Power Grid has been around for more than a dozen years, has collected numerous awards, remains highly rated, and is a game I consistently go back to. So what is it all about?
Power Grid Introduction
At its core, Power Grid is an economic game. Players need to balance three factors all of which cost money, these are:
- Purchasing power stations.
- Buying fuel.
- Building a network of cities to sell power to.
Income is generated by using fuel to operate power stations in order to supply the network of cities. The winning objective is to provide power to the largest network of cities, money being the tie breaker. The game's design neatly addresses a common fault of economic engine and tech tree games, which can lead to it being all but impossible to catch the player who is ahead.
Typically a game will last about 30 minutes per player, so a four player game will take around two hours. This puts Power Grid into that sweet slot of 20 to 30 minutes per player.
After determining play order, each turn starts with an auction of available power stations. Early in the game these are small and inexpensive. Players bid for these with the player who already has the largest network and highest rated power station going first in turn order and in the bidding.
This is important because as power stations are sold others become available, often more valuable or desirable ones, so going first in the auction is commonly a disadvantage. Bidding can be both tense and challenging as players try to balance costs, benefits and gamble on what station might appear next.
The next phase is purchasing fuel, every player has the opportunity to do so, and this occurs in reverse order. This means the player who has the largest network (as above) purchases fuel last and as fuel gets bought, the remaining fuel gets more expensive. After purchasing fuel the game moves to the building phase where each player has an opportunity to build and expand their network of cities. Once again this happens in reverse order, so the best and cheapest connections will rapidly disappear.
All of this needs to be accomplished with a limited amount of money. Players will need to make decisions between purchasing a desirable power plant, the availability of fuel and having enough money left to expand their network. To add to the decision making, power stations and fuel come in various forms. Fuel may be coal, oil, garbage or uranium. Most power stations can only burn one sort of fuel, although some can burn coal or oil and there are a few green power stations that require no fuel – these are often highly desirable.
At the end of each turn income is generated by burning fuel to operate power stations, providing power to the network of cities. The larger the network, the greater the income, but the more it costs to run.
The base game comes with a reversible game board, with Germany on one side and USA on the other. These two boards are relatively forgiving in that building networks is reasonably inexpensive and fuel supply is relatively generous. There are numerous expansions and game boards, some of which are far more challenging, especially those where fuel supply is tighter.
Power Grid has a fairly steep initial learning curve and can be difficult to master, although the turn play aid card is very helpful. One of the key elements for success is manipulating turn order. The superb and finely balanced economic engine means having the most desirable power stations and largest network will put a player higher up in the turn order.
This puts the player closer to the number of cities required to meet the winning condition and potentially provide higher income, but it comes at a cost. The cost being that it will be harder to expand the network and fuel may be prohibitively expensive.
Power Grid is all about these decisions and reacting to what is available. Every game will be different, spend the money wisely, be careful in the auction, and keep a very careful eye on dwindling fuel availability.