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Subject: Power Grid: Plusses and Minuses rss

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Quillon Harpham
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I realise that it could be a little late submitting a review of Power Grid at this stage in the proceedings, but there is a good case for being very familiar with a game before assessing it. This is certainly the situation here. We play Power Grid more than any other game and so this review should be taken in that context, although I can't comment on our competence...

Power Grid is a 'growth' game where players must optimise three different factors: choosing power stations, geography and resources. I would sum it up as follows:
Trade (doing good deals and judging auctions), 35%
Positioning (outmanoeuvring your opponents by the position of your pieces or actions), 15%
Resources (attaining and utilising resources (which includes money)), 15%
Growth (growing your little empire faster than the others), 15%
Combat (battling your opponents and reducing their capability), 0%
Luck (being more fortunate than your opponents), 20%
Knowledge (having more general or specific knowledge than your opponents), 0%.

+ + + + + + + Plusses + + + + + + +

Theme
Topically, we find ourselves in the 21st century burning resources at an alarming rate. The scramble for electricity generation to power our cities with little regard for the environment is marvellously recreated; no pasted on themes here.

Components
Let's get the comment about components out of the way. In contrast to the box lid, the components are excellent. I particularly like the drawings of the power stations and the different shaped resource pieces. The boards are fine, supporting the game play well; no obvious mistakes that I can see. Each route between cities is colour coded by cost which doesn't work very well but this isn't important.

Good Mechanics
The backbone of Power Grid comes from some simple but very interesting mechanics which interplay well. A resource market getting more expensive as resources dry up; auctions where players must evaluate the value of what's in the pool compared the possibility of what will be drawn out next; the need to get to cities before your opponents grab them. All of these factors work together well around the over-riding desire to make a profit. The subtle winning condition depends crucially on each of these three mechanics.

Penalise the Leader
In my opinion, the most important mechanic in Power Grid is that it is a big disadvantage to be in the lead. Once familiar with it, winning Power Grid is all about timing your run to the finish. What this means is that unless anyone has made a complete mess of things, everyone is in with a chance at the end. If you make a mistake at the beginning, you can still catch up.

Escalation
Good games should escalate, that is, the stakes should increase as the game progresses thus building the excitement. Power Grid is one of the best examples of this. Each of the three factors comes to a head at the end of the game where all can be won or lost. Any of the three (power station choice, geography or resources) can sneak up on you and snatch victory away. As such I would say that this game favours good analytical skills over creativity, nerve over brute force.

Constant Involvement
Every player is constantly involved in the game. There is no waiting around for your go since each phase involves every player.

Child Friendly
Power Grid is surprisingly child friendly as long as they can play a game for at least 90 minutes. I have known 9 year olds who have a good grasp of it and 7 year olds who can understand what to do.

Plays Differently with Number of Players
It's a nice corollary of the mechanics that Power Grid plays slightly differently for different numbers of players. Two player games are about money management where you can pretty much cherry pick the power stations you want; three, four and five player games are more about picking power stations; six player games (and to a lesser extent five player games) have increased dependence on resources and geography.

Six Player Friendly
One of the most important features of Power Grid is that it plays very well with six players. Games which offer six player options often creak with this many players, mostly by either loads of waiting around for your go or the game taking so long that the winner is the one who kept the will to live. Power Grid holds together very well with six players - a big selling point.

Expansions
Often expansions of successful games disrupt their balance and integrity. Since Power Grid expansions simply replace the board and initial resource market together with the odd rule change they simply add variety. Each expansion makes the game-play different by altering priorities and intrinsic power station values.

- - - - - - - Minuses - - - - - - -

Fiddly to Run
Power Grid is fiddly to run. There is a lot to think about for the person running the game in addition to their own tactics. A lot of mechanics described above depend on rule details which are important to remember.

Mental Arithmetic
The game involves a lot of adding up. Not a problem at the start, but when you're trying to time a seven city run to the finish taking into account possible resource prices you can do without it after two hours play. Over-analysing Power Grid is perhaps not in the spirit of the game where instinct and rough guesses are more fun.

Single Path to Victory
Power Grid doesn't have multiple paths to victory. For example, Puerto Rico supports building or shipping strategies, Caylus supports money strategies, prestige point strategies, building strategies etc. Variety does come from focusing on different resources but the game play is the same for each.

Randomness
I don't usually like this degree of luck in a game. A lot can depend on the turn of the power station cards. Picture the scene: it is four player France, you have manoeuvred yourself to the back in the early game and are last to pick a power station. The next one out could be the 'diamond' 26 which would go a long way to winning the game or the 'nightmare' 24 which will be an albatross around your neck for the rest of it, or the frustrating 27 which will only do 3 cities...
I have to say that this randomness is part of the fun of Power Grid which shouldn't be taken too seriously, but if this sort of thing irritates you then it may reduce your enjoyment of the game.

Story
This is a harsh criticism, but there isn't any story development in the game, that is, you are doing the same things at the end as you were at the beginning. With other top games activites often change with the progress of the game.

+ - + - + - + - + - + - + -

To summarise, although I am 'officially' fed up with Power Grid having played it so much, I still want to play it more often than a lot of other games that I allegedly like. It always delivers some of the most exciting games that we play and never disappoints. For me a 10/10.
Q.
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Hunga Dunga
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An excellent revew!

The art was certainly overthought, though I like the cover - very retro!

The bronze, silver and gold designations for the different routes between cities is useless and adds clutter to a board that is a bit dismal to begin with. Instead of the entire board being covered with soot, maybe they should have put some brighter patches here and there...
 
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Joseph Rodenbeck
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I agree with your review for the most part except that after several plays I have come to see the "penalize the leader" part as a minus. The main way to win seems to be hanging back (but not too far back) for most of the game, hoping that you get the right kind of plant just when you need it.

I prefer games in which the leader is penalized by requiring the other players to actively team up against him rather than use an "artificial" construct like making him choose first/last.

(Just my opinion, of course.)
 
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Klaus Knechtskern
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Regarding penalizing the leader. It absolutely depends on the situation I have seen games were the leader easily could bag the game while the others doging for position miscalculated.

Regarding the box lid. As far as I know the picture is just a reminiscence to an old ad of the 40s
 
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Brad Miller
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I've heard of this but never seen it happen. I think the penalize the leader rules wreck the game. Rarely will I play it, and never would I suggest it...
 
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Eric Brosius
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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Windopaene wrote:
I've heard of this but never seen it happen. I think the penalize the leader rules wreck the game. Rarely will I play it, and never would I suggest it...


I've played at least 40 games of Power Grid. Unlike the earlier Funkenschlag, where I do think it's impossible to win if you lead for most of the game, I've found that Power Grid offers a real choice about whether to lead or not. My conclusion is that it depends on the order in which the plants come out (which is random) as well as on the actions of your opponents. In particular, it's easier to go wire-to-wire if you get efficient power plants early (especially plants like the #27 and #33 windmills, the #25 and #26 "five cities for two fuel" plants, and the #29 "four cities for one fuel" plant.)

I'd guess that roughly one-third of our games are won by someone who leads for most of the game.
 
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Steve Wessels
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This is an excellent review. Thanks.

Regarding some of the comments about whether leaders win the game or not, I really like the fine balancing act the players must do to win this game. Like other have mentioned here, I have also played games where I started out the leader and stayed their for the entire game and won.

The fiddly activities of the game can be better managed by sharing responsibilities with the players. We usually have one person manage the plant market, another the resources and another the payment/money.

- Steve
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Hunga Dunga
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Clarissimus wrote:
I have come to see the "penalize the leader" part as a minus. The main way to win seems to be hanging back (but not too far back) for most of the game, hoping that you get the right kind of plant just when you need it.

I prefer games in which the leader is penalized by requiring the other players to actively team up against him rather than use an "artificial" construct like making him choose first/last.


Interesting comment.

The way I figure, in Power Grid anyone can choose to be the leader - just put more Elektros into building rather than buying plants or resources. The only way players can "team up" against the leader is to collude by extending grids into cities that the leader wants, and that is not easy to do, especially if it costs more to do so instead of expanding grids elsewhere. The other way to collude would be to invest in power plants that use the same resources as the leader's plants, but that sort of plan is mighty risky - the leader could trade out a power plant and leave you competing with the others in your anti-leader cabal while enjoying a plant that consumes resources in a less competitive market.

There is lots of incentive to NOT be the leader, but the only way for that to happen is to not build out your grid, or build it out slower than others. But if you lag behind in building your city grid, the cost of the building necessary to win increases substantially. This is one of the central conundrums of the game!

The beauty of Power Grid is that you want to be last in order to get a choice of power plants unchallenged at auction; you want to be last in order to buy the cheapest resources; you want to be last in order to have the best choice of cities (sometimes!); and you want to be last in order to trigger the last turn of the game before anyone else...BUT...as the calculus refines itself turn by turn, as players become more aware of the limit the game is approaching - in other words, as the turns iterate toward 17 cities, players become more aware of how many cities need to be lit in order to win - being last isn't always an advantage: at the end of the day you need the Elektros to make that final power plant play, the right resource allocation, and the right number of cities in your grid. And that means taking the risk of becoming the lead player.

God, what an excellent game!
 
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Eric Brosius
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There's one important way in which it can be an advantage to be the leader. The leader gets to see how many cities everyone else builds before he or she builds cities.

Near the end, you may be in a situation where if someone builds more than you currently have, you can arrange to have fewer cities than they do and steal all their fuel. On the other hand, if they don't build more than you, you can build to the ending condition and end the game. This is typically when their highest plant is higher than yours.

I'll admit the advantage isn't as big as the disadvantages, overall, but it can make a bigger difference than you'd think.
 
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Quillon Harpham
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Clarissimus wrote:
I agree with your review for the most part except that after several plays I have come to see the "penalize the leader" part as a minus. The main way to win seems to be hanging back (but not too far back) for most of the game, hoping that you get the right kind of plant just when you need it.

I prefer games in which the leader is penalized by requiring the other players to actively team up against him rather than use an "artificial" construct like making him choose first/last.

(Just my opinion, of course.)


Yes, I see what you're saying. However, my experience of "gang up on the leader" games is that the outcome depends the collective decision of the group rather than the skill of each player. I usually prefer games where the outcome depends on skill rather than politics!
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Quillon Harpham
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KlausKnechtskern wrote:


Regarding the box lid. As far as I know the picture is just a reminiscence to an old ad of the 40s


I hadn't realised that; suddenly things become clearer. I always like a look back to decades past.
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Mr Q-Ball
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Quality review

Although you say too much "Mental Arithmetic" is a minus? On this web site?
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