Dave and I had been planning on 2 player games tonight. But as Dave arrived and was walking in the front door, we noticed a car pulling up and parking behind Dave's. Whose car was it? Would we have 3 players tonight? Yes, we did as Sheryl joined us after battling work and illness over the past month or so. Looking over the games available, mutual consensus drifted to Power Grid.
This game last made an appearance way back in June 2004. While not a complete game (only played the initial step of the game), it does have a rules overview if anyone wants to understand the game in a bit more detail.
The short summary (from Mario Lanza's nice reorganization of the rules) - each player represents a company that pays for power plants it wins at auctions, pays for resources required to operate their plants, pays to connect cities to its growing grid, and earns income when operating plants to power the cities on its grid. The game ends at the end of the round in which any player grows his network to include at least 17 (in a 3 player game) cities. The winner is then the player who powers more cities than any other player.
As we set up the game, Dave did a nice job explaining the rules for Sheryl. We started by deciding which 3 of the 6 regions we would select. Dave selected the northern (teal) region while Sheryl chose the adjoining red region. Rich after consulting Sabrina decided to add the blue region below the red region - so we were playing on the 3 North-Western regions of Germany. A random shuffle for player order and Rich started the game.
The first plants purchased were the 5 (2 Hybrid > 1 City) by Rich followed by the 7 (3 Oil > 2 Cities) by Dave and the 8 (3 Coal > 2 Cities) for Sheryl. With plants (and supplies) purchased, it was time for our first connections. As Rich had the lowest plant, he dropped to last in player order, but that let him also develop first. Honouring the gamer's fair, Rich connected his grid to Essen - especially as Duisburg was next door for free. Dave decided to avoid a bit of congestion and settline in Weisbaden and Frankfurt-M. Rich's decision not to build a second unpowered connection allowed Sheryl to jump in with connections at Duisberg and Dusseldorf. From the start, it was obvious that Sheryl and Rich would be competing for the same connections (at least in Step 1) while Dave would be allowed to expand on his own.
Sheryl added to her power plants adding the 9 (1 Oil > 1 City) while Rich added the 10 (2 Coal > 2 Cities). But Rich's fewer connections had kept him at the end of the player order, so he could buy up oil and coal for his plants leaving more expensive resources for Sheryl. Rich connected to Dortmund to connect to 2 cities (and building North from his starting cities) while Sheryl headed south to Koln. Was the conflict in territory between Sheryl and Rich to be avoided?
The game continued to develop with all the players on an even keel - building about the same number of connections. Dave did comment after the game that he felt a turn behind though. He had hit a cash crunch and felt like he was doing all he could to keep up, but never had cash to do more than that. Sheryl seemed to favour coal for her plants while Rich was capitalizing on wind. At the end of one auction round, Rich had the chance to pick up the 22 at cost, but deferred the purchase as better wind plants were in the futures market and picking up the 27 wind plant in the next auction. Eventually, we all had 4 cities and 3 plants.
But the nice even pacing was about to change. Sheryl had been building south away from Rich and Rich had been building north away from Sheryl. Rich had plans to power all his cities and could afford to build two more, but was first in the turn order and would build last. When Sheryl came to expand, she expanded through Rich's connections and settled in the 2 cities ( Bremen and Hamburg) that Rich had been eyeing. Rich could only afford to build to one city (Wilhelmshaven) for a total of 5 cities. The bright side was that Rich could use his 2 power plants to power all 5 without spending resources. But having built to 6 cities, Sheryl was now first in turn order and Rich would build before Sheryl. Returning the favour, Rich now built through Sheryl's connection at Bremen to connect to Hamburg, Kiel, Flensburg for a total of 8 connected (but not all powered) cities. Sheryl couldn't find any affordable connections as Step 2 wouldn't begin until the bureaucracy phase. Meanwhile, Dave had built to 6 cities, but was facing some expensive connections to cross into the Rich/Sheryl territory.
So we entered Step 2 with Rich at 8 cities while Dave and Sheryl had 6 cities each. With Step 2, players can now double up in cities, so the cheap connections that had been locked out in Step 1 were quickly connected. Rich went to 11 cites, Sheryl had 10, and Dave had 8 making contact with the other players via Kassel to Hannover into Bremen - but it was expensive as Kassel to Hannove costs 15 - one of the more expensive connections used in our game. Dave also suffered from being away from the Rich and Sheryl. While Rich and Sheryl did jockey around each other in Step 1, as soon as Step 2 started, we could recapture all the cheap connections we had been blocked out of.
As the first player, Rich could select plants to put up for auction. The only trouble was that none of the available plants looked appealing in that they didn't power substantially more cities than Rich's current plants. Furthermore, if forced to purchase the selected plant, Rich would be out of the bidding for plants in the futures market that were more appealing - the only solution was to slow down connections and let others become the leader so that there would be more options when purchasing power plants. Therefore Rich stayed at 11 while Sheryl built up to 12 and Dave up to 10.
As we were removing the cheapest plant in the bureaucracy phase at this point, we entered into Step 3. So not only was Rich not the first player at the subsequent auction phase - but also all the plants would be available for bid giving Rich exactly the options he needed to purchase plants. Sheryl as first player was deciding between the 30 (3 Garbage > 6 Cities) and the 34 (1 Nuclear > 5 Cities) plant for auction. Rich had been eyeing the 30 plant as no one had a Garbage plant and garbage was cheap. In addition, powering 6 cities would replace a 2 city plant, giving Rich +4 capacity with his plants. Sheryl opted for the 34 and purchased it with little bid resistance.
Rich was prepared to auction off the 30 (his desired plant) when the 50 (No Resources > 6 cities) plant appeared to replace the 34. Looking at cash in hand, Rich was prepared to bid high for the 50 plant, but when Dave passed, Rich bought it for list price. The next plant revealed was the 44 (No resources > 5 cities) which Dave purchased. With powering capability and the ability to co-locate in all cities, we expanded greatly. Rich increased to 13 cities, Sheryl and Dave to 12 cities.
By this point in the game, coal was expensive as everyone had focused on coal plants. Hybrids didn't seem that popular and none of the oil plants were in much use. As a result, the price of oil had dropped down to 1. Rich saw an opportunity with the 46 plant (3 Hybrid > 7 cities) as it would allow him to power 17 cities, so it was auctioned and purchased giving Rich the 24, the 46, and the 50 plants with a capacity of 17 cities if all utilized. Sheryl picked up the 38 plant to get into the garbage plants with Rich, but her total capacity was only 16. Dave also positioned himself to power 17 cities purchasing the 40 (2 Oil > 6 cities) to have the 44, 40, and 31 plants.
During resource purchasing, Sheryl bought all the garbage (6 units) she could to make it more expensive for Rich. Dave tried to buy the oil, but with only 4 storage capacity, couldn't buy that much. Rich purchased 2 garbage and 3 oil to power his plants just for this turn.
Sheryl built first, connecting to 4 cities for a total of 16 (all of which would be powered). Dave built second, connecting to 2 cities for a total of 14 before running out of cash. Rich built last connecting into Frankfurt-M, Bremen, Aachen, and Koln for 17 cities - all of which would be powered. Reaching the end game condition (17 cities) - the player who powered the most was Rich who takes the victory in a very tight contest. (For the record, cash in hand was low for all players at this point as no income was generated. Rich had 28 Elektros remaing, Sheryl 10, and Dave 3)
And a tense game it was. I felt I had the cash in hand to connect to 17 cities on the last turn, but was worried that Dave would get there first. Sheryl was a threat throughout the game, but might have misplayed the power plant upgrades as she had a capacity of only 16 cities at the end and would need to purchase an additional plant to get up to 17 or beyond.
The development was interesting as Sheryl and Rich started in adjacent cities and tripped over each other a few times in the game. Dave's strategy to develop without interference worked until he had to expand into more cities and was facing connections costing 20 or more to do so. He did manage to join in via a 15 connection - but still that was a bit expensive compared to the low teen connection costs others were paying. As Dave mentioned - his connection costs always seemed to be just a bit more expensive. Dave did admit that he had selected the northern region to play, but didn't think to start around Kiel with its' cluster of single digit connection costs. Post-game, Dave admitted that he needed to last one more round to power up and connect to 17 cities. He couldn't buy up resources so could only hope that Sheryl and Rich could not afford to finish their connections.
A very nice, tightly played game. We managed to get a complete game in (with rules explanation) in two and a half hours. And it certainly didn't feel like a long time. There were always decisions to be made, money to balance (as one can purchase 3 items, but generate income only once), and also thought to be given about where to be in turn order and when to speed up development and when to slow it down to gain advantages in the next turn. I certainly enjoyed it and tonight's play continues to support why I give this game a hearty recommendation.