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Subject: No Board variant rss

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Domenic
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I haven't tried this yet, but am planning to give it a go in a few days. Thought I might as well post what I'm thinking of here, to see if I can get any good inputs before I try it out. I'll edit this post afterwards to reflect the final rules we use.

I've played Power Grid a number of times now, but as a new player I had a hard time with the abrupt transition between the early game of (generally) buying power plants at face value and fuel at market value and the end game of bidding for the game-winning power plant and dealing with fuel shortages. It seems to me that most of the energy spent on the building of the network on the board is a distraction from the "real" competition of the plants and fuel.

A simple change in rules would be as follows:
Don't place cities on the board. Instead, assume that every player has as many cities as their power plants could power if they had fuel. Otherwise, play as normal.

This is, of course, a simpler game. Thus, I would not expect long-time PG fans to prefer it. However, it may be a faster game or better for teaching first-time players most of the game without overwhelming them with extra rules.

My first thought is that, by not having to buy cities, players will have a lot more extra cash than they would in the regular game. To deal with this, I thought about cutting the income generated for producing power by 40%, and printing up new reference sheets. This will help simulate the expenditure normally required to build cities, but has the drawback of not matching the regular rules, making it less useful as a teaching stepping-stone. Other options that help pull cash out have the same drawback, so it might be best just to leave the extra money in the game. For now, I think I will just leave the income alone. What do you think?

Also, if the meat of PG is in the last-turn plays of power plant bidding and fuel market manipulation, I am wondering if this system, by injecting extra cash and/or making it easier for players to track the markets by removing the distraction of the board, will bring that style of play earlier into the game. That is, if city-buying is removed, does it become advantageous to begin manipulating the markets earlier? If so, then PG might actually be a better game for it, where players are battling to control the markets throughout, rather than playing essentially independently early and then suddenly switching to a cutthroat mode.

Constructive input greatly appreciated.
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David desJardins
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It's funny, Power Grid exists because the original game, Funkenschlag, had a more complex network-building game that was simplified for this game. But of course it's still possible to find it too simple.

My suggestion, if you want a simpler game without the map, is to require players to build cities into their network but just have a fixed cost for each one. Maybe $15 per city for the first five, $20 for the next five, $25 for ones after that. Then you can just track the size of each player's network with a single counter.

Personally I think there's no way this could make the game better. But at least it would be playable.
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Well, variant aside, I'd say a lot of tactics comes down to the interaction between board and power plants, especially money wise. Sure, player X can afford the endgame plant and resources, but if I build these two cities, then he won't have the cash to end the game. But if I outbid him, I won't be able to afford both cities and resources. That kind of thing.

In terms of the variant, perhaps you could have a city track which says how many cities you own? Say, everyone starts on 0, and each city costs 10+2X, X being the no. of cities you own (so 10, 12, 14 etc.). Or possibly just a list of city costs in step 1, 2, 3 (something like step 1 is e.g. two each of 10-20, step 2 is two each of 15-25 and step 3 is two each of 20-30 in a 3 player game). That way, you don't need to adjust city building and the rules really very much, it's just instead of worrying about board position and blocking, each person just gets slightly cheaper/more expensive connections.
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I am going to agree with David. The price of new cities is inherently incorporated into the reimbursement system. Either the reimbursement must be changed or the cost to build cities must be included. The progressive increase in cost is also a great idea if you try it without the board.

However, I think he is currently underestimating the cost of the last few cities. I think 15, 22, and 30 is more in line with the actual price structure in the game.
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Aaron Bohm
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The first problem I can think of is how there will be a tremendous run away leader problem with this variant. Essentially whoever has the most money will continually be able to buy the best power plants thus allowing them to get more money thus allowing them to buy the best power plants.

The second is that it kind of makes the differences of the Power Plants pointless. Money is usually pretty tight in Power Grid so getting efficient power plants is important. By far what people spend the most on throughout the game is cities and connections. With this influx of cash, the most important thing about a city will be how many cities it can power, regardless of how inefficient it is.



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Domenic
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Thanks for all the feedback. Obviously if the goal is simplification, then a simpler cost system is better than a more complex one ... but it would be easy enough to print out a track for each player with increasing costs for each successive city, so that's not necessarily out. I might prefer printing up a reduced income card to adding in extra rules about buying cities. Using a replacement income card and eliminating cities entirely keeps this variant simpler than using a city cost track, and either way you're teaching something "wrong" that has to be undone when upgrading to full PG. (Which is more "wrong" is arguable, but in my mind its pretty close to a wash.)

The idea that this variant would be fundamentally broken is troubling, but I'm not sure that these concerns are well-founded:

Never Knows Best wrote:
The first problem I can think of is how there will be a tremendous run away leader problem with this variant. Essentially whoever has the most money will continually be able to buy the best power plants thus allowing them to get more money thus allowing them to buy the best power plants.

Standard PG has this issue as well, at least potentially. The primary catch-up mechanism is that the current leader gets punished in the turn order, facing the most competition in the power plant market and paying the highest prices for fuel. This would still be true.

Quote:

The second is that it kind of makes the differences of the Power Plants pointless. Money is usually pretty tight in Power Grid so getting efficient power plants is important. By far what people spend the most on throughout the game is cities and connections. With this influx of cash, the most important thing about a city will be how many cities it can power, regardless of how inefficient it is.

I think efficiency will still be important, since a major goal will be to have enough cash on hand to win the critical auctions near the game end and to buy fuel or cause fuel shortages. In a way, the extra cash is also more newbie-friendly in that a player will (almost) always be able to buy the fuel they need unless other players are deliberately causing a shortage. That is, you'll never have the newbie buy some new cities and then realize they can't afford the fuel they need and fall behind never to recover.
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Bill Eldard
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DaviddesJ wrote:
. . . Personally I think there's no way this could make the game better. But at least it would be playable.


Agreed.

It think it takes most of us many plays of Power Grid to realize appreciate all the moving parts. The buying of power stations ('cities') does indeed impact play throughout the game, particularly as players approach the Step 2 trigger (In most scenarios, the 7th station constructed). All this ties into fuel market manipulation and, of cours, the bidding on the power plants, not to mention the link of station building decisions to adjusting turn order.

Among experienced players, the outcome frequently comes down to the final game turn, but that by no means marginalizes the importance of elektro expenditures through the game,
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Bryan Thunkd
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Personally I think there's no way this could make the game better. But at least it would be playable.

Not only could it not make the game better, but it rips the soul out of the game. It's the dynamic tension of whether and when to buy cities, fuel or plants that is the heart of the game. This is like teaching driving by putting the car up on cinder blocks.
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Domenic
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Thunkd wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:
Personally I think there's no way this could make the game better. But at least it would be playable.

Not only could it not make the game better, but it rips the soul out of the game. It's the dynamic tension of whether and when to buy cities, fuel or plants that is the heart of the game. This is like teaching driving by putting the car up on cinder blocks.


I agree that much of the game is about whether to put money into cities, fuel, or plants, but I think this is overstating the impact of the change. If PG has three dimensions of gameplay, then reducing that to two is like saying you should learn to drive a car before learning to fly a plane, and suggesting that learning to fly a plane will be easier if you already know how to drive a car.
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Bryan Thunkd
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dommer2029 wrote:
If PG has three dimensions of gameplay, then reducing that to two is like saying you should learn to drive a car before learning to fly a plane, and suggesting that learning to fly a plane will be easier if you already know how to drive a car.

Why then, reduce it to one and it will be even easier to learn.
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Alex Drazen
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Quote:
Not only could it not make the game better, but it rips the soul out of the game. It's the dynamic tension of whether and when to buy cities, fuel or plants that is the heart of the game. This is like teaching driving by putting the car up on cinder blocks.


This! With no city building and conflict for space on the board ("Do I want cheaper cities or cheaper things from turn order?") there wouldn't be anything resembling Power Grid. Actually, what would you even do with turn order? The only factor in turn order would be the plants purchased (or their individual/collective capacities). The first player with an efficient plant would be a nigh-unstoppable runaway leader. The first player to get "unlucky" on a plant drop would not just be disadvantaged, but would likely be effectively eliminated from the game.

If the OP wants a simple "practice" Power Grid, why not just play the Introductory game? I believe you only play Step 1, and the game ends when someone builds a 7th city. Personally, I already think that oversimplifies the game, but if that's what they want, then it's certainly out there.

Or, for a really simple Power Grid, simply take the plant cards and play it as Rack-o. Heh.
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Robert Zaleski
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I think it might be a decent quick intro version. I would imagine playing it this way would make it quicker.

For the run away leader, you should still have resource buying / PP bidding to hurt the leader. Make sure the turn order changes are in-tact, that's huge. And the stragglers will still have lower incremental costs to get cities.
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Aaron Tang
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All three aspects are equally important, so if you think it's a distraction, it's because you're not focusing on the others. Just because you're not focusing on them doesn't mean those don't have impact early in the game - even in a three player game, the third player can pay upwards of 5-10 more to buy the same amount of resources, or to power the same number of cities.

So while the simplified game may help someone such as yourself focus on power plants and resources, I don't think the "distraction" is a common problem. I mean, you are bidding for power plants - there are no distractions there. The game pits you against each other, and only one person can have that plant. You then buy resources, and it doesn't take much to see that, after two players have bought 3 pieces of coal each, you are suddenly paying 9 for your 3 pieces, versus 3 and 6. I think a 100% to 200% difference is big enough - not to mention that after a few turns, everyone on the table should notice resources getting more expensive, as they're used up faster than they're replenished.

The answer isn't to focus on one or the other and completely ignoring the rest; the answer is learning how to look out for all these things and balancing them.

Or, if you really want, like the other poster said, just reduce it to one dimension and have it a buying or bidding game.
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Mark Delano
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I could see keeping track of the total number of cities built, and pegging the price of the next city to that total. For each N cities built in an N player game raise the price of the next city by some increment (probably 1).

So in a four player game:

Building City # Cost
1 15
2 15
3 15
4 15
5 16
6 16
7 16
8 16
9 17
10 17
11 17
12 17


and so on.
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Domenic
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BockBockChicken wrote:
All three aspects are equally important, so if you think it's a distraction, it's because you're not focusing on the others. Just because you're not focusing on them doesn't mean those don't have impact early in the game - even in a three player game, the third player can pay upwards of 5-10 more to buy the same amount of resources, or to power the same number of cities.

So while the simplified game may help someone such as yourself focus on power plants and resources, I don't think the "distraction" is a common problem. I mean, you are bidding for power plants - there are no distractions there. The game pits you against each other, and only one person can have that plant. You then buy resources, and it doesn't take much to see that, after two players have bought 3 pieces of coal each, you are suddenly paying 9 for your 3 pieces, versus 3 and 6. I think a 100% to 200% difference is big enough - not to mention that after a few turns, everyone on the table should notice resources getting more expensive, as they're used up faster than they're replenished.

The answer isn't to focus on one or the other and completely ignoring the rest; the answer is learning how to look out for all these things and balancing them.

Or, if you really want, like the other poster said, just reduce it to one dimension and have it a buying or bidding game.


Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that the network-building portion, between players of equal skill, either has no impact on the outcome because players spend nearly-equal amounts building their cities, or else it has a significant but random impact (or worse, an impact determined by the initial random turn order) because the money saved by having lower initial network costs due to initial position rolls over into greater production, greater income, etc. If it has no impact, then removing it doesn't cost anything. If it has a large random impact, then removing it will make the game purer. (I think I said "better" in an earlier post. Better is a matter of taste, so that was a mistake. But some games have a lot of extraneous fiddly bits that take time to process without providing a corresponding benefit. Other games focus on the interaction of their most interesting mechanics and provide a "purer" experience. That this makes a "purer" Power Grid is a more defensible statement.)

As far as "distraction" goes, I do believe that players have a limited mental bandwidth, and the effort of learning a new game counts against the entertainment value of the game. Accordingly, if the networking portion of the game is the weakest link, then the additional entertainment value of playing the full game over the two-element game may not be worth the additional teaching/learning effort of the third element.

I think it's important to note that nobody has suggested that removing a different one of the three elements would be a better choice. That suggests that there is some agreement that the board is the least-integrated part. Certainly you could remove fuel and treat all plants as if they were wind. Or you could eliminate bidding on plants and create an automatic system for distributing them. If I were trying to play with kids, I might try either or both of these, but I think either of those would gut the game for adults. The network element seems to be in a different class: this thread has come up with at least 4 different ways to get cities rather than using the board, each of which is simpler and faster than the board and each of which would maintain a distinctly Power Grid experience. As a fifth option, given the variety of Power Grid maps, it would be entirely possible to create a board in which each player has an independent track of cities to build in. This would change this from a "no board" variant to a "beginner's board" variant, and perhaps raise less hue and cry.

Update: The new player I was planning on teaching using this variant ended up canceling, and our group ended up playing something else instead.
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dommer2029 wrote:
Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that the network-building portion, between players of equal skill, either has no impact on the outcome because players spend nearly-equal amounts building their cities, or else it has a significant but random impact (or worse, an impact determined by the initial random turn order)


I think you're missing another possibility: that the network-building portion has an element of interesting strategy!
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Alex Drazen
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Quote:
Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that the network-building portion, between players of equal skill, either has no impact on the outcome because players spend nearly-equal amounts building their cities, or else it has a significant but random impact (or worse, an impact determined by the initial random turn order) because the money saved by having lower initial network costs due to initial position rolls over into greater production, greater income, etc.

If it has no impact, then removing it doesn't cost anything. If it has a large random impact, then removing it will make the game purer



I would not describe the difference in network building as "random." The costs are laid out on the map for all to see. The only random element is where people build their houses, which tends to be "go after the highly contested areas first, followed by the cheapest available option."

Skill on the board, at least for experienced players, is very much part of the game. You have to balance taking a city right away (before someone else does), vs. your turn order. Especially in a 4P game, sometimes you have to build things you don't really want to, lest you be permanently locked out of ever building to winning capacity (I've seen it happen; it's in the "Ways to Lose at Power Grid" thread).

I've seen enough games on BSW to know that the guy who takes the 03 in France and builds all of Paris almost always loses badly. I've seen few people win starting in the central east or southwest of Germany. I've seen exactly nobody win starting on the Pacific coast in the USA.

It also depends on the map and regions. If you're playing Benelux or mainly cheap regions (four eastern USA regions, for example), the map is less relevant because everything is cheap. It's still not irrelevant, as there are minor advantages to be gleaned, especially in the "dead end" areas.

But if you're playing 5p/6p on, say, China, Russia, Quebec, Japan, or Korea -- the spatial skills involved are suddenly going to be a MAJOR part of your game play. You have to anticipate a lot of moving parts, and could easily have to forgo a plant for connections (or vice versa). It's only "random" if the people are new and playing randomly.

There are three places where you can come into conflict in Power Grid: plants, resources, and money. Severe resource conflicts are rare; when they run out, people change strategies, knowing they will both lose if they deplete their main suppliers. Plants can bring bidding wars, but I've only seen those get really intense in Step 3 or when players are desperate.

The primary driver of conflict in Power Grid, in my experience, is the space on the board. It's what you need to build out, and you are fighting other people for it. You can get another plant/resource (hybrid), but aside from 2P/3P games, if you don't take space quickly enough, you are going to lose, and lose badly.

Example from a game last week: Benelux map (teaching 3 new players, in a 6p game). In Round 3, I took the 31 coal (my first plant was the 08 coal). Coal got bought out, so in Round 4 or 5, I also got the 34 nuke. I couldn't buy cities and had spent a lot on plants -- so I could not build as fast as the other players, who were out-earning me early. This meant that in Step 2, I could only build 2-3 cities per turn, so even though I got to build first, I was finding my options becoming more and more limited (even though I tried to spread out). Now, I clawed my way back into second place in that game (the winner powered 15, although if we had bid him up about $15 more on the 38 garbage plant, he couldn't have done it -- I had to settle for the 23 nuke to have 14 capacity and still be able to build enough cities, which unfortunately was not before the winner). But it was a total grind, and the ONLY reason I got back into it at all was my willingness to fight for space on the board. If I had focused on the third endgame plant any sooner, I would have been effectively locked out of a good build, and never made it to 14 cities.
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David desJardins
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dommer2029 wrote:
Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that the network-building portion, between players of equal skill, either has no impact on the outcome because players spend nearly-equal amounts building their cities, or else it has a significant but random impact (or worse, an impact determined by the initial random turn order) because the money saved by having lower initial network costs due to initial position rolls over into greater production, greater income, etc.


Everything in the whole game, between players of equal skill, either has no impact on the outcome or has a random impact. Because given the same opportunities, players of equal skill do exactly as well at exploiting them. So why play the game at all? You might as well just flip a coin, because between players of equal skill the outcome is completely determined by random factors like who goes first.

The problem with this whole analysis is the assumption that everyone is of equal skill and makes equally good decisions.
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alexdrazen wrote:

The primary driver of conflict in Power Grid, in my experience, is the space on the board. It's what you need to build out, and you are fighting other people for it. You can get another plant/resource (hybrid), but aside from 2P/3P games, if you don't take space quickly enough, you are going to lose, and lose badly.


Interesting that you mention 4P as a sort of threshold for this ... the vast majority of my Power Grid games have been at 3P. Perhaps that's where the disconnect between our experiences comes in? It certainly sounds as though you and DaviddesJ are experiencing much deeper analysis of optimal placement/timing than I've seen.

Quote:

I've seen enough games on BSW to know that the guy who takes the 03 in France and builds all of Paris almost always loses badly.


Also interesting. In my very first game of Power Grid, the player who took Paris seemed to get off to an unshakeable lead after saving so much on his initial connections.

DaviddesJ wrote:

The problem with this whole analysis is the assumption that everyone is of equal skill and makes equally good decisions.

Fair enough. Is there a thread somewhere that talks about the strategy of placement? Generally, players in my group simply place the cities they can power, with the lowest connection costs. Occasionally, a player builds in a contested location first, securing a less-expensive location for later. It would be rare that building in a location you otherwise would not build in just to block someone else is a good move, as it hurts you and the other player to the benefit of the uninvolved players. That said, it sounds like you've both experienced "aha!" moments with the board play, where a player makes a surprising move on the board that has a dramatic impact.

The primary source of tension in my games has been vulnerability to supply shortages and/or the decision to cause them. That being the case, it makes sense to emphasize the portion of the game in which players determine which fuels they need and what the availability/price of those fuels are.
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dommer2029 wrote:
It would be rare that building in a location you otherwise would not build in just to block someone else is a good move, as it hurts you and the other player to the benefit of the uninvolved players.

Blocking moves are huge and happen frequently.
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Thunkd wrote:
dommer2029 wrote:
It would be rare that building in a location you otherwise would not build in just to block someone else is a good move, as it hurts you and the other player to the benefit of the uninvolved players.

Blocking moves are huge and happen frequently.

It's also worth pointing out that often a blocking move blocks more than one opponent, not just a single opponent.
 
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dommer2029 wrote:
It would be rare that building in a location you otherwise would not build in just to block someone else is a good move, as it hurts you and the other player to the benefit of the uninvolved players.


Why would it hurt you? Generally it helps you, e.g., by increasing your ability to build in the "blocked off" area later.
 
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Why would it hurt you? Generally it helps you, e.g., by increasing your ability to build in the "blocked off" area later.


Usually it keeps an opponent out of an area you want for yourself. I'm not sure how that hurts you.
 
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In fairness, it could hurt you if you built now solely to block even though you couldn't power the extra city, and you ended up moving earlier in the turn order, thus hurting yourself in the auction and resource buying later.

But yeah, there are plenty of situations where blocking others is good for you. And even if you do hurt yourself in the turn order, that could still be compensated for by the benefits of the blocking.
 
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To reply to the OP (not that the digression into placement tactics isn't interesting), I think you might gather by now that the fans are horrified by your suggestion. I think it's a reasonable teaching variant but no more, as it does over-simplify the game. However, if you are all new to Funkenschlag then either this or the short game to 7 cities would be better than starting with the whole thing.

Some further recommendations: avoid the USA map (the West coast isolation makes it tricky for at least 1 player); read the rules FAQ on BGG; download play aids (a full station manifest and something telling you the stage change effects and how they are implemented is vital); don't fret if no-one will cross the line to trigger Stage 2 (happens a lot, the game will sort it out in a few rounds); allow at least 3 hours for your first full game with 5 or 6 players; get everyone doing some of the admin (bank, resources, power stations, city count, player order) and allow players time to consider big bids but push them along when they're faffing about over buying 2 or 3 coal; if you like the game get buying maps.

Good luck with what I consider the finest business game made, the way this thread has developed might give you a clue to the depth of the tactical detail and the way the game forces responses to events rather than the "perfect plan" approach.
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