Power supply, or rather the lack thereof has been on a lot of people’s minds, especially those of us who live in South-Africa. There have been many times that I sat in the dim light of a candle contemplating how I could manage the supply of electricity better than the guys in charge. Power Grid is a Euro board game that allows you to prove that you can manage electricity supply efficiently.
What is it about?
In Power Grid, players take on the role of a power company. Your goal is to power the most cities on the last turn of the game. To do this is not as easy as it sounds, as you will be bidding on different power plants, deciding in which cities to build these plants, all while managing your ever diminishing funds.
What is in the box?
At its core, Power Grid is a Euro board game. As with most Euro games, the box contains a large number of wooden pieces of various shapes and sizes. The wooden pieces consist of building shaped pieces, and resource pieces which represent each of the available resources in the game (coal, garbage, oil and uranium).
The board is double sided which adds to the replay value of the game. The art on the board as with the whole game feels very industrial – this fits great with the theme.
I found the card stock used for the various cards nice and thick and the design on them easy to understand and read. The square shape of the cards makes them very easy to shuffle while also taking up less space on the table than rectangular cards would’ve.
Where I tend to have a problem with the game components is when it comes to the money that is used (or Electro). I really hate paper money. Since the day my little sister “mistakenly” tore some of my Monopoly paper money (yes I played Monopoly), I have always despised the idea of paper money in a board game. It would have been great to have thick cardboard money pieces or even just plastic coins.
Overall, as with most Euro games, each component – including the board – serves their purpose well.
How does it play?
Power Grid can be seen as a very intimidating game, but once you understand each phase of the game it becomes much less intimidating.
Every player receives their selected colour building pieces and money/Electro. The resource and power plant markets are set up, and you are ready to begin building your electricity empire.
Each round in Power Grid consists of five phases. Each player takes their turn – as indicated by the turn order – before the next phase continues.
The five phases are:
Determine the player order – The first player is the one with the most cities on their network. The rest of the player order is determined the same way. On the first round, the first player is selected randomly.
Power plant auction – Each player has the chance to offer a power plant from the current market up for auction. Players can only buy one power plant each. Bidding continues (clockwise) until the power plant is auctioned off to a player. All the players get a chance to buy a power plant. Power plants that are auctioned off are replaced with new plants from the deck. What makes the auctions in Power Grid so interesting is that you can see both the current market (power plants that are available for auction) and the future market (power plants that will become available in the future). This means that players are able to plan ahead when deciding which power plants they need to buy. This becomes very important especially when the ecological power plants come up for sale (these require no resources to run).
Buying resources – In this phase players buy resources to power their various power plants. Power plants cannot produce power without the specific resources required. This phase is played in reverse turn order. I really liked this mechanic as it takes the disadvantage that the last player had in the auction phase and turns it into an advantage in the resource phase. This also adds a layer of strategic depth, as deciding when to be first and when to be last in the turn order carries weight depending on your strategy. The resource market’s prices also fluctuate depending on how much in demand certain resources are. For example, if more players buy oil the price will drastically increase while less purchased resources like garbage will become cheaper. This becomes critical, as knowing when to buy which power plants, as well as resources, can depend on what the market prices for that specific resource are at that time. Power plants are also able to store twice as many resources needed to power them, which, of course, opens up the option for hoarding resources while driving up the prices.
Building – The building phase is again played in reverse turn order. In this phase, players decide where to build their power plants. Each power plant forms part of that player’s network. A network is started by placing a building piece on the city of a players’ choice. Only one player can build in a city, although, this changes as the game progresses. Subsequent power plants placed in cities need to pay a connection fee in order to be build. The connection fee is indicated by the connection pipe connecting the cities. Players must always pay the cheapest connection fee. This is the phase in which players will need to decide if they would like to be first in the turn order or last as this is decided by who has the most cities.
Bureaucracy – In this phase players receive money/Electro depending on a number of plants they are able to power. The more plants they can power that round the more money/Electro they receive. Any surplus electricity produced by their power plants is lost.
The game ends after the fourth phase if at least one player has seventeen cities in their network. The winner is the player that can power the most cities in their network at the end of the last round.
What did I think of it?
When I first saw Power Grid I was not sure if it would be a game that I would like. I initially wasn’t a fan of the industrial look of the game and the fact that the game makes use of paper money didn’t boost my confidence in it. I was also made aware of the fact that there is plenty of calculating that needs to be done in order to play the game.
So, imagine my surprise when I actually found myself enjoying the game. Sure there were lots of calculations to do in order to supply your cities with electricity as efficiently as possible, but I felt that it just added to the strategic depth of the game.
Speaking of strategic depth, this game has lots of it. From deciding if you would want to be first in the turn order, to what resources you acquire, each decision carries weight. The fact that none of your choices are insignificant is one of the reasons I fell in love with the game. Having each decision matter means that even when there is downtime between turns you are actively planning and working out your next step.
The game can start out a bit slow as only one player can build in a city at a time, this changes however as soon as more players are able to build in the cities. This also opens up the opportunity to cut off other players.
Having there been both advantages and disadvantages to being first and last in turn order really changes things up. We played many games in which the runaway leaders were quickly caught in just a few rounds. This can happen quite easily as the winner is determined by which player can power the most cities in the final round only.
Each of the games I played ended with a player only winning narrowly (although if you don’t plan ahead you might fall behind quite a bit).
Power Grid isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; it is a Euro game through and through. The game might seem difficult at first, but after a few rounds it gets a lot easier to grasp. I found that after the first play through most people understood all the mechanics in the game.
I was totally caught off guard when I realized how much I enjoyed playing Power Grid. It is one of those games that, if you spend some time learning its intricacies you will be greatly rewarded. If you enjoy Euro games, give Power Grid a try, you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
Gameplay: 9/10 The game took some time to teach, but after the initial play through players grasped the mechanics quite quickly. I was surprised by how much strategic depth the game had. I loved the fact that each choice I made carried weight, and that players were rewarded by planning ahead.
Components: 3/5 As with most Euro games the components places function before aesthetics. The components are a good quality, except for the paper money which I really dislike.
Complexity vs. Depth: 4/5 Although the game can be quite difficult to grasp at first, once you understand it you will discover that it has a lot of strategic depth. The various choices a player has and the fact that they carry weight adds to its depth. After one or two playthroughs players quickly grasped the mechanics.
Theme: 3.5/5 Euro games aren’t known for their great themes and Power Grid is no exception. Although it fits in well with the mechanics and the industrial look of the game it is not one of the most exiting themes.
Overall: 4.5/5 I really enjoyed Power Grid. The different choices players had as well as the fact that you really need to plan ahead has cemented Power Grid as one of my favourite Euro board games.
Board game supplied by Boardgames SA (www.boardgames.co.za)