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.

  • Do you have this problem with other members of the crayon-rail-game family too, or is it just this one? Jul 29, 2011 at 16:40
  • @Monica Cellio, while i have Eurorails at home as well this is the only one we've played.
    – DForck42
    Jul 29, 2011 at 17:43
  • Questions about house rules should be based on experience rather than speculation and should ask for the same per this meta question, otherwise they tend to end up as discussion questions. Aug 4, 2011 at 20:19

9 Answers 9


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.

Tested recommendations:

  • Setup: alphabetize the goods if you haven't already so "banking" is fast. This is huge, as otherwise looking through a bunch of different goods with tiny pictures is a pain.

  • Check BoardGameGeek for player aids. It can be hard to study the map to plan your move without getting in the way of the active player, but a copy of the map can help (not so much with detailed track planning, but with "where the heck is $city on this map?" planning. Granted that should be less of a problem on a map of one's own country, but it still helps.) Similarly, make sure everybody has the "where does this good come from?" card for planning.

  • Increase starting money by 20 and add one more round of initial building. I've tried this a few times with Iron Dragon with experienced players. The effect was to increase the value of those first early runs, thus jump-starting track building. It didn't make a huge difference in elapsed time (maybe 10%), but it did cut down on the early feelings of angst and futility that can come with unfortunate cards.)

Untested ideas:

  • Allow each player some small number of "I hate this card" redraws, without the cost of a full-round flush. I would limit this to the early stages of the game -- maybe up to three uses while your money remains under 100. The idea is to soften those "aw, crap, I guess I could go there for 10" runs that don't really help you except to flush the card.

  • If time is being lost because inexperienced players can't plan their turns in advance, consider some scheme for parallel turns. Play is largely non-interactive, after all. Maybe a player and the one opposite him at the table can go at the same time so long as they aren't competing for the same pip, goods token, etc? (If so, turn order wins.)

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:

  • Increases starting cash by $20
  • Adds one additional pre-movement turn
  • Gives you 5 initial demand cards, and you must discard 2 after the third building turn
  • Increases the speed of the trains (9 to 12, 12 to 16, half 6 and 8 respectively)
  • Nullifies the "Rail Tax" card

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:

  • we use fast trains (they move 12 and 16 instead of 9 and 12).
  • we use the fast ferry option.
  • we use card racks (similar to the tile racks you use in Scrabble) so that players cannot see each other's cards. This way, Slowpoke doesn't waste time looking at anything but his own cards.
  • we used to play with a three-card "clearinghouse" -- that's what we called the publicly shared contracts that players could complete. Originally, we had an optional rule that you could spend the second half of your turn trading one of your cards for one from the clearinghouse. We dropped that rule so that Slowpoke couldn't spend time staring at the options in the clearinghouse, and replaced it with a rule where you could trade out an unwanted card for the top card of the deck, sight unseen.

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:

  • on the down side, you can't plan your train movement, your load selection, and your building based on what new card you draw until your next turn.
  • on the plus side, the thing that takes the most time in the game is looking at one or more new cards -- and since this is now the last thing that happens on your turn, you do this during the next player's turn, not during your own turn. The game marches on while you examine your new cards.
  • also on the plus side: if you draw any event cards, you reconcile them as usual. However, if an event causes you to lose a turn, you only lose your next turn. You don't lose "the remainder of this turn" in addition to your next turn. This seems a little more fair.

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.

  • I don't understand the ferry point. You still get to move farther than you would have; yes it's half-cost, but it's half of a bigger number. With a smaller train your move would have ended before you got that far. Nov 30, 2011 at 16:00
  • I was thinking about the fact that when you move into the ferry post, you forfeit your remaining move points (which will be a bigger number).
    – Bill Nace
    Nov 30, 2011 at 20:19
  • 12 and 16 works better -- keeps the benefit of the train upgrade the same (+33%)
    – Chris Dodd
    Nov 30, 2011 at 23:14

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.


The rules that our group currently use are as follows:

  1. You start building from a major city (like before). In subsequent build turns you build from existing track. Yes, you pay the 5M to enter a new major city. Each player starts with 5 contract cards and picks their favorite 3. After this, each player holds 3 contract cards.
  2. At the start, your current train can deliver one contract per turn.
  3. When you connect a source with a destination, you are able to collect your money.
  4. During your build phase, you can either build track or upgrade your train for a cost of 20M. If you upgrade your train, you can now deliver 2 contracts per turn instead of one. You can upgrade your train to be able to deliver all three contracts.
  5. Remove all event cards (if desired). If you keep the event cards, then derailments prevent deliveries or pickups from the cities listed.
  6. If you run on another players track, you pay this player 1M per 2 dots on their track round up. If you do, this counts towards the 20M limit for building. I.E. you cannot ride on another's track and upgrade your train in the same turn.
  7. Play ends at 500M instead of 250M. You still need the cities. Each player gets to finish out their last turn. This gives the last player a chance to catch up (and sometimes win).

Build First, then Move train

This can speed up a game a decent amount, for several reasons.

  • Theoretically you've spent the whole round thinking about where to build, so when it comes to your turn you're ready.
  • Since you build before moving, any new loads you get after making deliveries you'll can think about between turns instead of them changing your plans.
  • You can move your train right up to the end of the track much more safely leading to less wasted movement.

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