empire builder

Updated Nov. 16, 2015

2015 WBC Report

2016 Status: pending 2016 GM commitment

Jeff Jackson, MN

2015 Champion

Event History

1999 Steve Okonski 64
2000 Bill Navolis 61
2001 Jim Yerkey 44
2002 Jim Yerkey 43
2003 Donna Balkan 57
2004 Tom Dunning 64
2005 Tom Dunning 49
2006 Rich Meyer 52
2007 Eric Brosius 62
2008 Harald Henning 66
2009 Mark Kennel 56
2010 Tedd Mullally 58
2011 Rich Meyer 70
2012 Bart Pisarik 59
2013 Ken Gutermuth 63
2014 Dave Steiner 62
2015 Jeff Jackson 62


Rank  Name              From  Last  Total
  1.  Richard Meyer      MA    13    218
  2.  Dave Steiner       IN    14    151
  3.  Eric Brosius       MA    12    125
  4.  Harald Henning     CT    12    115
  5.  Ken Gutermuth      NC    15    113
  6.  Jim Yerkey         MD    03    110
  7.  Tom Dunning        NY    08     97
  8.  Debbie Gutermuth   TX    15     90
  9.  Mark Kennel        DE    13     84
 10.  Tedd Mullally      NJ    10     79
 11.  Donna Balkan       on    04     61
 12.  Jeff Jackson       MN    15     60
 13.  Steve Okonski      MD    02     60
 14.  Paul Van Bloem     MD    11     52
 15.  Bart Pisarik       IA    12     50
 16.  Bill Navolis       PA    00     50
 17.  Eyal Mozes         NY    09     46
 18.  Norm Newton        on    14     41
 19.  Kyle Greenwood     HI    10     40
 20.  Mike Zorrer        DE    10     40
 21.  Alexandra Henning  PA    15     36
 22.  Bob Stribula       PA    15     36
 23.  Trella Bromley     FL    14     36
 24.  Chuck Foster       TX    06     34
 25.  Greg Mayer         MO    00     30
 26.  Jennifer Thomas    NY    11     24
 27.  John Haas          DE    04     24
 28.  Olin Hentz         CT    03     22
 29.  Cliff Ackman       PA    07     21
 30.  Mark Giddings      NY    12     20
 31.  Tom Wade           IN    08     20
 32.  Bill Duke          MD    07     20
 33.  Mark Franceschini  MD    00     20
 34.  Mark McCandless    LA    15     18
 35.  Mike Holmquist     PA    14     18
 36.  Mike Backstrom     MN    05     16
 37.  Rich Shipley       MD    03     16
 38.  John Clarke        FL    06     15
 39.  Chris Gnech        PA    13     12
 40.  Bryan Eshleman     NC    07     10
 41.  Winton Lemoine     CA    06     10
 42.  Ken Good           OH    05      9
 43.  Brian Smith        NY    02      6
 44.  Debbie Otto        MO    99      3
2015 Laurelists Returning Laurelists: 2

Alex Henning, PA

Ken Gutermuth, NC

Mark McCandless, LA

Bob Stribula, PA

Debbie Gutermuth, NC

Past Winners

Steve Okonski, MD

Bill Navolis, PA

Jim Yerkey, MD

Donna Balkan, on

Tom Dunning, NY

Rich Meyer, MA
2006, 2011

Eric Brosius, MA

Harald Henning, CT

Mark Kennel, DE

Tedd Mullally, NJ

Bart Pisarik, IA

Ken Gutermuth, NC

Dave Steiner, IN

Jeff Jackson, MN

Bill Navolis, Sue Lanham, Mark McCandless, Chuck Foster and Trella Bromley revert to their crayon days.

Annual Awards presented in memory of fellow train gamers no longer with us: Tom Dunning and Paul van Bloem.

Claire Brosius, Mark Kennel, Tony Newton, Chester Lanham and Alex Henning gather with the crayon tribe.

The Final's routes at end game tell a story of another championship earned over three rounds of play.

Do the Loco Motion ...

On Tuesday evening, Bill Peeck kicked off the event by ably teaching a handful of prospective gamers and a few kibitzers the rules to our favorite boardgame at the demo. As the core group of players age, it is a happy situation to see new gamers decide to learn our favorite game. It is encouraging that a 33-year old game can still attract new players.

Preliminary Round

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] (EPB), 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 late stage play test copy of Möbius Rails (MöR). Agent of Change, also known as West Virginia Rails, is disallowed in tournaments because of its nonstandard nature. Empire Express, the lighter, faster 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 a title, the game may start. With odd numbers of players remaining, three-player games are allowed. Furthermore, players are allowed to select which game and influence which opponents they face. There is an element of meta-gaming during the preliminary rounds.

After remembering our two latest fallen comrades—Bill Duke and Paul Van Bloem, nine tables saw action during the first heat. Since the numbers happened to work out perfectly, all Heat 1 games involved four players. At three hours and five minutes, the first table to finish was won by Debbie Gutermuth (EPB). No doubt she won quickly so she could continue to photograph other events. Six minutes later Sue Lanham joined herwith another EPB win. Alexandra Henning easily won the next to finish her game (IR) at the 3.5 hour mark. Five minutes before the scheduled four-hour time slot expired, Bill Navolis won EPB by the narrowest of margins, 253 to 251 over Donna Balkin. Also winning as the time slot expired was Bob Stribula in a Möbius Rails game. Defending champ Dave Steiner continued his winning ways with his top score in Lunar Rails. Bob Mazzi was two turns from another delivery that would have bested Dave’s score. Other first heat winners were Chuck Foster (AR), Jeff Jackson (ER), and Mark Kennel (LR).

Heat 2 began at 9:00 A.M. Wednesday morning. Nine 4-player and three 3-player games followed. First to finish and win at the 2:10 mark was a Senior Director from the Train Gamers Association (TGA), Jeff Jackson (EPB). Over the previous three years, the TGA has been sending members to WBC and demonstrating a very high standard of play. One minute later, Tony Newton (BR) logged a win. Next to complete, Eric Brosius (EB) edged over the victory line. Another perennial semifinalist, Rich Meyer (EPB) recorded his single preliminary round victory. Continuing the trend of repeat winners from previous years, Mark Kennel (MöB) also notched a win. Mark may have set a record for fewest deliveries to win. He only needed nine regular and two bonus deliveries! Shortly after the 3-hour mark, Brian Smith (EPB) earned a win. Other second heat winners included Claire Brosius (ER), Ken Gutermuth (ER), Duncan McGregor (BR), Glen Pearce (LR), Mike Zorrer (MR), and Len Scensny (IR). Ken’s win was notable in that he edged Norm Newton 255 to 252.

Heats 2 and 3 are scheduled back-to-back. It gets challenging to wrap up the slower games and get players ready for the new starts. The slowest Heat 2 game ended only ten minutes before the start of Heat 3. 34 gamers were present for the last heat. Some still hoped for their first victory to qualify for the semifinals. Four new players joined for their first try. 22 truly dedicated crayon railers were there for their third go. Those participants playing for the Train Gamers Memorial Award (see below) wanted to play a different title than previously played. Others held out for their favorite game. Another nine games were logged in Heat 3, two of them 3-player contests.

Coincidentally and amazingly, first to finish and win again at the 2:10 mark was Jeff Jackson (EPB). Three minutes later, another TGA Senior Director, Trella Bromley, won her game (BR). (We really need to learn how these two TGA people play and win a game so quickly!) Other winners in Heat 3 were Chester Lanham (EPB), Eyal Mozes (EPB), Mark Kennel (MR), Norm Newton (ER), Bob Stribula (MöB), and Michael Holmquist (ID). As the end of the time slot neared, the ninth game was still in progress. Eric Brosius needed to leave to handle his GM assignment for another event. The game required adjudication. Time was called. Per the event’s rules, players finished that round, were given equal turns for another round, and then allowed a building-only round. At that point, Eric rushed off for his other assignment. The GM and the participants counted the cash and evaluated the connected cities. Eric and Mark McCandless both had seven cities and 217 cash. Per the rules, both were awarded a tied win. This was the only game that needed to be adjudicated for time this year. It was also the only tied game in the GM’s memory. Fortunately, this possibility was considered and a solution documented in the event’s rules during a pre-WBC brainstorming session. In the remarks section, Mark wrote that he would have had 250 in one more turn. Bonnie Bogovich, finishing third, noted that she would have had 271 in two more turns. This was a noteworthy and exciting game.

There were three games in the 30 preliminary contests where two players declared meeting the victory conditions. Of course, the “Equal Turns” rule is designed to handle that. In Heat 1, Bill Navolis won his game over Donna Balkan, 253 to 251. In Heat 2, Ken Gutermuth beat Norm Newton 255 to 252. In Heat 3, Mark Kennel beat Dave Steiner 279 to 250. Although that score doesn’t look particularly close, one turn delay by Mark would have yielded a different winner. The tied game at the end of Heat 3 technically had no declared winner. However, a tied game is by definition the closest possible finish. A tie can only happen in the preliminary round and it can only occur when time expires. It is a rare- and, possibly singular—occurrence.

In the preliminary round, there were five 3-player games and 25 4-player contests. Going first, second, third, or fourth mattered little again this year. Going third seems to be the slightly worst seat; going fourth is best by a very slight margin. Going third in the few 3-player games was also the worst seat.

Of the 14 allowed titles, nine were played in this year’s tournament. During the 30 preliminary games, Empire Builder [with Mexico] was the most popular map with ten plays. The others in order were: Eurorails (4), Lunar Rails (4), British Rails (3), Möbius Rails (3), Martian Rails (2), India Rails (2), Australian Rails (1), and Iron Dragon (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:

Möbius Rails (MöR) H3 Bob Stribula 288
Martian Rails (MR) H3 Mark Kennel 279
Empire Builder (EPB) H1 Sue Lanham 277
Iron Dragon (ID) H2 Len Scensny 269
Eurorails (ER) * H2 Claire Brosius 266
Lunar Rails (LR) H2 Glen Pearce 260
British Rails (BR) H2 Tony Newton 256
India Rails (IR) H1 Alex Henning 254
Australian Rails (AR) H1 Chuck Foster 252

* During the Final, Jeff Jackson bettered this Eurorails finish with a score of 285.

Train Gamers Memorial Award

We continued to honor the memory of the friends we’ve lost with a special prize. 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 since 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. Although 22 players participated in all three preliminary heats, only three met the stated requirements. Mark Kennel’s score of 807 (LR, MöB, MR) was the highest combined score. Mark earned the medal on the three science fiction themed railroad games. Dave Steiner’s total was 733 and Mike Zorrer’s was 710. Mark has now won this medal three times: 2012, 2013, and 2015. Dave won the EPB event in 2015. Mike was the third member of the Newark, Delaware group of friends that played crayon rails games together until Dave’s recent move to Indiana. Obviously, this group has acquired skills at many titles by gaming together. Mark was presented the Train Gamers Memorial Medal at the start of the semifinal round.

Best Möbius Rails Medal

For the second year, a medal was 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.) 11 player positions were filled in three Möbius Rails games. Eight individuals participated. One was the designer, four were playtesters, and two had played the game at previous WBCs. One brave young gamer had not seen the game before. However, Jacob Wagner specifically asked to play the game and did remarkably well for his first time. The designer won two of the games. Mark Kennel, a playtester since earlier this year, won his Heat 2 game against two other playtesters. Mark’s final cash score of 271 was the best qualified score. Mark was also awarded the Möbius Medal in front of the assembled semifinalists.

Semifinal Round

There were 25 unique winners in the 30 preliminary games. Mark Kennel and Jeff Jackson each won three. Bob Stribula and Eric Brosius won two. Of those 25 winners, six played and won their only game. Eight 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 there had been one additional winner, winning one game would not have been sufficient to guarantee advancement. Given that all 25 winners were present, no alternates were able to advance. The five top seeded players were rewarded for their efforts by being placed at different tables. The next five seeds were seated in reverse order. The next highest 15 seeds randomly filled out the five tables. Teammates, family members, and the GM/AGMs were placed at different tables. The previously declared map for the semifinal game 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 semifinal and Final rounds were each allotted four and one-half hours. This year, no semifinal games needed to be adjudicated. Ken Gutermuth (254) posted the first win. He bested Len Scensny (197), Dave Steiner (187), Donna Balkan (182), and Eric Brosius (160). That’s four previous EPB champs at one semifinal table! For anyone who has seen Ken play a crayon rails game, it was an unusual win. Ken won without one card pitch. In fact, there was only one pitch at this table. The next game to finish was won by Alexandra Henning (250). Close behind was Mark Kennel (248) and Chester Lanham (240). Tony Newton and AGM Claire Brosius rounded out that table. Next to finish was Mark McCandless’s group. He finished with 255 to narrowly beat 2000 champ Bill Navolis (249). AGM Chuck Foster (223), Trella Bromley (217), and Sue Lanham rounded out this table. Trella needed to ride another’s track to deliver the winning load. Since the tax card had not come out, she had to guess at everyone’s cash total. She chose to ride on Mark’s track. In this close game, four players were within striking distance of victory. That gave Mark the needed cash just before Trella could declare. Jeff Jackson’s table was the next to finish. His 251 score allowed him to best Rich Meyer (218), Norm Newton (187), Glen Pearce (173), and Michael Holmquist (168). Per the comments, the “winner [was] affected by the Mexican Rail Strike despite not running to Mexico.” As usual, the last semifinal to finish was the GMs. In a reprise of their 2014 match, Bob Stribula and Debbie Gutermuth seesawed for the lead throughout most of the game. The Tax Card had come out early. For anyone paying attention, after four plus hours, a victory declaration was imminent. Debbie would declare with 251 on the next turn. However, Mike Zorrer, sitting two positions in front of Debbie, caused the Colorado River to flood. Debbie made her delivery but after she repaired her bridge, she only had 248. Debbie was trying to find a quick delivery. Any delivery would give her sufficient cash to declare. Meanwhile, Bob was delivering wood to Culiacán for 44. To save time and cash, Bob intended to run on Mike’s track from Durango. Three seats before Bob would deliver and declare, Mike drew the Wildcat Strike prohibiting movement on his track. As the strike ended, Debbie delivered and declared with 253. Bob, moving next, delivered in Culiacán and also declared. His 265 beat Debbie’s total. Brian Smith and Eyal Mozes were also over 200 and not far behind. Mike Zorrer was plagued by disasters and stymied by the unavailability of the commodity chips that he needed. Inadvertently, his disasters played Kingmaker.

The semifinal results were in. Debbie Gutermuth’s 253 was the best runner-up finish across all five tables. The irony is that last year’s adjudicated semifinal game left Debbie only five short of her husband Ken’s score. If her game with Bob Stribula had finished with everyone remaining in the same relative order, Debbie most likely would have won the sand plaque that year. We joke that Debbie is our perennial sixth place finisher. Despite this, she previously had never won a sand plaque for Empire Builder due to its perennial position on the fault line between a 5 and 6 level event! This year, her close finish finally earned her the coveted sand plaque during a 6 year and increased the Gutermuth’s family collection.


After a necessarily very short break, the finalists gathered for the ultimate challenge. Bob Stribula and Ken Gutermuth had been to the big game previously: Bob last year, Ken won it in 2013. Jeff Jackson is very experienced in tournament play at TGA events. It was Alex Henning’s first time in the EPB final, but her father, Harald, had won the event in 2008. Mark McCandless was also a first-time visitor in Final terrirory. Since the GM was playing, he reminded the others of the EPB rules beforehand. This was the time we most missed Paul Van Bloem. Last year, Paul directed the table in the dual role as acting GM and game recorder. Ken valiantly volunteered to record the game as he played. With this select group, the Final was going to be fun.

Jeff’s four cards contained the highest single load at the table and, therefore, he drew track first. On his prebuild turns, Jeff built from Madrid to Sevilla and Paris. He also built from Paris to the Ruhr. Alex built from Paris to Cardiff using the La Havre—Portsmouth ferry. She also connected Paris to Milano via the St. Gotthard pass. Ken built from London to Bruxelles via the Ramsgate—Oostende ferry and north through the center of England to Aberdeen in Scotland. Mark built Berlin to the Ruhr and to Holland. Bob, building last, connected the Ruhr to Frankfurt and from the Ruhr to Paris and towards Spain.

Jeff loaded two Sheep on his train in Bilbao and headed northeast. Alex loaded two hops in Cardiff and boarded the Portsmouth ferry for the continent. Ken loaded two chocolate in Bruxelles and boarded the Oostende ferry for England. Mark loaded flowers in Holland and steel in the Ruhr and headed east. Bob loaded his train with two china in Leipzig and used Mark’s track to the Ruhr.

There are eight major cities in Eurorails. The victory conditions require linking seven of them. The general opinion is that Iberia is the most lucrative section of the map. Madrid is that region’s major city. By game’s end, four players linked to Madrid. Mark’s early cards dictated that his railroad serve Scandinavia. This region has no major city. Mark built to Scandinavia at a cost of €38M. Two deliveries there and a wood pickup generated €70M in revenue for him. Jeff used Mark’s line for three turns for €102M in revenue. Including the trackage fees, Mark gained a net €44M while Jeff gained a net €90M from the route. At least in this one example, Scandinavia can be worthwhile. Unfortunately, the biggest benefit didn’t accrue to the player that built there.

The game proceeded as these “simultaneous solitaire crayon rails” games do. Each player concentrated on their own deliveries. Player interaction is experienced through disaster events, bonus demands, restricted city access, limited routes, and substantially the limited supply of commodity chips. Oranges and cork are the two specific commodities everyone who ventures to Iberia wants to acquire. Oranges are only found in Spain and cork is only found in Spain and Portugal. Therefore, their deliveries pay nicely if a player can obtain these chips. At times, players were unable to obtain as many chips as they desired. These unavailable commodities caused occasional angst. Wait for the chip(s), pitch, or do some lower paying delivery? Jeff was most aggressive and successful in obtaining those chips and finding those demands. He would bring a mix of those commodities to central Europe. If the demand didn’t materialize, he would pitch cards until they did. He was able to meet six cork or oranges demands by himself. The other four players combined only had a total of seven cork or orange deliveries.

Ken tried valiantly to find a last minute bonanza. His flurry of pitches did extend the game. His four late game pitches flooded the Ebro and Rhein Rivers. His North Sea Gales event also prevented Jeff from moving for a turn. However in the end, Jeff’s strategy paid off and he won by a substantial margin.

Final Statistics

Finish Order Player Name Final Cash Approx. Track No. of Deliveries No. of Pitches Major City Not Connected


285M 155M 12 6 Milano
2 Alex 173M 156M 11 1 Berlin
3 Ken 136M 168M 10 4 Wien
4 Mark 107M 199M 13 0 Madrid
5 Bob 96M 176M 8 1 Milano

Notice that the final standings exactly matched the starting order.

Final Round Details

The following table shows the deliveries and significant actions 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 picked up without a corresponding demand card for that commodity. Knowing which 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] If players don’t read the instructions on the score sheet 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 wasted. For example, it has been many years since previous GMs reduced a player’s final cash total by $50M for failing to link each required city. Yet, players are still making that reduction to the final cash score. Similarly, we have tweaked the event’s rules regarding disasters after a player declares to fix Mayfair’s original tournament rules. Yet the GM heard, “Oh? That’s not how we handled that...”

An additional irritant involves the official scoring sheet’s space for “Finish Time.” This is not an obscure reference to a Scandinavian Happy Hour. Instead, the form asks for the clock time when the game is complete. This helps the GM in many ways including an updated calculation of the event’s duration for the Convention Director. This field was left blank on many score sheets. Similarly, the form allows room for “Comments for the After Action Report.” Most of these were left blank. This is the place to note any unusual, remarkable, or amusing anecdotes about the game. The GM understands that most games have nothing extraordinary occurring; most are quite ordinary. One sheet did have the notation, “We had fun!” Although it is heartening to the GM to read that, it doesn’t make a notable tale for this report. Since the GM can only participate or observe one game, the other players need to record any remarkable events in the their games. [Soapbox Rant Off]

Thanks and Next Year

The GM would like to thank all the participants in the 2015 EPB event. Without you, all this would be moot. The GM continues to document the rules for the 14+ titles and up to seven 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

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.

A thank you is in order to Bill Peeck for volunteering to run the demo for new players. A special thank you is extended to Claire Brosius and Chuck Foster for volunteering to be the Assistant GMs. Claire signed in the participants and helped organize the games. Each helped in countless other ways. Thank you, Ken Gutermuth for recording the final game. 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. We will continue to tweak rules to make the event better. Additional coordination with the TGA’s Senior Tournament Directors, Trella Bromley and Jeff Jackson, is underway. Together they handle their tournament operations, systems, and rules for all railroad games in their Puffing Billy Tournaments. Admittedly, their tournament encompasses more game systems than just crayon rails games. Steve Okonski’s EB Pronto has explicitly coded rules. Anyone that plays his computer game knows that his rules are slightly different. However, we will try to make more of our rules identical. We welcome all comments or suggestions.

Meanwhile, happy gaming to all. Save the blue locomotive for me. See you next year in Seven Springs!

The finalists with crayons at the ready.
GM Bob Stribula [6th Year] 22 Zinnia Way, Langhorne, PA 19047
stribula@ptd.net NA

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