In its large green box, Power Grid is hard to miss when I pass by it at my local game store. However, it is one that I have actively avoided for years. Looking at the cover art and reading the back of the box, the concept of building power plants and supplying energy for homes doesn’t come through as something I’d want to play.
Thankfully, it piqued the interest of Steff’s sister Michelle. I gave it to her as a Christmas present and as a group, we gave it an honest try. I don’t think my words can make this game sound any sexier than the relatively dry premise it’s built around, but it actually makes for a phenomenal board game.
In Power Grid, players are in charge of running their own power company. Your goal is to provide power to as many cities as you can by the end of the game. This is done by purchasing power plants, resources and cities, then by spending your power plant’s resources to power the homes in your network and earn money. From there, the cycle continues until someone hits the city limit. Once that’s triggered, whoever can power most of their cities on that final turn wins. Be careful though, the person who hits the city limit first doesn’t necessarily guarantee themselves the victory, as an inefficient power business could come up short in supplying their homes with power at the most critical time.
As we were first learning it, the game seemed rather daunting. There are a lot of moving parts involved, from the ever-changing power plant market, to the resource market where pricing is heavily dependent on supply and demand, to the different phases of the game that occur once people hit certain city thresholds. However, it’s certainly possible to grasp with the default rules and some time walking through it, as we eventually started to see how it all fit together.
Once that happened, our appreciation for the game skyrocketed. It’s pretty amazing how all of the different aspects of this economic engine seamlessly work together to form the power supply industry. The purchasing of power plants is done through auctioning, so there’s going to be a constant check in your head figuring out how much each plant is worth to you. Plant value is also going to be heavily dependent on where a particular resource is at in terms of market value. Over the course of the game, resource prices will rise and fall based on bureaucracy, supply and demand. Expanding your network is going to be key to your success, though it’s not going to be cheap. Furthermore, the prices of specific cities will rise based on how many people beat you to that place first.
Needless to say, a lot of strategic and tactical thinking is required to build a successful power grid. Immersing myself in these economic systems proved to be very compelling, as there’s a level of critical thinking that’s always required throughout the course of the game. I also found it fascinating how all of the different elements of the experience can change as your opponents start building their empires. The only thing I have a gripe with is that the math involved later on with the purchase of multiple cities isn’t the easiest thing to do off the top of your head. Maybe having a calculator handy would help, though it seems like a silly extra to require.
Not to disrespect Ticket to Ride in any way, but Power Grid feels like a more advanced version of that classic. It scratches the same itch while adding in extra layers of depth for more experienced gamers to wrestle with. If you’ve got some board game experience under your belt, don’t let the boring box art or game description get in the way of playing this amazing title. Power Grid is simply amazing and totally worth your time.