Are there any rules variants that I can use to speed up a game of Empire Builder? I love playing Empire Builder, but the fact that it takes so long tends to put off some of my friends.
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One dis-recommendation: don't lower the amount of money for the win condition. The game advances through phases from initial building (limited range) to networking to running those few big deals that are finally possible late in the game. By reducing the win condition you'd be cutting out that last phase and that can be a lot of fun.
I don't think any of these would damage the spirit of the game, unlike, say, removing some calamities from the deck would.
We own several versions and editions of the crayon rail games in my house. In each one that we have, there is a "Variants" section of the rules. One of the variants we always play with is the fast game. It has 5 main effects that I can think of offhand:
Another official variant that can help is the mercy rule. The mercy rule allows you to "borrow" from the bank, but you must repay double the next time you get money. This allows you to spend that extra $10 to build track to get that $55 payoff.
Between those two rules, our games tend to go smoothly and rather fast (usually 1.5 - 2 hours for 2 players, add 30 minutes per extra player).
It seems funny to me that each of the ideas had been mentioned in some fashion in another answer, but nobody mentioned the official variant.
The answer to this depends a lot on why the game is taking you so long to play. We had been suffering from the same problem, and the main reason is because we have one player who is just an incredibly slow thinker. He often took over 15 minutes just to make one move.
Over time, we made a lot of small changes to the game to reduce the amount of information this one player needed to process:
The rule change that ultimately resulted in us significantly speeding up the pace of the game was one I read about in another game forum: "defer all drawing of cards until the end of your turn." That means when you make a delivery, you do NOT immediately replace the card; instead, you continue operating your train, picking up loads, moving it along your track, and even making another delivery if you can. At the end of your movement phase, you execute the second half of your turn, building track or upgrading your train. Then and only then do you draw one or more cards to replace any completed deliveries.
This change has several interesting effects:
Once we implemented this rule change, we easily shaved over half an hour from our game time.
This isn't really a house rule per se, but it's especially helpful in speeding up the game when playing on a new board (or unfamiliar one).
Whenever a new demand card is drawn, read off and find all of the cities as quickly as possible. Everyone "competes" to find and point out each city first. This helps everyone learn the map better, as well as whomever just drew the card evaluate which (if any) demand to attempt to fulfill.
We find the disaster and taxation cards prolong the game unnecessarily. Remove them before play starts.
Untested, but I don't think it would be too disastrous: increase the speed of the trains. Instead of 9 and 12, try 12 and 15.
The idea is that you'll get where you are going in less turns, so your game should take less turns.
Possible problems: You might not be able to build track at the beginning fast enough to keep your train in motion. If a bridge disaster catches you, you'll spend more "movement time" waiting to get to rebuild. And ferries become more costly to use, as the "half movement" penalty is now half of a bigger number.
For a 30min to 1hr game:
1) don't use train cards
2) remove ALL bad cards, just use cargo cards
3) start with $100,000
4) can always borrow any amount, repay double what you borrow, payable anytime before game ends
5) draw $20,000 Per turn, no more, ocean space is $3
6) trains always move (if possible) Up to 20 spaces per turn
7) use 4 cargo cards at a time, can place any 1 cargo on each card .... Can carry cargo not on available on card
8) create 4 draw piles....
9) if u don't like your cards, you must redraw 4 new cards.. ... Put each unused card under the stack you draw a new card from
10) the only cargo cards that are discarded and out of play are the ones you've used (delivered cargo and got paid) - unwanted unused cards get recycled
A solitary version takes 5min to play, above rules but don't use a train marker, draw tracks and collect on a card immediately if you are connected to source and destination.