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Most humans are guilty of being at least a little superficial.  Our initial reactions to pretty things are usually favorable.  Test after test have shown that corporate hiring managers will lean toward an attractive candidate over a less than attractive candidate even though the less than attractive candidate was slightly more qualified.  More attractive, “slick” politicians more often than not win over more qualified less than attractive opponents.  When my wife and I go into Wal Mart, we head our separate ways to get supplies and cut down on the time spent there.  While picking up my products, almost every time I will walk into an aisle with a young mother with a child in it, the mother takes one look at me and takes her child’s hand and leaves the aisle (the unattractive aspect of my appearance).  When I finally find my wife, she is usually “holding court” with two or three other people, chatting away….about half of the time she doesn’t even know who she is talking to (the attractive aspect of her appearance).   I am guilty of being superficial also, especially when it comes to games.  Stone Age, Mice and Mystics, Dungeon Command, and any game by Fantasy Flight Games makes me drool.  I just want to dive in give ’em a go!  Less attractive games, and boxes, usually get shoved to the back of the playlist.  Fellow gamers, if you are guilty of this, you must resist this superficial urge!!

About three months ago, Jason and I were getting ready to jump into another game night.  Usually, the conversation goes something like: “What would you like to play Jeff?”  “I don’t care, I’ll play anything.”  But not this night.  He brought over a red and blue box with a locomotive on it and said “This is Empire Express, I played in a demo game at the Alliance Open House earlier this year, I think you’ll like it.”  He proceded to pull the cellophane off the ho hum looking box.  He opened up the box, and pulled out a very bland, jigsaw puzzle board, some not too exciting, kinda tan colored cards, paper money (which I am not a fan of at all) and some crayons.  I thought to myself, “Self, you are not going to like this game, its not pretty, and I gave up coloring a couple of years ago.”  Jason began explaining to me that this was a newly released, introductory version of a popular line of games beginning with Empire Builder, also know as the “crayon rails” games line by Mayfair Games, the people who bring us Settlers of Catan.  “I like Settlers of Catan, and it is my wife’s favorite, so I’ll give it a shot.”  “Plus, I did say I’d play anything.”  So we got right into the game, with Jason doing is usual exceptional job of explaining the rules.

About an hour later, after I got trounced by Jason, I asked him if he had a copy for sale, and picked it up.  This game is a gem!  The game components are vanilla at best as I already described.  But I really like the game play.  It is not a deep game, with lot of nuances, strategy and tactics, but you do have decisions to make on almost every turn that will effect the outcome of the game.  “Do I build that line from Indianapolis to Chicago for $27 million, or do I draw a different delivery cards?”

There are basically two aspects to the game, building track and delivering products from a production town to a delivery town.  When you complete a delivery order, you get money.  When you build track, it costs you money.  If you run on another players track to deliver or pick up products , you pay them cash, or they pay you cash if they run on your track.  The first player to amass a fortune of $150 million wins the game.  Basically, the game mimics the business adage, you have to spend money to make money.  So, as stated above, do I build more track, thereby reducing my fortune, to make more money delivering goods, or do I look for different delivery cards?  There is some randomness in the card draw, (delivery tickets) and there are several random event cards that effect players if their train is in a certain location, but I think it is the right amount.  The only down side to play is that there is not much interaction among players, you do your own thing for the most part.

The game has rules for the regular version and the starter version.  The starter version has a set of four pre drawn routes that players begin with, along with predetermined delivery tickets that ensure you start making cash right away.  It took Jason and I about an hour to play the game for the first time, but I could see this game taking about 15-20 minutes per player once everyone know the rules.  Starter game can play up to four players, standard game (in which you start out with no track, and $60 million in cash) plays up to six players.  The game scales well, I have played with 2, 3, 4, and 5 players, and the mechanics and flavor work well at all 4 levels.

As I said, this game is a gem!  I have it in my top ten games, rating it an 8 out of 10. While it is not as pretty, deep, or elegant as other games, it does what it does very well.  Empire Express is easy to teach and easy to grasp.  My son’s girlfriend Alia claims it as her favorite game.  I have taught it to 5 others so far, and all have given Empire Express a thumbs up.  As I stated earlier, there are several games in the “Crayon Rails” line, and I intend to buy at least 3 others in the next few months, Empire Builder, Lunar Rails, and Martian Rails.  Empire Builder is the expanded version of Empire Express and is the game that started the line of games, Lunar and Martian Rails being based on the Moon and Mars.

So fellow gamers, I highly recommend Empire Express. And strongly urge you to give each game a chance, don’t make the mistake of overlooking a great game based on its components.

Next times topic, “Get ’em while they are young”


Great gaming gang!


PS – I still have a  brand spankin’ new copy of Zombie Dice to give away to the next person to say great gaming gang to me.


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