A variation on British Rails (Empire Builder)

British Rails is a railroad building board game published by Mayfair. It’s sort of like the old PC games Railroad Tycoon or Transport Tycoon, except played at a slightly slower pace and, well, on a board. A lot of the early supply/demand video games were inspired by board games like this one. In British Rails you draw on the game board with a crayon for where you want your railroads to go, and move a little marker around that represents your train. You pick up supplies and drop them off at different cities according to the demand cards you’re dealt.

My wife and I love to play British Rails every now and then, and we recently came up with a variation on it that I thought was worth sharing. In our variation we simulate the railroading experience at a much higher level. There are no trains–just railroads and demand cards. Demand cards are also shared, which forces players to compete directly for supply lines. You earn money by connecting up supply cities with the current demands.

This variation would work in any of the games in the Empire Builder series, not just British Rails: India Rails, Australia Rails, Eurorails, etc..


* A copy of British Rails 🙂
* A 6-sided die
* A unique set of tokens for each player: pennies, nickels, etc. would work

Game set up:

1. Deal out three demand cards to each player
2. Deal out three demand cards face up — these are the community cards
3. Give each player $60 and a crayon

The game is played in turns going clockwise from player to player. Each turn consists of:

1. Roll the dice and collect money for a connected routes (up to 1 route may be collected on per turn)
2. Build (up to $20 per turn)
3. Draw cards (so you have 3 cards in your hand)

Game end:

The first player to reach $250 wins.

ROLL AND COLLECT: In step 1, you roll a 6-sided die. If a 1 or 2 is rolled, the top row on the community cards is “active”. For a 3 or 4 => the middle row, for a 5 or 6 => the bottom row. If you have a railroad connecting a demand on the community cards that is active to a city that supplies that demand, you collect that amount. For example, if Coventry needs Hops for $9 (and it’s active), and you have a railroad connecting Hereford and Coventry, you get $9. You may only collect on one demand per turn. When you collect on a demand place one of your tokens on top of that demand.

Once a token has been placed on top of a demand, only that player may claim that demand. (There are three demands per card however, so other players can still claim those).

If there’s nothing in the community that you can–or want–to collect on, you may play one card from your hand and place it in the community and then immediately collect on it. The same rules apply for cards you play–the active row on the card you’re playing has to match the die roll. You can only play a card if you’re collecting on it too: you can’t just play cards willy-nilly. Remember once you claim a demand you have to place a token on it.

If you can’t collect on any of the community cards or cards in your hand you may take $1 from the bank for every city you have connected by railroads, up to $5.

If there are ever three tokens placed on a community card, that card is immediately removed from play.

If there are ever 6 demand cards in the community one of them must be removed at random. Roll a 6-sided die to determine which one to remove. All tokens on the card are returned to the players.

Once you’re done collecting from the demand cards, every other player is given one chance to collect, starting at your left (like Settlers of Catan). Same rules apply: if they don’t want to use a community card they can play a new one, and if they can’t claim any demand they can get $1 for each connected city, up to $5.

BUILD: In step 2, you can spend up to $20 to build railroads and connect cities. The same rules apply here as they do in British Rails, with one exception: you can only build into or out of ONE CITY PER TURN. You must begin building from a “big” city, and all of your railroads must be connected to eachother.

DRAW: In step 3, at the end of your turn, draw cards from the pile until you have 3 cards in your hand.

I think that sums it up. Enjoy!

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