to Cardiff and Birmingham.
Turn 4: Trella delivered Steel to Paris for €6M and turned back north. She then connected her network to Madrid. Ken delivered Beer to Paris for €11M and continued moving southwest.
Turn 5: Trella loaded Flowers in Holland. She built to Ijmuiden, a Channel ferry port. Chris completed his route to Beograd. Glen boarded the ferry.
Turn 9: Eric was the first to upgrade his train to a Fast Freight.
Turn 13: Eric built the English Channel “Chunnel.” Chris was the first to upgrade his train to a Super Freight.
Turn 24: Trella questioned whether Ken, the treasurer, paid her for her Iron to Bremen delivery. The GM was able to use his notes to sum up her deliveries. Two participants counted her track builds and the players reported their payments to and from Trella for track fees. Then the GM performed an easy cash balance calculation and it turned out that she did not have the payment.
Turn 41 and 42: Ken was hit in close succession by two derailments. These cost him two loads that he was carrying for speculation. He stated, at the time, that the “lose a load” part of the derailments ended his chance to win.
Turn 47: Even good players make mistakes! Trella got to Manchester and realized that she forgot to pick up the Machinery demanded there. She had moved past Bremen with its Machinery en route to the ferry. That delivery plus the Machinery bonus event would have allowed her to declare. It took her an additional seven turns and two more deliveries to win.
Events: The Donau, the Rhein, and the Ebro Rivers all flooded. The Donau Flood caused Chris and Ken to detour their trains and build additional track to keep moving. The other two floods just cost the rebuilding expenses. The Irish Economy Booming (bonus to Eric), the Wildcat Strike (affected Eric), the Excess Profits Tax (everyone), and Fog at Frankfurt (delayed Eric & Trella) also affected players. Eric was hit by a derailment at Bern. Ken (twice), Chris, and Glen were also hit by the previously mentioned derailments. Others were slowed by Heavy Snow or delayed by the Longshoreman’s or Teamsters’ Strikes. With all the pitching, almost every event occurred.
Final Round Details
The following table shows the deliveries, upgrades, and major water crossings for each player and their track color on the map photograph. If a delivery was a speculative load, it is indicated as “(spec).” By definition, a spec load is one that is taken without a corresponding demand card for that commodity. Knowing the spec loads on which to gamble is an important element of crayon rails strategy.
View from the Soapbox
This brings the GM to some pet peeves. [Soapbox Rant On] Everyone seems to interpret these rules a little differently. (Fortunately, there is no “Free Parking” space.) The Train Gamers Association and the EB Pronto computer game plus this GM have taken great effort to codify the rules that can be interpreted differently. Although all three entities try to have identical rules, we each have to tailor the rules to our events. For example, EPB at WBC needs to compare results between games for seeding and special prizes. This required changing the original Mayfair end game rules. The rules we play by are recorded in The Definitive Crayon Rails Book. Each year, the GM adds to this book based on observations, questions, and errors. The book is available during the tournament and online. However, if players don’t read the instructions on the scoresheet and if they don’t listen to the explanation at the start of a round nor skim the Significant Rules handout, much of the effort to create a fair and balanced event are minimized. For example, it has been eight years since previous GMs reduced a player’s final cash total by 50 M for failing to link each required city. Yet, players are still making that reduction to the final cash scores. Similarly, we have tweaked the end game rules regarding disasters after a player declares. Yet the GM heard, “Oh? That’s not how we handled that...”
The GM would also request that advancing players, if they have it at the convention, bring the declared game to the semifinal. This year, we had three copies of Empire Builder with Mexico available at the start of the semifinal. We had to wait while one player trekked to their car and another back to their hotel room to fetch additional copies.
One final request from the GM echoes a recent admonition from the Convention Director: Before the map is erased, check for Major city connections. Check for unconnected track—washed out bridges, meteor strikes, sand storms in the deserts, wizard strikes, etc. If there is any doubt, ask to authenticate players’ cash totals. Finally, and most importantly, the winner is responsible to verify the information presented on the official scoresheet! The GM has no other source of information except that which is reported. [Soapbox Rant Off]
Thanks and Next Year
The GM would like to thank all the participants in the event. Without you, all this would be moot. The GM continues to document the rules for the 14+ titles and up to 7 editions of some titles. All these notes can be seen in The Definitive Crayon Rails Book. It and the latest EPB Tournament Rules are available at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/railgamefan/files You must have a log-in ID and approval from the moderator to join this group. The information is available in the files section. The latest version of this book and the rules are also available by request from the GM.
My thanks to Bill Peeck for running the demo for new players. A special thank you is extended to Claire Brosius and Mark McCandless for volunteering to be Assistant GMs. Claire signed in the participants and helped organize the games. Each helped in countless other ways including Mark being available during the Final. Thank you also to Steve Okonski and Steve Cameron who brainstormed numerous “what if” questions and gave opinions on scenarios while updating the event’s rules.
At this time, the GM hopes to continue running EPB another year. Empire Builder [with Mexico] will continue to be the game used for the semifinal. However, we will consider a different title for the Final. Eurorails appears to greatly reward Cork deliveries, and to a less extent, Oranges. Iberia is known as the promised land. Those two commodities coming from Iberia and deliveries to Iberia may be the keys to victory. Tobacco and Marble, two other uniquely located commodities, don’t reward their deliveries with as many large payouts. It is a fact that five of the top six deliveries require Cork. There are 17 deliveries that pay €50M or more. Cork and Oranges make up 11 of them. Scandinavia has no unique commodity nor a Major city. Even though three of the top four deliveries go to Scandinavia, it appears to be a black hole for players. Despite using the better balanced 4th edition, Eurorails may not be the best test of a crayon gamer’s skill. The GM solicits opinions on this subject and nominations for a replacement map. To learn which map will be used in the Final, please consult the 2017 EPB Event Preview when it becomes available.
Save the blue locomotive for me.