Power Grid is one of the most popular classic euro games. It was published in 2004 and still scores very high on Boardgamegeek (10th rank as of Jan 2015). It is a strategy game of medium complexity that is quite “mathy”.
Players buy power plants in auctions to power the cities of their network they built up. One has to expand geographically from city to city but the distances of the cities differ greatly. Since one has to pay for the distance, one tries to expand by minimizing the distances and thus the costs. Also there is an area control element to it as one attempts to cut off other players to increase their costs and to avoid being cut off oneself. Having more cities is good but one should also be able to power them. The more cities a player powers the more money that player will receive. In the base game there is the German and the US map. Numerous expansions feature many more.
There are different kind of power plants such as solar (requires no input to be bought), coal, oil, nuclear, waste etc. that require the players to buy the input to effectively be able to power their cities. Their efficiency varies and the costs of the goods differ as well. The prices of the goods are dynamic. The goods tokens are refilled every round and depending on how many tokens players buy from which resource some resources can become temporarily cheap or expensive.
The game ends when a play has connected a certain number of cities (depending on the player count). The player who can power most cities in his network wins the game. So if you have connected most cities you do not necessarily win as you may not be able to power all your connected cities.
Interaction: 7 out of 10
There is a decent amount of player interaction for a euro game:
1. Players auction for the power plants and one may use psychology to read auction wisely. I have seen players just trying to raise the price for the other player having no intention to be the power plant themselves. Also the choice which power plants to purchase is heavily influenced by the focus of other players as one does not want to compete for scarce resources with too many players.
2. Players buy resources and will try to buy as many cheap resources to not only save money but also to drive up prices for other players.
3. Players try to control area on the map to secure their cheap expansion and cut off other players.
Fun: 5 out of 10
I LOVE economic games. So I was very excited to play Power Grid before the first time. Nonetheless, it wasn’t quite as fun as I expected.
What I liked were the dynamic prices and the different kinds of power plants. You really have to think like a business man and predict the demand for certain resources before investing. This part was fun. Power Grid games are usually quite tense until the very end. The reason is that players with most connected areas move first in the auction phase and last in the buying resources and the expansion phase.
Thus, players leading in terms of expansion are heavily slowed down by being disadvantaged by the move order mechanic. In theory I like balancing mechanics that provide for tense games and prevent runaway leader problems. However, I find the disadvantage of leading in expansion to be too drastic in Power Grid. Literally, one tries not to lead in expansion until the very last round and then pass out of the slipstream. I personally don’t really like this mechanic too much and I think it doesn’t really fit an economic theme. It just feels odd that even if you could afford to expand, you often shouldn’t because it would come with serious disadvantages due to turn order.
Another reason that keeps me from loving this game is its downtime. One will often calculate how much one can afford to auction to still have enough left for the expansion. Being short of 1 Cash can be very annoying so players will be cautious to avoid mistakes. Also, more often than not one is busy calculating rather than strategizing which is not that much fun for me.
Furthermore, I find some rules not so elegant. Especially refilling the resources must be done according to a table in the rulebook according to the player count. Most players won’t know this by heart and it is not printed on the board. If you want to plan your liquidity one round ahead you basically have to take into account how many resource tokens will be refilled. So players may have to look up how to refill numerous times during the game.
There is interaction but in many cases in Power Grid I don’t find it that interesting after all. I have seen people on the internet describing the auction with the term negotiation. It is NOT A NEGOTIATION! Settlers of Catan has negotiation, Power Grid doesn’t. It is one dimensional and far less interactive than Settler’s negotiation. That is fine. I don’t think Power Grid’s auction adds a lot of interesting interaction. That’s why I personally prefer the simultaneous auction I applied in my own strategy game Green Deal mostly because it plays much faster.
What annoys me most though is the random element of the availability of power plants. Once a power plant was purchased by a player, a new random one is drawn from the pile and depending on the relative size of it and the other ones it may be available for purchase immediately or not. This is a significant random element that I highly dislike in games that last long and that require careful planning. This random element can hardly even be controled for such as in the case with dice (by taking into account probabilities). I wouldn’t touch Terra Mystica if it included card drawing.
Replayability: 7 out of 10
Power Grid is a deep game even without the expansions so it takes a while until one has figured it out to certain level. The setup is mostly the same but the random card draws make sure that every game plays a bit different. Of course it doesn’t come close to Terra Mystica’s replayability with its 14 factions.
However, there is a gazillion of maps/expansions. Most of them hardly change the basic rules but add only a little twist (similarly as Ticket to Ride expansions) and a completely new map. Thus, Power Grid + its expansions offer a pretty high replayability.
Power Grid is a highly strategic and mathematical game that has been extremely popular in the last 10 years. Unfortunately, it didn’t excite me very much. It is very balanced but as I pointed out earlier this is not everything and it can even be a bad thing.