Do the Loco Motion
Katherine Hitchings, Harald Henning,
Barb Flaxington and second-year GM Bob Stribula contemplate their
Claire Brosius, Rich Meyer and Pam
Gutermuth in preliminary play. Clair and Pam were two of the
14 to play in all three heats.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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