Evan Moses

My blog and projects

Power Grid: It comes down to math

Last game night we sat down for a 4-way game of Power Grid, with me, Sus, A.C., and L.S., an old friend who moved to town relatively recently.  We had all played the game before (some of us more recently than others), but this was the first time we played on Italy, one of the expansion maps.

Power Grid is the epitome of the loose genre known as Eurogames.  There’s very little luck involved: the only random factor is the order in which the new power plants come out, and they come out in such a way that you usually have a pretty good idea of which plants will next be available.  The game is exquisitely balanced.  It’s set up so that the worse you’re doing, the more of an advantage you have, so that it’s nearly impossible to run away with a game.  Even if you’re pretty sure you’re losing, games usually end up being fiercely contested until the last turn.  On the downside, it can often end up feeling like playing a spreadsheet.  You’re always running an optimization to figure out whether to spend your money on resources, power plants, or new cities, and the addition ends up consuming a lot of your brainpower.  A.C. half-facetiously suggested that we all play with pen and paper, but I actually think that’s a pretty good idea, and maybe we’ll try that next time.

Playing on the Italy map definitely made a big difference.  Oil and coal, usually the cheapest and most plentiful resources, are scarcer on this map.  Also, the way the cities are laid out is different from the base maps:  there’s a dense region in the north with many cheap connections, and a much sparser region in the south, with only a few, very expensive connections.  Of course, this meant that we all thought that starting in the north was a good idea.  I went first, so I figured I would grab  a spot in the center of all the cheapness, and there would be enough room for me to grow until Phase II (in Phase I, only one player can build in a city, but in Phase II, a second person can build, for increased cost).  Boy, was I wrong.  Unsurprisingly, everyone else wanted to build in the cheap area, too, but since I was in the center of it, I ended up completely surrounded, and the two players on the southern edge of the north, L.S. and Sus, had a decisive advantage.

While A.C. (who built in the far north) and I were trying to hoard our money to expand later, Sus and L.S. quickly had us surrounded, and managed to shoot south when they built up some reserves.  Even though I got lucky and ended up with a 3 Coal -> 6 house power plant very early, which should have given me a big advantage, it wasn’t enough to overcome getting boxed in.  In the end, L.S. was able to build out the game-ending 17 cities while A.C. and I were still around 13.  Sus would have had a good  chance, but she ended up with some bad luck in the power plant bidding, and wasn’t able to recover from an underpowered mid-game.

Overall, I love Power Grid. It’s a great mid-length game that’s fun over a wide range of number of players.  It’s pretty easy to teach, as well; given the balancing mechanics, it’s forgiving to new players.  Beware, though: you might have trouble if you have friends who are prone to analysis paralysis, or conversely if you get annoyed when someone stares at the board for a  few minutes mumbling to themselves and counting on their fingers.