Power Grid is a well known board game. Almost as well known as Catan. It was originally released in 2004 and I first played it in 2006. Today I’m going to bring back an old review I wrote back then. Have my thoughts changed? Did I love it then and do I still love it now?
Here at Tabletop Bellhop I’m dabbling in review necromancy. Each #ThrowbackThursday I’m going to bring back something I wrote in the past and re-publish it.
Below you will find an original review with only very minor editing. I’m trying to keep the feel and tone of the original post. I will, at times, insert comments, you will find these in [square brackets]. At the end of the original content, I will follow up with some current thoughts on the topic.
We also discussed this review on Ep 15 of our podcast: Tabletop Bellhop Live, 1up Wrap Up.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. As an associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Why this game?
I picked Power Grid to talk about this week because it’s one of the oldest reviews of mine I could find still out there on the web. This was originally posted on a free ProBoards forum I used to run. A forum that eventually evolved into the Windsor Gaming Resource. Back when I wrote this review Power Grid was still The Hotness. Everyone was talking about it. Back then, by everyone, I mean the few board game blogs and forums that existed. It was the Scythe of it’s day. Did it live up to the hype? Let’s find out…
The original review
In Power Grid players compete to build power plants and generators to supply cities with power either in the US or Germany. [The game ends when a set number of generators are built and then the player who can supply power to the most cities wins].
The game starts with an auction phase where players bid on power plants. Each of these [have] a different minimum bid and provide power for a set number of cities, while requiring various resources to run (Coal, Oil, Solar, Garbage or Plutonium). The plants start out inefficient and cheap and grow to more efficient and expensive as the game goes on.
The next phase is the buying of resources. Resources vary in price depending on demand, and players buy in a set order [reverse player order], making buying first a huge advantage.
The next phase has the players building power grids. Players purchase [generators] in cities they wish to supply power too. The cost for this varies depending on the connection between a city you own and the city you wish to [build in]. Some connections are very cheap while others are very expensive. At the start of the game, only one player can supply a city, [in the second phase of] the game a second player can purchase a ‘house’ but at a greater cost. In the endgame a third player can set up shop in that city as well, but this is even more expensive than what the other players two had to pay.
The last phase involves players spending resources to power their plants and getting paid for the electricity they have supplied. [Note: you only get paid for cities that are supplied with power, building more power plants does not necessarily mean more money if you can’t supply the power].
Turn order is determined by who is closest to achieving victory and reverses for many phases. Thus the player who has the most ‘houses’ [on the board] bids for [new] power plants first, but they buy resources last. The game lasts about an hour or two and turns are fairly quick.
The components. As with many Euro-games put out by Rio Grande Games the board and pieces are top notch, including wooden components for houses [the standard Catan settlement style house] and for all of the commodities. The board is excellent looking and has two sides (which I love). The only complaint was the money (see the ugly).
The variety of great game mechanics in one game was amazing. The auction phase was typical of other Euro-games but usually this is a games only mechanic, in Power Grid it’s just the first step. The way the resource prices scaled as the game went on with supply and demand was unique to me and worked very well. There were times when you would buy resources just to drive up the price for other players. It’s also interesting the way the ‘higher end’ commodities start off very expensive and slowly drop in price as time goes on.
The way the power plants scale is also excellent, with near useless plants being replaced by powerhouses that can supply 6 cities with only one resource. The building phase was also interesting mainly due to the map. I have no clue how they determined how much it costs to link individual cities, but the way it is set up with a few pockets of cheap grids which lead out west [where expenses increase] is very well done.
Without going on too much, I will just say this was a very fun game with a ton of variety in the strategies that one could play. I don’t think any two games would ever be the same due to the variety of options and the [card based, random] power plant generation method.
Due to the number of commodities it can be hard to keep everything on the board in the right place. When we had to add more resources to the stock at the end of the first turn the first thing I thought was that this would be a great computer game, as there was quite a bit of standing up little wooden counters along a crowded track.
It seems like this may be a game where steamrolling occurs. [By this I mean,] that once a player gets the lead they continue to keep it. The person with the most cites and best plants just keeps getting more money than everyone else every turn, allowing them to just keep building more cities and getting more money, etc. There didn’t seem to be a good way to ‘stop the leader’ There was definitely some jockeying for position, but once one or two people got about 3 cities ahead, it didn’t seem like the other players could do much about it.
The presentation and components in this game were top notch, except for one thing. The money. Power Grid has the worst looking money I have seen in a game since Monopoly. The money is also incredibly thin. This is a game where a ton of money changes hands and I can’t see it lasting long. Now in the game I played the owner had fixed this problem by using poker chips, which worked great, but it would have been nice to see something better included.
It is possible in this game to shoot yourself in the foot. To the point where you can no longer play the game. If you spend too much on power plants and forget to save money to buy resources you can basically oust yourself from play. Now I am sure some people like this, and really it’s just part of the game, but I am sure it’s not fun to sit and watch the other players finish up while you do nothing turn after turn.
[Power Grid] is a game that definitely belongs in the top 10 board games [on BoardGameGeek.com]. This is pretty much on my must have list now. I would love to head downstairs and play a game right now. Great components, interesting and good working mechanics and a variety of strategies make this a winner.
My Thoughts Now
Did you happen to catch my Top 20 Games of Right Now? If you did you would have seen Power Grid on that list. That’s right. 12 years later I’m not only still enjoying Power Grid I think it’s in the top 20 games I own.
Over the years, after writing this review, I got myself a copy of Power Grid. I played that copy a lot. For a long time my answer for “what’s your favourite game?” was Power Grid. While I don’t consider it the best game I own anymore it’s still really high up there.
Some comments on the original review. Most of it I still agree with completely. I obviously still dig the game and I still think it deserves all the praise it’s gotten over the years (I see 17 awards listed on BGG).
As for the part in the initial review about a steamroller problem, it turns out that it isn’t actually a problem. What I didn’t realize then is that the player order mechanic is actually a catch-up mechanic. Or rather, it’s a way to keep a player that builds too many connections in check by making them bid first in the auction (which is a disadvantage as no new, better, plants will be revealed that first round) and they are also stuck buying resources last which generally means paying the most. The turn order mechanic is actually quite brilliant in that way.
I’m amused by me talking about it making a good computer game. While there are apps and such out there now, I still prefer the original. Now what I would like to see is an inset market board so that managing those resources it a bit easier. I guess now-a-days I’m just getting more used to games with lots of little wood components.
Regarding the money. This has been and will always be a problem. For some solutions for that problem check out my Money, Money, Money Gamer Gift Guide, in it I specifically talk about replacing the money in Power Grid.
So since this initial review came out Rio Grande Games released Power Grid Deluxe. This was released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Power Grid. It included a new larger map of Europe and North America, upgraded components, and a totally new deck of power plants which removed garbage as a resource and replace it with natural gas. There were also some very minor rules tweaks, all of which improved the game. One of those tweaks addresses the player elimination problem I noted in my original review. It used to be that you could overspend on power plants and bankrupt yourself out of the game. Now there is a rule where you get a minimum of $10 during the selling phase. I welcome this improvement.
The other thing Power Grid Deluxe did was replace the paper money with plastic chips. This should have been a good thing but the chips are very cheap. Basically tiddly winks. I still recommend finding your own money solution. Overall Power Grid Deluxe isn’t all that deluxe. The new components aren’t that much better, the new rules are a welcome change but you can just integrate them in the original game. It’s still plays, looks and feels like Power Grid. While I expected more, I was happy with it. I would call it “Power Grid: a small step up, in some ways” and not Deluxe, but I don’t think that would sell as well.
One final note on maps. There are a ton of expansion maps for Power Grid. I own I think three of them. You would think, with owning the game for 12 years, I would have tried at least one of these, but nope. I’m perfectly happy with the original maps. In theory the idea of new maps is cool, but I’ve never felt the need to swap it up.
I’ve enjoyed Power Grid for 12 years so far and I’m pretty sure I will still dig it 12 years from now.
So have you played Power Grid? What did you think.