New Game Weekend: Power Grid

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This year I’ve been fortunate to have both the time and a revolving line-up of patient opponents at Metropolitan Wargamers to introduce me to nearly 30 new games. Lots of times I’ll hear the name of a game or references to its mechanics tossed around by other members, and I’ll just file that name away in the back of my head for a future gaming option. One of the games I’ve heard come up again and again is Power Grid, and this past weekend I finally got my first shot at playing it.

What a fantastic game.

Power Grid is a game of building power plants along a grid among interconnected cities and managing the resources to power the system. Originally published in Germany over 10 years ago, Power Grid began as a crayon and paper game. The version available since 2004 from Rio Grande Games is a more typical Eurogame with a two-sided playing board (Germany and US maps on either side), cards and scores of wooden playing pieces.

The game play unfolds over a series of turn phases. First, player order is determined by the player with the most cities built. Player order is very important in the second phase when power plants are auctioned among players. Some primitive coal, wood or trash-burning plants may come cheap but power few cities or require lots of resources to fire them. Other plants, like solar fields and wind farms, come at a higher initial cost but require no resources to fuel them since the wind and sun come for free. At the far edge are high-tech nuclear plants which can power many cities but require the rare and costly uranium fuel.

And so that leads to the third phase of buying resources. In turn order, players buy coal, wood, trash and uranium which fluctuate in a market of varying demand and pricing throughout the game. Each player’s plant holds double the resources it requires, so a coal-fired plant that requires two coal to run it can hold four coal resources. In terms of strategy, players buy resources for use in their own plants, but they may also choose to stockpile resources and rob other players of the ability to buy resources for their plants.

In the fourth phase, players build cities and their grid. Building cities begins at a $10 value but rises to $15 and then $25 as the game progresses and the grid becomes more crowded with development. Connections between cities also costs money, so creating a close network of cities along a compact grid can make things cheaper for you and more expensive for your opponent as the game goes on. To wrap a turn, players fire up their grid, burn resources and collect income based on how many cities they are able to supply with power.

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Power grid is a fantastic game of economics, resource management and area control, hitting all the marks of a classic Eurogame. A mix of strategies of building and resource management makes for a realistic yet streamlined game requiring just some basic rules, no reading during the game and simple components. The

Numerous expansion sets are available for Power Grid, including additional power plant cards and additional two-sided regional maps from around the world such as France/Italy, Central Europe, Russia/Japan and China/Korea. A rabid international online fanbase has also created custom homebrewed maps of just about any country or region on the planet.

With the topic of energy and natural resource consumption on the front page of just about any paper in the world on any given day, it’s easy to see why Power Grid resonates so widely. The game also plays without any reading required (other than a basic understanding of one of the translated rulesets), adding to its international appeal. Not only is the game a huge draw for hardcore gamers, I could also see it as a very instructive tool in teaching any group of engaged kids on the challenges of managing ever-increasing power demands.

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