I've only played 2 games of power grid. A 3 player game and a 4 player game.
Both of the games I have played have been with new players. We normally play Agricola and we have played that a ton. I'd like to think we play it well.
The games had the same feel to them, a lot of plant buying, not many actual auctions, and everyone building more connections every turn. Everyone was pretty much spending every elektro they had every turn. It felt as though I would fall hopelessly behind if I wasnt keeping up with the rampant connection building.
How much of the strategy are we missing as a group? Or is that generally how games feel, with everyone spending as much as they can every turn and connecting/powering as fast as they can?
I must admit I had a hard time evaluating the relative value of a power plant at a given point in time, when to stock up on resources and when not to. Almost every turn I was buying to stock pile resources. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Did you remember to reduce the map size? For a 3-player game, you only use 3 of the coloured map zones, for example. This can make "just buying connections" more difficult.
For power-plant auctions, I think they are more common with more players. Though, with 4 players, I'd expect there would be enough competition to make the auctions for the good plants of some interest.
There is, also, an efficiency game. If you keep upgrading plants, and buying new connections -- you may have wasted money doing the upgrades that doesn't pay itself back in income. Especially if it puts you later in the turn order.
Power Grid isn't my favourite game -- but I think there is more there than you've seen.
I can understand where you are at. Its hard to get a feel for a new game after a couple of plays, especially when you don't have the benefit of an experienced player at the table to provide advice about strategies and smart plays.
For what its worth I always seems to spend every electro in the early and mid-game. It really does pressure your money management skills and you always seem to be looking for another electro or two. I know that a number of the other guys that I play with have the same feeling - so if you feel that you are short of cash all the time then that's "good" and you are probably playing right
There are a number of strategies that you can use during the game - there are some really good articles on strategy here on BoardGameGeek and they are well worth studying. Try these for starters (if you haven't already):
One comment that I would make is that buying connections is not always good - whoever has the most connections gets the initiate the powerplant auctions first, but goes after the other players when making new connections and buying fuel. There is little point in buying connections if you cannot power them. Good strategy involves buying strategic power plants that position you for the end game, along with as many connections as you can power to keep the cash flowing in and ensuring reliable and cheap access to the resources that you need. Don't get left behind, but you don't have to lead the pack all the way to the finish line either. You just have to lead in the final turn.
If the others go crazy buying connections, hang 1 connection behind them and make sure that you can keep powering all of your connections - that gives you the strategic position to pick and chose the best connections each turn and pick up the cheapest fuel so that you are best placed for the end game.
Its a good game, though not everyone's cup of tea. Give it a few more plays and explore some of the strategies on BGG and see if you don't start to get to enjoy it.