Author Topic: Any Crayon Rails Train Games Fans Here?  (Read 2425 times)

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Offline SVPete

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Any Crayon Rails Train Games Fans Here?
« on: December 19, 2009, 02:03:10 PM »
A couple years ago, my older daughter introduced me to, successively, Empire Builder, EuroRails and Lunar Rails (all in a series published by Mayfair Games). Any fans of these board games here in the Cave?
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Offline SSG Snuggle Bunny

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Re: Any Crayon Rails Train Games Fans Here?
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2009, 02:23:53 PM »
I've played Empire Builder on tabletop.

It was alright.

I'm more of a wargamer myself, though
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Offline SVPete

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Re: Any Crayon Rails Train Games Fans Here?
« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2009, 02:31:24 PM »
If anyone is interested, I could post here a multi-page review I wrote about the 3 games I listed, but Mayfair's crayon rails games are more like a race than a head-to-head, destroy-your-opponent game (ala chess, checkers or Monopoly). Players are responding and adapting to their own changing situation more than to their opponents' changing tactics and strategies. Each game in the series applies the basic concept, building, running and expanding a railroad network, to a different geographic context. Empire Builder is set in the US, Mexico and southern Canada; EuroRails is set in Europe; Lunar Rails is set on the Moon. There are versions for Japan, Britain, China, Australia, Mars and a fantasy world along the lines of Tolkien's Middle Earth. This Christmas we got India Rails, which my daughter and I may play for the first time today or tomorrow.
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Offline BattleHymn

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Re: Any Crayon Rails Train Games Fans Here?
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2010, 08:04:45 PM »
Can you post your review of Empire Builder and EuroRails? 

Offline rich_t

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Re: Any Crayon Rails Train Games Fans Here?
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2010, 09:43:59 AM »
A couple years ago, my older daughter introduced me to, successively, Empire Builder, EuroRails and Lunar Rails (all in a series published by Mayfair Games). Any fans of these board games here in the Cave?

Are they anything like Railroad Tycoon?

I used to enjoy playing that.
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Offline The Village Idiot

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Re: Any Crayon Rails Train Games Fans Here?
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2010, 01:35:07 PM »
Are these games funded by government??

/jk

Offline SVPete

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Re: Any Crayon Rails Train Games Fans Here?
« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2010, 01:52:33 PM »
I believe Empire Builder and the rest of the series are commercially successful, so I think guberment more likely to try to kill off the series, ;D .

Wilco, BH. It is ~4 pages in MS Word, so I have no problem with CC's Admins or Mods stepping in if they see a problem with posting the entire thing. As regards copyrights, I wrote and give myself permission to post it in its entirety, ;) .

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Review: Empire Builder, EuroRails and Lunar Rails Games

What Are They?
Empire Builder, EuroRails and Lunar Rails are three in a series of what are called “crayon rails” games published by Mayfair Games. These three are the ones my family currently owns. There are also versions for Britain, Russia, India, China, Japan and Australia, plus fantasy and time-period versions. Players develop railroad networks drawn with erasable crayon on map game boards. Each player has a distinctive color; the markings can be erased after each playing. Players build their rail networks, upgrade trains and pick up and deliver loads to earn money in a race to reach certain goals (extent of rail network and accumulated money). Depending on the number of players (the maximum number of players is 6), their familiarity with the game and its geography and their personalities, a game may last anywhere from 2 hours to more than 4 hours. The minimum age I would recommend would be around 10-12.

What’s in the Box?
While there is some variation from game to game, the basic contents of each box are the same. There is a game board – usually six interlocking pieces like a jigsaw puzzle - that is a map, marked with “mileposts,” of the territory in which the railroads do business. One or two games have only a laminated roll-up map; others offer a laminated map as an option or add-on. In the games being reviewed here, the maps are: the US, Mexico and southern Canada (Empire Builder); Europe (EuroRails); the Moon (Lunar Rails). Early editions of Empire Builder didn’t include Mexico. The maps represent, fairly accurately, the geographic terrain and selected city locations (except for the fantasy versions). Certain cities (or regions) are designated, “Major Cities,” and others medium-sized or small cities. Incorporating a certain number of Major Cities into a player’s rail network is one of the criteria for winning. Small cities allow limited numbers of players to build into the cities, a factor when more than 3 play (players may use other players’ rails for a fee). Various commodities (e.g. grains, livestock, ores and industrial products) are represented as available at certain cities, with some accuracy. Also associated with the game board are tokens used to represent the location of players’ trains, and the crayons.

There are small plastic chips that represent various commodities, and in most of the games a sheet of stickers to be placed on blank white chips. The newest editions of Empire Builder and EuroRails (summer of 2009) have pre-printed, color-coded (by commodity type) chips. There is a limited number of each type of commodity chip (usually 3 or 4), and in games with 3 or more players, this limits the amount of a particular commodity that can be in play at any time.

Each game has a deck of “Demand Cards,” of which each player must have three at any time. Each player’s Demand Cards are their own, and only they may satisfy those cards’ Demands. Demand Cards list three Demands for certain commodities to be delivered to certain cities for certain fees. The player must choose and satisfy one of the Demands. Mixed into the Demand Cards deck are a number of Event Cards. These include natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes and floods), human-caused disasters and business events (e.g. taxes, derailments, urgent regional Demands and strikes). Events may impose costs or limitations on one or more players, sometimes depending on the locations of the players trains. Urgent regional Demands are opportunities for the player who satisfies it first. There is also a smaller stack of cards that represent trains of differing load capacity and speed capabilities. Each player starts with the train of the lowest capability. As the game proceeds, players may upgrade incrementally, as their itinerary, Demands and accumulated cash demand and permit.

Each game includes a game rules and procedures booklet. Two very useful things included are lists of cities with the commodities available in each city, and of commodities and the cities where those commodities are available. The cities list in the Lunar Rails booklet also indicates the approximate location of each city.

How Do You Play?
At the outset, every player receives the basic train, their own color token and crayon, three Demand Cards and start-up money (how much varies by game). Each player plans their initial rail network and itinerary from those first three Demand Cards; if one or more is an Event, it is discarded and other Demand Card(s) drawn until each player has three Demand Cards. Play commences with each player having three drawing-only turns to start their rail network. Drawing must begin from a Major City; a maximum of $20 Million of drawing can be done per turn (and all subsequent turns). Drawing across geographic features such as rivers, lakes, mountains and ferries costs more than for “clear” (lowland) mileposts. After this, players start moving in the city in their rail network they choose. Except when affected by an Event Card, players’ turns will consist of moving their train (including pick-ups and deliveries) and then drawing more rail and/or upgrading their train. A load is picked up by passing through the city where it is available. When a delivery is made, the player stops in the city, delivers the load, receives the fee, discards the satisfied Demand Card and selects a new one. The player then completes any remainder of their moving turn and does any necessary drawing or upgrading. Usually the player will pause to plan the new Demand Card into their itinerary before leaving the city where a delivery was made. Play continues in this manner, each player in turn, until a player wins, by accumulating $250 Million and incorporating a certain number (the number depend on the game) of Major Cities in their rail network. The wide-spread locations of Major Cities (e.g. New York, Seattle and Mexico City in Empire Builder) and the dispersion of higher value commodities ensure that a winning player’s rail network will span much of the game’s territory.

Unique Aspects of Each Game
Obviously, each of the games is set in a different place – North America, Europe and the Moon. Lunar Rails uses both sides of the Moon on a two-sided map. Most of the other differences among the three games are simpler: different commodities; different Events; different numbers of Major Cities. Event Cards in EuroRails use pictures and icons on the cards (i.e. not tied to a particular language), which are explained by the booklet for the game. Empire Builder has one type of mountain terrain; EuroRails and Lunar Rails have two, with different building costs. Lunar Rails has some unique Events - e.g. meteor showers and solar flares. In EuroRails, access to Britain, Ireland and the Scandinavian Peninsula is by ferry, a feature not found in Empire Builder; the latest edition includes the Chunnel, crossing the English Channel under the sea bottom. Perhaps the most significant difference is the train-upgrade scheme in Lunar Rails. Empire Builder and EuroRails use the same four train types - basic, heavy, fast and fast/heavy. Upgrading is one level at a time, $20M per upgrade, and is done instead of drawing more rail. In Lunar Rails, there are 5 levels of trains (8 types), and a single-level upgrade costs $10 Million. Thus, a player may upgrade two levels or one level plus drawing up to $10 Million of rail in a turn.

But, Are They Enjoyable?
In a word, yes. The descriptions above might seem a bit dry, but the concept of the game - gradually building a railroad business by earning and reinvesting money is very interesting. Players are challenged to manage the growth of their rail network, the upgrading their train and an itinerary of pick-ups and deliveries that change with each delivery.

Key elements of strategy include upgrading the player’s train as quickly as practical, efficient network routing and managing their itinerary to maximize money received for distance traveled. An efficient rail network makes necessary and valuable connections with fairly direct routing that takes geographic obstacles into account (drawing directly through mountains may result in greater efficiency and lower cost). Usually, high or medium fee loads yield more money per mileposts traveled, but a player’s network or itinerary, or the stage of the game, may make it more efficient to take the lowest fee load, and get a possibly more rewarding new Demand Card.

While planning skills and geographic knowledge are key skills, Demand Cards and Event Cards add a random factor. A new card is drawn after each delivery - usually a new Demand, but occasionally an Event (or more than one Event!) and then a new Demand. At each delivery, the player (and possibly more than one player, for some Events) has to make choices that may require previously unplanned rail drawing or alter the player’s itinerary. Each new Demand card is a challenge to the player’s mental agility and ability to discern opportunity from disadvantageous temptation. Sometimes a high-paying load fits well with a player’s rail net and planned itinerary. Sometimes a high-paying load works with the rail net, but not the planed itinerary, and has to be put off. Sometimes a high-paying load is not worth the money to build to the commodity source and/or the delivery point (though proximity to major cities and future potential is a consideration). Thus each game challenges a player to develop and adjust their strategy in the face of constantly changing Demands.

How Are the Games Educational?
There are several levels on which this can happen. The most obvious is that the maps – geographic features, political borders and cities - are essentially correct. To some degree the locations of the commodities are as well, though there are some omissions to enhance game play (e.g. cheese is not available in France; no wine in Italy; no oil in California; no silver in Nevada). Thus, one can learn some of the geography of each game’s territory. While the cities and commodities in Lunar Rails are fantasy, the terrain is not.

Some basic practical economic and business concepts are taught. One example would be the need for a business to balance capital improvements and revenue activities. The games also show how businesses have to continually choose among revenue opportunities, and respond to changing marketplace conditions (natural and human-caused). The relationship between providing a service - transporting a commodity - and the fee for the service is built into the game concept, as well as that the value of a commodity and the cost of transporting it increase with the distance between the source and where it is needed. Needless to say, basic Arithmetic is essential.

There are various miscellaneous facts incorporated in the games. The game money features the pictures and names of several US railroad pioneers. Learning who they are is left to the players’ curiosity, however, and US railroad pioneers might seem incongruous used in games focusing on other territories. The Lunar Rails map marks and lists various landing sites of manned and unmanned lunar missions, and many cities are named for historic scientists and philosophers. But again, learning more is left to the curiosity of the players.

Which to Choose
Empire Builder series games are not cheap - $35-$45 USD – and there is some learning curve, so many people are likely to want to buy one to see if they like it. So, which one to start with? A lot depends on the purchaser and what the purchaser wants. Familiar geography may make one game easier to learn than the others. On the other hand, a purchaser might want to learn the geography of an unfamiliar country or continent. The least complicated in the series (and the oldest, though much updated) is Empire Builder itself. As noted above, it has only one type of mountain terrain, and no ferries. Thus, for new players in the US (especially young players), Empire Builder may be the best introduction, for familiar geography and fewer complications. Each purchaser will choose which game suits them best. My family first obtained Empire Builder, EuroRails next, and then Lunar Rails. Currently, I’m considering buying India Rails, because I’m interested in learning about India’s geography.
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Offline SVPete

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Re: Any Crayon Rails Train Games Fans Here?
« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2010, 01:55:49 PM »
CC's board seems not to have blown up ...

My review is probably TMI-grade, but I suppose it would answer your question, rich. I haven't played Railroad Tycoon.
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