EB box

Empire Builder
2004 World Boardgaming Championships
at Baltimore, MD - August 3 to 8, 2004

How to attend the WBC and play in the tournament

2004 Tournament Results

by GM Chuck Foster

photos by Steve Okonski

The 2004 Empire Builder tournament was one of my greatest gaming experiences of recent memory. A collection of 64 participants gathered to try their hand at various Empire Builder variants. The choices of variants again seemed popular, and eight different maps were used. Twenty-five opening round games were played during the three heats producing twenty-two different winners. Three second-place finishers rounded out the semi-final field on Friday.

The final field exhibited some of the finest play your GM has witnessed at tournament level. The camaraderie was strong and skill level was high and intense. In the end, Tom Dunning ($254m) won a narrow victory over John Haas ($239m) who led the game from the outset. Mark Kennel ($226m) had a strong finish and garnered third. Donna Balkan ($178m), last yearís champion, took fourth, and Rich Meyer ($172m) rounded out the top five.

2004 finalists
Finalists, front: Rich Meyer and Tom Dunning, back: John Hass, Donna Balkan and Mark Kennel

Tomís victory was well deserved. An unnamed source told me that Tom had made his game group back home play Empire Builder games all year in preparation for the tournament. Going into the final round when victory was imminent, the source said to Tom, ďCan we play some other games next year?Ē

In the beginning, John drew high card and built from Seattle to Portland and on towards Billings. Rich then built from Kansas City towards SW Mexico and Durango. Tom began his line from Chicago to Sudbury, followed by Mark who traveled from New York to Chicago and on to Duluth. Donna, playing last, built from New York to Philadelphia and on to Chicago.

After his first delivery in Seattle, Mark drew wood loads back to Dallas and Okalahoma City for a combined $59m giving him an early lead. Richís first deliveries in Mexico were followed by drawing a coffee load back to Santa Fe. The real crusher came in Rd. 8. After Johnís wood deliveries he drew cotton loads back to Seattle and Portland for $75m. There were a few moans and murmurs, but the strong of heart pressed onward. A key turning point was in Rd. 17 when John rode Richís rails into Vera Cruz to get two coffees but only one was available. He had coffee payouts in Denver and Billings. Tom had an extra coffee on board and a delivery in Kansas City but had waited an extra move before dumping the coffee load. John decided to turn around and go back for the coffee at the expense of a couple of turns.

4-card start Round 18, the standings were John ($83m) with $69m on board and five major cities; Rich ($51m) with $30m on board and five major cities; Tom ($102m) with $51m on board and six major cities; Mark ($37m) with $78m on board and three major cities; and Donna ($21m) with $33m on board and five major cities. In Rd. 19, the major rivers flooded affecting Rich the most by wiping out six of his bridges, for a rebuilding cost of $19m. In Rd. 25, Mark delivered oil to Philadelphia for $22m and cashed in on the $10m fuel bonus. The same turn, an event card derailed John in Raleigh, in which he lost a valuable turn and a load. In Rd. 26, Rich delivered $47m to Juarez (tobacco and wheat). On an interesting note, in Rd. 29, the first tourist load was picked up.

Beginning Rd. 37, John delivered oats and corn to Vancouver for $53m and reached $246m but lacking a good delivery for the win. Rich had $136m, Mark had $109m, Tom had $185m, and Donna $129m. After rebuilding his flooded rivers and building into his next delivery in Regina, John was at $247m. When John reached $247m, Donna began dumping cards, hoping to pick up a sugar load anywhere east as she was sitting in New York. John was on his way south to complete a delivery to Monterey. In Rd. 44, Tom road Richís rails and delivered oil in Tampa for $18m for the win. Mark had a $26m payoff of oil and wheat in Atlanta and an $18m delivery in Buffalo in the last two turns to vault him into third place.

The game clock was again used in the final which kept the game moving. The game lasted three hours and fifteen minutes with a five-minute break. The game clock was stopped on all event cards until resolution was made.

Medals were again given to the top winners in each variant. I would like to thank you all again for your recognition of me last year. Iíve always enjoyed getting people together to play games. It was a delight to watch the superior play of the semi-finalists and finalists this year. My hat is off to you, and a hearty thanks to everyone who competed.

Medals await the winners
Lunar Rails
Lunar Rails, with designer Bob Stribula
the GM
GM Chuck Foster starts the semis
a medal winner
Happy medal winner Lee Presser

2004 Tournament News

as of July 2004

About 75 people are expected to compete in the Empire Builder tournament at the 2004 World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) this summer near Baltimore. You don't need to be an expert player to join the fun. Even if you've never played the game before, you can participate by learning the game at the demo session (details below).

Semi finalists and finalists will vote for or against open contract usage. Chuck Foster is continuing as GM. Timers will be used for both semi-final and final matches. Last year it reduced the final game at least two hours with no apparent added stress or forced play.

Tournament Format

There are three first-round heats; you can play in as many as you like. The top 20 to 25 first-round winners (that's usually everyone who wins in the first round) advance to the semi-finals. The top five semi-finalists advance to the final.

The ideal number of players at each table will vary with the round. For the first-round heats and semis, our target is 4 players, for the final 5.

Each first round heat will feature a particular crayon rails title as the primary game. If you prefer to play a different title (any of British Rails, Australian Rails, India Rails, Nippon Rails, Lunar Rails or Iron Dragon) you must tell the GM when you sign in. Such special requests will be granted if a sufficient number of people want to play that title, provided, of course, enough copies of it are available. The semis will employ Eurorails, and the final Empire Builder with Mexico.

Some alternates may advance to a subsequent round as needed to fill out tables. The top alternates will be the 2nd place players who finished with the most cash.

The primary game for the Tuesday and Thursday heats will be Empire Builder. The primary game for the Wednesday heat will be Eurorails.

Please note the GM may be forced to make changes to this plan should the number of participants vary substantially from that anticipated.


The following is the Empire Builder (EPB) schedule for 2004:

Round 1, Heat 1 Empire Builder Tuesday August 3rd 18:00 to 21:00 Polo
Demo   Tuesday August 3rd 21:00 to 22:00 Cafe Jay
Round 1, Heat 2 Eurorails Wednesday August 4th 10:00 to 13:00 Salon A
Round 1, Heat 3 Empire Builder Thursday August 5th 12:00 to 15:00 Garden
Semi-finals Eurorails Friday August 6th 13:00 to 17:00 Polo
Final Empire Builder Sunday August 8th 09:00 to 13:00 Valley

The exact schedule is determined by the BPA; the durations are estimates.

Extra Prizes

Medals will again be given to the highest money maker in each variant game. In addition we will be awarding other small prizes.

For the purpose of some prizes, please keep track of how many deliveries each player makes. The simplest way to do this is to set aside a card when you make a delivery, then at the end of the game count your cards. If your table exhausts the deck, each player should note his number of deliveries prior to reshuffling, then add that to the count at the end.

Tournament Officials

Chuck Foster is GM. Steve Okonski is an Assistant GM.

Special Tournament Rules

4-card Start: At the start of the match, deal one extra demand card to each player. Immediately before each player builds track for the first time, he must discard one of his four cards to the discard pile.

Open Contracts: Whenever a player discards his hand, the discarded Demand cards are not placed on the discard pile, but are placed on the board. These cards become open contracts available to all players. The first player to deliver a load on an open contract picks the card from the table, discards it, and receives the payoff for the delivery in the usual way. Only four open contracts may be face up on the table at any time; if a player's discard of his hand would result in more than four open contracts, that player decides which of his cards become open contracts and which go to the discard pile.

Mercy: Each player will receive a mercy ticket to be used as a "mulligan" once during a game. Examples of mercy use are; erasing a built line, not picking up a product, not moving the final movements after a payoff, etc. A mercy ticket must be used before the player's next turn and may not alter any subsequent play of other players. Example: If all products have been picked up, a player may not use a mercy ticket to claim a product, "Oh I needed one of those!" Mercy tokens will not be used in the Empire Builder final.

Time Exhausted: For the semi-final and final rounds "Chess clocks" will be used, with each player starting with an hour of time. If a player exhausts the time on his clock, he stops play immediately, and may not take additional turns in the match. Any loads on his train are returned to the supply pile so as to be available to other players. Other players can continue if they have time remaining on their clocks. If all players exhaust their time, the person with the highest cash total wins.

Time Limit (modified): If the GM ends a match before it completes, the round continues until the last player has gone. The winner will be determined by most cash minus $50 for each major city less than the minimum connected.

Equal Turns: After a player declares victory, play continues until the last player has gone. If another player can also declare victory, the player with the most cash wins. If there is a tie, play continues with the cash requirement raised to $300.

Late Payment (modified): Even if he doesn't have the money, at the beginning of his turn, a player may use the track of others and pay the track usage fee from payoffs obtained by delivering loads. Such payments must be made at the end of the turn during which the track was used.

Backtracking: A player may reverse his train's direction on any non-city milepost at a cost of losing 1 full turn. This may not be done at the same time a turn is to be missed for any other reason or if not able to move. The train may move in any direction the next turn.

Dropouts: If a player withdraws from a game, that player's track is kept on the board and any usage fees are paid to the bank. Any player that withdraws from a game may not be allowed to participate in future heats or rounds of the event.

Rules Interpretations

Starting Player: Start with the player that has the highest numbered demand card (not payoff) in the initial draw.

Switchback Start: All matches will use a Switchback Start where the second build round is counterclockwise starting with the last player.

Discard Start: A player may discard demand cards instead of taking one of the initial building turns. As with the initial demands, event cards drawn have no effect and are shuffled back into the deck along with the original load cards. Draw only 3 cards.

Start Anywhere: A player's train may start in any city, even if the player has no track there.

Build-outs: When you are allowed to build, you can build out of any major city at normal cost. The $5 charge applies only if you build into a major city. Note that such build-outs are limited to two per turn.

Speak Up: Count building costs and movement out loud so that the other players can double check.

Dots: When counting distance, start counting with the first milepost away from the indicated place.

Faster Play: To help reduce match duration, players may move their full distance non-stop, even if a load drop off or pickup occurs mid-move. However, if you draw a card that impacts your subsequent movement, before the next player's turn, adjust your engine position to what it would have been had you taken your turn slowly, step-by-step.

Major Cities: Deliveries and load pickups may be done in any part of a major city.

Cash: Players' money is not considered public until an Excess Profits Tax (or similar) card is drawn. This card is then removed from the game. If a game does not include a tax card, money is secret until victory is declared. Cash may not be kept hidden from view of opponents, but may be placed in a single stack in front of the player.

Half Rate: When a train enters (or starts in) a half rate movement area, the remaining movement is halved (rounding up). This applies for the rest of the turn, even if the train exits the area.

Half Rates & Ferries: When crossing a ferry, start counting the half rate movement at the first milepost beyond the ferry milepost across the water.

Lost Turns: If you arrive in a city, but have not yet consumed your full movement that turn, and draw an event card that causes you to lose a turn, you lose both the remainder of the current turn as well as all of the next turn.

Lost Turns do not Accumulate: When your next turn is already lost, another event card cannot cause you to lose additional turns (lost turns do not accumulate). However, an event drawn after your lost turn is over may cause you to lose more than one turn in a row.

Twiddle Thumbs: During a lost turn, a player may not do anything (including exchanging cards). Being prohibited from moving is not the same as a lost turn. If you are only prohibited from moving, you can still build or exchange cards as normal.

City Center: For major cities, use the center milepost as the place indicated, for example, use the center milepost to determine if a major city is affected by an event.

Text vs. Icon: Use the text on demand cards if there is any discrepancy.

Win: After a player announces he has sufficient cash and city service to win, if during the final round that follows such an announcement, an event card is drawn that causes some of the "announced" player's track to be erased (typically, a river flood card) and which consequently severs his track network such that it no longer connects the minimum number of major cities, that event shall not prevent him from being declared winner (provided he indeed has the most cash).

Walls: No "walls" or other obstructive track may be built that would prevent another player from building into any city to which he is otherwise allowed to build to or from.

Disruptive Builds: Players may not build track solely to disrupt another player's track builds. Gaining access to a city/port/etc. or building the best route through an area is not considered solely disruptive - spending extra to block other routes is.

Empire Builder (without Mexico):

  • Start with $40M, 5 of 6 cities required.

Empire Builder (with Mexico):

  • Start with $50M, 6 of 7 major cities required, cannot cross ocean inlets.
  • The Heating Fuel Shortage card stays until a qualifying delivery is made.


  • Start with $50M, 7 of 8 major cities required.
  • The cost of building the ferries to Ireland already includes the cost of building into the Irish cities to which they directly connect.

British Rails:

  • Start with $60M, all 4 major cities required.

Australian Rails:

  • Start with $50M.

India Rails:

  • Start with $50M, all 5 major cities required, cannot cross ocean inlets.
  • The Sri Lanka ferry can be used by three players
  • Note the area where pilgrims are picked up at a small or medium city since they must be dropped of at a major city in a different area.

Lunar Rails:

  • Start with $60 million, 7 of 8 major cities required

Nippon Rails:

  • Start with 50 billion yen, all 4 major cities required.

Iron Dragon:

  • Start with $60M, 7 of 8 major cities required.
  • The Rainbow Bridge cardís effect only lasts until the end of the drawing playerís next turn (can be ended earlier by the Wizards Strike card).
  • You may change foremen anytime during your building phase, but only once per turn.
  • The 20 GP per turn limit includes track building, train upgrades, hiring foremen, and bribes for building (but not for moving).
  • You must have the bribe money in hand to move in the underground.
  • An event that does not allow movement in specific mileposts prevents movement to or from those mileposts.
  • Ports - You may continue moving after drawing a ship at a port and deciding not to board. You may also change direction at a port. You may not attempt to board at the same port more than once on the same turn. At a port in a major city, you may deliver or pick up loads on the turn you disembark.
  • Piggnytz should be a small city.
  • Sandstorms should allow return to the last city or port passed through.
Late Arrivals, Long Games and Byes

Please be on time. Late arrivals may lose their right to participate in that heat or round, and will be accommodated only to facilitate the filling of a table to the desired number of players. A player is considered late if he has not submitted his badge to the GM for the round signup when the GM has finished badge processing for all the players already present and waiting to start.

Due to time conflicts with other games, it is likely one or more semi-final and final slots will be unclaimed. Thus, even if you did not win during the prior round, you should check in because you might advance. If, after 15 minutes past the scheduled start time of the round, there still remain unclaimed slots, these slots will be offered to physically present players in order of EPB AREA rank.

Prior Champions

2003 Donna Balkan
2002 Jim Yerkey
2001 Jim Yerkey
2000 Bill Navolis
1999 Steve Okonski full 1999 tournament story


WBC and BPA Web site - See the event schedule
Rail Baron Tournament at WBC - Compete in this train game too
Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association - Things to do besides boardgaming
Marriott Hunt Valley Inn - Reservations and Directions

Empire Builder is a trademark of Mayfair Games.