As explained in the history section, there have been several generations of Empire, some of which had no written rules, or the rules have not survived.

Empire Rules Cover (3rd edition)

Empire Rules Cover (3rd edition)

The only widely used written Empire rules have been those compiled and recorded by Andrew Nisbet, primarily from 1969-76. The master copy of these rules is kept in a tattered green binder of indeterminate age (no less than 34 years, possibly quite a bit older). These written rules are, as the title page suggests, incomplete and inaccurate. As new situations arise (or old situations never well resolved or documented arise anew), the rules are interpreted by the players as required. There are formal processes, including rules change petitions, rules interpretation petitions, and so on (see, for example, the last 25 pages of the document “empire rules.pdf”); more commonly, players ask Andrew Nisbet to remember and/or interpret the rules.

Here are all the major versions of the rules, including placeholders for versions never written down, or lost to antiquity.


  • Summary of 1938 rules. This summary was written by Stillman Drake in 1960 for his son Dan, based on the 1938 rules created by Drake, Mark Wrede Eudey and friends (which at the time were written down by Eudey). This is the only version of the 1938 rules in existence, as far as we know. Licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC 3.0.
  • Empire 1960-68. The game created by Dan Drake, J.D. Eveland, Jim Trosper, Alan Arey, and friends (which was in turn inspired by the 1938 rules summary seen above). This was an almost entirely unwritten game, ever-evolving, with just a few charts.

Classic (3rd Edition)

  • 1976 3rd edition rules. PDF from scan of typewritten and handwritten documents. Written by Andrew Nisbet from 1969-76, based on the early 1960s game above. These are the rules that evolved and were used for about two decades, and are generally considered to be the canonical (albeit incomplete, unfinished, etcetera) Empire rules. PDF includes subsequent rules petitions.
    • Empire Rules 3rd ed (4 MB)
    • Empire Rules 3rd ed OCR (3.5 MB). The OCR attempt was only mildly successful, but it does make the PDF at least partly searchable, etc.
    • Various unfinished rewrite attempts. Better visual quality, and better OCR as a result in the PDFs.
      • Rules Rewrite 1with notes:
      • Rules Rewrite 2with notes
      • Rules Rewrite 3with notes:

Logistics branch, 4th Edition

Derived from all the above, Thomas Phinney has been working on these spin-off rules on and off since about 1990. This branch is intended to be more like a typical strategy game rulebook, including a table of contents, glossary and definitions. It also incorporates all available rules change petitions, marginalia and so forth. These rules will be of less historical interest, but may be useful to people wanting to play Empire today, particularly if they do not have veteran players to teach them. Most recent is on the bottom.

  • Alpha 1 pre-release, 24 Feb 2011: PDF (460 K)
  • Alpha 2 pre-release, 2 March 2011: PDF (460 K)
  • Alpha 3 pre-release, 5 March 2011: PDF (490 K)
  • Alpha 4 pre-release, 18 March 2011. PDF (490 K). Corrects a couple of minor errors around fractional goods, and a spot where the movement/carrying ability of a pirate ship was attributed to an armor unit.
  • Alpha 5 pre-release, 30 September 2011. PDF (1.1 MB). Tiny clarifications, including what farms look like on classic maps. Corrected food diffusion rules to one turn range (72 phases) instead of 100 phases. Minor formatting changes (turning on hyphenation which saved four pages, underlining > italics, ligatures on). Probably the last 4th edition alpha release.
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