Empire Builder at the twenty-first World Boardgame Championships began with the teaching demonstration early Monday afternoon. Bill Peeck volunteered for this assignment. A new group of gamers learned the mechanics of our favorite game. The 37-year old series remains an orphan since Mayfair Games is gone. Asmodee purchased Mayfair in 2018 and we are still anxiously watching to see what they do with the 14 published titles / geographic maps in the Empire Builder series. Many titles are out of print or are in low supply. Fortunately with terrestrial maps of most continents plus science fiction and fantasy maps, we have variety to keep the series interesting. However, we continue to hope for the publication of new titles.
One rule change was implemented for the 2019 Empire Builder event. As originally written in Mayfair's rules, half rate movement continues for the remainder of a turn when a train starts in or moves into an event affected territory. For years, we have allowed players to decide at each table if they would use the published rule or the Area of Effect version. The results of last year's survey showed that there were too many different interpretations of this rule. The Train Gamers Association (TGA) recently standardized on the published rule and this year we did too. The published rule may be less "realistic" but is much easier to implement. Hopefully, everyone will be playing with the published rule henceforth.
Preliminary Round - Heat 1
The first time each player registered for a heat, they were given a Pips Used card. When a player's train stops in a city to deliver a load, some players want a device to record their train's movement. While returning the load chip, getting paid, and studying the new demand card or resolving an event, it is easy to lose track of the train's movement. Some players use a die to indicate the movement pips used. The Pips Used card is an easy, faster method to note this information. It beats fumbling with a D20 to find the relevant number.
Thirteen tables saw action during the first heat starting at 3:00 P.M. on Monday. To make the numbers work, three games involved three players. There were initially twelve four-player tables. The GM finished the sign-in paperwork and discovered that no one had saved a seat for him. Fortunately, three Crayon Railers elected to play with the GM. Trella Bromley, our three time repeat defending champion, was the first to win on an EB map. Other Heat 1 winners (and their maps) were: Bart Pisarik (ER), Chris Meyer (EB), Jeff Jackson (ER), Erica Kirchner (EB), Pam Gutermuth (ER), Glen Pearce (LR), Cathy Raymond (ID), Rich Meyer (BR), John Meadowcroft (HR), David Finberg (ID), Greg Berry (BR), and Bob Stribula (MöR). Not understanding the rules to our tournament cost one participant a second place finish. He failed to understand that at the end of the game we use a Rebuild Turn while the TGA allows one extra Build Turn. Cathy Raymond credits her opponents, particularly Tony Newton, with great sportsmanship. Floods destroyed three of her bridges and she couldn't reach her first destination. She was about to pitch for new cards when Tony pointed out that she could deliver her loads by ship. She followed his suggestion and the rest of her game went well. In another game, Mark Kennel delivered and had the required 250 million. Per the rules, he drew one more card and the drawn event flooded two rivers. He didn't have enough cash to rebuild his bridges and still declare. Two turns later, Bob Stribula declared. Mark was just short of his final destination and his second attempt to declare.
Preliminary Round - Heat 2
Heat 2 began at 3:00 P.M. on Wednesday. We gave up our traditional Tuesday 6:00 P.M. slot to our companion train game: Rail Baron / Box Cars. Nine tables were filled with four players each and two other tables seated three players. The Heat 2 winners were: Ken Gutermuth (BR), Chester Lanham (EB), Alexandra Henning (IR), John Meadowcroft (EB), Eric Brosius (HR), Debbie Gutermuth (EB), Mark Kennel (LR), Olin Hentz (ID), Jeff Jackson (EB), Chris Gnech (EB), and Bob Stribula (MR). In the Irish Rails game it was noted that Eric Brosius got great contracts. With his initial cards allowing two Cheese deliveries to Northern Ireland and a Potato delivery south to Cork, he was unstoppable.
Preliminary Round - Heat 3
On Thursday at 3:00 P.M., forty-eight gamers gathered to play Heat 3 in the Seasons room. This included fifteen players who signed in for their first try. Usually the turnout for Heat 3 drops off; that was not the case this year. We had twelve tables of four players interspersed with other games in the huge room. This proved especially challenging for the GM and A-GMs. Finding the tables, making announcements individually, handing out the score sheets, answering questions, and dealing with the additional noise made GMing difficult. Nevertheless, the games must go on. The winners in Heat 3 were: Chester Lanham (EB), Bart Pisarik (BR), Eyal Mozes (EB), Ken Gutermuth (EB), Harald Henning (IR), Brian Smith (EB), Olin Hentz (MöR), Jeff Jackson (CR), Mark Kennel (MR), Mike Zorrer (IR), Elissa Hoeger (ID), and Deborah Starzynski (HR). Noted in the comments was that Ken Gutermuth was just outside of San Diego when he pitched cards. He had Tobacco on board, drew Tobacco to Los Angeles, and beat Mark Jensen who had the winning loads on board and was three mileposts away from declaring. Jeff Jackson admitted that he had a great start to the west in China Rails and that a Cotton spec delivery helped him win. In Elissa Hoeger's game, she was noted that one delivery resulted in five events being drawn before the next demand card was revealed. To wrap up Heat 3, the GM's game had to be adjudicated. Already running a half-hour overtime, Nikki Bradford needed to leave to attend to her A-GM duties for another train game—Ticket to Ride. Deb Starzynski, a new player, was 6 million ahead when time was called. The incomplete game proved significant in the Train Gamers Memorial Medal calculations as will be seen later.
Preliminary Round – Summary
There were 24 players who had not played in this tournament in, at least, the previous eleven years. This year, there was no preliminary game where two players declared meeting the victory conditions. The closest finish was the Heat 3 adjudicated game with Deb Starzynski edging Bob Stribula by 6 million, 218 to 212 (HR). The closest completed game had Brian Smith edging Ron Secunda 259 to 242 (EB). There were other close games where another turn or two or even a pip or three would have made a significant difference. There was one game (H1: MöR) where what should have been the final card draw was an event that extended the game and allowed a different winner. A few games ran beyond the allotted time slot and one needed to be adjudicated this year.
In this year's preliminary round, there were five three-player games and 31 four-player games. We've compiled stats for the four-player games. This year, fourth seat gave that player the best chance of winning. Previously, second seat was statistically best at 27.1 percent. However this year's games changed that. In 234 4-player games since 2011, fourth seat was best at 27.4 percent. The statistics for all seats were: first, 23.7%; second, 26.5%; third, 22.4%; fourth, 27.4%. If this trend continues, we may need to consider bidding for seats.
Of the allowed tournament titles, ten were played this year. During the preliminary games, Empire Builder [with Mexico] was the most popular map with twelve plays. The number of times each title was played this year is shown in the table below. Australian Rails, Nippon Rails, North American Rails, and Russian Rails were not played this year. Despite the publication of a new edition of Iron Dragon in 2017, all four ID games played were the older version. Iron Dragon is a popular title but the new edition 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 in the named title. The total number of times each map was played is shown in ():
- Chris Gnech – Empire Builder (12) - $295
- Eric Brosius – Irish Rails (3) - $289
- Cathy Raymond – Iron Dragon (4) - $285
- Alex Henning – India Rails (3) - $280
- Olin Hentz – Mobius Rails (2) - $270
- Rich Meyer – British Rails (4) - $268
- Bob Stribula – Martian Rails (2) - $264
- Jeff Jackson – Eurorails (3) - $261
- Jeff Jackson – China Rails (1) - $261
- Glen Perce – Lunar Rails (2) - $257
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 as names were added. 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 added Donna Balkan to the list. This January we added Darwin Bromley's name. Darwin was the founder of Mayfair Games and a co-designer of the original Empire Builder game. 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. Seventeen players participated in at least two of the eligible titles. It usually requires playing three eligible titles to score well. Six players played on three different maps. Of those, three had a cash total over 700. Mark Kennel (MöR, LR, and MR) achieved a total of 745. Bob Stribula (MöR, MR, and HR) scored 736, and Olin Hentz (BR, ID, and MöR) scored 712. If Bob Stribula's adjudicated Heat 3 game had finished, he would surely have earned 10 million more. However given the actual results, Mark Kennel earned and was awarded the TGMM. This was the fifth time Mark has won the Memorial Medal in the ten times it has been awarded. The Train Gamer's Memorial Medal was awarded to Mark before the start of the semifinal round.
Best Möbius Rails Medal
For the sixth 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 four players each participated in a Möbius Rails game. In Heat 1 Bob Stribula, the designer, beat Mark Kennel, a multiyear play tester, and two others with a score of 260. Olin Hentz, won his Heat 3 game with a score of 270. He bested John Meadowcroft, a double medal winner in 2018, and two others. This was Olin's first medal. The GM awarded the Möbius Medal to Olin in front of the assembled semifinalists.
Best Irish Rails Medal
For the third 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 Mike Zorrer, an experienced play tester, and two others. In Heat 2, Eric Brosius, another experienced play tester, beat Mike Zorrer and two others. In the adjudicated Heat 3 game, newcomer Deb Starzynski edged out the designer. Eric Brosius's cash total of 289 was the highest. Eric was awarded the Irish Medal before the start of the semifinals.
The qualifiers and hopeful alternates gathered for the semifinal games at 9:00 A.M. on Friday morning. Of the 36 preliminary games, there were 27 unique winners. Jeff Jackson won all three of his Round 1 games and earned the highest seed. John Meadowcroft, Bob Stribula, Harold Henning, Bart Pisarik, Ken Gutermuth, Chester Lanham, Mark Kennel and Olin Hentz each won two games. Using the specified criteria, they were seeded in the order listed. Trella Bromley, the three-year reigning champion, was seeded tenth. Of the 27 winners, three played and won their only preliminary game. Twelve 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, two players with only one win would not have been seated. However, three winners failed to appear for the semifinal. The alternate list needed to be consulted. We worked through the list and the 31st seed was present. 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 remaining seeds were seated in reverse order. Teammates, family members, gaming buddies, and the 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 two and one-half hours, Bart Pisarik demonstrated his mastery on this map over two-time previous champion, Rich Meyer.
In 3-1/4 hours, Margie Meadowcroft—the number 31 seeded alternate—won a close victory over previous finalists Mark Kennel, Jeff Jackson, and Alex Henning. Four minutes later at a table with four other extremely experienced players, Eric Brosius eked out a win.
Trella Bromley, Brian Smith, John Meadowcroft, and Chris Gnech all had over 200 million when Eric declared. The comments for this game included, "At the end, Trella was in Memphis and needed to deliver in Des Moines and Minneapolis. She rode John's tracks in order to be across the Mississippi River system. She could have ridden her own tracks but that would have left her south of the Missouri River in Kansas City and subject to delay by a flood. Chris pitched his cards and drew the derailment within three mileposts of Omaha. That hit Trella and cost her the game."
Ten minutes later, Harald Henning notched a relatively easy win.
The table with the GM continued play for another hour. As the game neared its conclusion, everyone but Bob Stribula knew that Bob had the game in hand. He had two of three of the winning loads on board. He was moving southeast and stopped to pick up the final commodity in Omaha. Instead of swapping a spec load for his final commodity, he pitched the Wood he needed for St. Louis! Now it was a race. A few turns later, he had recovered. Since the Tax Card was out, cash was known, and everything was calculable. After being asked, Bob revealed that he could declare when he reached Duluth. Olin Hentz and Debbie Gutermuth began counting turns until they could declare. Olin figured a way to shave a turn off his route and declared first with 255 million. Bob limped into Duluth with exactly 250 million. Debbie, the perennial EBP sixth-place finisher, had 247 million. That gave Olin a seat at the final table and Bob the coveted sixth-place plaque. Note, this was the only game of the Empire Builder tournament with two players declared at the end. It almost had three declared!
After a short break, the five finalists gathered for the ultimate challenge. The newest Eurorails was the previously announced contest map. The GM reminded the participants that we were using a modified English Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) rule. The standard Chunnel cost is €20 million. For this tournament the cost would be reduced to €12 million. After his “senior moment" in the semifinal, the GM needed a break. The Assistant GM, Mark Kennel, volunteered to oversee the final. The following observations are from Mark and Eric Brosius. [Thank you both!] To start, Bart built from the Ruhr to Italy. Eric delivered China to Toulouse. Harald took one commodity to Spain. Olin started in England. Margie started with three Tobacco runs. She could only carry two chips. After delivering them, she deadheaded back to Naples for the third. Overall, no one had a strong start. Eric built the Chunnel but it wasn't used often. Ironically, Bart used it to make his winning delivery. Final totals were:
- 1st – Bart Pisarik - $251 – Start Position 5
- 2nd – Eric Brosius - $202 – Start Position 2
- 3rd – Olen Hentzk - $169 – Start Position 4
- 4th – Margie Meadowcroft - $166 – Start Position 1
- 5th – Harald Henning - $103 – Start Position 3
Thank You and Next Year
The GM thanks all the participants in the 2019 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. Jeff Jackson filled in for Trella when she was tending to Rail Baron / Box Cars tasks. Thank you Bill Peeck for teaching the game at the demo session.
With the increasing presence of TGA members coming to our event, we will probably need to change the seating rules for the semifinal. Currently when it is pointed out to the GM, friends that routinely game together are seated at different tables. Starting next year, only family and team members will be allowed this privilege. As usual, the GM and both A-GMs also will be seated at different tables. It is expected that the Chunnel will remain at the modified €12 million cost. Try playing with this modification at home and please provide feedback on your experiences!
Meanwhile, happy gaming to all! Please save the blue crayon for me.