By December 17, 2009

Power Grid Board Game Review

We love board games at the Den o’ Gibberish. I prefer to play games that are partly competitive, partly co-operative. If a game isn’t truly co-operative, I like games that allow for “isolated group” play, wherein every person in the game can still do something, no matter how far ahead or behind they are. Games like Settlers of Catan, Dominion, and Carcassonne get a lot of play. Recently we’ve been playing a lot of Power Grid by Rio Grande Games. Power Grid is a nice blend of city building, auctioning, resource management, and tactics. It can be played by a wide range of ages and a wide range of player skill, all at the same time.

The object of Power Grid is to provide electricity to the greatest number of homes at the end of the game. You may power homes via different types of plants, such as coal, oil, garbage, and nuclear. There are also hybrid plants that burn oil or coal, and “green” plants like windmills that require no resources to power.

You may buy a new power plant, resources, or homes every turn. Power plants are auctioned off amongst the players, and resources are purchased from a common resource pool. Homes cost 10, 15, or 20 “Electro” dollars depending on how many other homes are in the target city, and you must also pay connection costs between cities. Depending on the number of players, you may build 17 or 21 homes before the game is over.

One of the things I like the best about Power Grid is that the games are always competitive. The game has a lot of built-in mechanics to guard against one player running away with everything. The greatest example of this is how turn orders are determined. The player with the greatest number of homes goes first, and then the player with the next greatest number, and so on. In case of a tie, players with the most advanced power plant go first. Turn order is determined at the start of every round. It is very possible that the turn order will change every round.

Players use turn order differently in different “phases” each round. For example:

Phase 1: Auction power plants – turn order is as normal (first, second, third, etc)
Phase 2: Buy resources – turn order is reversed (last, next to last, etc until the first player goes)
Phase 3: Buy homes – turn order is reversed
Phase 4: Bureaucracy (power homes, replenish resources, etc) – turn order is as normal

Going last isn’t always bad; in fact if players are competing for resources it might be best to go last. It may not be apparent until you play, but sometimes you really want to be first in order to take the first crack at a power plant, or you may want to be last so that you can get resources on the cheap.

Power Grid has a lot of “anti-griefer” mechanics to lessen players from ruining the game for others. For example, you may only buy twice the amount of resources that your power plants can use. If you have a power plant that uses two barrels of oil to power a home, you may only buy four barrels of oil for that particular plant. This is important, as it prevents players from doing two things: over-buying the market and hoarding resources, and from buying resources they can’t use. I can’t buy trash if I don’t have any trash-burning plants, for instance.

Another thing that Power Grid does to keep players engaged is how new power plants are added to the market. Plants are added randomly, and in numerical descending order according to how advanced the plant is. You are never really sure what new plants are going to be available, and the available plants for purchase can change radically depending on what is revealed.

Even home building is set up in a way to never block a player completely. In other games, like Settlers of Catan, it is possible to surround other players to keep them from buying new homes or building new roads. In Power Grid you can build past other players, if you have the cash.

There are plenty of reviews about the Power Grid game play, so I won’t get into that here. The production quality of the game is really high. Power Grid is a different game every time, so the replay factor is also very high. I can’t say enough positive things about it, especially since every player can feel competitive thanks to the way the game is designed.

The only drawback to the game is that there are a lot of tiny rules, and if you do some of the phases out of order or incorrectly it could make a big impact on the game. If everyone in your gaming group is new to Power Grid, be prepared to play the first few games incorrectly. However, the game is so much fun you won’t really care.

Power Grid by Rio Grande Games is strongly recommended.

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1 Comment on "Power Grid Board Game Review"

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  1. the Accountant (tm) says:

    This was a fun game, I enjoyed it the couple times we have played it.