Power Grid – An Overdue Game of the Month Review

Power Grid

 

Designer: Friedemann Friese (2004)
Publisher: 2F-Spiele/Rio Grande
# of Players: 2-6
Play Time: 120 Minutes 
BGG Rank/Rating: #2/8.16
Weight: Medium/Medium-Heavy

Power Grid is a very popular and well-respected game, and we at the Hypermind BoardGamers thought that it would be a good choice for Game of the Month! in February. As it turned out, however, my copy ended up traded away and I don’t care if I ever play the game again. In other words, I don’t think much of the game.


Components and Setup

To me, I always thought that Power Grid looked absolutely fantastic. The box art, graphic design, and selection of components all fit together to give a quirky yet attractive look. Speaking of the components, the game provides a set of 22 nice wooden houses in each of 6 player colors, a whole selection of wooden resource tokens in various appropriate colors and shapes, a stack of paper monopoly-style money (“electros”) in various denominations, and a deck of square power plant cards. To set up, each player takes a set of the player houses and puts one on each of the score and player-order tracks. The resource market is populated with a prescribed number of each type, giving an initial value to each. The starting power plant market is then established by placing plants numbered 3 through 6 in one row (the “actual market”) and plants 7-10 in another row (the “future market”). The draw deck is built by shuffling most of the rest of the deck, placing the #13 Power Plant on top and the Step 3 card on the bottom. Initial player order is randomly determined, but is changed immediately after the first auction.


Basic Gameplay (click here for the full rules)

Power Grid is played in 3 steps. In most cases, Step 1 lasts until someone builds into their 7th city, while Step 3 begins when the “Step 3” card is drawn from the power plant deck (which means that it has been played through one entire time). I’ll try to point out what differences that happen in each step as I describe the turn order below. Each game turn is divided into 5 phases:

Phase 1 – Determine Player Order:
Players are put into order based on how many cities they have connected to. Ties are broken by which player has the highest number Power Plant.

Phase 2 – Auction Power Plants:
The player in first position of the order track chooses one of the power plants in the actual market (consisting of the four lowest number face-up power plants) and makes an opening bid at least as high as the number printed on the card. Bidding then continues clockwise around the table until all but one person passes. The winner pays the amount bid and is out of the rest of the auction phase. The next power plant card is revealed and the market is adjusted again with the four lower plants being in the actual market and the four higher ones being in the future market. Now, the highest remaining player on the player order track starts another auction. This whole process continues until all players have won a power plant. Alternatively, players may choose to pass instead of initiating a new power plant auction when it is their turn to do so. In that case, they are removed from the auction phase just as if they had won an auction. If all players pass in this way, the lowest numbered power plant is discarded and another is drawn to replace it.

In Step 3, there is no future market.  Instead, the market is reduced to 6 plants but all are available for purchase.

Phase 3 – Buying Resources: Starting with the player in last place on the order track, players may buy resources for the power plants they own. Each resource costs an amount equal to its position on the resource market, and as resources are purchased their price increases. If all of one kind of resource is ever purchased, no more of this resource is available for purchase in the current round. Players may only buy resources that can be stored on their current power plants, each of which can hold twice as many as it can use in one turn.

Phase 4 – Building: Again starting with the last-place player, everyone gets the chance to expand their network by building into new cites.  In the first round, each player may choose which city to start in, but thereafter must work outward from their current “power grid”, building out from cities they already control.  To connect to a new city, one must pay first for the connection cost printed on the conduit between the cities and then also pay to build in the city.  The first player to connect to a city costs 10 electros, the second is 15, and the third is 20.  But note that a second and then third player may connect to a city only if the game has progressed into the second or third Step, respectively. 
 
Phase 5 – Bureaucracy: To finish a round of play, a few things happen.  First of all, players spend resources to power cities using their power plants.  They are not required to power all of their connected cities, but they may also not choose to partially use a power plant.  In other words, if a plant requires 2 coal to power 2 cities, they may not choose to use only 1 coal to power 1 city.  Players then receive payment for the number of connected cities that they were able to power.  Next, the resource market is re-supplied based on a chart in the rules, which changes depending on how many players there are as well as which step the game is currently in. 

Finally, in Step 1 and 2, the Power Plant market is manipulated by placing the highest-numbered plant in the future market onto the bottom of the draw deck and drawing a new one to replace it.  This both keeps the market from being too clogged with overpowered plants early in the game as well as setting the stage for Step 3.  From there, a new round starts with Phase 1.  

The game is completed when, at the end of Phase 4, one player manages to build into 17 or more cities.  At that point, whoever can power the most cities with their current network, power plants, and resources wins the game.  In the case of a tie, the player with the most money wins.

What I think… 

People just seem to love this game.  Of course, very few of those people were in attendance at our game nights while this was Game of the Month!  I’ll be the first to admit that Power Grid is a terribly well-designed game.  The resource market is just brilliant in how it simulates real supply and demand.  The power plant market and auctio
n are very clever and solid mechanics.  How the power plants use resources and cities are powered makes total sense and works very well.  There’s a lot to rave about in this game, and you can check out several of the other reviews on BGG to see all that.  As far as this review goes, however, we’re going in a totally different direction. 

For me and a lot of my group, the main thing missing from Power Grid was fun.  What does that mean?  Well, let me be specific.  First of all, the game is very fiddly.  There’s a lot of manipulation of the power plant market, the resource market, the playing order track, the score track, and the board itself.  While I totally see why all of this is necessary to maintain game balance, it also detracted from the illusion of reality that the game was trying to create.  As hard as the game works to create a realistic economy, the sheer brute force required in artifical game manipulation just ruins the over effect for me.

Along with that, there are also many mechanisms in the Power Grid to help mitigate the potential runaway leader problem that is inherent in this type of game.  Who goes first in each phase switches back and forth in an attempt to bring down “the man” in the lead and give a little handout to the ones in the rear.  There is, of course, no thematic basis for these mechanics, and therefore further tarnish the atmosphere of the game for me.  What’s worse is that they still don’t really work.  If one player is able to get a good turn ahead early in the game, it is still very difficult to catch them (or worse, if you fall a turn behind the pack early on, you’re in for 2 hours of misery with no way to really catch up).

Speaking of game length, the pace of the game is also something that I’m not a big fan of.  Being rather dry and mathy, Power Grid can be very prone to analysis paralysis, or at least relatively slow play as players all try to be efficient in their play.  Particularly in larger (5-6 player) games, downtime becomes a significant problem.  This does give you a lot of time to think and plan your move (which is a good thing), but when that is most useful as the game gets really tight near the end, it also becomes more likely that someone else’s play will drastically alter your plans (which is bad).  

Finally, the thing that bothers me most is that the game is terribly repetitive.  While I usually enjoy games that encourage long-term planning and maximizing efficiency, Power Grid is just too single-minded for me to really enjoy.  Every turn and every game you play, you’re always doing exactly the same thing.  There is no other path to victory except to be as efficient as possible in building and managing your power grid.  I just have a hard time really getting into such a long and complex game that has the limited strategic variety of a purely abstract game.          


The Verdict! 

Over 7 games, 9 different people in the Hypermind BoardGamers gave Power Grid an average rating of 7.47.

• Rules:
Easy to grasp; a little too fiddly but efficient at what it does.  
• Downtime: Can be significant, especially late in the game or with more players.
• Length: Our longest was 147 minutes, shortest was 90 minutes, and averaged right at 112 minutes
• Player Interaction: Lots of competition in power-plant auctions and board position, but no way to damage opponents’ current position.  
• Weight: Medium Heavy
GamerChris’ Rating: Like I said, while I can appreciate the game, I don’t really enjoy it much at all.  And if you’re not having fun, then what really is the point?  My final rating is therefore a 6.



4 Comments


  1. Hi, I found your post really helpful. It helped me all the way in completing my assignment, I am also giving a reference link of your blog in my case study. Thanks for posting such informative content. Keep posting.

  2. NNVa

    I have not seen this game in person nor played it. I have thought of picking it up, cheap, but “mathy”? No, no thank you, mathy, AP, exactly my feelings about Dominant Species. You can see how slick of a design DS is, so elegant, but, you can not get around it was built around, dull, dull, second grade math, that you perform over and over again, an oh, the humanity of it all, the AP, everywhere.

    ((Mathy + AP) X 4 players) = (no joy to play).

  3. Chris Norwood

    Oh, wow.  You just significantly reduced my desire to play Dominant Species.  Because that sounds almost exactly like Power Grid, and it’s obviously one of the main reasons I don’t like PG.

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