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Subject: A depressing stalemate midway through the game turns two first-time players off forever rss

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Darian Tucker
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I already posted the majority of this in a separate thread asking about a rules clarification, but I thought it would be fitting to repost it here. Besides, I'm interested if anyone else has ever had a game go like this or had players equally unthrilled with the game afterward.

This situation came up in one of our games. Somehow, the two lowest-numbered garbage plants, the 17 uranium plant, and the 22 wind power plant all found their way into the market somewhere around the middle of the game. This meant the plant that could fire the highest number of cities at any given time was nowhere higher than three cities. In the early game, most of the best power plants had been bought at auction, so nearly everyone could power thirteen or fourteen cities. However, it just so happened that the turn order was set up in such a way that the two players who had built to six cities first came right after one another since the other three players playing in this five-player game had pretty well boxed themselves in on the other side of the map.

So of course, nobody wanted to buy a power plant during the auction phase because most of us had power plants which could already power at least as many cities, if not more, than those available for auction. At the same time, everyone was earning relatively the same amount of money except for myself and my friend who were the first to build to six cities. Neither he nor I would build a city for about four turns. Even with discarding a power plant every auction phase because they all sucked, the ones that came out to replace them were atypically pitiful at such a late stage in the game, with no one interested in getting a new plant at that point until Step 3 when some of the good plants might come back out. As to the reason why neither of us would buy a city, well, it was because if I built to seven and started Step 2, he would come before me in turn order and build in every city he could on the next turn. If he built to seven cities first, I had the lower power plant number so that I could match his number of cities every turn and still come before him, making my resources and city builds decidedly cheaper.

Unsurprisingly, the game locked up for several rounds until one of the players who was behind finally got fed up and built a seventh city for somewhere in the region of 74 Elektro, finally starting Step 2. The reason this had come to pass is because these three new players had built mainly in the Northeast region and had contested for all the zero and low connection cost spots in this region. My friend and I, realizing this trap, had built across the South and Midwest such that anyone stuck in the east would have to go through at least 4 or 5 of our spots to reach the next available city in the Northwest. The game ended next turn with me building to thirteen cities and being able to power all of them, while my opponent built to fifteen with the ability to only power thirteen. I ended up winning the cash total tie by two Elektro. It was probably the most deflating game of Power Grid I have ever played and I hope nothing quite as sad as what occurred in this game occurs again because it was a first time play for two of the players and both players ended up swearing off ever playing again afterward.
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Niels Kjær
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Are you aware of the rule that says that when no power plant is bought in a round, you remove the lowest power pant from the auction?

This ensures that for an auction round, there will be at least 1 power plant htat has been available before.

It sounds to me as if you kept the power plants that nobody wanted in the game, through several auction rounds.
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I've played games like this. I don't know why it bothers people so much.

It's just a way the game can play out. Like any other game of power grid, you need to think about your best move and make it. If your best move is to do nothing but wait a few turns for the market to clear out, do that. When the market clogs and nobody buys or builds, the turns go by REALLY fast, so just wait a little bit and things will start moving again. And hope that you made the right choice by sitting tight.
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Grzegorz Kobiela
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taalmod wrote:
Are you aware of the rule that says that when no power plant is bought in a round, you remove the lowest power pant from the auction?

This ensures that for an auction round, there will be at least 1 power plant htat has been available before.

It sounds to me as if you kept the power plants that nobody wanted in the game, through several auction rounds.


Read his report again - he did remove the lowest numbered plant, but the replacement cards that got in weren't much better than those removed. This happens often in PG, so - I guess it was ENBW - there is a version that says to remove TWO plants if everyone passes.
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David desJardins
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Five-player games often don't flow well. You have a much better chance of a normal game flow (transition to Step 2, then two rounds of Step 3 at the end so both capacity-oriented and profit-oriented strategies can pan out) if you play with three or four players.
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Niels Kjær
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Ponton wrote:

Read his report again - he did remove the lowest numbered plant, but the replacement cards that got in weren't much better than those removed. This happens often in PG, so - I guess it was ENBW - there is a version that says to remove TWO plants if everyone passes.

You're right, I should have read more carefully.
Serves me right for posting when I'm tired.
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Joseph Cochran
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I am of the opinion that if a stalemate like this occurs then at least one person is being suboptimal by not breaking it. If a stalemate lasts more than a turn someone has lost an opportunity to catch up because in this game the tempo of cash vs. expansion is the engine, and if everyone's stalled, the guy in first is just expanding his lead.

In the OP's example, one of the two leaders should NOT have been playing into the stalemate. Since the OP won it's easy to say "well, his opponent was suboptimal", but since there are a number of factors, who can really say.

I will say that the OP notes that part of the reason that the stalemate didn't break was because both players at 6 cities were too afraid of the other guy going before them in Step 2, which is a fear I see often in PG, and a fear I feel is far overstated (though to be fair, once you get into a stalemate, the turn order problem is worse, but that's just another reason that someone is suboptimal for playing into it). I break Step 2 all the time and yes, people then get to go before me. But you know what? I still win a lot.
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Darian Tucker
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taalmod wrote:
Are you aware of the rule that says that when no power plant is bought in a round, you remove the lowest power pant from the auction?

This ensures that for an auction round, there will be at least 1 power plant htat has been available before.

It sounds to me as if you kept the power plants that nobody wanted in the game, through several auction rounds.


Nope, I alluded to that. I'm certain I have a full understanding of the rules. I just mentioned that even the plants we were replacing them with weren't viable options. When the 29 comes out, and you look and see that your lowest plant can still power four cities, it's not exactly an enticing offer to bid on. Especially not to new players who have no idea if something better could be coming along.

It's just that most of the upper level plants were the first ones out of the deck, while the lower twenties and teens came into play late in the game. There was maybe one turn where one person did auction off a power plant but got it for list price because no one else wanted it. It didn't really improve their options, either. I just wish the session had been far more normal so the first-timers wouldn't have been so dissuaded.
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Steve Duff
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Which map? That 74 seems really high.
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SparkingConduit wrote:
Nope, I alluded to that. I'm certain I have a full understanding of the rules. I just mentioned that even the plants we were replacing them with weren't viable options. When the 29 comes out, and you look and see that your lowest plant can still power four cities, it's not exactly an enticing offer to bid on. Especially not to new players who have no idea if something better could be coming along.

It's just that most of the upper level plants were the first ones out of the deck, while the lower twenties and teens came into play late in the game. There was maybe one turn where one person did auction off a power plant but got it for list price because no one else wanted it. It didn't really improve their options, either. I just wish the session had been far more normal so the first-timers wouldn't have been so dissuaded.


Yeah, I remember the other thread. The only thing left that I could think of was that maybe you were buying from the future market, but I think you said that you properly divided them. While I've see the odd plant make it down, I still want to stack the deck and see how bad it could possibly be...
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It's been discussed before, that in a "stalemate" or as it is usually called a stall in Power Grid, it is almost always the case that one or two players who are profiting from it. All the other players are likely to be suffering and it is in their interest to break the stall.

First time players should not be expected to know this and it really should be pointed out to them.
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Darian Tucker
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jsciv wrote:
I am of the opinion that if a stalemate like this occurs then at least one person is being suboptimal by not breaking it. If a stalemate lasts more than a turn someone has lost an opportunity to catch up because in this game the tempo of cash vs. expansion is the engine, and if everyone's stalled, the guy in first is just expanding his lead.

In the OP's example, one of the two leaders should NOT have been playing into the stalemate. Since the OP won it's easy to say "well, his opponent was suboptimal", but since there are a number of factors, who can really say.

I will say that the OP notes that part of the reason that the stalemate didn't break was because both players at 6 cities were too afraid of the other guy going before them in Step 2, which is a fear I see often in PG, and a fear I feel is far overstated (though to be fair, once you get into a stalemate, the turn order problem is worse, but that's just another reason that someone is suboptimal for playing into it). I break Step 2 all the time and yes, people then get to go before me. But you know what? I still win a lot.


I do feel like you're right in that it is often best to break a stalemate before it gets out of hand. The thing is, though, that by the time I realized this, it was already too late. Six cities powered gets you 73 Elektro every round, so by the time four rounds had passed, I knew that if I had to go first on my next turn by triggering Step 2 early, I would be screwed because my opponent would easily beat me by just the virtue of using far lower connection costs. The other players were effectively out of the game because one was nearly boxed in in the Northeast with only four cities and wasn't making much cash and the others were the two new players who probably didn't have a grasp on the fact that you don't need to power fifteen cities to win, even if I emphasized this fact numerous times.

There was nothing else to do other than hope someone else would finally bite the bullet and trigger Step 2 so I could hope to win on the sheer virtue of building less expensively than my opponent. As it turns out, I was right. I think a two Elektro margin of victory is an awesome game any day of the week, but not when it bores the hell out of two prospective new players. Hence why I wish the game had played out with a more normal ending.
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
Which map? That 74 seems really high.


sounds like usa
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Darian Tucker
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
Which map? That 74 seems really high.


That's more of a guesstimate than anything else, really. It was the USA map. Thinking back, I realize now that I mistakenly said the Southeast region was in the game when it actually wasn't. That was the region we excluded. I've edited the first post to reflect this. So, of course, all the new players decided to begin their networks somewhere up in the Northeast. One player got boxed in the corner where Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia are while the other two didn't expand west of the Mississippi. The main reasoning behind this was because my friend and I started fairly centrally and mainly expanded west from the first turn. Just by sheer cost alone, by about turn three or four, it would have taken the player boxed in on the Eastern seaboard probably about 74 Elektro or so to reach Denver or Salt Lake City, which would have been his next available build.

I do believe one of the new players built up in the Minneapolis region and would have had a much cheaper cost to go west than the other two, but for one reason or another she elected not to build further west. Maybe it was the exorbitant costs that made her feel as if it wasn't worth it, since she probably figured that by waiting for Step 2 herself, she could grab quite a few 15 spots for far less than the 10 in Seattle would cost her. The other player not mentioned was built slightly further west than the player stuck on the Eastern seaboard, but still faced a total cost of at least fifty to go west. Hence why the game stagnated. I think next time if I see this occurring I will declare the game a draw and explain to the new players that it is best to break these kinds of problems before they can drag on.
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It's only 59 from Seattle to Buffalo, so 78 still seems high.
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SparkingConduit wrote:
It was the USA map. Thinking back, I realize now that I mistakenly said the Southeast region was in the game when it actually wasn't. That was the region we excluded. I've edited the first post to reflect this. So, of course, all the new players decided to begin their networks somewhere up in the Northeast. One player got boxed in the corner where Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia are while the other two didn't expand west of the Mississippi. The main reasoning behind this was because my friend and I started fairly centrally and mainly expanded west from the first turn. Just by sheer cost alone, by about turn three or four, it would have taken the player boxed in on the Eastern seaboard probably about 74 Elektro or so to reach Denver or Salt Lake City, which would have been his next available build.


Well, this is ANOTHER issue entirely, the "introduce a new player to PG" issue. I don't think I'd have excluded the Southeast with new players. The rules have ways of choosing excluded regions, but with newbies it's always best for experienced players to say "the board is easiest with X excluded" and then to offer as much advice as the newbie will accept about general strategy before the game starts. I personally would also try and coach them through the first settlement, because that can affect the game (and their enjoyment of it) quite a lot.

The first play of a game with both newbies and experienced people isn't just a game, it's an audition. You shouldn't throw the game, but you should make sure that you as the teacher are showing them the best the game has to offer.
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Darian Tucker
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No kidding. I'm not looking at the board. I get the distinct feeling like I'd be just a bit too nerdy if I spent time burning an image of the US board into by brain.

Regardless of cost, however, it was just too prohibitive. Even though that player had played a few times before, I get the feeling like he didn't want to bother wasting money to go west because he had a wind plant that could power four, so while he was making less money than everyone else on his turn, he also wasn't spending any resources to do so, so I think he had the same "wait and see" approach as us and didn't realize he was getting terribly far behind. Even still, he managed to get up to eleven cities on what proved to be the last turn.
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jsciv wrote:
SparkingConduit wrote:
It was the USA map. Thinking back, I realize now that I mistakenly said the Southeast region was in the game when it actually wasn't. That was the region we excluded. I've edited the first post to reflect this. So, of course, all the new players decided to begin their networks somewhere up in the Northeast. One player got boxed in the corner where Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia are while the other two didn't expand west of the Mississippi. The main reasoning behind this was because my friend and I started fairly centrally and mainly expanded west from the first turn. Just by sheer cost alone, by about turn three or four, it would have taken the player boxed in on the Eastern seaboard probably about 74 Elektro or so to reach Denver or Salt Lake City, which would have been his next available build.


Well, this is ANOTHER issue entirely, the "introduce a new player to PG" issue. I don't think I'd have excluded the Southeast with new players. The rules have ways of choosing excluded regions, but with newbies it's always best for experienced players to say "the board is easiest with X excluded" and then to offer as much advice as the newbie will accept about general strategy before the game starts. I personally would also try and coach them through the first settlement, because that can affect the game (and their enjoyment of it) quite a lot.

The first play of a game with both newbies and experienced people isn't just a game, it's an audition. You shouldn't throw the game, but you should make sure that you as the teacher are showing them the best the game has to offer.


I think you're right. I usually try to avoid this when teaching games to people. These gamers happen to like a challenge, however, so when I told them that the Southeast probably should be included to make their first game easier, they specifically asked me not to include it. Rather than pick a region each in player order as I normally do, I just decided to follow through with their wishes. I don't think they found the game any more challenging as they seemed to grasp it pretty well for newcomers (the mechanics, at least). It was just the sheer boredom of a crappy power plant market and a general unwillingness to "throw" the game by being the first player to force Step 2 that killed the mood. Even with experienced gamers, I think I am going to follow the rulebook's advice and only play Step 1 from now on.
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SparkingConduit wrote:
Just by sheer cost alone, by about turn three or four, it would have taken the player boxed in on the Eastern seaboard probably about 74 Elektro or so to reach Denver or Salt Lake City, which would have been his next available build.


Washington DC to Denver is 43, 53 including the build. I wish you had a picture of the board, I'm having a hard time picturing what it looked like. I just can't find a spot to put 5 empty cities 78 bucks away.

Oh well, it's not that important.
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
SparkingConduit wrote:
Just by sheer cost alone, by about turn three or four, it would have taken the player boxed in on the Eastern seaboard probably about 74 Elektro or so to reach Denver or Salt Lake City, which would have been his next available build.


Washington DC to Denver is 43, 53 including the build. I wish you had a picture of the board, I'm having a hard time picturing what it looked like. I just can't find a spot to put 5 empty cities 78 bucks away.

Oh well, it's not that important.
But it has got you now. There is no escape devil
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Darian Tucker
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
SparkingConduit wrote:
Just by sheer cost alone, by about turn three or four, it would have taken the player boxed in on the Eastern seaboard probably about 74 Elektro or so to reach Denver or Salt Lake City, which would have been his next available build.


Washington DC to Denver is 43, 53 including the build. I wish you had a picture of the board, I'm having a hard time picturing what it looked like. I just can't find a spot to put 5 empty cities 78 bucks away.

Oh well, it's not that important.


Would it be better if I just said, "He thought it would cost too much?"

He thought it would cost too much.

Presto! Problems solved.
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SparkingConduit wrote:
In the early game, most of the best power plants had been bought at auction, so nearly everyone could power thirteen or fourteen cities.

That's the really strange thing. You each have been able to buy two end game plants before step 2 was hit? That power plant deck must have been carefully stacked.
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Darian Tucker
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Oh, no. I wouldn't say we all had two end game plants. It's been too long to remember exactly, but I'm pretty sure only one person had a six city plant. Everyone else basically had two fives or a five and four at best, but no one could power more than thirteen. It just so happened that for the first three or four turns, we ended up pulling a lot of the forties and most of the thirties out of the deck, so some of them found their way into the current market where they were gobbled up.

The last few turns were characterized by removing, say, a 12 only to replace it with a 24, which just isn't all that enticing at any stage. Then the 14 might be replaced with the 16, which hardly feels like an improvement at all. You go through enough rounds of this and you start to wonder if you really did put all the good cards on the bottom of the deck. i think the best plant that came out before we finally ended the game by going to Step 2 was the 29, and even then no one wanted it because it still only powers 4 cities.
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Yeah, Power Grid is a great game. What is the question?
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Barticus88 wrote:
Yeah, Power Grid is a great game. What is the question?


No kidding, Randall. That would have been an amazing game to me in any other situation except for the fact that it cost us two new players. To be honest, I'm not sure they would have enjoyed the game much even if it had played out more normally. They were yawning through their turns even before we got to the stalemate. I'm pretty sure that sealed the deal for blandness, though.
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