Power Grid: The Card Game by Friedmann Friese is an auction and bidding game for 2-6 players. Your role as the CEO of a power company is to make as much electricity as possible. You do this by constructing new power stations, decommissioning old sites, purchasing resources and generating power.
The game is played over seven or eight rounds. A four-player game typically takes about an hour.
Each round, players bid to construct one of four available new power stations. The efficiency of these generators, the opening bid price and power station type varies as cards are drawn randomly from a deck. Some generate electricity using coal, oil or gas. Others are nuclear power plants or hybrid generators (which are more expensive). For others, eco-friendly solar or wind generators are also available.
The bidding order varies from turn to turn. The player who had generated the most electricity in the previous round has to commence bidding that turn. It might be tempting to think that this rule gives the leading player an advantage. However, this can force a player into making a bid for a power station that they do not want. This might prevent them from bidding on better, more efficient stations that are due to become available later. Sometimes it pays to be lower in the “pecking order”.
When buying or replacing a power station, one needs to keep sufficient money aside to purchase resources to generate the electricity. Resource purchasing starts in reverse order to the bidding. There is no auction here. This simple rule keeps things nicely in check. Players who are falling behind could buy up all of the cheapest resources, and even keep some in storage for future turns. Used strategically, this can prevent the leading players from accessing enough coal or oil etc to generate any electricity and make little money that turn. As a result, this could render their expensive purchase obsolete for that go.
Players may hold and run up to three power stations at a time. All cards are held and played face-up so that all can see what opponents might be planning – the premise being that it is difficult to conceal a nuclear power station!
Within the game there is a small play variation. As a result, players can make a little more money if they are the first that turn to decommission one of their old power stations. This rule can intensify the first stage of each round as players bid to construct new power plants.
The winner is the player who has generated the most electricity during the final round. Money or resources held at the end count for virtually nothing.
Unlike regular Power Grid or Deluxe, there is no board or tokens. The small compact box for Power Grid: The Card Game makes it very portable. However, to play the game and lay out the cards does require a moderate space or table top. To try to play this game on an aeroplane in economy would be almost impossible.
The box and cards have similar, almost cartoon-like illustrations. They are colour-coded and are very clear to distinguish power station types or resources. These cards are also made of reasonably thick card. Their square shape and size are ideal for the game, balancing the need to differentiate power stations types yet keeping the game as compact as possible.
The idea behind the game is very simple; build power stations, buy resources, make electricity. It is the player interaction that makes Power Grid: The Card Game interesting.
A player in a leading position must place a bid, or by passing that turn, will forfeit the opportunity to bid for any power stations that round. Other players could deliberately allow the prices to push so high that they cannot buy any resources or make electricity that turn. This might mean they are in last place, yet have the pick of the cheapest resources in subsequent rounds.
Ultimately, Power Grid: The Card Game hinges on being able to run “strong” power stations in the final round. To play the game well does require thoughtful planning. Players need to consider in advance their maximum bid and strategy during the auction phase. This can lead to some frustration with some gamers who are prone to over-analysing a situation.
The beauty of Power Grid: The Card Game is that there is almost no element of chance or luck to affect the outcome. Every player has the same opportunities and the game is won by clever bidding and predicting what others might chose to buy. This game does play with two players but this requires a passive trust to act as a third player playing according to defined rules of bidding and purchasing. Power Grid: The Card Game is better with four or more players. This maximises player interaction and increases the enjoyment of trying to predict other’s actions.
This game provokes the same tension and player analysis without the board, expense or complexity of its big brother. Every game seems to be different as auction bidding, resource purchasing and decision making vary according to player’s thoughts and card availability. These effects certainly ensure it is replay-able.
Final Thoughts on Power Grid: The Card Game
Power Grid: The Card Game is a thought-provoking game. Every game is unique. It requires players to plan their strategy, yet be flexible dependent on other’s actions. Because of this if is good for teenagers and adults alike who might enjoy the psychology of this clever little game.