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Subject: Power Grid welcomes new players rss

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Sam Carroll
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In the past year, Power Grid has become a go-to game for me. It's one I bring to friends' houses, throw in the car on roadtrips, pack into my luggage when visiting family, and so on. There are other games that I use this way (Hey, That's My Fish!, for example) but Power Grid is unquestionably the heaviest and longest of this group. However, I cannot remember an occasion when I pulled it out and people didn't care for it. And most of these people are non-gamers or perhaps casual gamers, frequently playing this game for the first or second time. I know from experience that if I were to try this with other heavy Euros such as Caylus, people's eyes would glaze over before the dungeon-scoring. Why does Power Grid enjoy this kind of success?

1) Concrete goal
The goal of Power Grid is to supply power to cities. You win by powering more cities than your opponents can. This is a concrete goal, unlike many Euros that might have goals such as "to become the most prestigious of the traders in [insert city here]." (What do the victory points in Caylus represent, anyway?) The goal in Power Grid is comparatively easy to grasp.

2) Intuitive gameplay
Each turn, you do three things that require player choices: bid on plants, buy resources, and expand your network. Then you get your income, restock the resources, readjust turn order, and do it again. None of those is difficult to grasp, though there are a couple of peculiarities to the auction rules. Also it's easy to see how these things work together. You can't power cities unless you're connected to them, you have plants to power them, and fuel to burn in your plants.

N.B. I realize that there may be a choice during the "get money" stage of whether to run all your plants or not, but that's rarely a critical decision. You won't go far wrong by powering as many cities as possible each turn.

3) Catchup mechanism
One of the most notable things about Power Grid is its catchup mechanism, whereby the player connected to the most cities pays higher prices for resources, has (usually) a worse selection of power plants, and the last chance to expand his network. With new players, this amounts to a tax on the leader, giving those who are doing worse a chance to catch up, or at least feel better about their situation. Of course, experienced players will realize the implications of turn order and will try to manipulate it to their advantage.

4) Constant building Every turn in Power Grid, you make your company larger: connect to more cities, buy better plants, stockpile resources . . . Even if everyone else grows faster than you, you still get the satisfaction of growing.

Similarly, everything you do increases your ability to do more. If you're playing Puerto Rico and you ship a load of corn for 6 VPs, that doesn't make you any more likely to get more points. Contrast this with the classic Euro gateway game, Catan, where most of the points are for building on the map. Every settlement you build not only gives you a point, but will also give you more resources with which to build more settlements. I personally find Settlers-style points more satisfying than Puerto-Rico-style points, and Power Grid has the former. I don't know if others feel the same way, but I thought I'd mention this.

Of course, this style of scoring could lead to a runaway-leader problem. In Settlers, this is intended to be checked by the players (trade embargoes, for example); in Power Grid by the aforementioned catchup mechanism.

5) Evenly-weighted decisions
Since I mentioned Settlers, let me describe my biggest problem with that game as a gateway. The most important decisions you make, having the largest impact on your overall game, are the placement of your two starting settlements. These also have more options to consider (there are 56 vertices on a classic Settlers board) than many of your other decisions, such as where to build a road. This means that a new player runs a large risk of getting screwed on initial placement because he didn't understand the game fully.

By contrast, I think the most important decisions in Power Grid are plant purchases: what to bid on and how much to bid. And I don't see that any one phase of the game is more important for this than another. The plants purchased in the first turn are not likely to be used more than three times, when a typical game might last ten turns. If new players pay 12 elektro for plant #3, or allow #4 to be bought at face value, or buy #6 at all, it will tilt the game in favor of one player or another, but not by very much. It will certainly not doom one player to be behind for the rest of the game.

6) Screwage
Power Grid offers moderate opportunities for screwage. For example, you can block a player on the map, or bid up the power plant he needs, or buy up all his resources. But consider: if you block someone on the map, he'll eventually make his way out. Either he'll go a different way, or he'll pay to jump over your cities, or he'll wait for the next stage to start when he can build there. Yes, you hurt him, but you didn't cripple him. Or if you bid up a plant that someone else wants, you run the risk that your opponent will pass and leave you with the baby. (My wife frequently gets caught this way, paying 50 elektro for a plant she doesn't really want.) Buying up a resource will certainly hurt someone, but because of the order of resource buying, that person will almost certainly be the leader. And it hurts them for only one turn, while it costs the instigator quite a bit. Anyway, this doesn't usually happen till the endgame and it may not be possible at all, depending on what plants players have. The point is that you can mess with other players, but it's neither guaranteed to work, nor free, nor crippling.

7) Depth of play In my experience, players who lose Power Grid will usually be able to point to one or two big mistakes that cost them the game. "Oh, I shouldn't have let him have that big garbage plant for only 45 elektro. If I'd bought that, I probably would have won." This may very well be true. Then they want to play again to avoid that mistake, and they'll pay 55 for that particular plant next time. But the catch is that the next game, garbage might be much more expensive at that point, so paying 55 for the plant will be the mistake that costs them the game. That might be the hook that gets them permanently interested in the game.

The most important skill in Power Grid, from my perspective, is valuation of power plants, but the value of a plant varies considerably from game to game, or even within the same game, based on what plants are already in use, what other plants are in the market, what other plants are likely to come up, the cost of each resource, the number of players (which changes the number of cities needed to trigger the endgame), and probably a few more factors that I can't think of right now. This fascinates me, and I suspect that I'm not that good at evaluating plants. (This might be another reason why new players enjoy playing with me!)

Have you all had the same experience? What factors do you think contributed to Power Grid's success (or lack thereof) with new players?
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Chris Wood
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The best review of Power Grid I've read. I was looking for this kind of review when I was thinking of buying Power Grid or not. This review showed me the exact points in question I was looking for in this game. As it is, I already pulled the trigger on Power Grid, but I believe your review would have solidified my decision if I was still on the fence.
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Edwin Tait
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Agreed. I'm still not sure I want to buy it given my limited budget for games (I'm more interested in Brass in that genre), but you have finally helped me understand why this game is so popular on the Geek!
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Kapitan Zbik
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Once upon a time i was amused by Power Grid till i got Brass. I would say that comparision Brass-power grid-ticket to ride is fair.
What i mean Power grid is closer to gateway game that economic masterpiece like Brass. Power grid has 2 stages - prolog which is around 90% of game - waiting, pretending that you control something but you dont control anything, mechanic of the game slow you down if you make good choices and lifts up if you make mistakes. The player who for 40% of the game was making mistakes might win at the end.So you end up with just waiting to the last 2 rounds.

Since i have had brass it doesnt hit the table at all. This is the economic king. PG as gateway game for new players? of course! thats why i still have it
 
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Doc Bullseye
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Great review. Only caveat I'd add is that the game *really* needs at least four players to make the auctions and resource track interesting.
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Matt N

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I thumbed your review for a clear, coherent message, which is among the easiest to read of any review I've ever seen. However, I disagree with some of your points.

spartax wrote:
2) Intuitive gameplay
Each turn, you do three things that require player choices: bid on plants, buy resources, and expand your network. Then you get your income, restock the resources, readjust turn order, and do it again. None of those is difficult to grasp, though there are a couple of peculiarities to the auction rules. Also it's easy to see how these things work together. You can't power cities unless you're connected to them, you have plants to power them, and fuel to burn in your plants.


The auction is weird and awkward. There's frequently that moment where someone is grouchy that they can't get the power plant which is next in line. Also, the massive gap between true value and power plant number for some of those plants is difficult to figure out until a person has some experience.

spartax wrote:
5) Evenly-weighted decisions
Since I mentioned Settlers, let me describe my biggest problem with that game as a gateway. The most important decisions you make, having the largest impact on your overall game, are the placement of your two starting settlements. These also have more options to consider (there are 56 vertices on a classic Settlers board) than many of your other decisions, such as where to build a road. This means that a new player runs a large risk of getting screwed on initial placement because he didn't understand the game fully.


This problem is very much still there in Power Grid. You will be destroyed if you start in the Western US, for instance. Now, it may be easier to spot good or bad starting locations, since low is good and high is bad, but new players can still easily mess this up. There's also the new problem where players need to share starting locations on crowded boards to keep one player from having a big advantage. The one time I saw a first-time player win the game, it was because no one jumped in next to them, and they rolled to a win.

spartax wrote:
By contrast, I think the most important decisions in Power Grid are plant purchases: what to bid on and how much to bid. And I don't see that any one phase of the game is more important for this than another.


I largely agree that plant purchases are the heart of the game. However, certain plants are much better than others (plants that power 5+ without a prohibitive resource cost, for instance), and those plants are disproportionately important. If you pay a lot for a good plant and then another one flips up, to be bought at face value, game over. Likewise if you don't put up a fight for that one good plant and trust the deck, which will do its best to screw you over. The early plants are less important, but when the selection is 3/3/2/5 capacity, that is a hugely important decision that can make or break the game (assuming roughly similar levels of play).

That's particularly true in games where the plant deck doesn't move much. If the plant deck stalls for several turns (weak plant replaced by another weak plant), whoever has a higher capacity + efficiency has a huge advantage. Buying a crummy plant in that situation isn't a way out, but neither is sitting around.

Also, guys named Mike always win when I play them. This isn't a real objection, but it drives me crazy. This has been tested with two different Mikes who learned the game independently of each other.

So, I don't agree that Power Grid is beginner-friendly. I'd put it down there with Agricola... if beginners want to win. In terms of an intuitive goal and keeping things apparently close (a two connection difference is big but doesn't look big), Power Grid does much better than many Euros, but I'd still put Puerto Rico as a much more beginner-friendly Euro.

Uh, I'm also supposed to mention tedious arithmetic if I'm saying anything negative about Power Grid. That will scare some people off right off the bat, although you could just pick a different game for them.
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Stunna wrote:
So, I don't agree that Power Grid is beginner-friendly. I'd put it down there with Agricola... if beginners want to win.


Maybe for their chances of actually winning, but at least Power Grid will generally be close. Agricola.....if someone has a positive score the first time they play, they probably did a pretty good job, while people who played before will score a good 20-30 points higher than them without issue.

And if someone is shown Agricola too early, they might think all bigger games are that fiddly, which can be a turn-off. Certainly not a good comparison for beginner-friendly.
 
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Sam Carroll
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Thanks for your comments, Matt. Allow me to rebut (some of) your rebuttal!

Stunna wrote:
spartax wrote:
2) Intuitive gameplay
Each turn, you do three things that require player choices: bid on plants, buy resources, and expand your network. Then you get your income, restock the resources, readjust turn order, and do it again. None of those is difficult to grasp, though there are a couple of peculiarities to the auction rules. Also it's easy to see how these things work together. You can't power cities unless you're connected to them, you have plants to power them, and fuel to burn in your plants.


The auction is weird and awkward. There's frequently that moment where someone is grouchy that they can't get the power plant which is next in line. Also, the massive gap between true value and power plant number for some of those plants is difficult to figure out until a person has some experience.


Well, your latter complaint is not about the rules, but about the strategy of the game. I agree that valuation of the plants is difficult. I didn't say the strategy was easy to grasp for a beginner!

I agree that the auction rules are slightly quirky, but I don't think they're that bad. The auctions proper are simple (go around the table raising until everyone but one player has dropped out, just like in pinochle or euchre). The restocking of plants (where the next plant in the future market might not come down) can be weird, but I always emphasize that in my rules explanation. "If you want the next plant in the future market, be aware that it's not guaranteed to come down! If the next plant we draw is lower, it will go straight to the actual market." And selecting plants in turn order is not the easiest thing to grasp. But the players I've taught this to have been OK with that.

Quote:
spartax wrote:
5) Evenly-weighted decisions
Since I mentioned Settlers, let me describe my biggest problem with that game as a gateway. The most important decisions you make, having the largest impact on your overall game, are the placement of your two starting settlements. These also have more options to consider (there are 56 vertices on a classic Settlers board) than many of your other decisions, such as where to build a road. This means that a new player runs a large risk of getting screwed on initial placement because he didn't understand the game fully.


This problem is very much still there in Power Grid. You will be destroyed if you start in the Western US, for instance. Now, it may be easier to spot good or bad starting locations, since low is good and high is bad, but new players can still easily mess this up. There's also the new problem where players need to share starting locations on crowded boards to keep one player from having a big advantage. The one time I saw a first-time player win the game, it was because no one jumped in next to them, and they rolled to a win.


I don't think this is nearly as big a deal as starting placement in Settlers. I've done well starting alone in the Western US when everyone else crowded the eastern seaboard. If anything, I think new players might overcrowd the cheaper areas.

Quote:
spartax wrote:
By contrast, I think the most important decisions in Power Grid are plant purchases: what to bid on and how much to bid. And I don't see that any one phase of the game is more important for this than another.


I largely agree that plant purchases are the heart of the game. However, certain plants are much better than others (plants that power 5+ without a prohibitive resource cost, for instance), and those plants are disproportionately important. If you pay a lot for a good plant and then another one flips up, to be bought at face value, game over. Likewise if you don't put up a fight for that one good plant and trust the deck, which will do its best to screw you over. The early plants are less important, but when the selection is 3/3/2/5 capacity, that is a hugely important decision that can make or break the game (assuming roughly similar levels of play).


But we're not assuming similar levels of play. We're talking about introducing new players to the game. Anyway, I don't understand the point of this complaint. If you're saying that it takes several plays to get a good handle on the power plant deck - and that it's quirky - I agree with you. How does this relate to the topic at hand, though?

Quote:
So, I don't agree that Power Grid is beginner-friendly. I'd put it down there with Agricola... if beginners want to win. In terms of an intuitive goal and keeping things apparently close (a two connection difference is big but doesn't look big), Power Grid does much better than many Euros, but I'd still put Puerto Rico as a much more beginner-friendly Euro.


I can't agree with this at all. Puerto Rico, more than most Euros, needs a group of similar skill level to work well. Power Grid can handle mixed groups much more easily. I agree that beginners probably won't win, but they do have a chance, and will probably at least feel close. Anyway, I don't usually enjoy games where beginners have an even chance to win.

Quote:
Uh, I'm also supposed to mention tedious arithmetic if I'm saying anything negative about Power Grid. That will scare some people off right off the bat, although you could just pick a different game for them.


This one I agree with. I haven't yet run into any people who are completely scared off by it, though. This includes my wife, who is notoriously poor at arithmetic.
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Matt N

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Thanks for the reply. I guess I'll clarify some points in the rebut to the rebuttal. (I like rebuts and I cannot lie.)

spartax wrote:

Quote:
spartax wrote:
5) Evenly-weighted decisions

Quote:
[q="spartax"]By contrast, I think the most important decisions in Power Grid are plant purchases: what to bid on and how much to bid. And I don't see that any one phase of the game is more important for this than another.


I largely agree that plant purchases are the heart of the game. However, certain plants are much better than others (plants that power 5+ without a prohibitive resource cost, for instance), and those plants are disproportionately important. If you pay a lot for a good plant and then another one flips up, to be bought at face value, game over. Likewise if you don't put up a fight for that one good plant and trust the deck, which will do its best to screw you over. The early plants are less important, but when the selection is 3/3/2/5 capacity, that is a hugely important decision that can make or break the game (assuming roughly similar levels of play).


But we're not assuming similar levels of play. We're talking about introducing new players to the game. Anyway, I don't understand the point of this complaint. If you're saying that it takes several plays to get a good handle on the power plant deck - and that it's quirky - I agree with you. How does this relate to the topic at hand, though?


What I'm trying to get at is that most decisions are not weighted evenly, and a few of the power plant decisions are way more important than others. You mentioned that picking the 4 or the 6 early is not that big of a deal, but those midgame power plants are really disproportionately important. So, maybe you're going for a different point than I am, but I disagree that you can't be screwed by a single bad decision (or a single unlucky card flip). I tend to think that a beginner can take themselves out early, even if it doesn't look like it to them when they power 15 and everyone else powers 16-17.

Yeah, endgame power plants matter too, but that decision is generally more intuitive and being dead for 1-2 turns is a lot better than being dead for 5 turns.

spartax wrote:
Puerto Rico, more than most Euros, needs a group of similar skill level to work well. Power Grid can handle mixed groups much more easily. I agree that beginners probably won't win, but they do have a chance, and will probably at least feel close. Anyway, I don't usually enjoy games where beginners have an even chance to win.


Puerto Rico is pretty lame if people don't understand the chain effect that happens from the craftsman. If they do, then there's plenty of self-balancing in the game... but I think that arguments between top-five games tend to derail threads.

Yeah, I don't think beginners should have a good chance to win, but I'd like them to feel like they had a chance to win. Getting stuck in Settlers/Carcassone/Ticket to Ride compromise land is unfortunate.
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Matt N

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spartax wrote:
Quote:
Uh, I'm also supposed to mention tedious arithmetic if I'm saying anything negative about Power Grid. That will scare some people off right off the bat, although you could just pick a different game for them.


This one I agree with. I haven't yet run into any people who are completely scared off by it, though. This includes my wife, who is notoriously poor at arithmetic.


One approximation that helped me an awful lot is to just have a rough average for connection costs. If it takes, say, an average of 30 (or 35) to build a connection in an area in phase three, it's a lot easier to plan than it is to stare at each of ten possible locations, add several two digit numbers, and then try to remember the key totals. Being a dollar short still hits someone once per game though.

Also, in all fairness, several non-gamer or casual gamer acquaintances (who are all grad students in chemical engineering) have played Power Grid and liked it more than I thought they would. I've seen several gamers confused and lost throughout the game though, so I don't really know how a given person will respond.
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Cody Moultrie
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spartax wrote:

1) Concrete goal

2) Intuitive gameplay


I just wanted to add my praise for this review of a great game. The two things in your list that I agree most with are the concrete goal and intuitive gameplay. I wish more games had the concrete goal win condition instead of just playing to score prestige, or glory, or victory points.

The intuitive game play is great too. The goal is to power the most cities when the game ends, so of course you'll need power plants to do that. And of course you'll need fuel to power those power plants. The placing of cities and the connection costs may be the least intuitive aspect to a new player, but it's still pretty intutive I think.

One last thing that is great about this game for a new player (assuming they are playing with experienced players) is that they don't really have to worry about the bureacracy phase. All you have to worry about is buying powerplants, resources and building cities. The basic gameplay is very simple, yet the strategic competition among players can be very intense. That's why I love Power Grid!
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Sam Carroll
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Stunna wrote:
I tend to think that a beginner can take themselves out early, even if it doesn't look like it to them when they power 15 and everyone else powers 16-17.


Re-reading this thread months later, I noticed this comment. I agree with this sentence completely. However, I make a bigger deal out of the second half, "Even if it doesn't look like it to them . . ." To me, that's a lot of the appeal of the game. Even when the new players have no chance to win, they don't feel dead. They're still growing their network, bidding on plants, buying resources: in short, they're still engaged in the game, though they may be a turn behind the other players.

In short: a game that is deep enough that the beginner has very little chance to win, but that still keeps the beginner engaged. This seems ideal to me!
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Deev
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Nearly a year later, I discovered this great review! It reflects my experience with the game really well. It's been about a decade since I played Axis & Allies with friends who wore out on it pretty quickly and I've been thrilled to have found (serendipitously) Power Grid. Friends (even those who I don't know to be all that "geeky") have enjoyed it.

I would love to know which other games fall into this category for you:

Quote:
It's one I bring to friends' houses, throw in the car on roadtrips, pack into my luggage when visiting family, and so on. There are other games that I use this way (Hey, That's My Fish!, for example) but Power Grid is unquestionably the heaviest and longest of this group.


Thanks in advance if you're able to reply with a few suggestions!
 
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Sam Carroll
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Well, lately I've gotten into Finca; that seems to work pretty well. It's fairly easy to pick up the play, as there are only two things you can do on your turn: collect fruit by moving one of your workers (you have between 3 and 5 to choose from) or deliver fruit to one of the villages. Throw in special action tokens and it gets a shade heavier, but you can leave those out the first time if necessary. The scoring is a bit convoluted, though, so I think people tend not to get the hang of the scoring until about 2/3 of the way through their first game. Luckily, it plays pretty quickly.

Another recent game that I've used that way is Core Worlds. As I said, Hey, That's My Fish! is good for traveling. I sometimes try Formula D, too, or a co-op like Pandemic. For a two-player game, I love Blue Moon; that one really depends who you're playing it with, though.
 
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