A long, newbie treatise on the importance of Plant 26:
Well, I just got this for my birthday on Saturday and got to play it Wed. night. There seem to be a lot of newbie sessions these days, but I was happy to see them. I read every one lately to try and see what things to watch out for so we could have fun while we were all learning the game. We played four players: me, wife, bro-in-law Chris, sis-in-law Laura.
Set-up wasn't too bad–actually kind of fun to see the resource market emerge. (That is one of the coolest mechanics I've seen.) The difference between the scoring chart and the turn order chart confused some, but that was all cleared up by the second or third turn.
We played using the 4 westernmost regions, so connections were a little expensive for some of us. I started in LA, which ended up OK, my wife in Boise, which seemed to be less advantageous, Laura in Chicago, which could have been good, and Chris in Dallas or Oklahoma City, which was great for him. Chris had the most cities from the 2nd turn through the end, minus the final one or two rounds as he ended the game. Next time, I will definitely be crowding somewhere with better connection costs I think.
We were all unsure on the relative values of things as we started bidding and buying resources, but that was OK because we were equally ignorant and it didn't mess up gameplay. I started out with all coal plants (A 2 for 1, a 2 for 3, a 3 for 5, and finally a 2 for 5 which replaced the 2 for 1.) which I didn't regret. I could horde coal at good prices and never had a problem powering all the cities I wanted. I powered one city less than my capacity a couple times during the game to economize coal. My wife and sister-in-law dabbled in garbage and uranium early, which seemed to drain their money faster than coal and oil at that stage. The key to the game seemed to be Chris' pickup of the right plants to augment his excellent starting spot.
I don’t remember what Chris started with, but he won the auction for the first wind plant, #13, which powers one city. Fairly soon after, #27, the wind plant that powers three cities entered the market at what seemed to be an earlyish stage of the game. I had some connection I really wanted to make and didn’t really need it; everyone else had some similar excuse, so Chris got it at an affordable price. So he only played a couple resources to power his other plant and power a total of like 7-8 cities which got him through over half the game. The fewer resources required offset his always having to buy them last. It was around this point—within a connection or two of Step 2, when he really beat us. It was plant 26, a two oil for 5 cities powered, that came up. I had all coal and the ladies had one oil/coal hybrid between them for a couple turns, so oil had crept down into the two Elektro resource square. We were all at least 2 connections short of Chris at this stage, and so our money was a little strapped. I seemed to be the only one who realized how much this plant would help Chris and stayed in the bidding war with him. It’s hard to know how much to risk on a plant you don’t actually need, but want to prevent someone else from getting—I had only 60 something Elektro and internally capped myself at 50. Chris reached 50 and I let him have it. Bad move I guess. He replaced his other non-wind plant and could power 9 cities for two oil each round while we were using more resources to power 6 or 7. We all made some advances as our group doesn’t tend to play cutthroat, especially not in a first game, but Chris was in control after that. He got bid up a lot, but could just spend as much money as we had. He got the 29 plant for 80 something Elektro, and later some 7 capacity plant for 80 or 90, all the while continuing his inexorable march toward Jimmy-Buffet-like power consolidation.
As mentioned earlier, Chris tactically slid behind on I think the third-to-last turn. (I think we were only on Step 3 for two turns. Step 2 and 3 turns totaled 1/2 or less of the Step 1 turns.) He hoarded some cheaper resources and jumped back in a tie for the lead for the last turn while the rest of us still were nursing hope of an upset. Chris and I had 12 connections to start the final turn. My wife and I bought plants—Chris only had capacity for 16 cities, while his wife and I had capacity for 17. I managed to get enough resources with some cheap uranium in my new plant for two turns worth of 17-city power generation. I had enough money left to buy 2 connections, ending my turn with 14 connections. I thought I had kept track of Chris’ money well enough. He would end up with 15-16 connections, and I could easily buy 3 more the next turn with no money spent on plants and resources and get the win because Chris wouldn’t be able to buy another plant AND the resources to power 17 cities…I thought. Turns out Chris saw the same scenario coming and had saved up. He still had over 100 Elektro. He bought 5 connections and ended the game powering 16 cities while his wife and I both powered only 14 with our big, shiny, under-used plants. My wife powered 13 cities with 16 capacity, having bought an expensive, 7-city plant in the last round. All of this…because of Plant Twenty-Six.
I’m sure you can find gaping strategic holes, but we had a lot of fun in about 2 ½ hours. Only two minor rules errors, which we quickly caught. The dreaded math seemed easier than trying to hold in your mind all of the possibilities of say…your move in Tikal. And speaking of Tikal, I hate playing that game with my sister-in-law because she is Queen AP. But in this game, it all kind of evened out as we all took roughly equal turn time. My wife came in last after starting in the hole which can sometimes mean bad karma for replays of a game, but today told me she really liked it. She thinks she prefers Power Grid to El Grande, my current favorite. Good sign!