empire builder   

Updated 11/15/2011
2011 WBC Report   

 2012 Status: pending 2012 GM commitment
Rich Meyer, MA
2011 Champion


  Rio Grande Games

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

Rank  Name              From  Last  Total
  1.  Richard Meyer      MA    11    172
  2.  Jim Yerkey         MD    03    110
  3.  Harald Henning     CT    08    100
  4.  Tom Dunning        NY    08     97
  5.  Eric Brosius       MA    09     95
  6.  Dave Steiner       DE    11     91
  7.  Tedd Mullally      NJ    10     79
  8.  Mark Kennel        DE    09     78
  9.  Debbie Gutermuth   TX    11     66
 10.  Donna Balkan       on    04     61
 11.  Steve Okonski      MD    02     60
 12.  Paul Van Bloem     MD    11     52
 13.  Bill Navolis       PA    00     50
 14.  Eyal Mozes         NY    09     46
 15.  Kyle Greenwood     HI    10     40
 16.  Mike Zorrer        DE    10     40
 17.  Chuck Foster       TX    06     34
 18.  Greg Mayer         MO    00     30
 19.  Jennifer Thomas    NY    11     24
 20.  John Haas          DE    04     24
 21.  Olin Hentz         CT    03     22
 22.  Cliff Ackman       PA    07     21
 23.  Tom Wade           IN    08     20
 24.  Bill Duke          MD    07     20
 25.  Mark Franceschini  MD    00     20
 26.  Ken Gutermuth      NC    11     18
 27.  Mike Backstrom     MN    05     16
 28.  Rich Shipley       MD    03     16
 29.  John Clarke        FL    06     15
 30.  Bryan Eshleman     NC    07     10
 31.  Winton Lemoine     CA    06     10
 32.  Ken Good           OH    05      9
 33.  Brian Smith        NY    02      6
 34.  Norm Newton        on    10      5
 35.  Debbie Otto        MO    99      3

2011 Laurelists                                              Repeating Laurelists 

Dave Steiner, DE

Jennifer Thomas, NY

Ken Gutermuth, NC

Paul Van Bloem, MD

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

Katherine Hitchings, Harald Henning, Barb Flaxington and second-year GM Bob Stribula contemplate their routes.

Claire Brosius, Rich Meyer and Pam Gutermuth in preliminary play. Clair and Pam were two of the 14 to play in all three heats.

Do the Loco Motion

2011's record WBC attendance was reflected in a record field for Empire Builder as well in its 13th year at WBC. The GM was returning for his second tour of duty in place of Tom Dunning, two-time champion, GM and friend who was missed again and memorialized with an engraved medal.

Preliminary Rounds

The event started on Tuesday evening with ten separate games in Heat 1. Notable among them was an Empire Builder with Mexico game won by Dave Steiner. This was the closest game of the event as Dave beat Pam Gutermuth by a mere $5M, Eyal Mozes by $12M and Christina Harley by $30. Heat 1 also had the most dramatic finish. Playing Martian Rails, Bob Stribula and Harald Henning both had great starts. Harald slowly built what appeared to be a decisive lead. Then the disasters struck. First the Tax Card delayed Harald's declaration. After all players had made additional deliveries to rebuild their cash stocks, the northern canals flooded. Then, as Harald reached the 250M cash total, the Space Elevator was sabotaged. The falling cable destroyed all rail track along the Equator and prevented rebuilding until the rubble was cleared. Harald was trapped north of the Equator with an onboard load for another delivery south of the Equator. However, Bob had two southern deliveries and was south of the Equator. While Harald waited to rebuild his track, Bob made two deliveries and declared. Harald's best choice was to use Bob's track to reach his final destination. This resulted in Harald making a 4M payment to Bob and an 8M swing in relative cash totals. Bob won by 7M. Due to the unusual nature of the game's end, Assistant GM, Claire Brosius, was called in to oversee the last two turns. Harald acquired the unfortunate distinction of being the only runner-up in 38 games to also meet the victory conditions.

The last two heats were played back to back on Wednesday. Heat 2 started ten tables of early bird rail gamers; Heat 3 grew to 12 tables with the arrival of the lunch crowd. Heat 2 saw the only tie game: an Empire Builder game won by Rich Meyer with Pam Gutermuth and John Morris deadlocked at 214M. Ken Gutermuth romped to the most lopsided victory against Rich Shipley, Brian Smith, and Claire Brosius. The three adversaries put together barely scored more than Ken's total. Due to great runs at the start, Richard Irving scored a similar one-sided win in a 3-player Martian Rails. His final cash was greater than his two opponent's combined total. Arland Kane was awarded the win in a Martian Rails game called for time during Heat 3 in the only game requiiring adjudication.

Empire Builder had its usual assortment of disaster magnets. Inger Henning in an India Rails game won by Jennifer Thomas drew so many disasters that she was banned from drawing cards. Elsewhere, Joshua Gottesman's karma was justly massaged by almost every disaster in the game as due pentence for failing to attend last year. The WBC gods keep track of such things.

Of the 32 games in Round 1, Empire Builder with Mexico saw the most plays (13). The newest Eurorails was next in popularity with seven games. The twin moons of the Red Planet rose and set five times over the landscape of Martian Rails. India Rails, Lunar Rails, and the fantasy map of Iron Dragon were each played twice. British Rails was set up but once. Five titles again failed to make an appearance.


The 32 preliminary games resulted in 25 unique winners. Jennifer Thomas (India, Euro, British) and Dave Steiner (EPB, Martian, Lunar) were triple winners while Tony Newton (Euro, EPB), Paul Van Bloem (EPB, Euro), and Mike Zorrer (EPB, EPB) won twice. They became the highest seeds. Eight of the players with one win, won on their first and only game.

The top five seeds were seated individually at five tables. Then the next five seeds were seated in reverse order and the remaining 15 seats were filled randomly.

Four of these seeds failed to answer the role and were replaced by alternates with multiple second place finishes. Family members, team members, and frequent opponents were separated.

And, the winners were...

Jen Thomas ($250M) added to her unbeaten streak with her fourth straight win. Jim Fry ($208M) and 2009 champion Mark Kennel ($199M) tried to keep it close.

Dave Steiner ($253M) also continued unbeaten and had an easier time of it. David Finberg ($196M) was his closest challenger.

Assistant GM, Paul Van Bloem ($250M), won by the smallest margin of the round over Debbie Gutermuth ($239M) and Bob Stribula ($199M). Debbie has often gained 6th place laurels for her near misses in the semi-finals and that's what happened again. Next year, if she manages it again, at least she'll get to be part of the Sandman parade as Empire Builder moves into the high rent district with six plaques due to this year's record attendance.

2006 champ Rich Meyer ($250M) was one of the players who got the most with the least by playing one game in Round 1 and won. His encore in the semis proved relatively easy ... Chris Gnech was his closest competitor at $207M.

Ken Gutermuth ($269M) was another player who got the most from his investment of one game in the preliminaries. However, no one can claim his road to the Final was easy. He beat 2007 champ Eric Brosius ($220M), defending champ Tedd Mullally ($194M), and third seed Tony Newton ($143M) in the most challenging table of Round 2.

Tom Dunning Memorial Medal

It was natural that the EPBers wanted to continue to memorialize Tom Dunning. The Empire Builder series was a favorite of Tom's and we wanted to honor him. Once again, Chuck Foster created an engraved medal. We changed the conditions slightly for this year to reward more diversified play. To demonstrate mastery of the EPB series, only a player's best score from each geographical/title variant during the preliminary heats was included in the calculation. Therefore, if participants played three different titles during Round 1, all three scores were included (EPB with Mexico, EPB no Mexico, and North American Rails were considered as different variants.) To this was added their score in the semi-final.

Jennifer Thomas amassed an awesome cash total of 1,066M to win the medal. Jennifer and others noted that she seemed to have Tom's spirit helping her in her first time competing in this event after the death of her longtime friend and mentor. Jen earned first place in four games on four different maps (India, Euro, British, and EPB w/Mexico). Jen's total is a new record, besting Norm Newton's 2010 total of 1042. Jen could be seen fighting back tears at this fitting tribute to Tom. Second was claimed by Dave Steiner (1,032M) also with four wins (EPB, Martian, Lunar, EPB. The second EPB total was added from the semi-final, allowed in 2011 rules.) Following Dave, there was a significant gap to Bob Stribula, Paul Van Bloem, Pam Gutermuth, Inger Henning, Mike Holmquest, and Tony Newton with scores in the 700s. Everyone else had significantly less.

Final Round

After a short break, the Eurorails 4 Final commenced. The finalists included some heavy hitters. Rich Meyer was a three-time finalist who won in 2006. Dave Steiner had laurelled three times as did Paul Van Bloem. Ken Gutermuth and Jennifer Thomas were newcomers to this Final, but far from babes in the wood. Jen, as previously noted, was playing as if possessed (by the spirit of Tom Dunning).

Previous versions of Eurorails highly rewarded deliveries to and from Iberia. Scandinavia was correspondingly disadvantaged. Analysis and anecdotal stories had shown that Eurorails 4 has a better demand card balance. The English Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) was added to this edition to make Great Britain a more attractive destination. This was the second year where Eurorails 4 served as the Final map.

All of the Empire Builder games have a rule whereby players who do not like their cards may sacrifice their entire turn to discard all three cards (or four cards during the pre-build turns) to draw three replacement cards. This has come to be known as "dumping." Except during the pre-build turns, all events that are drawn are immediately resolved. This year's Final had a lot of dumping. Both Ken and Jen dumped their cards on the first building turn in hopes of drawing better starts. Altogether, Rich dumped once; Jen and Dave twice; Paul three times, and Ken 15 times!

Jen had the single largest payout on her initial cards and started first. She dumped her cards and promptly drew better ones. Ken, going second, also dumped, but had no such luck. Not long afterward, we had the first and only rules question. The issue involved the use of ferries. Paul reached a ferry port at the end of one turn. He wanted to change his mind, use the ferry as a turnaround point, and move back along his track instead of continuing on across the ferry. The GM was consulted and ruled that a player may turn around in a ferry port. The Eurorails 4 rules are ambiguous on this point. After the game, a careful reading of earlier Eurorails versions supported this decision. (The series rules were written during a reprint of Empire Builder. EPB does not have ferries and the port rule was inadvertently left out of the series rules.) The ruling did not seem to help Paul. He continued to draw poor cards and compounded it by building the dubious route to Oslo. Later Paul made a delivery and managed to get hit by four disasters in succession.

Jen started the fast freight upgrade, which most everyone followed shortly thereafter. Upgrades to the super freight followed shortly. Jen also built the Chunnel, giving her faster access to England and a head start to Ireland.

Dumping can work. Dave dumped and drew two demands to the East and a return trip to Iberia. Once in Spain, Dave drew three loads heading back east. He whined that he could not also carry a speculation load. Ken, who'd been spending most of the game trying to find decent cards, got fed up with Dave's complaints and grabbed all three fruit loads to stymie Dave. When Ken finally gave up some oranges, Dave snapped it up with a frustrated "Give me a damned fruit!" Rich dumped in London with everyone else in Spain, and pulled two fruit demands and a cork demand. The whole table let out a collective groan. Paul continued to devastate Europe with disasters and pulled the tax card.

After taxes, Ken had 38M, Paul 79M, Jen 94M, Dave 155M, and Rich 162M. Ken finally got a little momentum and delivered cork and oranges for 100M. Jen made a bad decision to race Dave to deliver machinery, because the "Tooling Needed!" card was active. Dave had gears to Naples, but Jen's gears to Cork would earn her 50M instead of 30M because the "Irish Economy Booming!" card was also in play. After missing the ferry to Cork by one movement pip, which elicited muttered grumbles, Jen succeeded in delivering the machinery.

With the relatively high payouts possible in Eurorails, Jen, Dave, and Rich were all within striking distance of the victory conditions. For example, after Jen's Ireland delivery, she had sufficient payouts on her cards for the victory. However, Rich reached the goal ahead of her and went over ¤250M for the win. Dave had ¤208M for second. Jen counted ¤171M; Ken ¤137; and Paul ¤83M. Ken delivered only seven times in limited turns while Paul served as the disaster magnet.

A change in the score sheet encouraged players to note their starting order. Logic and an analysis by Steve Okonski using the Empire Builder Pronto software indicated that the first player has a slight advantage even when using the equal turns rule. Each subsequent player has a monotonically reduced chance of victory. This year's tournament provided a small statistical sample to test this hypothesis. The 4-player games resulted in victory by starting positions of: 5, 6, 7, 7. The results for the 5-player games were: 1, 1, 0, 2, 2. This seems to indicate that starting later is an advantage. Ironically, the seven 3-player games did show an advantage to going first.

Next Year's Tourney

The GM continues to solicit suggestions for next year's event. This is your chance to shape the event.

1. The titles for the elimination rounds are expected to remain the same: semi-final - Empire Builder with Mexico; and Final - Eurorails 4.

2. Tom Dunning Memorial Medal: In 2012, only a player's best score on each title/geographical map will be totaled. To maximize his or her score, each player must play on four different maps. Jennifer Thomas proved it can be done. When choosing which map to play in the preliminary round, players must keep in mind which map will be used in the semi-final. Hopefully, we'll see more of the lesser played maps next year. Mayfair Games has announced a revised Nippon Rails and perhaps we'll see the long awaited prototype of Möbius Rails.

3. The Definitive Crayon Rails Errata and Tournament Rules Book continues to grow and be improved. The latest version is always available on http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/railgamefan/files/.


Finally, thanks to all who played. I appreciated the kind words for running the event. Thanks also to Chuck Foster for his help with the Tom Dunning medal including engraving it and getting it to us in time. Also to Bill Peeck for printing the score sheets and rules errata. I am especially indebted to Claire Brosius for signing in all the entrants for each heat. Don Greenwood surely appreciates her precise handwriting too. Not to be forgotten; Assistant GMs: Claire Brosius and Paul Van Bloem. Thanks and hurry back wishes to Steve Okonski for discussing rule interpretations and the additional Empire Builder Pronto prize. As I write this summary, I realize that I really didn't have much to do except make a few rule interpretations and say when to start and stop each heat. That's because the EPBers are such a great group of self-directed, cooperative, and fun-loving train gamers.

Tony Newton, Ken Gutermuth, 2007 champ Eric Brosius and Ted Mullaly in the semi-final game that sent Ken to the Final.

GM Bob Stribula and his five finalists: Rich Meyer, Jenn Thomas, Ken Gutermuth, Dave Steiner and Paul Van Bloem.
 GM      Bob Stribula  [2nd Year]  NA 
    stribula@ptd.net   NA

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