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FAQ for Power Grid: The First Sparks

Info taken from FAQs in file area and various forum threads, consolidated into a Wiki page so that people can more easily find all the info in one place and update it.
List of game FAQs

English rules

http://www.riograndegames.com/uploads/Game/Game_400_gameRules.pdf

German rules

http://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/71450/final-german-rules

Author's Forward

Heed Friedemann's warning!

It is quite possible for a player to get stuck earning only enough food to feed their placed meeples and not be able to buy more technology! This is not a bug in the game; it is an intended feature. It is a punishment for bad planning. If playing with newbies, point out that it is important to plan to earn enough food not only to feed the placed meeples but also to expand the tribe if desired and buy new technology if desired or else they will lose.

Preparation

2: Herb cards

These are simply the technology cards with upper left numbers 1-6. For a game with N players, use cards 1-N and discard the rest. Deal the N cards out randomly to the players. This sets the initial player order.

4: Initial supply is fixed!

Regardless of number of players, the game always starts with exactly 4 berries, 2 fish, 3 bears, and 2 mammoths in the harvest spaces - which is the purpose of those numbers printed on the board. (Those numbers have meaning only during this moment of setup.) Do not put or add the Harvest or Bureaucracy replenishment numbers of tokens during initial supply - a common mistake!

5: Landscape tiles

Make a deck of the appropriate landscape tiles (all 6 of them for 5 or 6 players; 5 of them (excluding the "5-6" tile) for 4 players; 4 of them (excluding the "4-6" and "5-6" tiles) for 2-3 players. Then a random subset of N tiles from that deck will be used in an N-player game.

6: Harvest space replenishment reminder tiles

These number tiles are placed on the 4 harvest spaces (berry, fish, bear, mammoth) to easily remember how many new food tokens will be added each round as part of the Bureaucracy phase. The number for each harvest type is this sum: the number of that type's hunting hexes (1, 2, or 3) plus the number from the table on page 7 which depends on the number of players. (The "initial supply" numbers do not figure into this, so you might want to cover those numbers printed on the board with the tiles showing the replenishment numbers.)

Landscape tiles

Each tile has 2 hexes. Meeples do not occupy the center hunting areas in each hex; meeples occupy the 3 "120-degree wedges" surrounding the center hunting areas. The rocks separating some spaces are mountains.

Food tokens

Food works just like money in games with money: you can make change with other food tokens in the bank (distinct from the harvest supplies) as needed. You are not limited to the quantities physically supplied. If more of a given type are needed for replenishing a harvest supply, you can make change from the bank to return some player-owned tokens back to the bank or improvise more tokens.

Technology cards

The cost is the upper right number, not the upper left number. (Don't be confused with Power Grid!)

Player Order

"Forward player order" always begins with the player who has the most meeples on the board; a tie for this condition is broken so as to begin with the player who has the highest numbered technology card (tool or knowledge card, either type). So at the beginning of the game, the player with the highest numbered Herb card will be player #1, first in forward player order. But the first meeple placement of the game (and each "spreading the clan" phase thereafter) goes in reverse player order, like so:

Settling the clan

In reverse player order (which at the beginning of the game means starting with the player with Herb card #1) players each place a meeple on an empty space in a hex which does not already have a meeple. (No hunting area can have 2 different meeples next to it in this initial placement round.) Since this placement is free, you will still have your starting 7 food when just your first meeple is on the board.

Then in forward player order players may optionally place a second meeple on any space adjacent to their first meeple, including hexes with opposing meeples and even already occupied spaces. The basic food cost to do so is 1. Pay an extra 1 to cross a mountain and the extra cost "as explained on page 6" if yours is not the first meeple there.

Note that there has often been uncertainty by readers of the English rules about the cost of this second, optional meeple placement in the preliminary round. The rulebook says "the same costs as explained on page 6," which is confusing since the cost for a second placement in any other round is 2. (Also the cost for the first placement in any other round is 1, while in the preliminary round it is free.) In any case, the German publisher assures us it is indeed intended that the basic cost in this preliminary round is 0 for the first meeple, 1 for the second.

Player order is adjusted immediately after the initial settling of the clans in case different numbers of meeples on the board has resulted in any changes. Player order will be rearranged throughout the game after each "spreading the clan" phase (but not the "buy new technology" phase).

Buying new technology

Auction process

There is a series of "auctions" or really, since the prices are fixed, simply a determination of which player will be permitted to buy which of the various technology cards. Starting with the first player in forward player order, at each step of this process, the player who has not yet bought a card (or has declined to buy any card in the current round by choosing on his turn not to make a card available) will pick a card from the current market (the 4 lowest numbered of the technology cards showing) for someone to buy.

In forward player order after the one who nominated the card, each other player says if they want to buy the card. The last player (farthest down in forward player order) to have said they want to buy the card then buys it. (Note: A common variant which may or may not save time is to ask for claims in reverse player order, selling the card to the first player who wants to buy it. This is not the same and not the intention! The later players are intended to have the information about whether earlier players wanted the card or not.) If no one else cares to take the card, the player who nominated it must buy it.

The purchaser pays an amount of food equal to the card's upper right number. But remember that if the card has a green crop on it, you can use that green crop as part of the purchase payment. (At the beginning of each "buy new technology" phase, a green crop is placed on the lowest-numbered card. If the crop is still there at the end of the round, meaning no one claimed that card and no lower-numbered card came out of the draw pile, at that moment it is removed from the game.)

After drawing a card to replace the bought card and putting it into numerical order in the display, the next card is then nominated, as above, until all the players have bought or declined to buy a card. You cannot buy more than one card in a round and you do not participate further in the process once you have bought or declined to buy a card in the round.

You cannot offer a card for auction if you cannot afford to buy it yourself

Yes, this is also true in the 2-player game.

You cannot offer a knowledge card for auction if you already have that knowledge

Yes, this is also true in the 2-player game.

1 crop on the lowest card

At the start of the phase, put a green crop on the lowest card in the current market.

If (due to drawing a new card after a card is purchased) a card lower than that card with the green crop comes out, put it lowest in the current market (as usual) and remove the green crop.

If at the end of the auction phase, after all players are done auctioning, if that card still has a green crop, then discard that card from the game (and draw a replacement card as usual).

The Shuffle card

If the Shuffle card comes out during this phase, then simply treat it like a card with upper left number "1000" - it occupies the last space in the future market. As auctions continue and cards are sold, draw new replacement cards as usual, placing them in their appropriate place to keep all the cards in numerical order. (Then in the bureaucracy phase, the Shuffle card and the lowest card will be discarded, leaving 2 fewer cards in the market: 6 in the normal game and 4 in the 2-player game.)

Discarding rotten food

Yes this is done in every round including the first

Food rots in the first round just like in every other round.

Rounding down can result in 0 food lost

Since the discarded food is rounded down, of course if you have only 1 or 2 food, then 1/3 and 2/3 rounded down are 0, so you discard no food.

Hunting

This is the rule which most confuses people.

Each Herb or Field card you own automatically produces exactly as much food as indicated on the card. It does not matter how many meeples you have placed!

Each other tool card also produces food, if you have at least one meeple next to a hunting area of that card's type. It does not matter if you have more than one meeple next to a given hunting area, and there is no concept of having to assign one meeple to one card or anything like that. If you have only 1 meeple next to 1 berry area and you have 2 baskets, both your baskets can produce food. Even if you have only 1 meeple on the entire board, if it is next to a berry area and you have 3 basket cards, all 3 of your basket cards can produce berries for you!

The amount of food produced by such cards is often specified by a table which depends on the current amount of that food in the harvest supply, e.g., if the card says 1-3 produces 1 and 4+ produce 2, and there are currently 4 in the harvest supply, then you take 2 of that type from the harvest supply.

If you have meeples next to more than one hunting area for that type, then for each additional hunting area (i.e., 1 or 2 additional hunting areas), add an imaginary 1 extra to the amount of that food in the supply before referring to the table. E.g. if the card says 1-3 produces 1 and 4+ produce 2, and you touch 2 hunting areas, then if there are 3 in the harvest supply, that is treated as 3+1=4, so you take 2 food, not just 1. If you touch 3 hunting areas, then if there are 2 in the harvest supply, that is treated as 2+2=4, so you take 2 food, not just 1.

Note: a very common error is to think that each additional hunting area you touch automatically increases the amount of food you take (i.e. increases the result from the table). No! It just increases the "input" to the table on the card, which might increase the food you take, but often does not. There is no way to earn more food from a card than the value in the rightmost column of its table.

Feeding

You must feed all your meeples if possible

If you ignored the multiple warnings and placed too many peoples, too bad for you; you will probably lose badly. There is no option to intentionally let some die so that you'll still have some food left for the upcoming auction phase. And even if there was such an option, you would probably lose. Learn from your error and don't do that again.

Spreading the clan

All your meeples must form a contiguous group.

You can add 0-5 new meeples. Place them lying on their side first, then after calculating and paying the food cost, stand them up.

The base cost depends on the number of meeples (0 costs 0, 1 costs 1, 2 costs 3, 3 costs 6, 4 costs 10, 5 costs 15.) There are additional costs of 1 for every mountain you had to cross when placing, and N for every already occupied space (where N=total number of meeples there including your new one).

E.g. if you place 2 new meeples, one of them across a mountain and one of them in a space which already has 2 other meeples, then you'll pay a base cost of 3 + 1 for the mountain + 3 for the occupied space = 7 food.

You cannot have more than 15 meeples on the map

Don't place too many meeples!

Again the rules warn you not to place too many meeples so that feeding becomes a problem. Pay attention to your food supply and food income.

Bureaucracy

Refill food supply

During preparation step 6 you should have already placed appropriate number markers in the 4 harvest supply spaces (berry, fish, bear, mammoth) to remind you how many pieces are added now to each harvest supply.

Note: Add this many new food tokens to any tokens currently in the harvest supply. A common error is to increase the current supply to the indicated number.

Adjust technology market

If the market has the Shuffle card, then discard it and the lowest numbered card, leaving the market with 6 cards (or 4 in the 2-player game).

Otherwise the highest numbered card (in the future market) is moved to the bottom of the deck and the top card is drawn to replace it (putting it into its correct location to preserve the numerical ordering as usual).

If that new drawn card is the Shuffle card, then discard it and the lowest numbered card.

Once the Shuffle card has appeared, you no longer move the highest numbered card in the market to the bottom of the deck. (But you do still place a green crop on the lowest card in the start of the auction phase and discard that lowest card if it still has a green crop at the end of the auction phase!)

Advice for players already knowing Power Grid

The market is similar, but auctions themselves work quite differently! Cards have a fixed price (in the upper right, not the upper left, which is only used for ordering the cards in the market) and the auction has a one-pass structure instead of continual bidding.
Like in Power Grid, you can only have 3 Tool cards in play and must discard one if you buy a 4th. (But see Plow.) You can have any number of Knowledge cards.
The turn order concept is similar; you generally like to be later in the turn order as in Power Grid.
The resource refresh rates depend on the number of players (see the table on page 7) but also on the number of hunting areas of the given type.
Your "network" on the map must be contiguous, unlike in Power Grid.
The resources are in a sense simply money in different denominations.
In Power Grid you are always guaranteed at least some basic minimum income; in First Sparks, by design, you can truly screw yourself and end up with no income, if you have placed too many meeples and can't feed them all and have food left over. It is a bit like Age of Steam in this sense... beware!

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