There is a saying, “Never judge a book by its cover.” The same should be applied to board games and I would do well to remember it. I’ve held this game in my hands twice at a store and both times I thought “Nah, it looks boring.” Then I put it back on the shelf and promptly forgot about it. I did not even bother to look it up. So when I was given a copy to review I was not terribly excited to play it. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
Power Grid is a game in which each player is running their own power company. Much like our Eskom you can still earn money for supplying no power! Since it was published in 2004 Power Grid has racked up an impressive 14 different awards and nominations, including an SDJ recommendation.
For the TL;Dr version click here.
Opening the box
Specs on the box:
- 2-6 players
- Ages 13+
- 120 minutes
In the box there’s a rather nice double sided board. It reminds me a lot of a steampunk setting so that is a thumbs up from me. It is rather large though so if you only have a small table you might need a side table to hold everything else. There is a stack of cards that represent different power plants and paper money! I like paper money; it makes me feel nostalgic for games that I used to play as a kid.
There are also a host of wooden pieces. Each player will receive a different colour set of little wooden houses. Then there are resources for the different types of power stations. Oil, Coal, Uranium and Garbage.
It’s still nothing exciting to look at even after opening the box. Even reading the rules feels like a chore. I’d recommend either getting a friend who has played it before, or a cup of coffee so you can read through it twice. Some sections are a bit tricky until you have seen them in action.
The concept is simple. Each player controls a company that supplies power to various cities on the map. The person who, at the end of the game, can supply power to the highest number of cities wins.
It’s not about being the richest. It’s about managing your ROI so that you can provide the best service possible. You invest in power stations and the fuel and then earn income from cities so that you can purchase bigger more efficient power stations while expanding your power network across the map.
If you’ve got a passing interest in economics or in strategy then I think you are going to love this game.
The setup is fairly simple. Each player grabs a bag of houses and then between them selects the side of the board to use and which areas on the board to play in. This really helps with replay value and keeps the map size balanced with the number of players.
The starting power station cards are laid out and the remainder are shuffled into a deck. Each player claims their starting cash and then randomly selects who will be the first player for the first round. After the first round the first player will be the person currently in the lead.
A round is divided into3 phases, the first of which is the auction phase. The power stations are laid out in 2 rows. The top row, current market, has power stations available for auction and the bottom row, future market, will have the next available stations. So as one is purchased from the top row players can see which station will replace it. A new one is drawn from the deck to replenish the future market.
The first player selects a power station and starts the bidding. Players can take turns to either bid or pass. If you pass you cannot bid for that station anymore so this gets tricky, because the newer stations are almost always better than the starting stations. However you don’t want someone to purchase a station too cheaply as then they will have a lot of money for the later phases of the game.
Once you purchase a station for the round you cannot bid on another station for this round. This means that the last player gets their pick of the stations at the base price.
The next phase is the buying resources phase. Across the bottom of the board is a track for the resources. This track is in ascending order from left to right. Resources are added to the track from right to left. The numbers represent the cost of the resource and the cheapest resources are purchased first.
This creates a lovely little example of supply and demand. As a resource is purchased the supply of it is reduced, and this results in an increase in price. The resources that are not purchased will have their supply increased every turn and as supply increased without a demand for it, the price will drop.
The next phase is the building phase. You get to place your houses on the board. After have your first city you then need to connect it to your next city. Depending on how far apart they are you will have to pay a fee for running the cables between the cities as well as the fee for plugging in that city.
Then comes the last phase, Bureaucracy. In this phase you can spend your resources to use your power plants to power cites so you can earn more money. You don’t have to use your plants at all, but you will still earn some money. Resources are replenished, the rates of the different resources vary by type and number of players and which stage or step the game is in. The most expensive power plant in the future market is then reserved for step 3.
The Steps of the game add an extra layer to the game. The game begins in step 1. Step 2 is achieved when a player has connected a certain number of cities, placed houses. This is based on the number of players in the game. When the game moves into step 2 the rate of resource replenishment increases as players will be powering more cities per turn and up to 2 different players will be able to power the same city, but at an increased cost.
Step 3 occurs when the step 3 card is drawn from the power station deck. Resources increase, the most expensive power stations become available and up to 3 players can power the same city.
It’s important to note that player order changes as players connect to more cities, and if there is a tie for the number of cities, the person with the higher rated power plant gets that position. This is very important because some phases go in player order and others go in reverse player order.
Being the last player has more advantages than being the first player. However if you let the first player get too much of a lead you won’t be able to grab a last turn win. Which is usually how the game plays out, very close and very tense until the very last moment.
The game ends when a player connects a certain number of cities to his network. This is, once again, based on the number of players. Then you check to see who can power the most cities. So even if you have the most cities you will still need to have the stations and the resources to supply more of them with power than your opponents can.
This is a very well balanced game with a lot of strategy involved. It’s a classic Eurogame that does not leave a lot to chance. I loved it. Even my wife enjoyed the challenge of the game and she is not really a fan of board games.
It’s a little too complex to teach young kids. They can learn the rules for playing the game but the housekeeping might be a bit much for them in the beginning, and they won’t grasp the strategy very quickly. It is fairly heavy and does leave you slightly brain dead afterwards but you felt like you have done something. Often you want to do it again.
I have left out some of the rules in my game play description as there are quite a few of them. Don’t let that put you off. After your first game it becomes very easy to manage. Don’t let the cover put you off either. I’m seriously considering adding this game to my collection.
Can I braai with this?
Tricky question. The technical answer would be yes, but you really want to be there for the auction phase when you can try to make people spend more than they have to and you need to keen note of which plants are becoming available. Other than that the length of the game will lead to a good afternoon of fun.
Thanks to Boardgames.co.za for the review copy of Power Grid.