Power Grid, A Game About Big Coal (And Big Garbage)

I got around to playing the classic German board game Power Grid (AKA Funkenschlag) on the weekend, and absolutely loved it.

It's a game about building and then supplying juice to a power network that stretches across the land. Every turn players first compete in auctions to buy power stations, then buy the resources (oil, coal, uranium and garbage) required to run those stations, then expand their networks by establishing a presence in neighbouring cities, then burn their resources to get paid.

These are power stations. You can only own three at any time, so rotating them based on current resource prices is a must.

You keep doing this until someone reaches a certain threshold of cities their network reaches. When that happens, everyone counts up how many power stations they can actually afford to operate that turn, and whoever has the most wins.

The heart of the game is juggling your cash and resources. The more stations you power, the more money you make at the end of every turn, which can then be spent on expanding your network and buying more stations. The more stations you power, though, the more money it costs to actually run them.

Spending that cash isn't as easy as it sounds, either. You can't just buy stations; they're drawn randomly with only a few on offer at a time, each have a different type of resource they burn (with the exception of wind turbines), and even if there is one available that you want, you may need to compete at auction with another player.

The game's "market". Every time you buy a resource it's lifted off this tracker, and the further you go, the more expensive they get.

Then when you do have stations, powering them can be volatile, because the game has an economy which shifts depending on how much stuff everyone has bought (it actually works a bit like Offworld Trading Company), which not only affects how much you need to spend on resources, but will influence which power stations you buy in the first place.

Building between Dallas and OKC is cheap. Between NO and Jacksonville is not.

The last major thing you need to worry about is expansion, perhaps the trickiest concern of the lot. You can only build stations in cities in which you have one of the little wooden buildings above, but to expand across the country you have to pay two lots of cash, a "connection" fee (the numbers on the pipes) and a "building" fee (the numbers on the cities). As a general rule, players tend to start on cities with cheaper networks surrounding them, but as you go on the cost of expanding your network increases. This gets frantic further down the line, as only two players can have a building in a city, which causes races and battles over who can get to the most advantageous network plans first.

We played the American version of the game, which like most ships with a double-sided map, one of the continental United States (which we played on), the other with Germany. Since Power Grid's initial release just over a decade ago though there have been a ton of expansions adding locations from all over the world, from China to Australia to Italy.

Those colours on the map indicate divisions. The more people you have playing the game, the more you can spread out and build.

I loved the way the game encourages strategy (you can plan ahead with market costs and future power station purchases) yet constantly keeps you on your toes by shifting that market and inviting other players to mess with your plans at auction and by outmaneuvering you on the map.

The market system works very well, and the way players are restricted to only a handful of stations means you can't just bolt out early and rely on established strategies.

Sadly, despite playing the game with the best of intentions -- I only built renewable plants -- I was whupped by players who went to town burning coal, because there's no penalty for that kind of dirty business and no environmental tracker to worry about.

Next time, I'll need to remember: This isn't an environmental simulator. Burn that garbage. Burn it all.

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Comments

    Power Grid looks like it's about Big Coal or whatever, but it's really about the beauty and elegance of mathematics. Everything is so exquisitely balanced, and the way the game's mechanics all interlock and equalize each other is amazing, eg the supply and demand pricing with the fuels, and the system for plant obsolescence.

      Yup! It's a wonderful game. I need to play it again!!

      this so much
      it's just a really well designed game, i first played it over a year ago now i think?
      I cant recommend it enough

      Yeah, it always involved a little too much arithmetic for my squidgy artist brain.

    Played it once, hated it. I got entirely corralled into a relatively small space by the half point of the game, which guaranteed that I simply had no mathematical possibility of ever catching up, or really, affecting the board in any meaningful way through the whole second half of the game. Felt ridiculously unfair and stupid. Worst thing is that this happened with two other new players (and one veteran) playing without malice or cutthroat intent. I cannot imagine how it would be when all players are experienced and out to screw one of the players with hidden alliances.

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