Sunday, 18 November 2012

Classic WGR Review - Power Grid

My wife suggested I work on slowly migrating some of the reviews I had originally posted on the Windsor Gaming Resource Forum over to the new blog. Seemed like a solid idea so here's the first one. One of my favorite games of all time Power Grid. This review was originally written by me July 18th 2006

Quickly: it lives up to the hype. Probably the best game I have tried this year. A great game.

Summary: players compete to build power plants to supply cities with power either in the US or Germany. The game starts with an auction phase where players bid on power plants. Each of these costs a different minimum bid and provide power for a set number of cities while requiring various resources to run (Coal, Oil, Solar, Garbage or Plutonium). The plants start out inefficient and cheap and grow to more efficient and expensive as the game goes on. The next phase is the buying of resources. Resources vary in price depending on demand, and players buy in a set order, making buying first a huge advantage. The next phase has the players building grids. Players purchase 'houses' in cities they wish to supply power too. The cost for this varies depending on the connection between a city you own and the city you wish to purchase, some connections are very cheap, others are very expensive. Also at the start of the game only one player can supply a city, later int he game a second player can purchase a 'house' but at a greater cost. In the endgame a third player can set up shop in that city as well, but this again is more expensive then the other players had to pay. The last phase involves players spending resources to power their plants and getting paid for the electricity they have supplied. Turn order is determined by who is closest to achieving victory and reverses for many phases. Thus the player who has the most 'houses' bids on power plants first, but then they buy resources last. The game lasts about an hour or two and turns are fairly quick.

The Good: the components As with many eurogames put out by Rio Grande the board and pieces are top notch, including wooden 'counters' for houses and all commodities. The board is excellent looking and has two sides (which I love). The only complaint was the money (see the ugly). The variety of great game mechanics in one game was amazing. The auction phase was typical of a eurogame but usually this is a games only mechanic, in Power Grid it's just the first step. The way the resource price scaled as the game went on with supply and demand was unique to me and worked very well. There were times when you would buy resources just to drive up the price for other players. It's also interesting the way the 'higher end' commodities star off very expensive and slowly drop in price as time goes on. The way the power plants scale is also excellent, with near useless plants being replaced by powerhouses that can supply 6 cities with only one resource. The building phase was also interesting just due to the map. I have no clue how they determined how much it costs to link individual cities, but they way it is set up with a few pockets of cheap grids then leading out west being a huge expense is very well done. Without going on to much, I will just say this was a very fun game with a ton of variety in the strategies that one could play. I don't think any two games would ever be the same due to the variety of options and the power plant generation method.

The Bad: Due to the number of commodities it can be hard to keep everything on the board in the right place. The first thing I thought when we had to add more resources to the stock at the end of the first turn was this would be a great computer game, as there was quite a bit of standing up little wooden counters along a crowded track. It seemed like this may be a game where steamrolling occurs. That meaning that once a player gets the lead they continue to keep it. The person with the most cites and best plants just keeps getting more money than everyone else every turn, allowing them to just keep building more cities and getting more money, etc. There didn't seem to be a good way to 'stop the leader' There was definitely some jockeying for position, but once one or two people got about 3 cities ahead, it didn't seem like the other players could do much about it.
The Ugly: the presentation and components in this game were top notch, except for one thing. The money. Power Grid had the worst looking money I have seen in a game since monopoly It was also incredibly thin. This is a game where a ton of money changes hands and I can't see it lasting long. Now the game I played the owner (Sinister) had fixed this problem by using poker chips, which worked great, but it would have been nice to see something better included. It is possible in this game to shoot yourself in the foot. To the point where you can no longer play the game. If you spend too much on power plants and forget to save money to buy resources you can basically oust yourself from play. Now I am sure some people like this, and really it's just part of the game, but I am sure it's not fun to sit and watch the other players finish up while you do nothing turn after turn.

Overall: a game that definitely belongs in the top 10 boardgames. This is pretty much on my must have list now. I would love to head downstairs and play a game right now. Great components, interesting and good working mechanics and a variety of strategies make this a winner.

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