Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Nolan’s Batman… we all love trilogies; so today I will complete my Empire Trilogy, and like all good trilogies; a future prequel could always happen that ruins everything…
*Note: I recommend reading the Empire Builder review before continuing if you haven’t done so already.
Friday we looked at Empire Builder, Mayfair’s 1982 foray into the world of the Crayon Rail System. Monday we followed that up with a look at the mechanic of the Crayon Rail System. Today we will complete our trilogy with a look at British Rails and a summary of Mayfair’s interpretation of the Crayon Rail mechanic.
Designer: Jim Griffin, Elaine Henninger, Joe Roznai, Barb Roznai
EPT: 180 minutes
British rails plays much like Empire Builder as it was built along the same skeleton. I mentioned in my review of Empire Builder that the game has been adapted with new maps in various regions; players can thus alter their maps to get a new game experience without the need of learning an entirely new rule set. Along with the map alterations the goods available will change as will the contracts on the demand cards. The events will change as well so disasters and benefits will be more representative of the regional geography.
In British Rails players have the goal of accumulating the most successful rail network as judged by the success of the money coming in from the completed contracts. The first player to end their turn with 250 million pounds is declared the victor. Players can, if they desire, add the win condition of connecting a certain number of cities, there are fewer cities in British Rails than are in Empire Builder thus making the task simpler in theory, the competitive draw plus the smaller real estate makes the task still a tricky one.
The map for British Rails composes England, Wales, and Southern Scottland and comes printed on puzzle like pieces making the assembled board lie completely flat without dips and creases where a normal board would fold. The board is coated in a manner that it can be drawn upon with crayon and easily wiped off.
Rules of play are the same as they are in the other games within the Empire catalog; players build track by connecting the dots via drawn lines. Track cost escalates and declines based upon the terrain being built upon with level terrain costing 1 million pounds, mountains 2, crossing rivers costs an additional 2 million pounds while crossing oceanic coasts costs 3 million. Players begin their turn running their trains so as to complete contracts before they then proceed to build new track or buying train improvements. Players will also begin the game with 2 rounds of building before the standard turn order begins; both the pre-operation phase as well as standard building phase comes with a 20 million pounds per turn spending limit. If you have not yet read the Empire Builder review you can do so for more information on the rules of play as these games follow the same mechanical elements; and for the sake of time and space we shall avoid what need not repeating.
I first played British Rails while on vacation; I was in a game store and saw the game lined up next to the other games in the Empire series and elected British Rails as I loved the other game’s in the series I had played and thought it would be fun to try the mechanics in Britain. That night I took the game out and taught it to my brother and father and quickly remembered how long the game took for first time playthroughs, escalated by an unknown geography. By the end of the game, however, I was aware of the approximate distance of Dundee to Glasgow as well as the mountainous terrain between the two. I had learned that while Lancaster was a good source of pork which Newcastle desired I would have to take a very long out of the way route if I desired to build off my existing track and avoid costly new rails.
The first game was rough; I found other anglophiles, however, who were willing to sit down and enjoy a few games and we enjoyed it greatly. I have yet to induct Sean into the Crayon Rail system yet but I hope to do so soon enough. The game comes with a few recommended variants as well as rules to expedite play. In reality if all players are familiar with the board geography the play time reduces greatly. Additional time can be cut with some fun ‘quick play’ variants that were common among my friends and I such as; starting with 1 train upgrade of your choice, starting with 80 million pounds as opposed to 60 million, allow a hand of 4 contracts as opposed to 3, and a final variant that we discussed but never tried; a side set of open contracts. The open contracts would be laid next to the board and be open to anyone; once completed they would pay out, be discarded, and immediately replaced. This would open the door to more options for increased profits while also adding another level of competitiveness.
The series in general is fantastic and adaptable. Once you own any of the base games you can easily pick up and play any of the other games in the series; much like the way collectable card games, once learned, can be played with any expansions with minimal alteration, or the way monopoly has a billion rendition; all of which play the same. Unlike monopoly or CCGs, however, the system Mayfair developed changes greatly just by altering the map! So what is next?
Mayfair has released a fair number of game’s in this series; most recently Empire Express which takes Empire Builder and limits the game to the North Eastern United States. I have yet to get this to the table though I hope to do so soon; perhaps in a video review… The game boasts half the playtime of its predecessor but comes with all the fun; how could you turn that down?!
I would love to see Mayfair come out with a big-box; an ‘Empire Overview’, which could contain all the maps from the games so far in the series. The tokens, money, and crayons/markers being usable across all the maps it would be a great way for lovers of the series to experience the mechanic across all the geographies available.
Back to British Rails. The way it teaches the geography is marvelous though frustrating to new players. Gamers who want their games to provide a learning experience, however, will enjoy that aspect while those who want to relax and just enjoy themselves may come away with a sour taste in their mouth. This is true off all the games in the series featuring maps in regions other than your own.
As it plays I give British Rails a 7 out of 10; slightly lower than the original but still a fantastic game to play.
Visuals – 1.5 // 2
Skill/Luck – .75 // 1
Pacing – 1 // 2
Theme/Immersion – 1.5 // 2
Mechanics – .75 // 1
Fun Factor 1.5 // 2
Tomorrow we take a break from the usual Wednesday dedicated to looking at worker placement games to look at a game now on Kickstarter; Hitman Holiday. Until then you can find us on social media;