More medals & Variants ...
Some variant rules and special medals for the preliminary
rounds contributed to an exciting Empire Builder this
year. Players began with a four-card start, discarding one card
before beginning their builds. In addition, all preliminary and
semi-final rounds were played with the open contracts variant.
Participants were given the option of playing any of the variants
in the early rounds. The newest variant, Lunar Rails, featuring
a "wrap-around" lunar landscape, was designed by Robert
Stribula, who attended and made it to the semi-finals. As a special
treat this year, GM Chuck Foster provided medals for the highest
score in each of the eight variants.
Twenty-five semi-finalists played Empire Builder on
Saturday night; most of the games ran longer than normal and
five sleep-deprived finalists gathered the next morning for a
hard-fought, if bleary-eyed, final round. Veteran train gamer
Donna Balkan, who won the "Best Eurorails" medal in
the preliminary rounds, claimed her first Empire Builder title
in a final game.
Luck smiled on Donna throughout the final. She started the game
with $51M worth of wood to Berlin and Luxemburg, which financed
her line to Spain. Her luck continued as she drew loads from
Eastern Europe to the Iberian Peninsula. Just before her victory,
she delivered ham to both Sevilla and Lisboa, a trip worth $129M.
Hoping to win the game in Lisboa, she discovered she was $1M
short of the $250 needed for victory. Fortunately, she had taken
a load of tourists with her from the Ruhr to protect her more
lucrative loads from derailment. In the end, a visit to Paris
to deliver the $10 tourist load was what put her over the top.
Finalists (left to right): Jim
Yerkey, Donna Balkan, Olin Hentz, Richard Meyer, and Rich Shipley.
Despite Donna's card luck, both Rich Meyer (second - $249M) and
former GM Rich Shipley (third - $235M) were hot on her heels
for much of the game. Other finalists were Olin Hentz (fourth
- $193M) and two-time defending champ Jim Yerkey (fifth - $141M)
who saw his three-peat chances die when the Rhine flooded early.
He had to dump his cards five times to get a payoff to rebuild
his bridge. The final was played using a game timer with one
hour allotted to each player. This reduced the final game to
only three hours and 10 minutes. Incredibly, Donna only needed
a little over nineteen minutes to secure her amazing victory.