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Empire Builder
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Store:  Strategy Games
Edition:  Empire Builder
Series:  Empire Builder
Theme:  Train
Genre:  Rail & Network
Format:  Board Games

Empire Builder

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Ages Play Time Players
10+ 180-240 minutes 2-6

Designer(s): Bill Fawcett, Darwin Bromley, Peter Bromley

Manufacturer(s): Mayfair Games

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Product Description

Rediscover a modern American classic that celebrates one of America's greatest loves: railroads. Use your initial investment to build track, pick up commodities where they are grown, mined, or manufactured and deliver them where there's a demand. When you complete a delivery, you make the money you need to buy larger, faster trains and expand your railroad empire. Win the game by building the most effective railroad empire!

With over a million variations, Empire Builder never grows old. Capure the entrepreneurial spirit of America and learn to build an empire.

Whether you share Empire Builder as an evening with friends or as a rainy day activity with your family, you'll always find it entertaining!

After enjoying this game, you can discover one of the sequels, including the award-winning Eurorails and Australian Rails.

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Bill Fawcett, Darwin Bromley, Peter Bromley

  • Manufacturer(s): Mayfair Games

  • Year: 2004

  • Players: 2 - 6

  • Time: 180 - 240 minutes

  • Ages: 10 and up

  • Est. time to learn: 30+ minutes

  • Weight: 1,298 grams

  • Language Requirements: This is a domestic item. Game components are printed in English. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English.


  • 1 puzzle-cut gameboard
  • 95 load chips
  • 1 sheet of load labels
  • 2 decks of cards:
    • 136 demand cards
    • 20 event cards
    • 12 double-sided locomotive cards
  • 6 wipe-off crayons
  • 6 pawns
  • 1 pack of money
  • 1 rulebook

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.2 in 15 reviews

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by foil_lone_wolf
Top game in my collection
December 01, 2007

Empire Builder was one of the first Eurogames I was introduced to. I have played 100s since but Empire Builder is still the first one I turn to when I want some fun. It has enough luck to make it exciting and enough strategy to make it challenging.

My wife and I both love this game. On occasion, when we've played it too recently we turn to one of the related games. We own Euro Rails, British Rails, Australian Rails, Russian Rails, Lunar Rails, Iron Dragon, and the new version of Empire Builder with Mexico.

I recommend to try this game to everyone that wants to find fun and strategy. The light strategy, makes for a level of game available to everyone.

Empire Builder series excellent for two players
December 17, 2005
An excellent series of games - I play with 4 or 5 with my brother- in-law and his sons and also with just my wife as a 2 person game. It is also not bad just as solitaire - play 2 or 3 different "players" and see how well you can manage each players' challenges.

The two person or "honeymoon" rules for this game series are excellent. The two major differences:
- Only one person may build into the smallest cities
- One of each of the commodity chips is removed - for many commodities this leaves only 2.
These two rules add more potential conflicts between the two players.

Although the game does take a while to play (2-4 hours), we find that the somewhat "solitaire" nature of the game makes it easy to "walk away" for a while. In fact, when my wife and I play, we often get the initial rail building done, take a few turns and then go do chores around the house while we are playing additional turns - we use a marker to indicate whose turn it is.

If one of us has a long pick-up delivery that looks to have little potential conflict with the other player, we may just leave instructions for the other player like: "to SF (San Francisco), pick up 2 sugar, to KC (Kansas City)". The other player executes these turns while taking their turns.

We have also used this method with the 4 or 5 person game - we'll play for a while then go play in the pool - play some turns as we dry off, play some turns while we are each fixing our lunch, etc. The game stays out all day but we only spend a few hours actually playing it and probably only an hour or so with everyone actually at the same table.

If you really want an intense session of empire builder series games - try playing two at once, different versions like Russian and Austrailian. It won't take much longer than a single game and will really test your ability to switch gears in a hurry (this will also dramatically show who is the slowest player) - ... or try a speed game - maximum of 30-90 seconds for a turn - no "banking" of unused time.

All the alternate rules are worth trying and change the game significantly: fast movement, open contracts, warehousing are all interesting.

I have played original Empire Builder, new edition Empire Builder (with Mexico), Austrailian Rails, Eurorails, British Rails, India Rails, and Russian Rails. The new Edition Empire Builder is probably the best, the Russian and Austrailian seem to be the most "challenge" (tough to get high payouts), but they are all very good - British is probably best for 2 or 3 as there is a key corridor up the middle that you almost MUST have to win, India seems to be the fastest.

Other comments:
- Definitely get a piece of plexiglass to cover and protect the game board and use dry-erase markers on the plexiglass
- I also have use a piece of foam board under the game so I can move it easily - thin plywood would also work - I put on raised edges so the game board and plexiglass fit tightly into one corner.

Board Preservation
December 04, 2002

This is for those of you who have and play the game often...I don't know if anyone else does this, but our family bought a piece of plexiglass for $5 that fits the board and use the wet erase vis-a-vis markers to draw track and not the crayons provided. We played with crayons for a while, but it gets to be a hassle and the plexiglass keeps the game lasting much, much longer. Hope it helps.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
My Favorite Game of All Time
October 05, 2002

Empire Builder is my favorite game of all time. I've probably played the game over 400 times, and the excitement hasn't worn off. There is just so much to consider, and each game is full of delicious decisions. Among good players, the outcome is often in doubt till the game is nearly over. We have about 800 games in our collection as this is being written, and Empire Builder is the very best of the bunch. CHOO CHOO!

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
A must to have...
May 08, 2002

Buy any game from the Empire Builder series and you will have happy guests. We play a game every weeks and I can tell you that this is the overall favorite game.

We have tried India Rail, Euro Rail, Japan Rail and Empire Builder.

Japan Rail is more suited for 2 or 3 players.

Have fun!

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
by Tom K
Easy To Learn And Fun To Play
August 23, 2001

Having played the original Empire Builder for quite a few years now, I was excited to own the newest version. It took only one game before my wife was comfortable with the way the game is played.

The game itself is a breeze to learn and requires thoughtful planning in each game you play. No two games will play alike and no two strategies will work the same. Take time to read the rules section which deals with optional variations in play because there are many good ideas for enhancing the game. The Circus is my personal favorite. Mexico is a great addition as well.

Relax, have some fun, and build your brains out.

And one hint: the game tells you not to use Dry Erase Markers, but my friends have for years and never had a problem. They are easy to use and clean up. We sample them first and erase everything when the game is over. Do this at your own risk, but it does work for me.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
For a quicker version...
December 09, 2006

This is one of our favorite games. However, one of the sticking points for this game (as mentioned below) is the multiple hours it takes. By combining some of the suggestions in the rule book with some ideas of our own, my wife and I have played numerous 1.5-ish hour games (perfect for an evening after the kids are in bed) that keeps the flavor of the original.

#1 - The most significant time saver is actually to deal each player 4 cards instead of 3. You don't get "stuck" as often having to build somewhere you don't really want to. I also adds to the enjoyment of "serious" route-planning.

#2 - Use the "fast" train option--slow trains are 12, fast trains are 16.

#3 - Start with $50,000. It lets you start a good route without running out of money.

#4 - Decide where victory is. We almost always play to $200,000. Less doesn't let the game develop. For a little longer game, we go to $250,000

Great solitaire game with friends
July 18, 2003

I agree with all the stuff below. However, we finish a 4 player game in around 2-2.25 hours. Even with the randomness of the delivery cards, this game has as little luck most games we play. It is really about efficient track and delivery decisions.. and when to punt.

We also play Euro, India, Nippon, North America, Brit, and Iron Dragon... each has varying playing times..with Iron Dragon being the longest.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
An excellent railroad game for everyone.
August 24, 2002

I have to agree with other reviews here that the crayon rails like Empire Builder are a vast improvement over Rail Baron (which I have also reviewed). Empire Builder draws the best comparison to Rail Baron because they both cover roughly the same scope of geography (Empire Builder includes northern Mexico, though).

To be sure, that isn't a great deal of player interaction, as each player plots his/her moves and rail line construction based on the destinations on the cards. However, since small and medium cities can only have a maximum number of lines connecting them (2 and 3, respectively), there are opportunities to deny connections to other players. So, play interaction is not much better than Rail Baron.

The game is also long, usually 3-4 hours. Considering that both games take about the same amount of time to play, Empire Builder is the best value for your investment.

Since there are no dice-rolls in Empire Builder, players do have more control over their strategy.

Overall, our group finds Empire Builder to be very enjoyable despite its length.

For these reasons, I give the game 4-stars (5-stars is you love railroading).

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
Rail Baron Deluxe
March 26, 2002

This is good stuff. Add one star to the review if you are a Rail Baron fan.

The game fixes some problems that Rail Baron had, such as play time, the game is much faster (especially with the rule modifiers) I love the crayons, as it creates a unique play experience everytime you play.

The game never seems to work up to a crescendo.. there is no end game as there is in Rail Baron (10000 rails) the game plods along until the winner is decided.. this is not necessarily a bad thing.. although without the end game change.. there is a bit of a Kingmaker syndrome, you are not going to catch the leader with an end game strategy.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
by Ed
Great Game With Strong Educational Aspect
April 08, 2001

I played the older version some 10 years ago and found and liked:

  • The educational aspect of the game. We (and now my kid) learnt very quickly about the various states in US and what they produce.
  • The race to build tracks to cities where you have contracts on hand.
  • The feeling of pioneering railroad where none has previously been laid.

I suppose the only thing that some players found on the downside was that it could take quite long to complete a game.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
The Best One to Start With
January 05, 2000

The story goes that Empire Builder was designed after Darwin Bromley had a disastrous run of bad die rolls in a game of Rail Baron and decided to make a train game without dice. I first played Empire Builder about 20 years ago. Judging from the review below, with coffee to Seattle, it's been modified to include Mexico and is probably a lot like North American Rails (if not identical now).

This is probably the easiest of the [page scan/se=0197/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Empire Builder family to play since it has the least terrain to worry about. And, for US players anyway, takes much less time to learn where the cities and commodities are, since you kind of know already.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
Who Has The Time?
March 03, 2002

There was once a time 12+ years ago that my fellow gamers and I would have played a game like this(or some war game) into the wee hours of the night.Now we are mostly all married with children(wasn't that a show?)and do not have the 4-5hrs it requires to complete this good game(and thats with the shorter game variants). Even though I agree with most all the previous reviews about this game, the bottom line is it just takes too much time and dedication. I have found that for less time and more enjoyment playing a new discovery; Prairie Railroads Kansas, which both my 'old gamers' and my 12 & 8 year olds agree to be superior. Although the bang for your buck falls short.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
This is an outstanding game from an educational standpoint.
December 27, 1999

As a parent of two daughters, I genuinely appreciated the learning skills involved in this game. We made some adjustments, or 'House Rules' to make the game move a bit faster, however, the instructions clearly address a shorter version. The accuracy of this game is indeed authentic, meaning that the cities actually produce the products indicated, and the geographical topography is also appropriately accurate. I felt that the competitive value of this game was far less than the learning capabilities, and because of the lack of interaction between the players, I deducted a point. The second point that I felt needed to be deducted concerned excitement. The element of achievement and competitiveness is virtually lost by the length of the game. However, the fact that my daughters want to play this game over and over on a consistent basis makes it an absolutely invaluable addition to our collection of games.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
Transport yourself to the rail era
November 14, 1999

In Empire Builder, you are a wealthy rail baron poised to build a great rail network across North America, and make your fortune moving goods from one part of the continent to another. Empire Builder is the flagship of Mayfair's so-called [page scan/se=0197/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]'crayon' railway games, and spawned many sequels (notably Eurorails and Iron Dragon) and a second edition of itself (which is supposed to be significantly better than the first edition).

The board shows North America from Mexico to southern Canada, covered with a hexagonally-repeating grid of dots - called mileposts - each of which represents the terrain at that point, be it flat or mountainous. There are also cities in three different sizes. Many of the cities produce resources such as wheat or cars or fish; there are about thirty different products, and each is available from certain cities.

Naturally, the cities that don't have certain resources are going to want them, and they will pay money to whoever gets the product to them. For items that have to be carted a long way, the reward is very great indeed. It is your job to make these deliveries with your single train.

A deck of demand cards dictates which cities are in need of which product at any time; players each keep three such cards at all times. The demand cards also state what payout is given once the required resource is delivered. With your initial $50 million, you need to build enough rail to be able to take your train to a city producing a resource, and drop the resource at the city requiring it. Track is built by drawing on the coated mapboard with the supplied crayons (it wipes off beautifully with a tissue). Building tracks over rivers or through mountains is more costly than over flat ground, so be sure to watch your money. Once you've built the track, you move your single train along the track to pick up the goods, then along the track some more to drop them off at the city that needs them. This will in turn earn you more money, which you can use to build more rail to fulfill other demands, such as the new card that replaced the demand you just fulfilled.

And so the game goes, moving and building, until one player has accumulated more than $250 million and connected all but one of the major cities together by track, at which point the game is over. Along the way you can upgrade your train - which at first can only carry two loads and move nine mileposts per turn - for speed or extra capacity, and later for the other so that after two upgrades your train can carry three loads at twelve mileposts per turn.

Some of the cards in the demand card deck are event cards, which usually spell disaster for someone, such as causing floods in certain rivers (wiping out bridges over them) or rail strikes; occasionally one will reveal a bonus for special deliveries. This adds a little uncertainty to the game and means that you can't plan perfectly. It's always best to keep a little money in case a flood strands you without enough cash to rebuild an essential washed-away bridge.

Empire Builder really starts to move at quite a pace once players have built a fair bit of rail, since it's then down to moving the trains and collecting or unloading goods. A two-player game takes about two hours, proportionately longer with more players. There isn't a great deal of player interaction in Empire Builder, unless you count the ability to rent other players' tracks or vying for the best path for a track through the mountains. Instead it becomes quite a free-for-all as each player tries to land payoffs for demands as fast as possible. The demands range from single-figures for carrying, say, fish to New York, to a massive $55 million for bringing coffee to Seattle (we call this demand card the Starbucks card). Although the game tends to be on the long side, I have never found it to be boring.

Empire Builder is one of the simpler rail-building games out there in terms of resource-management and planning. Still, connecting that last spike on your transcontinental route will really make you feel like a pioneer. And if you like Empire Builder, there are plenty more games just like it.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.

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