Power Grid Overview
Game Genre: Economics
Designer: Friedemann Friese
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Number of Players: 2-6
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When I begin teaching the game of Power Grid to new players, I break the game into its 4 discrete phases. In the first phase, you’re buying power plants through an auctioning system. In the second phase, you buy resources that your power plants will consume to generate electricity to power the many cities on the map. In the third phase, you build power stations to expand your power network. Finally, in the final phase, you get paid, clean up the used resources, and then refill the resource spaces.
And then I set them loose. They sally forth, money in hand, snapping up power plants, resources, and cities. There’s a palpable sense of excitement in their eyes as the game’s mechanics sink in. They start looking greedily at the green energy plants, salivating at the cost savings to be had so long as they’re able to outbid the opposition. They start seeing opportunities to block an opponent’s expansion and grab linchpins at all due haste. They start looking at ways to corner the resource market for a single good, leaving the other players in the lurch. But most of all, they figure out how to manipulate turn order in a way that will propel them to victory!
Power Grid is Simply an Excellent Economics Simulation
Both the terms “simple” and “excellent” equally apply to Power Grid’s design. Each phase is easy to teach because designer Friedemann Friese decided that you’d only perform so many actions in each phase, making it easy to keep track of and remember.
But put them all together and the economic concepts rise to the surface. Deciding to buy a power plant? Great, but can you get a good revenue return on that investment? What’s a “fair” price for such a plant? Will it give you the capacity you need to win in the endgame? Next, you buy resources. If most people are focused on one type of power plant, you can bet that the resources used by that type of plant will grow scarce and become more expensive as a result. The way in which Power Grid simulates this classic concept of supply and demand is pure genius. When it comes time to expand your network, you then have to figure out which areas are a priority so that you can maintain your positional advantage.
These are the questions that will enter people’s heads as they play Power Grid. The fact that there’s so many factors to consider means Power Grid will delight anyone with a penchant for analytical games. Every step must be carefully considered because one misstep, and you may find yourself losing by one. Single. Dollar. And that’s frankly irritating enough to make you want to have a go at it again!
Power Grid’s Mind Games Make it Riveting
But if all Power Grid had to offer is a spreadsheet-oriented crawl towards the endgame, it wouldn’t have been as big a hit with me as it’s ultimately turned out to be. Where Power Grid succeeds is in its melding of analytical gameplay with mind games.
For example, in the auction phase, there’s the mind game that revolves around how much to purchase a power plant. Devious players will try to figure out how much the other player is willing to spend on a given power plant, align it with their own willingness to pay, and then force prices higher so that the other player won’t be getting as much of a bargain as he otherwise might have. In the city expansion phase, there’s the jockeying for position so that you don’t get blocked off by directing your opponent to expand away from you. And if you can somehow push other people to take resources that would leave another player hanging, that feat can leave you feeling pretty satisfied.
But because of the way Power Grid is designed, the computations and scenario planning can be a bit much for those not computationally inclined. And for those who like to strategize over every little step, the order in which the power plants appear can definitely throw some wrenches into the works, especially if a player gets a high-capacity plant for base price. Finally, this game isn’t very forgiving. In a game filled with experienced players, missteps can be difficult to recover from since losing tempo in one round can result in a vast gulf between you and your opponents.
I enjoy the analytical approach that this game serves up. There’s a lot of factors to dwell upon and those factors only increase as you get closer to the end of the game, making it engaging and intense. And when games come down to the wire, the Power Grid experience is very satisfying.
Verdict: 9/10 – Excellent: The whole concept of bidding for plants and buying/refilling resources is awesome at simulating markets. Also, the fact that it’s easy to teach, isn’t too long, and has its share of intense moments means that it hits the table pretty often in my group.
- Easy to teach and the actions you take are very discrete and simple.
- Fun psychological component to the game in the bidding process, opening up avenues for those who can outthink their opponent and get the power plants at the right prices.
- Very tactical, especially in the way you manage turn order and use that to jockey for resources and city positioning.
- Expansion maps can provide a twist to the base game and making each scenario intriguing.
- Power Grid doesn’t take too long to play out and constantly engaging.
- There is a point where the game is out of anyone’s reach and because of that, it can be very difficult to win if you’re behind.
- To play well requires you to be good at simple computations.
- Power plant order can determine who will win the game.
- Game can get very cutthroat.