WDYPTW: Power Grid, a.k.a. "Dang, I'm $1 short!"
Around 2004, as my son got a little older, I decided to get back into board gaming and ventured out to the Friday night board game night at the game store down the street. The new hot game that everyone wanted to play was Power Grid, aka Funkenschlag, by designer Friedemann Friese. In its simplest terms, it is an economic game with auction and route building components. The overall concept is that you are trying to win by powering the most cities. To do this, you buy power plants through an auction, resources to power those plants, and claim cities on your network to power. You earn income by powering cities, which allows you to get better plants that require more resources and build a bigger network.
In today’s world of get a new game and play it a few times then forget about it, I have a few that I continue to play several times a year — year after year — and this is one of them. It remains popular in my current play groups with a friend recently starting up a “play all the maps” league (more on that later). I also regularly schedule plays at conventions. I typically get a game in with my friends Bill and Anson a local convention CinCityCon. I tried to play a game with Eric Buscemi and Brandon Rojas at G2S but didn’t work it out. Most recently, at Origins, not only did I play my regular veterans game — this year with Jon & Emily Detmer, Eric, and Daniel Newman but I did a separate teaching game for all new players (seen left). Bill and Alana surprised me and bought their own copy, as well as picked me up a copy of the China/Korea map knowing I was hoping to pick it up to add to my collection. At a convention of hot new games and excitement, it was great to see people interested in learning this favorite of mine.
Power Grid is also one of the games that I have improved with upgraded tokens, money, and even a 3-D board to help see the auction market.
The original resources are distinct wooden shapes. I found a set of replacements a few years back but the only issue had been that both the coal and oil barrels were the same color and were hard to differentiate on the board. After returning from Origins this year I decided to paint the oil barrels blue for better contrast. My goods were from the Gametrayz booth — I do not think they sell them anymore. There are plenty of other sources.
The market is also something you want to be able to see from a distance. It has two rows. The top row being the current market, which I didn’t realize was a power pun until just this year!, and the future market on the bottom. My buddy Bill had one and I decided to build one of my own. New cards come out through play and it help to be able to slide them into place.
Lastly, Power Grid came with some pretty horrible paper money. Most people use poker chips. But, because money is actually hidden in the game, it is nice to have something that isn’t easily seen from the backside. These cards are available from Artscow — with the same backs on all the cards. I think I have three sets just to make sure there is enough, and to have banks at both sides of the board.
As discussed, Power Grid has multiple map options. All are reversible with different maps front and back. The original has Germany on one side and the USA on the other.
The map expansions use the base game components and often add a twist to the rules. We recently played Japan, and due to the islands you can build two networks. At our “veterans” games game at Origins we decided to up the ante and use the Brazil map. Besides playing on an unfamiliar map — the resource market changed. Trash became biogas and was more readily available, and ended up as the least expensive resource. This rule set had less oil and coal replenished each turn, making it more valuable.
Other maps include:
Australia & Indian Subcontinent (2013)
Northern Europe/United Kingdom & Ireland (2012)
Russia & Japan (2010)
Brazil/Spain & Portugal (2009)
Benelux/Central Europe (2006)
The game comes with many other miscellaneous small expansions, such as alternate power plant decks and some fun cards like the Flux Capacitor power generator.
In 2016, Power Grid Deluxe was published. It has some minor revisions to the rules and components. Not enough to call it a deluxe version, nor for me to abandon my original set.
So why do I like it so much? Well… it does tend to be a little “mathy” and but I have always liked math. Plus my phone has a calculator if it the numbers get tight toward the end of the game. The turn structure is in three parts — the tension of those turns switches between rounds based on position in the game. The first phase — auction for power plants. You have to bid on getting the best, most efficient plants, but not overspend so you still have enough for the next phases. These bidding wars can get fun with Emily raising bids just to make Jon spend money — but then sometimes they’d get stuck winning a bid they really didn’t want, when the other bidder passed. You need to make sure after the auction you have plants to power say four cities but you need money to buy say three pieces of coal to power those plants and build another city up from three you built last turn. The next phase is buying resources to power those plants. The resource market fluctuates and prices go up as the people, in turn order, buy their resources before you. Maybe you planned on buying three coal at $4 each and now they are $5 because Dan bought the cheaper ones before you, maybe he bought extra just in case — or just to mess with you — which seems more likely. The last phase is building houses in the cities. Dang — Eric built into Rio just before me and now I need to build into Caracas, but the connection cost is $8 and I only have $7. Dang! I’m one dollar short!