Players: 2 to 6
Game Length: 2 hours
Best enjoyed: With 3-5 players who want a brain-burning resource management game and don’t mind lots of arithmetic
Power Grid is a resource management game where players will be attempting to provide power to as many population centres as possible. To pay for the power, you’ll need to purchase power plants, then you’ll need to buy the right fuel to run it – all of which is available at a variable price, determined by what the other players buy!
The goal of the game is to be providing power to the most locations at the end of the game. You’ll start with a fairly small network, and over the course of the game this will increase in size as you invest more money into connections. You’ll earn cash based on how many locations you are providing power to, and to do this you’ll need to own a power plant and be able to provide it with enough resources.
Power Grid is considered a classic by many for the way it simulates a supply-and-demand market through the purchase of resources. If all players are running coal-fired power plants, for example, coal can start to get prohibitively expensive, to the point where just buying a power plant that runs on a cheaper resource can be worthwhile for the reduced operating costs alone.
Power Grid rewards those who get ahead with more money, which could cause a major snowballing problem, but it elegantly sidesteps this problem by allowing the players lagging behind the first pick of resources and expansion options, giving them the chance to power their plants more cheaply and expand to the limited connections before their larger rivals. It can be tactically advantageous to stay behind in the turn order while amassing enough money to leap ahead in a later round, and Power Grid is definitely a game that rewards careful planning of this nature.
Be aware that Power Grid relies very heavily on arithmetic skills. To be successful, you will need to perform a lot of addition of small numbers – on a typical turn you may need to calculate the cost of fuel (2 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 4 = 15), work out the cost of adding a few new connections (10 + 10 + 5 + 3 + 7 = 25), and subtract these from your current cash (58 – 15 – 25 = 18) to know how much you can afford to spend on power plant auctions this turn. Then you may need to re-evaluate mid-turn, as other players buy up the valuable resources and connections you need, increasing prices. Success in the game will hinge on making optimal use of your cashflow, as well as making good tactical moves, which means constantly adding up sums to work out the cost of your actions.
Because of the reliance on arithmetic, Power Grid can slow down a lot with the wrong group. It may help to have a calculator on hand, and in extreme cases you may even want to incorporate a turn timer – few things are as frustrating as waiting several minutes for a player to math out their turn. If you play with a full set of 6 players, expect to have a lot of downtime between your turns!
Despite this, Power Grid does make a good heavier Euro-style game that rewards forward thinking and careful planning. The turn order mechanism allows players who are behind a means to catch up without feeling too much like a handicap to those who are ahead, meaning that players can stay in the running all game long, if they play their cards right and think carefully.
Power Grid comes recommended to those who want a Euro-style game that rewards planning, and don’t mind constantly performing sums in their head.