My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
POWER GRID [France]
(Anton, Rich, Paul H., Dan, Ian, Eric)
We hadn't played a 6-player game at MVGA in more than a month, so when we counted 6 on hand soon after 7pm at the Masonic Hall, we decided it was time for a game of Power Grid with the maximum number of players. We've been putting the variant maps through their paces, so we wanted to use one of the new maps, and given the difficulty of the Italy map, we chose France for the evening's competition. Of course, we've always had a taste for the out-of-the-ordinary at MVGA, so when Eric mentioned that the WBC Power Grid finals are to be played on the France map with the central region containing Paris out of play, we just had to try this idea out. So much for making things easier!
When you play on the France map, you get not only a new map, but a cheaper initial price for uranium as well. This change reflects the extensive use of nuclear power to generate electricity in France. Just to make sure nuclear power plays a big role in games on this map, the #13 windmill is removed from the game and its function is filled instead by the #11 nuclear plant, which powers two cities for one uranium. The #11 is scorned in most normal games, but it's a valuable commodity when uranium starts at only $5 each. We played with a rule variant that's designed for 6-player games on the France map---we left the #13 in the game and placed it on top of the #11 in the deck, with the understanding that the #13 would enter the current market in place of the #11 in Round 1 only. Without this rule, the randomly-chosen sixth player in the initial turn order can wait until everyone else has bought a plant and then buy the #11 for list price, which is a huge advantage. With the rule, the #11 is not available until Round 2, at which time it typically attracts spirited bidding.
It was odd eliminating the Paris region from the game. We keep a set of wooden sticks in our box that we use to mark off any unused regions. When we were done marking off the Paris region, we had a doughnut-shaped playing area that was thin on the north and west and a little thicker in the east.
Rich was first auctioneer, and he began by putting the #04 coal plant up for auction. His opponents were reluctant to bid, but Eric bid $5 (he couldn't bear to see Rich get an opportunity to buy cheap coal without paying a little more for the privilege!) Rich responded with a bid of $6 and this was enough to win the #04. Paul was next up, and he took the #07 oil plant for list price. Eric was the third auctioneer, and he put up the #08 coal plant, which Ian paid $9 for. Eric and Dan then took the efficient #09 oil plant and the #06 trash plant, respectively, and Anton was happy to pass, taking the capacious and efficient #10 coal plant, which powers 2 cities, in preference to the little #13 windmill that was also available.
Three of us had capacity-1 plants and three had capacity-2 plants, but everyone seemed eager to build. Rich started off in the Rhone valley, building Nimes and Montpellier and seizing control of a choke point between the southwest and southeast portions of the board. Dan built two cities of his own, Angers and Rennes, in the west. Paul built further up the east side of the board, starting his own Maginot line with Metz and Nancy. We were starting to run out of large open areas, and Ian built Havre and Rouen, taking a position between Paul and Dan. Eric was the only player to restrict himself to one city, building a house in Besancon, just south of Paul, confident that the costly mountain connections would keep Rich out of his way for a while. Anton had the last build, and he decided to start just west of Rich, in Carcassonne and Perpignan. We ran our plants, using up seven coal, four oil and a trash as the price of uranium dropped to $3.
The #11 had dropped into the current market for Round 2, and we all knew Walt had used this plant to win comfortably back on December 15, when we let him have it for the bargain price of $14. It wasn't going to happen again (for one thing, Walt wasn't in this game!) Dan's bid of $20 was successful, and he was pleased with his purchase, though not as much so when the #21 hybrid, with its 4-city capacity, showed up as a replacement. The only luck element in Power Grid is in the power plant draw. In a 5- or 6-player game all the plants are in the deck, but you never know when the good plants will come out. In this game, we got a lot of good plants early. Rich is a big fan of the #21, and he paid $30 for the #21, getting two cities in additional capacity for just $10 more than Dan paid. When you see a big plant early in the game, you can pay a high price and hope the plants drawn after it are small, or you can pass and hope you get another big plant for less a little bit later. The replacement for the #21 was the #27 windmill, which powers only 3 cities but offers huge fuel savings (windmills do not require fuel.) With Paris out of the game, building would be slow, so the fuel savings would last longer than usual, and Paul was happy to get the #27 for $35. The next plant drawn was the #16, which powers 3 cities for two oil. The #16 is usually an excellent Round 2 plant, but it's not nearly as useful as the #21 or the #27. Even so, it was the best plant available. Anton put it up for auction and passed quickly when Ian bid $17---Anton was hoping for a better plant. His hopes were fulfilled as the #28 windmill came up next. Anton bid $28 for the #28 and Eric bid $29. With uranium so cheap, the #28 could power 4 cities much more cheaply than Rich's #21. Anton looked at the #31 coal plant, with its 6-city capacity, hovering immediately above the #28 in the future market, and he let Eric have the #28 for just $1 more than list price. Unfortunately for him, the new plant was the #14 trash plant, so the #31 remained unavailable, and Anton was forced to settle for the #13 windmill. The extensive spending on plants limited building, and only Eric (who had built just one city) added a city, Dijon, to bring us to a six-way tie at two cities each. You don't often see a game in which no one has built a third city by the end of Round 2.
Four lousy plants were on offer for Round 3, including the #03, which rarely stays in the current market this long, and we all passed. We all had capacity to power at least three cities, and it was time to build, not buy more plants. Eric connected Lyon, Paul Mulhouse, Rich Aix-en-Provence and Marseilles, Ian Amiens, Anton Toulouse and Dan Caen (does that rhyme?) This left Rich as the sole leader in cities. He had 4 connected compared to 3 for each of the others. On the other hand, Rich was spending more in fuel than Paul or Eric. Walt arrived at about this time, and he spent the game watching and punching out tokens for Eric's brand-new copy of Indonesia. We kidded Walt about his status as MVGA champion on the France map, warning him not to give anyone an unfair advantage by offering advice.
We had tossed a plant out of the game when nothing was bought in the prior round, and the #24 trash plant was available. In the 6-player game the trash supply is ample and trash plants can be cheap to run (as long as there aren't too many.) Rich put the #24 up and Dan showed a determination to be the trash maven, paying $31 to add the #24 to the #06 he had purchased in Round 1. The replacement was the #31 coal plant that had tempted Anton so frustratingly in Round 2, and bidding was sure to be intense for this behemoth. Ian had spent relatively little on his plants, and he had enough cash to outspend the competition, paying $43 for the #31. The 6-player game ends when 14 cities are built, and the #31 powers almost half that number. Rich continued his auctioneer's duties, placing the #26 up for auction next. The #26 is one of my favorite plants, as the oil it burns doesn't run out as easily as coal at the end of the game. Paul paid $40, almost as much as Ian had paid for the #31. The new plant was the #19, a smaller trash plant, but it was now the best available and Rich bought it for list price to raise his capacity above 5 cities as Eric and Anton gave him a wide berth. The new plant was the #25, slightly less attractive than the #26 because it burns coal, and Eric passed Anton's bid of $36. Eric already had capacity to build and power two more cities, and he decided to take a chance on getting the #33 windmill, which obligingly dropped into the current market. Eric paid list price for this plant, and although it powers only 4 cities, he now had capacity for 9 cities at a cost of just one oil and one uranium. Ian was the capacity leader with 11 on the strength of his #31, Rich was next with 10, Rich and Anton were tied at 8, and Dan trailed with 7, a handicap that would haunt him for most of the game. Again the heavy spending limited building. Anton built Lourdes, Dan roared into Le Mans and Eric took Grenoble as the others remained content with their existing cities.
The #20 coal plant, a smoke-belcher if there ever was one was now an option. This plant chokes down three oft-expensive coal and powers 5 cities. Eric put it up for auction, and Rich needed more capacity. We bid him up to $35 before we let him have it. This was a particularly fateful decision for Dan and Anton, who also needed capacity, and who might have bid higher if they could have looked into the crystal ball to see what plants would come up next. We had already bought a lot of good plants, and we knew the little ones had to come out sooner or later. Sure enough, the #05, #14, #18 and #22 were all we could bid on, and it was far too late for any of these to have value, so the rest of us passed. Paul had been saving his money, and he built to Strasbourg, Reims and Lille, increasing his city count to 6 and moving us to Phase 2. Ian had spent so much to feed his coal habit that he could afford only Calais, the city whose name was written on the heart of Queen Mary I of England, to bring his capacity to 4. Rich connected Toulon and thought for a while about whether to connect Nice as well before Eric could get it, but decided to stay back at 5 cities for a better spot in the turn order, explaining "it's only $5 if Eric gets there first." Dan built Nantes and La Rochelle, moving south into the gap between him and Anton, and Anton filled the rest of the space by connecting Biarritz and Bordeaux. Eric took two more cities in the east, Nice and St.-Etienne, leaving Eric, Anton and Dan all tied at 6 cities with Paul. The only 2 cities left unconnected were Chamonix in the east and Brest in the west.
There were no good plants for Round 6 (they were mostly the same ones we had at the end of Round 5,) but it was just as well as the switch to Phase 2 had opened up new building options. Ian jumped into Caen and Lille for 6 cities and Rich grabbed Carcassonne and Toulouse for 7. Dan built only Rouen for 7, which was all his plants could power. Anton skipped over Montpellier and Nimes to grab Aix-en-Provence and Marseille in an attempt to deny options to Eric, leaving him at 8. Paul moved west into Amiens and Calais, also reaching 8. Eric was able to return the favor to Anton, connecting Toulon and then skipping back over Anton to connect Nimes and Montpellier for a total of 9 cities, matching his plant capacity.
At this stage we were earning substantial amounts each turn and building up large cash reserves, so it was clear that good plants would go for high prices. The best plant visible was the highly-efficient #29 hybrid, which powers 4 cities for either one coal or one oil. Eric put it up for auction and it attracted quite a bit of bidding (it was the best plant we had seen for a while,) finally going to Anton for $39. Later some of the players thought about what would have happened if everyone had passed, leaving Eric with the #29, but it wasn't clear that the next plant would be any good---after all, the pathetic #12 was still in the deck. In fact the new plant was the #30, a capacity-6 trash plant that would bring Eric's capacity to 14 if he could buy it, and that would put Dan back in the game. Dan just had to have a capacity-6 plant, and bidding went up and up until Dan bid $59 and Eric bid a whopping $60, a sum Dan just couldn't bring himself to top. Dan was relieved when the replacement plant also had a capacity of 6 cities---it was the #32 oil plant. Again the bids escalated rapidly, Paul making jump bids to speed things up, and this time when Dan bid $59 he got the plant. The next plant wasn't quite as good---it was the #34 nuclear plant, which powers only 5 cities (though it would be cheap to run given the low price of uranium.) Rich didn't need a capacity-6 plant; he could make do with a capacity of 5, and was hoping to pay less than Eric and Dan had paid, but Ian bid Rich all the way up to $59 once again before passing. Ian and Paul were counting on getting good plants more cheaply once the competition was out of the way, but the next plant we turned over was the dreaded #12 with its measly 2-city capacity, which brought the bidding festivities to a sudden end for the round. Ian and Paul now trailed in the capacity race, and it doesn't matter how much money you have if the plants you need aren't for sale.
When you spend $59 or $60 on a plant you can't do too much building. Ian, who hadn't bought a plant, built Le Mans, Angers and Nantes to reach 9. Rich built Nice and Perpignan, Dan Havre and Brest, Anton La Rochelle, and Paul Besancon, leaving five players at 9 cities. Eric could build only one city, Chamonix, to take the lead with 10 cities. This put him first in the turn order, but it didn't matter that much because he didn't need any more plants and fuel costs weren't a problem.
It seemed that Round 8 could be the last round, but we had not yet made it to Phase 3, so building space was a bit tight. The power plant market once again was choked with small plants, and when no one bid we threw out the smallest plant, revealing the Phase 3 card and opening up a third spot in each city. This made building a lot easier. Paul, who built first, had capacity to power only 10 cities (he was still running the #07 coal plant he had purchase in Round 1.) He connected Rouen for 10 and then decided to take matters into his own hands, adding Havre, Caen, Le Mans, and Angers to make 14 cities and trigger the end of the game. He knew that the extra building could cost him the tie-breaker, but he preferred to actively end the game rather than having someone else do the job. Anton also had capacity for only 10 cities, and he built one city to reach 10. Ian had capacity for 11 cities (including the #08 coal plant he had bought in Round 1,) and he added Reims and Rennes to make it to 11 cities. Dan had capacity for 12 cities, but was able to connect only Amiens and Lille for a total of 11. Rich and Eric had capacity for 14 cities, and Rich had to build 5 more to fully use his capacity. He connected Lourdes, Biarritz, St.-Etienne and Lyon for 13, then counted his money, then looked at the board, and concluded that he was just $1 short of being able to add a 14th city. At this point he regretted not building Nice in Round 5---$5 seemed like a more significant amount at the end of the game than it did in the middle. Eric didn't have a lot of extra money, but he was able to connect Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Mulhouse and Strasbourg to reach 14 cities with about $20 left over to win the game.
Despite the difficult terrain, we finished in just 8 rounds. The biggest factor in determining the length of a Power Grid game is the plant draws, and our ability to get good plants early accelerated the game.
Eric 14 cities
Ian 11 + $59
Dan 11 + $16
Anton 10 + $91
Paul 10 + $14
Eric's rating: 9. The driving theme in Power Grid is prudently managing the power plant auctions. As the game progresses, the chances of getting a good plant on the next draw go up and down, and you must take your best chance. Best play doesn't always win---even if there's only one bad plant left in the deck, it's possible that it will be the next one drawn---but it certainly increases your chances.
Re: 6 players on France map sans Paris almost finish in Phas
It seems like Paul should have waited to finish the game. If Eric had just a bit less cash, the game would have gone one more turn, giving Paul a chance to improve his position.
Nice session report - I enjoyed reading it.
I too enjoyed reading the session report, but I can't understand Paul's action at all.
He should have stayed at nine or ten houses and hoped that nobody had the cash to end the game.
Ending the game just for the sake of it is perhaps human, but no less irritating for that.