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Subject: A reflection on the qualities that make Power Grid uniquely enjoyable. rss

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Ben Weiler
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After Agricola took the gaming world by storm and rudely pushed Power Grid out of its #2 rank on BGG, I had two reactions:

1) I started thinking a lot about why Power Grid is my favorite game (more on this in a moment).
2) I bought Agricola.

Power Grid is a classic Euro game with high quality materials and somewhat complex strategy options. In an extremely over-simplified explanation, Power Grid players must use their money (Electros) to purchase power plants, buy resources to fuel those power plants (coal, oil, garbage, or uranium), and pay to connect to cities. The goal is to be able to provide power to the most number of cities at the end of the round in which at least one player has connected to a pre-determined number of cities.

Back to reaction #1) Why is Power Grid my favorite game? What makes it better than other very good games like Agricola?

I think the answer to these questions lies in the depth of the strategic options available in Power Grid. What I mean is that most good games (like Agricola, for instance) have clearly evident and varied strategy options that allow for unexpected results, replayability, and the nagging feeling in your stomach that makes you wonder what would have happened if . . . To be specific, in Agricola, every player must choose to build his fields, pastures, hut or family, etc. When a player chooses one route, often the other options are sacrificed. These sort of crossroad decisions lead to a fun gaming experience, but those strategic options are, well, what the entire game is built upon. While they can drive a player mad with indecision, they are very obvious.

On the surface, it may even seem that Power Grid has fewer strategy options than other good games. After all, it isn't like you need to commit to using power plants of one type (oil, coal, wind power, etc.). Every player can own up to three power plants, which can be of any type. Picking your power plants certainly leads you in a direction, but it is a bit of a stretch to say that buying power plants commits players to a specific strategy. The same could be said for the creation of each player's power grid--that is the way the player builds up her network. Because multiple players can eventually build in the same city, the differences in the overall cost of connecting to cities between players is often negligible. So on the surface, it seems like each player is forced down the same path, perhaps resulting in an overall lack of strategic choices.

However, these surface observations fail to consider the deep, less obvious strategic choices in Power Grid. For instance, player order is a major element of the game. Players who start each round having connected to the fewest cities have some significant advantadges: they have much more flexibility when buying power plants, they buy resorces first (and thusly at the lowest price), and they can choose which cities to connect to first. This means that at end-game time players need to carefully consider their position. One of my favorite strategies is what I call resource terrorism. The game only allows for a certain amount of each resource type to be available in any round. So, one way to undue an opponent who has the right power plants to provide power to the right number of cities to win is to buy up all of the resources that that player needs to use one of her big-boy power plants, rendering that power plant basically unusable (a fatal blow to any player in the final round). These sort of tactics lead the savvy opponents to then take precautionary measures . . . all in all yielding DEEP STRATEGY. In addition, there is no limit on how many cities each player can add to his network in any round, as long as that player has the money necessary to pay the connection costs. It is feasible, therefore, to save up money and use a blitz strategy to make a big push in the last round. But then again, if you wait too long, another player might push the game to the end before you are ready . . . sounds like DEEP STRATEGY. I have never played a game in which I am more worried about what my opponents are doing, which is somewhat interesting because there is really very little direct interaction between players.

In my experience as a geek gamer, I haven't found another game that has the same strategic depth . . . my apologies to 17th Century farmers.
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Nick McElveen
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Based on a few plays so far of Agricola, which I think is a really excellent game, I'm inclined to agree. One key reason for me: when you get to the middle and endgame of Power Grid, you can see who is positioned to win, and you can also have a pretty good impression of what needs to be done to confound them, though secret money can create surprises. In Agricola, you practially need a spreadsheet to figure out your own score, never mind glancing around the table and quickly surmising everyone else's scores and what actions you need to take to block them from winning. So while the reading of the final scores in Agricola may be plenty suspenseful, the gameplay itself does not seem nearly as suspenseful as Power Grid.
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Jake Waltier
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Thank you for your thoughts on this. But I wonder, why is this in the Variants section?
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TwentySides wrote:
Thank you for your thoughts on this. But I wonder, why is this in the Variants section?

Probably just a mispost. This is clearly a review, and contains no variant rule suggestions.
 
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Matthew M
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Moved to Reviews
 
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Steve Duff
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Octavian wrote:
Moved to Reviews


Missed it by thaaaat much. It's in Rules now.
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