Empire Builder gets European
Unfortunately for Mayfair Games, the map of Europe was changing so fast when Eurorails was released that the game was out of date almost from day one. But fortunately it doesn't really matter, because the national borders on the board don't have any part in the way the game is played.
Following on the success of Empire Builder, a rail-building game set in the USA and southern Canada (and later, Mexico), Mayfair transported the same game system to other parts of the world, including Australia, India, the UK and central-and-western Europe. Eurorails is the latter, covering all of Europe except Iceland, members of the CIS, Greece and the countries surrounding the Black Sea.
The mechanics of the game are almost identical to those of Empire Builder, with two additions to cater to the more extreme geography of Europe: there are ferries, which allow trips to be made across the English Channel and the North Sea; and there are alpine mileposts, which cost more than twice as much to build on as regular mountain areas. Some of the commodities are also different to reflect the different products and markets in Europe.
In an honourable nod to internationalisation, Mayfair has named all places on the map in the local tongue--so if you think in English you'll need to remember that Wien is Vienna and KÝbenhavn is Copenhagen. This, along with the complete absence of text on any of the cards (except for place names) means that the game is equally playable in any language, something that we have come to expect from games out of Europe but not common at all from an American company. Given that the target audience of this game is likely European, this was a wise move.
In Eurorails there are eight major cities, which don't always relate to their population (for instance, Madrid is probably considered a major city for the purposes of making players use the Iberian peninsula, which would otherwise be largely ignored as too remote). As usual, players must connect all but one of them, and make 200 million Euros of profit, to win. Connecting five or six of them is easy, as several cities are close together, but the remaining cities are quite some distance from the western European hub and mean for a longer game as the victory conditions are approached.
Compared with Empire Builder, Eurorails has quite a lot more land area, making the game a little too sparse for a two-player game to be particularly interesting. With more players, however, comes more downtime between turns, which again is less than ideal. This is what makes me prefer Empire Builder over Eurorails (apart from a greater familiarity with the geography of the earlier game).
Mayfair suggests that its Empire Builder series can be used to interest children (and others) about the geography of a region and why railroads historically ended up being built where they are. That's probably true, but I don't really notice it when I'm playing a game. All the same, I do have a better idea of the locations and geographical features of Europe than I did, so it is probably achieving its goal anyway.
While Eurorails isn't my favourite of the crayon-series of railway games, it's fun enough and still comes out occasionally when I want to lay tracks across Europe and rush that cork shipment from Lisbon to Warsaw.