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Subject: A Brief Comparison of all Power Grid Expansions rss

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Alex Drazen
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Instead of searching through a dozen pages, I thought it would be nice to give a brief synopsis of all of the official Power Grid expansions (excluding the promo cards, which I do not have).

The purpose of this review is not to review Power Grid as a whole (lots of people have done it), but rather to help give people an idea which expansions they would most enjoy.

I will focus on a few brief details of each game, rather than the physical board layout (To be more specific, I will talk about space and connection costs, but not where each resource track is located).

ORIGINAL MAPS

USA: This is the very first map I played. It is an unbalanced map, with expensive connection costs in the western USA, and relatively cheap ones to the east. The standard (base) rules are used. Personally, I find this map to be a bit dull, but it may be my frequent plays on BSW that caused that sentiment. It is a reasonable introductory map for newcomers, as long as the East Coast is in play.

Germany: This is the second map that uses the base rules. It is somewhat more expensive than the USA, and only has one really cheap area (the central western region), with one somewhat cheap one to the north as well. I don't think this is good for new players; it's basically an expensive, longer-playing map than the USA. Things will probably be a bit more tactical on this map. I feel like Germany games are always the same, though, so I rarely play it.

FRANCE/ITALY

France: Ah, now we're getting interesting! France has unbalanced connection costs, with the Paris region being cheap, as well as the extreme southeast, but expensive connections in between. It's also the only map with a "donut hole" configuration possible for 5-6 players. Nukes are cheap and the 11 and 17 plants, long considered clunkers, become powerful and coveted. In games exceeding 3 players, Paris (which consists of 3 cities linked at 0 connection cost) isn't always available for you - so plan carefully! The "13" plant is removed, its "first up" role now taken by the 11. The decent abundance of resources because of the nuclear plants makes this map somewhat beginner-friendly, although you might have to advise them on expanding their network wisely.

Italy: This is one of the most claustrophobic maps in Power Grid, and quite a challenge. There are lots of twists and dead-ends when not playing with many regions, and resources start more expensive (coal 3, oil 4) than on other maps. The exception is trash, starting at 5 - so suddenly that worthless #06 plant becomes a bargain, and maybe even the subject of a bidding war. This is NOT a map for beginners -- one mistake on this map will crush you horribly. One down side is that because of the long, skinny shape, there is not as much variability in region selection.

CHINA/KOREA

Korea: The dual market, with the choice to buy only from North or South Korea (but not both) on each turn makes for some interesting challenges, and amplifies the effect of turn order. The map is fairly tight as well, with some regions very cheap and others fairly expensive. It isn't for beginners, but if you have a group of very experienced players, this map seems to be the most fun for everyone.

China: I've only played it once. The plant market is fixed until around the 30, certain plants are removed, and resources are exceedingly scarce. With a starting market of 05-06-(07-08-09-10), slow plant replacement, the inability of all players to buy a plant on every turn, extremely expensive connections away from the coast, and coal and oil starting at 5, this map is a total, all-out war. Oddly, the one time I played it, it moved very quickly!

JAPAN/RUSSIA

Japan: This is another claustrophobic map, but you get to start in 2 different cities (unless you're the high-plant-numbered player in a 6-player game and your companions conspire to eliminate you on Turn 1!). How claustrophobic is it? Well, some cities only have two legal spots in which to build, rather than three! This map also only has 5 regions, and is a long skinny map like Italy, so there are few variations to be chosen. I actually did do an introductory game with someone on it, and he liked the game (and came in second), although I am not sure I would recommend it as an introductory map.

Russia: I've only ever played this once. I tried it as a 2p, and did not think it was anything particularly special. The one catch was the scrapping a plant when the FIRST player didn't bid -- sometimes you had to be good at bluffing!

BENELUX/CENTRAL EUROPE

Benelux: This is THE MAP to introduce new players to the game. It's cheap, resources are plentiful, oil is powerful, and it plays about 30% faster than any other map. Unfortunately, with everything very cheap, a swing of luck can make a huge difference; you can jump up a lot of cities at once on this map, and almost none of it is expensive (just the far south and northeast). The down side is that this map only has 5 regions (despite Luxembourg being shaded purple), which reduces variability (although not as much as Japan, as you can get more combinations on this map).

Central Europe: This map is the one I win on most often. It's kind of gimmicky, with its nuke-free zones and trash discount in Wein. I find that, much like Germany, the game plays out almost the same way every time -- nobody ever wants to exclude Wein, and you usually want to balance the nuke/no-nuke regions. It is an OK map for new players to learn on.

BRAZIL/SPAIN & PORTUGAL

Brazil: Want a resource shortage? Play this map. NOT meant for beginners. Even a 3 player game can drag on for 2 hours when you hit plant and resource stalls. Coal restocks at 1-2-3 for small games... yes, you read that correctly. Wind plants obviously become critical. Oh, and lots of the connections are at Germany map levels of expensive, too!

Spain/Portugal: I've played this three times and never quite got the feel for it. Three wind plants come onto the market right when nuclear restocks in Step 2 -- but they usually come on too late to matter to anyone, causing a huge stall. The map is medium-expensive, but for some reason I found it kind of boring, and Portugal's anti-nuke stance never matters, because nobody ever wants to start there. This was the worst rule revision, in my opinion. You can play this map with new players, but I'd pick something more fun.

QUEBEC/BADEN-WÜRTTEMBERG

Quebec: This is a pretty crazy map. A tight space in the middle, and remote "wings" on the end. I've done this as 5-6 player and those games are pretty incredible. Lots of fighting for space, lots of bidding wars, and with Quebec's lower restock rate, the shortages are common but not economy-killing (unlike Brazil's). It can be a bit confusing to track Montreal/Quebec City builds, with multiple cities in a special map "inset" rather than on the board (like Paris, France) and is confusing visually when analyzing your opponents' placement. Also, Montreal spans two regions, with 2 cities in each - this is confusing if you do not look at it carefully, because some people assume playing one Montreal region requires playing the other (it doesn't). The down side is that there are fewer combinations of regions you can select because, mathematically, this is similar to the Italy or Japan layout, just wider.

Baden-Württemberg: Only played it once. It was hard to keep track of all of the rule changes (when to scrap, Step 2 being in a different place), probably because this was done with The Robots at the same time. I don't see anything particularly groundbreaking here; the 15/20 cities are the same as the ones in Japan.

THE ROBOTS

I've only used them a couple times. They seem more suited to increasing randomness in a 2p game. I thought they actually gave the first player strength in some combinations. For example, if the robot "always buys the first plant offered," but also "always buys max resources," and is "always first to buy resources," the first player can often create a resource shortage for the trailing player. Some of the combinations seem poorly thought out and unfair for this reason, as the first player each round is supposed to be handicapped, not have a blatant advantage. Other than the plant bidding aspect of the robots, they seem OK. Personally, I prefer the dice-rolling selection of the solo-play variant. If they fixed the plant bidding rules a bit, the robots would be better.

PLANT DECK 2

This deck is a bit more unbalanced than the original. The early plants are much more powerful, but many of the midgame plants are equally powerful or even less so. For example, in Deck 1, the 20 is 3 coal for 5 cities. In deck 2, this plant is now the 28! Hybrid plants jump from providing power for 2 cities (13, 1 hybrid for 2 cities) all the way up to monsters (29, 3 hybrid for 5 cities). Oil is weaker as well, with the old 26 being 2 oil for 5 cities, and the new 25 being 3 oil for 5 cities. Only the new 39 and 44 plants improve upon wind. The net effect is that most players seem to pick up their final endgame plant only in Step 3, and the game becomes more of a race (because players can save money and build out when they have less than full capacity, but more capacity than anyone else). This deck IS probably more friendly to new players than the original, as there are more ways they can bail themselves out.


And there you have it -- every expansion. I welcome everyone's comments.

My favorites are probably Korea, Quebec, and France, although I will of course play any map, anytime, anywhere!
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Patrick Riley
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alexdrazen wrote:
And there you have it -- every expansion. I welcome everyone's comments.


What about Power Grid: Northern Europe/United Kingdom & Ireland?
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Patrick Riley
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I've used Robots in solo, 2-, and 3-player games. What I like about them is that they change up the environment and dynamics of the game. Manipulating their plant purchases and city expansion adds an interesting element to the game.

Sure, some may help the first player, but then that just changes the value of the first player position and players should adjust their strategy accordingly. On the UK map (we didn't use Ireland), we had a robot that always built its first city for free. Because it had so much excess cash, it actually ended the game at 17 cities on Step 2 when the rest of us only had 14 cities each. The robot might have won, actually, but it was stuck buying all the ecological plants and had less capacity than we did.
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Daniel West
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I recently taught a group of 6 players the game using the Benelux map. While it was easy to navigate and budget for resources, I found the big downside was that it was a region of the world that is not easily identifiable. When playing a map that is an entire country that is a common travel destination, that seems to grab players a little more. They get more excited to compete over the economy of France for instance than for a region of land they don't recognize. Sorry if that offends anyone from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg!
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Mark van den Boer
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alexdrazen wrote:

Brazil: Want a resource shortage? Play this map

The map that stands out to me as having brutal resource shortages toward the end is Japan (played 3 and 4 players).
Playing the Japan map with the new power plants makes this resource shortage go away.
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Richard Smeltzer
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syrinx2112 wrote:

The map that stands out to me as having brutal resource shortages toward the end is Japan (played 3 and 4 players).

We had a major resource shortage playing the UK/Ireland map. Had to buy lower, more efficient plants and dump the high capacity ones.
 
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Rafael Fuentes
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Great review! I've only gotten the China/Korea maps but it is very likely I will get some more to get the required variety.

Have you played with the promo cards? Warehouse, Theme park, etc? I got those but I have not included them in a game yet.

There is also the supply contract and industrial espionage promos. I haven't heard any opinions about them.

Great collection of maps man!
 
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Davido
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Agree that Benelux is the ideal learning/fast map.

Quote:
China: I've only played it once. The plant market is fixed until around the 30, certain plants are removed, and resources are exceedingly scarce. With a starting market of 05-06-(07-08-09-10), slow plant replacement, the inability of all players to buy a plant on every turn, extremely expensive connections away from the coast, and coal and oil starting at 5, this map is a total, all-out war. Oddly, the one time I played it, it moved very quickly!


Brutal, just brutal. If Lord of the Rings was a standard euro, it would be Power Grid China. Imagine the feeling of a Urak Hai doing the twist on your throat w/ hob nailed boots. And you know that the pain is only just beginning. I would rather saw off my limbs than pay to 'leap frog' connections. In PG: China, I happily paid 75Electro to leap frog. Brutal, unforgiving map. Play PG: China when you think you've seen everything power grid can throw at you. MOre, please
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Great article!

alexdrazen wrote:

PLANT DECK 2

This deck is a bit more unbalanced than the original.


A bit of a strange conclusion, in my view. To me the standout feature of this deck is that it is more balanced than the original. In the original, some of the mid-game plants (20,25,26) are just way better than the others, and generally there are a lot of plants that just suck. As a result luck can play a more frustrating role, and this unbalance is also the cause of the dreaded occasional mid-game stall. I saw Plant Deck 2 as addressing these problems by making most of the plants good, but none so good like the 25 in the original deck. I love Plant Deck 2, as it ameliorates the frustration of randomness in the power plant market.
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Daniel West
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The problem though with Plant Deck 2 is that every time a new map comes out, new rules are needed for that deck. Does anyone know if they have finished the rules for the new plant deck with Ireland & UK/Northern Europe?
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Patrick Riley
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Team D20 wrote:
Does anyone know if they have finished the rules for the new plant deck with Ireland & UK/Northern Europe?


Ireland & UK don't do anything special with the plant deck, so no changes are needed.

Northern Europe replaces plants in the deck, which works equally well with the new deck. IIRC, there is an 18 plant which isn't in the new deck, but I'd just add it (like I do with the Flux Capacitor) and play on.
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Team D20 wrote:
The problem though with Plant Deck 2 is that every time a new map comes out, new rules are needed for that deck. Does anyone know if they have finished the rules for the new plant deck with Ireland & UK/Northern Europe?


See http://www.2f-spiele.de/spiele/pdf/us_promo_anleitung__ex_20...
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not to hijack the thread, but which is the best map to use in a 2P game - without robots? and with the robots expansion?
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Alex Drazen
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Quote:
A bit of a strange conclusion, in my view. To me the standout feature of this deck is that it is more balanced than the original. In the original, some of the mid-game plants (20,25,26) are just way better than the others, and generally there are a lot of plants that just suck. As a result luck can play a more frustrating role, and this unbalance is also the cause of the dreaded occasional mid-game stall. I saw Plant Deck 2 as addressing these problems by making most of the plants good, but none so good like the 25 in the original deck. I love Plant Deck 2, as it ameliorates the frustration of randomness in the power plant market.


By unbalanced, I mean that:

- The vast majority of starting plants are significantly better than Plant Deck 1.

- The mid-game plants aren't really that great, especially in a 3-4p game when you need 17 capacity.

- The end game plants are mostly awesome, which renders all of the mid-game plants to "trap" status. I've actually seen a WORSE plant stall because of Deck 2, because nobody wants to double down on 4-capacity plants.

I did not know there was another official Power Grid map! My expansion box is already full, though.

Also, for those who asked, I thought I said I lacked the promo cards, so I was unable to review them.
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I think the thing you're complaining about is that they're too balanced. The original plants having stronger plants early and weaker plants late gives rise to earlier bidding wars on those strong plants, and gives good players the odd chance to show their skill by picking up those typically weaker plants when it's appropriate. With the newer deck, the plants tend not to be overpowered or underpowered at any particular point (Well, okay, the early plants are a little better, whoop de doo, something you use 1-2 times is stronger, you save ~10-15 electros), and so you end up losing some of the edge of tense bidding and the like.
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Jason Emme
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Thanks for the review(s?)! I have been contemplating expanding Power Grid, but didn't know where to start. I think you have laid out the groundwork for me.
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Team D20 wrote:
They get more excited to compete over the economy of France for instance than for a region of land they don't recognize. Sorry if that offends anyone from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg!

None taken!
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Alex Drazen
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Quote:
(Well, okay, the early plants are a little better, whoop de doo, something you use 1-2 times is stronger, you save ~10-15 electros)


They are hardly something you use merely once or twice.

A plant such as the new 06 (1 garbage -> 2 cities), or the new 08 in France (1 nuke -> 2 cities, with nukes starting at 5) is pretty powerful.

The only one I ever used a starting Plant Deck 2 plant "once or twice" was when, just to see how the game would play out, I bought the 01 ($1) on the Korea map, stocked up on coal (1+2)x2 + 1x3 = $9, and built the four cities together with zero connection costs ($40).

Even the new 03 (1 coal -> 1 city) is nice. Almost as good as the 10/11 if coal is cheap.

The first 6-capacity plant in Deck 2 is the 34 (3 coal for 6 cities), which is inferior to the original deck's equivalent (the 31, 3 coal for 6 cities), and is four numbers higher than the original 6-city plant (30, 3 garbage for 6 cities). The new 30 is a total clunker (1 coal for 4 cities, at that cost?). There are still only three 7 plants and one 8 plant in the base Deck 2 game, and in a 4 player game, one to four of those plants will be removed. With fewer viable 5's and 6's, or at least ones clearly inferior to the original deck (new 28, 3 coal for 5, was the old 20!) I contend that this makes a lucky drop to the final player MUCH more likely to determine the outcome of a game than the original, because it's that much harder to catch up in workable capacity.


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Sam Carroll
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alexdrazen wrote:
stocked up on coal (1+2)x2 + 1x3 = $6


That doesn't add up. Perhaps $9?
 
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Alex Drazen
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Quote:
That doesn't add up. Perhaps $9?


Well, $6 is just an upside-down $9. Corrected.

I just went through the side-by-side comparisons of the two decks (excluding the big plus plants 52, 54, 57, 60), and circled the plants I thought would be the subject of competitive bidding, or have a clear advantage of some type. Here is what I found:

Deck 1: 04, 08, 10, 15, 16, 20 (sometimes), 25, 26, 29 (maybe), 30, 32, 34, 38, 39, 40, 50.

Deck 2: 03, 06, 29 (maybe), 31, 33, 35 (maybe), 36, 37, 40, 42, 44, 50.

In Deck 1, the capacities are as follows:

6 plants power 1 city (Range: 03 through 13); 2 or 3 are clearly better.
9 plants power 2 cities (Range: 07 through 22); 2 or 3 are likely best.
5 plants power 3 cities (Range: 15 through 27); 2 are slightly better.
6 plants power 4 cities (Range: 21 through 37); only 1 or 2 are useful.
6 plants power 5 cities (Range: 20 through 44); 3 are highly desirable.
7 plants power 6 cities (Range: 30 through 50); 5 are highly desirable.
3 plants power 7 cities (Range: 36 through 46); 1 is highly desirable.

In Deck 2, there is the following breakdown:

6 plants power 1 city (Range: 01 through 11); 2 are clearly better.
8 plants power 2 cities (Range: 05 through 16); 1 is vastly superior.
4 plants power 3 cities (Range: 09 through 26); they all kind of stink.
7 plants power 4 cities (Range: 14 through 32); none are all that great.
8 plants power 5 cities (Range: 21 through 39); 2 or 3 are better.
5 plants power 6 cities (Range: 34 through 44); 4 are pretty great.
3 plants power 7 cities (Range: 37 through 46); 2 are highly desirable.
1 plant powers 8 cities (Range: 50 through 50); it is mostly desirable.


So in deck 1, there are 16 plants that I see bid on almost all the time. In Deck 2, I can find only 12 plants I would expect to be bid on nearly all the time.

I know there are lots of good 4 plants in Deck 2. The problem is, you are paying 20+ electro for a plant you are almost certain to need to replace. It's only a slight difference, but it often means one build less, despite the increased capacity. Maybe I'm wrong, but I trust the Deck 2 four-capacity plants even less than I trust the ones in Deck 1.

In addition, virtually ALL of the desirable endgame plants in Deck 2 are at a number above 30. While there are plants with sufficient endgame capacity in Deck 2, most of them suffer from one issue or another. The 21 (first five plant) requires one extra trash for one extra city vs. its closest match in Deck 1 (the 24), but the declining returns and price of trash make this ill-advised, especially in smaller games.

Finally, there are simply fewer viable endgame plants in Deck 2. There are 16 endgame plants in Deck 1 (5+ capacity) and 17 endgame plants in Deck 2. There are 9 "clear winners" in Deck 1, but only 7 "clear winners" in deck 2. In addition, the Deck 2 "winners" will come out later, on average, as they are 5 to 15 numbers higher than the Deck 1 winners.

I feel like this leads to the game ending in Step 2, or letting one person get a slight capacity lead and build out early. Yes, these are viable strategies, but you don't want the game to be like that EVERY time.

Maybe I need to try the variant where you select the "best" plant for each number, or the one with the "big" plants under the Step 3 card?
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Thanks Alex for your insights. Honestly, I haven't played Power Grid in years and this discussion is definitely whetting my appetite! Maybe I'll get it to the table tonight.
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I have for you a compliment, a comment, and a question...

This is great, nice work!

Except I'm dubious of your evaluation of Russia having only played it once and with 2 players. I found it quite good when I played (5 players). I seem to remember it feeling like a faster game because the market would always cycle when somebody passed (the first time each round at least). Also I think there are only 3 plants each in the current and future market which really changes the feel of the plant auction. Of course I've only played it once so perhaps you should be dubious of my opinion as well but I just think a 2 player game probably doesn't give a great feel for the map.

Speaking of which, here is my question ... which maps would you recommend for 2 player games (no robots)? I haven't played 2p but I plan to get around to it.
 
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Haven't played Power Grid, but by reading you I feel like almost everything in it is imbalanced and/or newbie-unfriendly.
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Chris Ferejohn
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"Imbalanced" here doesn't mean "unfair" - it just means a map that has regions that are much easier to expand into than others. Since a good portion the game revolves around manipulating your turn order and deciding when to make a big expansion this merely changes how important these considerations are rather than making the game "unfair."

And yeah, a lot of the expansion maps are harder, but that's how you'd want to design it - a few maps that are good for new players (which for infrequent players is all they will ever need) and a bunch of maps for advanced/expert players to let them explore the game further.
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Alex Drazen
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Oh, I forgot about the Russia market. Perhaps above 2p it is more interesting?

I would say the best 2p games have unbalanced, high connection costs. When you have very cheap areas combined with 4 plants, it becomes way too easy to manipulate construction to get one player permanently in the lead.

In my opinion, boards with lots of free-connection cities (Korea, Brazil) or obviously cheap regions (Benelux, Spain/Portugal, Japan) where the first builder can make an expensive jump for the other player should be avoided, or you should play the other areas.

Also to be avoided are layouts where you can easily set up a "personal plot" (2+ cities behind your own that your opponent cannot build to in Step 1 without paying to jump you) while still having good expansion opportunities elsewhere. In other words, make a donut/circle, not a skinny tube (preferably the donut/circle center will be relatively expensive, or else the same problem will occur). An example of this "bad" setup would be to play blue, red, and yellow/green on the USA map.

So, I'd say it's not so much which board, but which regions you play. I think that the best board with lots of free/cheap areas is probably to play the Quebec City and Montreal regions of the Quebec board.

In general, boards with resource shortages are the best boards for 2p, because it at least gives you SOMETHING to fight your opponent for besides real estate.
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