Spotlight on Games > Variants
Rules for Crayon Rail Games

These variant rules make all of the Empire Builder series* games more competitive and less dependent on luck. After the start, all of the players are working on the same set of face-up contract cards. However, it is not as chaotic as the supplied "Open Contracts" rules because players must commit to a particular load before delivering it. If you're one of those who have complained that the game is "n-way solitaire", give these rules a try!


  1. Give each player a unique set of 3 markers.
  2. The first player is dealt four cards and chooses up to two for himself.
  3. He declares which loads he intends to deliver for them by taking the loads and placing them face down on his train.
  4. The next player gets all the rejected cards plus two new cards, chooses two and also so declares.
  5. This proceeds until each player has chosen up to two cards.
  6. The cards rejected by the last player are placed face up in an area called the Public Pool.
  7. New cards are added to the pool to bring the total to up to 3 x N where N is the number of players in the game.
Playing the Variant:
Privately-locked Cards
The initially chosen cards are privately-locked; only the player who took them can deliver those demands. He must deliver those demands before he can carry anything else in that part of his train. When he picks up a load, it gets flipped over to show he's really got it.

Public Cards
Instead of each person having his own cards, now there is a public pool of cards. These cards can be "locked" for particular demands. At any time during a player's turn, until he starts building track (or upgrades his train), he can "lock" a card for a particular demand by placing one of his markers on it. To do so, he must be carrying the necessary load, and the load must not already be locking another card. Once a card is declared to be locked, the following rules are strictly applied:

  1. No other demand on that card can be locked/delivered.
  2. The load used to do the locking cannot be voluntarily jettisoned nor delivered elsewhere.
You must always lock a card before you can deliver its load. More than one player can be working on the same locked demand at the same time. (Interesting races may develop.) The first player to deliver a load gets the payoff and the locked card is discarded as usual.

Pool Size
The number of cards in the pool must constantly be monitored in order to satisfy the following rules (in order):

  1. The pool size ranges from 2 x N and 3 x N (inclusive).
  2. The maximum number of unlocked cards is 2 x N (the initial pool is the exception).
Whenever there are are fewer than 2 x N unlocked cards, draw new cards so that there are 2 x N unlocked cards, except do not go above the 3 x N locked plus unlocked limit.

To help the track all of this, use the printout corresponding to the number of players you have:
2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

If a new card turns up and it is an event, another new card normally turns up after the event has been dealt with, but see the special case of Derailment. Note that it is possible that locking a load turns up an event, such as a flood, which could prevent the delivery of the very load that was just locked.

If a player is derailed, he can give up a locked load. If he does so, this unlocks the card (unless somebody else has also locked the same demand). (Derailment and having somebody else deliver the demand are the only ways you can "free up" a locked load.) If someone unlocks a card (by losing the load from it), that may bring the unlocked pool up to 2 x N, in which case no further card is drawn. The sequence is that the derailed player must resolve the lost load before any further cards are drawn.

If the load for a privately-locked card, after being picked up, is lost in a derailment, the player may choose to retain the card as a privately-locked card (in which case he must as usual go back to pick up the load again), or let the card go into the public pool. The public pool may temporarily go above 3 x N cards for this special case.

Pitching Demand Cards
A player who has no locked loads may give up his entire turn and pitch three randomly selected unlocked cards. The player may immediately lock cards (new cards or remaining old cards) using the loads he currently has on board. (He cannot pick up new loads at his current location for this purpose.) If locking brings up more cards (because there were fewer than 3 x N cards) he can lock those as well.

Winning the Game
Play to the normal victory conditions, with the additional proviso that you cannot win if you have any locked loads.

This information is entirely derived from an article by Don Woods, Larry Rosenberg and Dan Duval. Basically, the only change has been to rewrite it in a more procedural format. Recommended also is the "Crayon Rails" Deck Generator by Don Woods.

*Examples include Empire Builder, British Rails, Eurorails, Australian Rails, Nippon Rails, Iron Dragon, India Rails, Russian Rails, Lunar Rails, Martian Rails, Italian Rails.

Possibly helpful discussion on BGG which explains that a player does not lock a card for himself, but locks on a card which one of the three loads will be delivered, regardless of who ends up delivering it.

Tue Oct 8 13:37:48 PDT 2002