Our second year at Seven Springs began with Bill Peeck’s usual and most expert teaching demonstration. A half-dozen or so interested gamers gathered to learn the rules to our favorite train game. It continues to gladden the core group of Empire Builder enthusiasts that a 35-year old game still attracts new players, especially those younger than the game itself! Bill taught with the flagship title and map—Empire Builder. The game remains the most popular and easiest map for North Americans to recognize. Bill explained that there are 14 published titles / geographic maps in the Empire Builder series with more added periodically. There are terrestrial maps of most continents or portions thereof, and enough science fiction / fantasy maps to satisfy those with more out-of-this-world interests.
The published titles / geographic maps in the series include: 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) and a late stage play test copy of Hibernian Rails (HR). Players are welcome to place any title on a table and solicit opponents. As long as four gamers are willing to play, the game may start. Odd numbers are placed in three-player games.
The first time each player registered for a heat, they were given a new train card provided by the GM for all players. The new double-sided card pictured speed 16 trains: a 2-16 European Thalys high-speed passenger locomotive and a 3-16 Conrail SD-80MAC freight locomotive. If all players at a table agreed, with minimal arm twisting, they could pay and use the additional train upgrade. The new trains worked with any of the terrestrial maps. Play testing with EB Pronto had previously determined that, even including the additional expense, the faster trains reduced a typical game by a few turns. There was only one reported use of the speed 16 trains. Other tables may have used them.
Twelve tables saw action during the first heat starting on Monday. A few of our regular players were unavailable for this heat due to the 18xx semifinal being played simultaneously in the same room. Since the numbers happened to almost work out, all but one game involved four players. The first table to finish was won by Chester Lanham (ER). Chester beat a Past Champion and current Convention Director, Ken Gutermuth, by nearly $100M. In deference to Ken’s other duties, they started a little early but they did not use the new trains. Next to win was Eric Raymond in a problematical game of India Rails that may require additional event rules. Bob Stribula then scored a win in a three-player game (HR). This was one of those rare games where the cards aligned perfectly—no thinking required. Rich Meyer won a close game against Chris Gnech (EB) where Chris was one turn short of a double nickel delivery to Mexico City and Tampico for $82M and the win. Mark Kennel continued to demonstrate mastery of the science fiction games (LR). Jeff Jackson, a senior director from the Train Gamers Association (TGA), won a game of Eurorails. Brian Smith closely beat our favorite WBC photographer, Debbie Gutermuth, in a close fought game (EB). Eyal Mozes won an even closer game against the 2016 Past Champion, Trella Bromley, £250M to £248M (BR). This was the closest finish among all the games. Harold Henning had an easier time against two other Hennings in another British Rails. Tim Hitchings had an adjudicated win against Dave Steiner, a Past Champion, and Doug Faust (RR). Tim was in the lead when the game was called for time but it could have been won by any of the three if it went to completion. In a second adjudicated game, Winton Lemoine had a small lead over Woolly Farrow in an Iron Dragon game. Another adjudicated Iron Dragon game saw Sam Packwood with loads onboard that would have given him the required 250 Gold Pieces when the game was called. The GM very much dislikes adjudicating a game when the winner is still in doubt.
Heat 2 began on Tuesday. Nine tables were filled with four players each and one other table seated three players. First to finish and win was a Past Champion, Eric Brosius (EB). Next to win in a three-player game was Ken Gutermuth (ER) while Jeff Jackson earned his second win (EB). Other winners were Richard Irving (ID), Rachel LaDue (CR), Patty Davis (EB), Jim Fry (BR), Glen Pearce (LR), and Inger Henning (HR). Mark Kennel won his second science fiction game (MöR). Richard Irving had perhaps the most lopsided win as his three opponents’ scores added together were less than his score.
On Wednesday, thirty-six gamers lined up to play in Heat 3. This included five players who signed in for their first try. Twenty-two truly dedicated crayon gamers enjoyed their third game. Nine four player games were played in Heat 3. Jay Spencer defeated Debbie Gutermuth by $25M (EB) and Ken Gutermuth won his second game (BR). At a TGA table, Trella Bromley finally earned a seat to the semifinal by beating Jeff Jackson (ER). Other winners included Chris Gnech (EB), longtime absentee Olin Hentz (ID), and Alex Henning (MR). Chester Lanham won his second game (EB) and Mark Kennel won his third (HR). This was the only Preliminary Round game where two players declared. Mark declared first with €271M; utilizing the equal turn rule, Bob futilely declared with €254M. This was Mark’s third victory in the heats.
In the 31 preliminary games, there was only one game where two players declared meeting the victory conditions. The closest game was in Round 1 where Eyal Mozes edged Trella Bromley, £250M to £248M (BR).
There were 14 players who had not played in this tournament in at least nine years. In this year’s preliminary round, there were three three-player games and 28 four-player games. Of the 15 allowed tournament titles, eleven were played this year. During the 31 preliminary games, Empire Builder [with Mexico] was the most popular map with ten plays. In order the other titles were British Rails (4), Iron Dragon (3), Eurorails (3), Hibernian Rails (3), Lunar Rails (2), India Rails (2), Möbius Rails (1), China Rails (1), Martian Rails (1), and Russian Rails (1). Not played this year were Australian Rails, Empire Builder [without Mexico], Nippon Rails, and North American Rails.
From the results of the Preliminary Heat games, the following players deserve special recognition. Each had the highest winning cash total (no currency symbol) in the named titles:
- Möbius Rails (MöR)-H2-Mark Kennel-296
- Eurorails (ER)-H2-Ken Gutermuth-293
- China Rails (CR)-H1-Rachel LaDue-287
- Iron Dragon (ID)-H3-Olin Hentz-282
- Empire Builder (EB)-H1-Chester Lanham-275
- India Rails (IR)-H2-Richard Irving-272
- British Rails (BR)-H1-Harald Henning-271
- Hibernian Rails (HR)-H3-Mark Kennel-271
- Martian Rails (MR)-H3-Alex Henning-258
- Lunar Rails (LR)-H2-Glen Pearce-257
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, Bill Duke, Paul Van Bloem (an AGM) and Donna Balkan to the list. The memorial rewards expertise across the entire spectrum of Crayon Rails. Players total their ending cash from three different games not to include Empire Builder [with Mexico] or Eurorails. In the end only two gamers met the requirements where Mark Kennel’s score of 821 bested Wooley Farrow scored of 634.
For the fourth year, a medal was presented to the player with the Highest Cash during any preliminary heat Möbius Rails game. Mark Kennel, a multiyear play tester, easily won the only game with a score of 296.
For the first time, a medal was presented to the player with the Highest Cash during any preliminary heat Hibernian Rails game. (The game’s designer was disqualified from winning this medal.) The game was played in each round but Mark Kennel won the trifecta when his of 271 in round 3 was the best.
The qualifiers gathered for the semifinal games Thursday morning. Of the 31 preliminary games, there were 26 unique winners. Mark Kennel won three games and received the highest seed. Jeff Jackson, Chester Lanham, and Ken Gutermuth each won two games. Of the 26 winners, nine played and won their only preliminary game. Seven 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. If every winner appeared for the semifinal, number 26—Alex Henning—would not have been seated. However, three winners were unable to play in the semifinal so 2 alternates were required. The previously declared map for the semifinal game was Empire Builder with Mexico.
Alex Henning (263) posted the first win besting Olin Hentz (228), Sam Packwood (218), Michael Murtagh (189), and Chester Lanham. The game reminded Chester why we keep bridge money. About an hour into the game, he saw that everyone else had upgraded their trains. He also felt the need for speed. Unfortunately en route to Torreón, his Rio Grande Bridge washed out 1 milepost ahead of his train and he only had $1M cash on hand. Ken Gutermuth (254) then triumphed over Eyal Moses (204), Eric Brosius (194), Jay Spencer (177) and Rachel LaDue (150). Trella Bromley (254) claimed victory over Harald Henning (212), Brian Smith (197), Chris Gnech (188), and Bob Stribula (186). Mark Kennel (276) was the fourth winner with a battle for second place as Debbie Gutermuth (245) and Patty Davis (244) went back and forth as the fought for the coveted sand plaque (sixth place). Rich Meyer (263) got the last final seat in a high drama game. Rich misread his cards in what he called a foolish misread of a load card at the beginning of the game which left him “high and dry and could have been out of the game before it started” Jeff Jackson agreed to build into Sand Diego for Rich after a two turn delay to allow Rich to continue. Unfortunately for Jeff being the good guy probably cost him a chance to advance to the final as Rich defeated Winton Lemoine (222), followed by Jeff Jackson (190), Inger Henning (180), and Wooly Farrow (144).
Mexico is considered to have the best commodities and often contain the most lucrative destinations. Yet, four of the five semifinal winners won without connecting their network to Mexico City. Only Mark Kennel included Mexico City in his winning network. His network skipped the statistically least important Seattle.
After a short break, Rich Meyer, Mark Kennel, Ken Gutermuth, Alexandra Henning, and Trella Bromley gathered for the ultimate challenge. All five finalists had been there before and only Alex was not a Past Champion; she finished second in 2015. Rich had won it twice and Trella was the defending champion. The GM was also seated at the table to take notes for this report and, for the second time, to photograph the map after each round. With that, the final began.
Rich’s four cards contained the single highest demand, therefore, he drew track first. Ken pitched on both pre build turns, the start of a trend. Mark was the first to upgrade to a Fast Freight on Turn 5. Rich upgraded to a Heavy Freight on Turn 8 and was the first to upgrade to a Super Freight on Turn 12. Alex never upgraded to a Super Freight. Rich earned a €10M bonus when he delivered Machinery to Napoli on Turn 21. Both Trella and Alex were derailed once. Everyone built one English Channel ferry. Ken also built the Malmö-Sassnitz ferry and Rich also built the North Sea ferry. The Tax Card came out on Turn 49 and the deck needed to be reshuffled. On or about Turn 50, Trella declared.
The following presents some interesting statistics from the final in start player order.
- Rich – Final Cash 237 Track Cost 203, Deliveries 15, Pitches 1, Missing City Wien
- Mark - Final Cash 201 Track Cost 203, Deliveries 20, Pitches 1, Missing City Madrid
- Ken - Final Cash 132 Track Cost 176, Deliveries 13, Pitches 14, Missing City Milano
- Alex - Final Cash 155 Track Cost 152, Deliveries 11, Pitches 2, Missing City Milano
- Trella - Final Cash 262 Track Cost 192, Deliveries 15, Pitches 2, Missing City Wien
The GM would like to thank all the participants in the 2017 EPB event. You are the reason for the event. A thank you is also in order to Bill Peeck for volunteering to run the demo for new players. A special thank you is extended to Trella Bromley and Mark Kennel for volunteering to be the Assistant GMs. Trella input the scores to a spreadsheet as a test for seeding and the medals. Meanwhile, the GM continued to record the same data on 3x5 cards. It is clear that the laptop computer is much faster and by next year all the intricacies of the event’s scoring rules will be implemented to the spreadsheet. Trella, Claire Brosius, and Nikki Bradford all helped at various times to sign in the competitors while the GM and Mark organized players and games. Each Assistant GM helped in countless other ways.
The GM continues to standardize the Crayon Rails tournament rules. He is working with the rules committee of the TGA and with Steve Okonski through his EB Pronto program. Interested individuals are invited to participate.
At this time, the GM hopes to continue running EPB another year. Empire Builder [with Mexico] will continue to be the game utilized for the semifinal. However, we will consider a different title for the final. Eurorails appears to disproportionately reward deliveries to and from Iberia. In an effort to offset the strategy of pitching for these deliveries, the open contracts rule is being considered for the 2018 final. The GM solicits opinions on this subject. To learn which map will be used in the final, please consult the 2018 EPB Event Preview.
Meanwhile, happy gaming to all! Please save the blue locomotive for me.