Empire Builder (board game)

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Empire Builder
Players 2–6
Setup time 5 minutes
Playing time 60–240 minutes
Random chance Low
Skill(s) required Resource Allocation

Empire Builder is a railroad board game centered on the construction of railroad track, and then the delivery of goods along those railroad tracks. The original Empire Builder game is set in North America, but the line has expanded to include games set across the world, on the moon and in a fantasy land. They are collectively called "the Empire Builder series".

History and spin offs[edit]

Empire Builder was designed by Bill Fawcett and Darwin Bromley and originally released in 1982 by Mayfair Games. A number of spin off games have also been released.

  • Empire Builder (1982) is the original game set in North America. Originally this contained the United States and a sliver of southern Canada. The fourth edition of the game added Mexico (from North American Rails) and updated the demand cards as well as some of the geography.
  • British Rails (1984) allows players to build track in England, Scotland, and Wales. It was originally released in a box similar to the original Empire Builder. It was later released as a tube game and in 2002 as a re-released 3rd boxed edition with updated demand cards.
  • Eurorails (1990) is set in Europe. It has one of the largest maps in the series and introduced ferries to the game. Mayfair released the 4th edition in 2009.
  • Agent of Change (1991), also known as West Virginia Rails, was published as a limited edition game to accompany the Huntington, WV Museum of Art's exhibition, "Agent of Change: The Railroad in West Virginia". This game is no longer available.
  • Nippon Rails (1992) is set in Japan and was originally released in a 'tube' edition. The narrow, constrained, mountainous geography of the islands poses a challenge. A boxed 2nd edition was released in 2011.
  • Uncle Happy's Train Game (1993) is a simplified version of Empire Builder for children. Instead of building a rail network, players are now connecting the states. This game is no longer available.
  • North American Rails (1993?) was released as a tube game and added Mexico to the standard Empire Builder map. In addition, additional space in Canada was included, which didn't impact play.
  • Australian Rails (1994) was originally released in a tube edition. It was re-released in 2005 in a boxed edition with an updated set of demand cards.
  • Iron Dragon (1994) features a design by Tom Wham in a fantasy world. In addition to having the largest map in the series, several new elements are introduced in this game: foremen, ships, the underground, additional terrain types, and more levels of engine upgrades. In 2004, at the Origins Game Fair, Tom Wham sold a self-published expansion to this game which updated the ships and trains. In addition, this expansion introduced mercenaries and allowed fighting among players. This game has also been produced as a computer game.
  • India Rails (1999) introduced pilgrims as a method to obtain extra funds.
  • Lunar Rails (2003) is set in the future on the moon. The terrain and place names are accurate and based on current information. The game allows players to build on both sides of the moon using a wrap-around system. The terrain features a large number of mountain mileposts.
  • Russian Rails (2004) is set in two eras, before and after the fall of Communism. The rules of the game change when the Fall of Communism card is drawn, reflecting the economics changes this event brought.
  • China Rails (2006) introduced container ferries. There are several very long, profitable load delivery runs, but they risk interruption by the Party Congress event.
  • Martian Rails (2009) was released in August 2009 at the World Boardgaming Convention. It is set on the Mars of science fiction stories created over more than a century.

Most of the titles of the series are available in the Mayfair-authorized computer game named Empire Builder Pronto (formerly EB Player).


The gameplay in Empire Builder begins on a map of North America. A triangular grid of "mileposts" is printed on the map. Most of these points are clear, which are the cheapest to build across. However, mountains and other obstacles such as rivers can increase the cost of building.

Each player draws three demand cards, each of which lists three different commodities desired by three different cities and also lists a value for each. From this initial array of nine different demands a player begins to plot out an initial route which will let him pick up and deliver desired commodities. The game begins with each player spending two turns laying out initial track connecting up cities. He then places his train on one of the cities.

On a typical turn a player will move his train along his track, possibly picking up and delivering goods from cities. When he delivers a good required by a demand card he receives a cash payout and then draws a new demand. (Some of the cards in the draw stack feature events which can cause trouble for players.) After moving his train and possibly making deliveries, the player is able to build new track, up to $20 million worth per turn.

A player eventually wins the game by connecting together six of the seven major cities on the map and getting $250 million.


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