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Subject: Review -- four players on US map rss

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Viktor Haag
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Recently, we played Power Grid with the US map, and I had several thoughts about the game in general and the map in particular:

• We played with four players, and there was very little crowding in the first two rounds: the map nicely provided four small inexpensive clusters for the players to stake out. However, this illusion of open-ness ended swiftly. On turn three, the knives came out, and turn order became very, very important.

• The map is arranged so that grids are much easier to build north-south than east-west. This makes a certain amount of sense, but it also means that you have to plan for a big grid expense in turn three or four. At some point early, you're most likely going to run out of north-south room and then have to swallow at least one set of huge connection costs. This "channelling" of grids is less evident on the German map, I think. I wonder if this means that the US map is a better one to start on? It should be easier to see what you're going to have deal with on the US map. However, new players will always (in my experience) have to work against the counter-intuitive notion that grid placements don't have to be adjacent, as the mechanical meme of adjacent placement is so prevalent in games.

• I'm not sure that the west coast is a great idea for anyone. In our game, we played without the east coast, and only one player took a western board position. The rest of us clustered in the central regions. Still, the western player did not finish well at all. I think Power Grid is one of those games where it seems like a good idea to stake out an area far away from other players, but in reality, you want to have a cluster to yourself for the first stage of the game that's right up next to another player's cluster, so that when stage two hits, the two of you can immediately leap into each other's cities. Mind you, the west coast does provide two nice starting clusters (the Portland/Seattle pair, and the LA/SD/SF trio), so maybe what was holding her back was the lack of a paired player, and not the much larger connection costs out west.

• Managing turn order in Power Grid is probably the most important part of the game; you can get by without the best plants, and you can get by without the best locations, or the cheapest resources, from time to time. But you really do need to be cognizant of your turn position and how to manage it effectively and change it when needed. Keep this in mind when buying plants, and especially when building houses.

• Sometimes it's worth it to buy an inefficient plant, just because it has capacity. In our game, there were two inefficient plants that came up, that had a 6 capacity and a 5 capacity. One player managed to get both at a relatively cheap price, while the rest of us turned up our noses at them and felt confident that better ones would arrive. Then the rest of the game got well mired as Stage 2 lasted for a very long time with an alarming draw over and over again of low-tech, low capacity plants! Nobody else was able to get a high-capacity plant until the very end (let alone two). In the end, I dived to the end just to end the game and secure my second place position, because I knew there was now way I was going to be able to compete with my wife with the 6 and 5 plants, because there's no way I could have bought the two plants required to best her total before she could end the game. Wow. Moral of the story: keep up with the Jonses when it comes to plant capacity! Ignore this maxim at your peril.

The more I play this game, the more I like it. It's not perfect, but it's so well suited to our group of players. I will not steer away from the US map in the future: I thought it was very well designed and suited to four-player play.
 
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Billy McBoatface
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viktor_haag wrote:
Sometimes it's worth it to buy an inefficient plant, just because it has capacity.

I'd put that even stronger. Almost always it's worth it.

When I teach this game, after turn two I give strategy tips. One is that the winner isn't the player with the most efficient network; it's the player with the most houses and the most capacity. So if you buy an efficient but lower-capacity plant, fine, but you'll have to replace it before you can win, so you had better get your money's worth out of it before then. Also, if somebody gets a lot of capacity early on, it gives them two huge advantages: 1) they may be able to make an "early rush" and fill in houses to end the game, winning before anybody else can buy equivalent capacity, 2) When the endgame comes near, they'll have one or two fewer big plants that they need to buy to win, which gives them a huge advantage since you can only buy one plant per turn (and sometimes fewer if there are no decent plants available).

Moral: Capacity is usually the most import thing in a power plant, more important than efficiency.
 
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Viktor Haag
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Good points. I have experienced one slight rebuttal. I once won a Benelux session by going completely green. I think this amounted to two points: getting the green plants saved me hugely on resource costs, and then I was able to turn these savings around and effectively bid for the green 50.

I would chalk the win up to two things: the green 50 plant was available and came out at an appropriate time (betting on this happy confluence is a fool's wager in my opinion), and we were playing on the Benelux board where saving resource money is a much bigger factor than on the basic boards.

The increased basic resource costs on the board managed to beggar the other players to the point where they couldn't effectively expand as quickly, and also couldn't afford to compete with me at the end for the green 50 to drive my final costs up. I was able to buy the green 50 for close to 50 (something like 63 electro or similar), and then had plenty of money to swack down the houses I needed to maximize my position in the last turn.

On the whole, a lucky finish, and the only time I've seen leaning heavily (or even slightly) on green work. But a strategy I might try again if playing the Benelux board to see how effective it might be compared to the basic boards. In general, I think the green and nuke planets (on the basic boards) are tempting red herrings. Stick with oil and coal and (maybe in the late game) garbage. They're cheap to get into, relatively resource cheap, and although they burn like mad, their lack of efficiency is not the point -- their cheap entry cost into capacity is, I think.

Of course, if everyone in the room is playing the same bet then competition for these plants increases, decreasing their worth, I suppose... 8)
 
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Chris Bailey
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wmshub wrote:
When I teach this game, after turn two I give strategy tips. One is that the winner isn't the player with the most efficient network; it's the player with the most houses and the most capacity. So if you buy an efficient but lower-capacity plant, fine, but you'll have to replace it before you can win, so you had better get your money's worth out of it before then.


The first time I played I got a lot of wind powered plants that cost nothing in resourses thinking I would get ahead since I didn't have to pay for things like coal and oil. I think I came in 4th or 5th. This past weekend I played again and my buddy Ian started buying all of the wind powered plants and he lost too. I'm just not sure paying money through the nose to get those in order to save money on resourses is a good idea. So yeah, William is right when he says efficiency is key.
 
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Hunga Dunga
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ixnay66 wrote:
So yeah, William is right when he says efficiency is key.

Well, he's right about capacity being key!



No one type of power plant is inherently better than the others - it all depends on what other plants are being bought by the other players.

You more or less have to start with smaller plants - that's all you'll see at the beginning of the game, and you have to build SOMETHING to generate income (no pun intended).

One of the keys to winning the game is knowing when to let go of a plant that in the end will only constrain your capacity.
 
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Viktor Haag
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Hungadunga wrote:
No one type of power plant is inherently better than the others - it all depends on what other plants are being bought by the other players.


What others are buying is certainly a factor, but I don't agree that no one type of plant is inherently better than the others.

In the basic game, I think the Garbage and Nuclear plants are inherently weaker than the Coal and Oil plants.

Their initial cost for capacity is higher, their time-to-entry is later, and their resource costs are higher.

The only thing that balances the plants value is their cost and rarity: if one player can corner the garbage or nuclear market, then this can help lower the resource costs to the point where the plants become feasible.

In the basic game, I also think that the Coal/Oil combined plants are inherently the strongest plants in the game. They are more expensive for capacity than the one-resource plants, true, but they offer the huge advantage of choosing the cheapest resources available on each turn the owner must buy resources.

I suspect that the green plants become more valuable as you add players to the game. The refresh rates change with the number of players playing, true, but I also suspect that resource specialization becomes harder and harder with more players, and thus you have more players draining one particular resource. So, the green plants offer the advantage of (a) not having to buy resources, but also (b) not having to compete for resources with another player. (Note that the Nuclear and Garbage plants are particularly susceptible to the competition problem, and that it's entirely possible for a player to compete with him/herself! Woe betide the player who invests in three, or even two, nuclear plants. I have a strong suspicion that Nuclear plants are only useful when only one plant is in operation at any one time, and Garbage maybe two. The key is you don't want to be driving the cost of Nukes or Garbage back up through using them.)

I don't think the green plants are worth the cost in games with 2, 3, or perhaps 4 players (in the basic game). With 5 or 6 players, I think they become more attractive.

 
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Hunga Dunga
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I've only played with 4 and 6 players (mostly 6), but there has never been a preponderance of one type of plant winning the game. Everyone starts with coal and/or oil. How and when you mix in green, nuclear and garbage is really dependent on whether others keep investing in oil and coal, or decide to explore other opportunities as well. That's the gamble.

I've noticed that many players hang on to earlier plant purchases longer than they should. One key strategy tip is to understand that you're not going to win the game by holding on to your original three plants. (There are, of course, exceptions which prove the rule!)
 
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Viktor Haag
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Hungadunga wrote:
How and when you mix in green, nuclear and garbage is really dependent on whether others keep investing in oil and coal, or decide to explore other opportunities as well. That's the gamble.


Yes, I agree. I guess my point is just that the oil and coal plants are the bread and butter of the basic game, and to my mind that makes them inherently better than the nuke, green, and garbage plants. The only use for the latter plants is in supporting roles to adjust to the dynamic of the game. But still, I think the mixed coal/oil plants are the best because they fill much of the needs of the "supporting role" plants, without the increased capital or resource cost. Mind you, most people who have played more than a few times realize how valuable the mixed plants are, so the auction costs are typically higher than with the other plants.

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can catch other players in situations where they're cash strapped and get a mixed plant for cheaper than usual, but obviously you can't count on this (just as you can't count on getting the green 4 or green 5 at a "fair" price for their actual value, or at all).
 
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