Power Grid Review

Power Grid board game setup to play


A game that regularly hits my gaming table is Power Grid (shown in the picture with the Power Grid: New Plants Expansion.

In Power Grid, each player takes on the role of a power company that is attempting to power the most cities. In order to do this, however, he must both own power plants to generate the power and build enough infrastructure to transmit the power to the cities. How this works in game terms is that at the beginning of each round, new power plants will be auctioned off. After this, resources will need to be purchased to power the (non "green") plants. Third, the players will purchase "cities" (which represents bringing power to that city), by paying the connecting cost from one of their other cities plus the cost to build the city itself (10, 15 or 20 depending on how many other players are already there). Finally, each player will power their cities and generate income (and the resource market gets restocked).

There are several things that I like about Power Grid. The first thing I like is the mechanic where whoever is in last place gets an advantage for that round. This seems to be a trademark mechanic for Friedemann Friese (the designer), because I have also seen this in Furstenfeld. Either way, I like it as it adds a new level of strategy to the game - when should you go ahead and take the lead (and have a slight disadvantage) as opposed to purposely staying behind. Fortunately, the advantage given to last place is useful enough that it is worth sometimes staying behind to acquire it, but small enough that it does not prohibit someone from wanting to be in the lead. It is an incredibly nice balancing element that keeps almost every game of Power Grid very close all the way until the end.

The next aspect of the game that I like is how the auctions work. In many games, there are a certain number of whatever that are available each round. Starting with a certain person, they choose one of the things to auction and once they have bought it there is one less item available on the market. In this situation, the person who picks last has a bit of a disadvantage because they have no chance of getting something at list price, and their options are also very limited. This is not the case in Power Grid. Instead, you can see both a "current" and a "future" market of power plants. Whenever a plant is purchased from the current market, a new plant comes out and the cheapest one from the "future" market goes into the "current" market. This does two things: it makes it advantageous to go last (and hence the person losing gets that position), and it also makes you strategize when you want to lose auctions in order to get to the plants in the future market. Again, this is a really nice mechanic - I like it a lot.

Another pro of the game that keeps it balanced is the diminishing returns on powering cities. For the first city that you power each turn, you get around $15. However, if you power 20 cities, you get $2 more than if you power 19. This is another aspect of the game that keeps it very balanced and keeps all of the players close together throughout. Also, this gives the players more to think about - should I burn the resources to power these cities this turn, or would it be better to keep them just in case (the winner is the person who powers the most number of cities on the last turn). After all, sometimes you can actually lose money on powering cities if the resources needed are in high demand.

Overall, I give Power Grid a 9.5/10. This is one of the best games that I have played. I was incredibly skeptical when I saw the theme (I used to work for a power company, and so I didn't think it was very exciting), but it is a well balanced, well implemented, innovative game that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  If you have never played Power Grid, I think you should either go buy a game or convince your friends who have a copy to bring it so that you can play it.

For some more opinions on this one, check out Games With Two's Power Grid Review, or this other Review of Power Grid by Play Board Games. Alternately, for even more reading, check out my thoughts on Mice and Mystics, Risk Legacy, and King of Tokyo.

13 comments:

  1. Is this similar to Ticket to Ride?

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  2. Well... that's kinda tricky to answer. Yes in that you are connecting different cities, but no in how you do it - in Ticket to Ride, you have to have certain cards to connect to cities and they can be any (that are that color). In Power Grid, you can connect only to where you already are (and only need money). Also, in Ticket, connecting is the goal, whereas in Power Grid, connecting is just one part of your ultimate goal (providing power). Does that help?

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  3. Sarah, let me answer your question more plainly - NO, this is not like Ticket to Ride. Mostly, it's because TtR is actually fun, while Power Grid is a never-ending exercise in boring math.

    I thought you had good taste, Josh... Where did you go so wrong?

    For a reasonable opinion of Power Grid, look elsewhere.

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  4. Chris - Nice. : ) I have the opposite view - I consider Power Grid fun and Ticket to Ride to be boring.... of course I also have a degree in math.... but oh well. At least we can all agree that Puerto Rico is awesome, right?

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  5. Let me put it this way, though - someone who really likes Ticket to Ride probably wouldn't be all that into Power Grid. The experiences are totally different, despite the route-connection similarity, and I wouldn't really think that it would be a good "next step".

    Steam, on the other hand, is a really great alternative...

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  6. Yeah. Honestly, if I were recommending a game to someone that loved Ticket to Ride, I would stick with Days of Wonder, because their game are all similar in complexity and ease of learning - you could go with Pirate's Cove, Smallworld, Cleopatra, Shadows Over Camelot, etc. If you're in love with the train theme, then Steam would be a meatier option and good next step.

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  7. Awesome, yes that answers it all. Sorry, I'm a little late at responding. Power Grid looks interesting for sure. :)

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  8. Nice review of Power Grid, Josh. I have recently rediscovered this game and it has gotten a lot of table time recently. I'm hoping to play it tomorrow at game night.

    I agree about the mathiness but I would say with experienced players who keep up the pace, it doesn't affect the game so much until the last one or two turns. And I can deal with it at the end and it actually adds suspense for me.

    I like this game best when played with four, or maybe five, experienced players.

    Have you played any of the alternate boards?

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  9. I haven't played any of the alternate maps in person (I tried the Spain and the France maps in a computer version). I have tried the new plants expansion, though (and I liked it). I normally don't do too much with playing the same game but on a different map - I'd just assume play the original, personally. Have you tried any of them? Have any favorites?

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  10. No, I haven't tried any of them yet, but I didn't learn until recently that there's a little more to them than just new geography, though I'm not sure how much. Anyway, I ordered a couple of them, so I will let you know how they are. I'm hoping they will add enough to the game to make them worthwhile. Benelux sounded promising insofar as it's supposed to play more quickly - possibly even allowing me to sneak in a game at lunch!

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  11. I know that the Spain/Portugal map has some slight rules around Portugal that you can't buy a nuclear plant if all of your cities are in Portugal, and you also setup the deck differently with the wind plants. I think the France map has a few minor changes as well.

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  12. I really can't stand this game - I'm sorry but it's complete lack of theme, strange "sandbag" style of gameplay and extreme Analysis Paralysis issues from the number crunching ruin it for me. The maps aren't even much different from each other. A couple of resource amounts are different and name is different, that's about it, because it's still crowded with a million connections and unless you have the full count of players you don't even use the whole map so you're just playing a "chunk" of a map.

    I like good Euro games but this isn't one of them.

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