Beyond Seven Springs, Mother Nature was dealing out event cards. Flooding in the Susquehanna basin closed I-81 near Hershey while we gamed. Many of us drive this route to WBC. Out west, the events were wild fires. Inside Seven Springs, the Empire Builder participants dealt with the usual snow storms, typhoons, fog delays, derailments, meteor showers, and wildcat strikes. Our activities began with the teaching demonstration on Monday morning. This year only one person attended the demo. The big change this year was that the 36-year old series was an orphan. Mayfair Games was no more. Asmodee N.A. purchased Mayfair earlier in 2018 and we all hopefully await their decision regarding the 14 published titles/geographic maps in the Empire Builder series. 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: Agent of Change (AoC), 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 ready to be published Möbius Rails (MöR) and a late stage play test copy of the recently renamed Irish Rails, formerly Hibernian Rails (HR). The nonstandard Agent of Change, aka West Virginia Rails, is disallowed in tournaments. Players are welcome to place any other 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.
Preliminary Round - Heat 1
The first time each player registered for a heat, they were given a new train card. The GM provided cards for all players. The 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, they could pay and use the additional train upgrade. The new trains work with any of the terrestrial maps. Playtesting with EB Pronto had previously determined that, even including the additional expense, the faster trains reduced a typical game by a few turns. There were only two reported uses of the speed 16 trains including an Empire Builder game won by Chester Lanham and a Russia Rails game won by Mike Ritchey.
Twelve tables saw action during the first heat starting at 1:00 p.m. on Monday. To make the numbers work, three games involved three players. The rest were the preferred four-player games. The Heat 1 winners (and their maps) were: Mark Kennel (LR), Trella Bromley (BR), Mike Ritchey (RR), Bart Pisarik (EB), Catherine Raymond (EB), Chris Gnech (EB), Chester Lanham (EB), John Meadowcroft (HR), Tony Newton (ID), Mark McCandless (IR), Brian Smith (ER), and Rich Shipley (MöR). Interesting comments noted on the score sheets included: Mark Kennel’s Lunar win was helped in that he delivered all three 20 million bonuses. Catherine Raymond’s game involved lots of pitching, they went through the entire card deck. Tony Newton’s game would have ended differently if Brian Schott’s train moved one pip faster. That one pip meant that Brian was just short of making an additional 70 million delivery!
Preliminary Round - Heat 2
Heat 2 began in our traditional slot at 6:00 P.M. on Tuesday. Eleven tables were filled with four players each and one other table seated three players. The Heat 2 winners were: Roger Jarrett (EB), Verity Hitchings (HR), Bob Stribula (EB), Jim Fry (ID), Jay Spencer (RR), Vien Bounma (EB), Mark Kennel (MR) , Eric Brosius (IR), Debbie Gutermuth (EB), Harald Henning (EB), and Olin Hentz (ID). According to the comments, Jim Fry’s Iron Dragon victory was aided by some pitches near the end of the game. Shantnu Saha’s score of 247 indicated he was very close to declaring before Jim pitched for an even quicker winning delivery. In an India Rails game, Eric Brosius had a close win versus Inger Henning. Inger delivered a lot of Indigo and Jute but she spent a lot to build the necessary track. Unfortunately for her, the good cards deserted her (the Great Indian Desert?) and Eric prevailed.
Preliminary Round - Heat 3
On Wednesday at High Noon, nineteen gamers gathered to play in Heat 3. This included five players who signed in for their first try. The turnout for Heat 3 was negatively impacted by an overlap with the full day’s Rail Baron event. Obviously, there is a significant common area of interest in the train games. Five games were played in Heat 3; all but one were four-player games. The winners were: Bob Stribula (HR), Brian Schott (EB), John Meadowcroft (ID), Olin Hentz (AR), and Harald Henning (ER). Harald’s victory was an especially significant accomplishment since he beat Ken and Lisa Gutermuth and Darwin Bromley. All four had over 200 million but, scores aside, Ken has won this event and is, of course, our Convention Director. Darwin, in case you are new to this game, is the designer of the original Empire Builder and the founder of Mayfair Games! At the start of the heat, the GM made a small presentation to thank Darwin for creating the game we love and for founding the company that produced it. Just to clarify, Darwin was not with Mayfair when it was recently sold.
Preliminary Round - Summary
There were 13 players who had not played in this tournament in, at least, the previous ten years. This year, there was no preliminary game where two players declared meeting the victory conditions. In Heat 2, the closest game had Debbie Gutermuth edging Brian Conlon, 253 to 238 (EB). There were other close games where another turn or two or even a pip or two would have made a significant difference. However, Debbie’s was the game with the smallest final cash differential. A few games ran beyond the allotted time slot but, fortunately, none needed to be adjudicated this year. As long as all players agree and a GM or A-GM is available, a game may continue to completion.
In this year’s preliminary round, there were five three-player games and 23 four-player games. It appeared that starting in the first or second seat in a four-player game slightly increased the chance of winning this year. However in 203 4-player games since 2011, second seat was statistically best at 27.1 percent. The statistics for all seats were: first, 24.9%; second, 27.1%; third, 22.9%, and fourth, 25.1%.
Of the allowed tournament titles, ten were played this year. During the preliminary games, Empire Builder [with Mexico] was the most popular map with ten plays. In order, with the number of plays in parentheses, are listed the other titles: Iron Dragon (4), Irish Rails (3), Eurorails (2), Russian Rails (2), Möbius Rails (2), India Rails (2), Lunar Rails (1), British Rails (1), and Australian Rails (1). Despite the publication of a new version of Iron Dragon in 2017, all four games played were the older version. Iron Dragon is a popular title but the new version has not made an appearance at WBC yet.
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:
- Iron Dragon (ID) - H2 - Jim Fry - 295
- Möbius Rails (MöR) - H2 - Mark Kennel - 282
- Eurorails (ER) - H1 - Brian Smith - 276
- Empire Builder (EB) - H1 - Bart Pisarik - 274
- Irish Rails (HR) - H3 - Bob Stribula - 267
- India Rails (IR) - H1 - Mark McCandless - 262
- Lunar Rails (LR) - H1 - Mark Kennel - 255
- Russia Rails (RR) - H1 - Mike Ritchey - 253
- Australian Rails (MR) - H3 - Olin Hentz - 253
- British Rails (BR) - H1 - Trella Bromley - 251
Train Gamers Memorial Medal
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. After their untimely deaths after WBC 2014, we added the names of Bill Duke and one of our Assistant GMs, Paul Van Bloem. After our gathering in 2016, we also added 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. Due to the Rail Baron conflict in Heat 3, only eight players participated in all three preliminary rounds. After adding up the scores for these players, it appeared that Olin Hentz had won. The GM was preparing to introduce and present the medal to Olin. Olin interrupted to say that his first heat game was the not to be included Eurorails. The GM had made a mistake. Olin’s honesty cost him the medal. After a second review of the statistics, the medal was awarded to John Meadowcroft. John’s total of 701 consisted of a win in Irish Rails (266), a third in India Rails (159), and a win in Iron Dragon (276). Ironically, Mark Kennel finished second with two wins (LR, MöR) 537 in only two rounds. Mark has previously won the Memorial Medal four of the nine times it has been awarded.
Best Möbius Rails Medal
For the fifth year, a medal was presented to the player with the Highest Cash during any preliminary heat Möbius Rails game. (The designer was disqualified from winning this medal.) Two games with three players each participated in a Möbius Rails game. Rich Shipley, an early playtester, beat the designer in Heat 1 with a score of 252. Mark Kennel, a multiyear playtester, won his Heat 2 game with a score of 282. Mark has now won this medal three times. The GM awarded the Möbius Medal to Mark in front of the assembled semifinalists.
Best Irish Rails Medal
For the second time, a medal was presented to the player with the Highest Cash during any preliminary heat Irish Rails game. (The designer was disqualified from winning this medal.) Irish Rails was played in each heat. In Heat 1, John Meadowcroft beat Verity Hitchings and Eric Brosius, an experienced playtester. In Heat 2, Verity used her newly learned expertise to beat another experienced playtester, Claire Brosius. The designer won the Heat 3 game. This made the medal presentation easy for the GM. John Meadowcroft was able to remain in front of the group for two presentations as he was also awarded the Irish Medal.
The qualifiers gathered for the semifinal games at 9:00 A.M. on Thursday morning. Of the 28 preliminary games, there were 23 unique winners. Mark Kennel and Harold Henning won both of their games but Mark had a higher score. Mark received the highest seed. John Meadowcroft, Olin Hentz, and Bob Stribula each also won two games. Of the 23 winners, five played and won their only preliminary game. Six 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 semifinal round. If every winner appeared for the semifinal, only two double second-place players would have been seated. However, five winners failed to appear for the semifinal. The alternate list needed to be referenced. To seat twenty-five players, we worked through the list and selected down to the 38th seed. This was another example of Woody Allen’s “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” The five top seeded players were rewarded for their efforts by being placed at different tables. In groups of five, the seeds were seated in reverse order. Teammates, family members, and GM/A-GMs were placed at different tables The previously declared map for the semifinal game was Empire Builder with Mexico.
A five-player semifinal game usually takes longer than a four-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 game needed to be adjudicated. In a reasonable time, Bart Pisarik, Debbie Gutermuth, Trella Bromley, Ken Gutermuth, and Roger Jarrett demonstrated their mastery on this map. Tony Newton finished with 248 at the table that Trella won with 259. This close second-place finish allowed Tony to claim the coveted sixth-place plaque. Ken noted that the Tax Card was drawn on the turn he would have declared for his third straight game! On the other hand, he only pitched cards once in his semifinal win unlike his record-breaking 14 pitches in the 2017 final.
After a short break, the five finalists gathered for the ultimate challenge. Ken Gutermuth announced that all five were members of the Train Gamers Association (TGA) and all were past winners of the TGA’s Railcon tournament. Each year it seems that one more TGA member comes to WBC. This year it was Roger Jarrett’s turn. Everyone else had been in the WBC Empire Builder final before, some many times. The big question was, could Trella defend her title—again. Ken rounded up a bar chair for the GM to oversee the final. However with this group, his duties were few.
Debbie’s four cards contained the single highest demand and, therefore, she drew track first. She built southwest from Paris towards Barcelona. Roger connected the Ruhr and Holland. Ken built from the Ruhr to Bruxelles and on to the Ramsgate-Oostende ferry. Trella connected Paris to Nantes and to the Ruhr. Bart built from Wien to Beograd. On the switchback, Bart continued on to Sarajevo and Leipzig. Trella continued from the Ruhr to Berlin. Ken connected to London and built north to Birmingham, Manchester, and towards Glasgow. Roger built from the Ruhr to Berlin and west to Antwerpen and Bruxelles. Debbie built towards Bilbao. Everyone placed their trains on the map, picked up their initial goods, and the contest was on. Bart was the first to upgrade to a fast freight and the first to upgrade to a super freight. The tax card was drawn early. The scores immediately afterward were Debbie €34, Roger €12, Ken €4, Trella €32, and Bart €23.
The game proceeded as these games do. Eventually Roger had the winning load on board. He needed one more delivery but his best chance was for a delivery deep in Poland and Trella’s tracks were his fastest route. He debated with himself if he should pitch for a better delivery. Trella delivered and had a good spec load onboard. She calculated that Roger would declare before she could. On her next turn she pitched and it was successful. In short order, Roger delivered and declared with €257. In turn, Trella also delivered and also declared. Her total was €258! Trella had won her third EBP championship, winning in 2016, 2017, and now a third time in 2018. No one else has ever won three championships. Jim Yerkey won twice in 2001 and 2002. Tom Dunning won twice in 2004 and 2005. More recently, Rich Meyer won in 2006 and 2011.
Final Statistics showing Starting position, player, Final Cash and Finish order were:
- 1. Debbie €146 M 4th
- 2. Roger €257 M 2nd
- 3. Ken €137 M 5th
- 4. Trella €258 M 1st
- 5. Bart €186 M 3rd
Not only did this group play quickly, they were quick to clean the board and erase the track. The GM was not fast enough to photograph the final map. Thus much of the usual statistics were derailed.
Thanks and Next Year
The GM would like to thank all the participants in the 2018 EPB event. You are the reason for the event. A special thank you is extended to Trella Bromley and Mark Kennel for volunteering to be the Assistant GMs. Each Assistant GM helped in countless ways.
The GM asked each participant to complete a survey this year regarding how they play the Empire Builder games. Forty-one of the sixty-five entrants responded. A few results are worth mentioning. WBC train gamers are generalists in a game that rewards specialization. Less than one-third of us play more than a half dozen times between WBCs. Approximately half claim to play by the published rules but the results of the other questions indicate that we interpret those rules in many different ways. A majority of us would prefer to standardize the rules but not necessarily using the Train Gamers Association’s version. Most of us use the old method of measuring mileposts’ center to center to determine if a terrain feature intrudes on a track segment. Most of us want to see new titles/maps published. The GM concludes that a handout, a detailed book of rules, a brief discussion before each heat, and being available to make rulings is insufficient to get us all playing by the same rules. Something else needs to be developed for next year.
Meanwhile, happy gaming to all! Please save the blue locomotive for me.
The three additional prizes awarded at EPB 2018: the Best Irish Rails Medal, the Best Möbius Rails Medal, and the Train Gamers Memorial Medal. (The 2018 TGMM was reprinted after this photograph was taken to correct the obvious error.)
The special medals are proudly worn by Mark Kennel and John Meadowcroft.