Thursday, 7 October 2010

Power Struggle

My regular boardgamer friends and I often joke that there are so many interesting new games coming out all the time we can never catch up with playing all the games that interest us. Power Struggle was released around Essen 2009 (a big annual game fair held in Essen, Germany, in October). Allen had bought it for some time, and we only managed to get it played now, when Essen 2010 is just around the corner. Power Struggle was one of the games that caught my attention when it was first released, but it gradually slipped off my radar as I got distracted by other new and shiny games. When I found out that Allen has a copy, I was happy to read the rules for him and teach the game.

The Game

Power Struggle is about company politics. You compete to become chairman of the company. You make your cronies board members or division heads. You create departments, merge departments, recruit employees, fire employees, buy shares. You abuse your (chairman or division head) powers. You bribe others to let you abuse their powers. As employee motivation plummets, you can squeeze even more out of abusing your powers. Division heads can resign and bring all their department heads to join the board, causing a major power shift in the company. Division heads may also choose to resign peacefully to become an external consultant, and in that process get all their loyal department heads and staff fired. This is quite a full-featured parody of the corporate jungle.

To win the game, you need to achieve at least 4 out of 6 possible victory conditions. There are many possible actions in the game. I won't describe the whole game in detail. I think explaining these victory conditions will give a good feel of how the game works.

  1. Gain a certain number of influence points. You gain influence by being chairman or board member. Or firing 3 of your employees (ouch). There is also a special power card (of the Legal division head) which allows you to fire someone else's employee and gain influence. To be chairman you need to have the most and the most senior board members. Every round the old chairman resigns and a new chairman is elected by the board. The board is a volatile place. There are only 5 seats, and whenever a new guy joins the board, the oldest board member is forced to leave. It's a strict first-in-first-out policy. Being a board member for a long time doesn't guarantee you'll become chairman. There may be a reorganisation that forces you out before you have a chance to become chairman.
  2. Create a certain number of main departments. One of the actions that you can do is to create a main department by merging 2 normal departments. There is also a special power card that creates a main department. You can also pay an obscene amount of money to do this. The advantage of main departments is they never get closed down, even if they have only the department head and the deputy head left. Normal departments are forced to close down when the last employee is fired or transferred. Also main departments count as 2 votes when "electing" the division head. However the disadvantage is if a division head resigns to join the board, the main department head and deputy cannot join the board with him. They are needed at their department.
  3. Own a certain number of shares. There are share blocks representing 1 to 7 shares. For one action you get to buy only a block. Naturally it is more efficient to buy a big block. However the cost for a bigger block is significantly higher than that of a smaller block. Shares will give income every round. The tricky part is share income is determined by the number of blocks rather than the actual number of shares. So spending a ton of money on one big block will give you lower income than spending a little money on a few small blocks. But then of course bigger blocks will help you much more in achieving your share holding objective.
  4. Gain a certain number of corruption points. You do this by bribing people, or by accepting bribes. You bribe for the special powers held by other players. You can even bribe for those that they have just bribed away from others. When a power is bribed away, it changes to a more powerful version, so there is incentive to bribe. Also, if you refuse a bribe, the briber can fire one of your employees. So, in a way, you are bribed and threatened at the same time.
  5. Have external consultants in at least 3 divisions. Normally you achieve this by having division heads getting ousted, or voluntarily resigning. They can choose to become external consultants in their specific fields. It is also possible to pay an arm and a leg to hire an external consultant. Just like in real life.
  6. Do better than your archenemy. At the start of the game you are secretly assigned an archenemy and 3 areas (out of the five above) in which you need to do better than him. If you can do so, regardless of whether you have reached the minimal requirement of these 3 areas, you are considered to have achieved the archenemy victory condition. Sometimes you may get assigned yourself as your archenemy. In that case you need to beat everyone else in 2 of the 3 areas.

The game board. The top section (on the left of this photo) is for tracking 5 of the victory conditions. Your need to advance to the green section of the tracks to be considered having achieved that victory condition. The rest of the board is the company organisation chart. Chairman at the top, followed by the board, then division heads, then all the departments. At the far right is the motivation track which uses a big blue marker. Every round this starts at 6, and it can go down or up (usually down).

The victory condition tracks. If you reach the yellow space at the top, you are considered to have fulfilled the requirement in this area for the archenemy victory condition.

There are quite a number of other things you get to do in the game. E.g. if you are the head of the Development division, you can attract employees from other divisions to yours. Motivation level of staff is a funny thing. In this game you often want to drive motivation down, because for many of the special powers that you can use (err... abuse), they become more powerful when motivation is poor.

The player reference sheet, which I think is indispensible. The left side shows the list of actions that you can choose from. The right side shows the special powers of the chairman and the 6 division heads, both the unbribed weaker version and the bribed stronger version. Green pawns are executives - department manager, division head, board member or chairman. Grey cubes are employees. You have an envelope for your bribe offer (we called it the angpow packet). I kept saying "Take the money but give me back my angpow packet". The card on the right is the special power card of the Development Division Head.

The Play

The game took quite some time to explain, because there are not only these various victory conditions to explain, there are also the many different possible actions to explain. Some of the actions have 2 to 3 options, e.g. when performing restructuring, you can move 2 normal departments, or move a main department, or create a main department. Most of us were quite clueless about what we should be doing when the game started. We mostly competed for division head positions and board member positions. Those were easier-to-understand aspects.

Each department has a different colour code. Departments with two managers are main departments.

The currency in the game.

As the game progressed I tried to focus on my three archenemy objectives. My archenemy was myself, so I needed to do better than everyone else in 2 of these 3 areas. Focusing on all three was good for me. If I could meet the minimum requirement for all three, and be the leader in two, that would be 4 victory conditions met. Money was not as tight as we expected. We were quite thrifty in the early game. I was first to buy a big share block. Not that I needed it (it wasn't one of my archenemy objectives), just that I wanted to mess with others. They might have share-holding as one of their archenemy objectives.

I didn't control many divisions at the start of the game, but I tried to use the bribed Development division head power to attract employees to my departments. By having more staff, I could create new departments, and then merge them into main departments. Main departments was one of my archenemy objectives.

I did quite a lot of bribing (since corruption level was one of my archenemy objectives too). In the early game everyone accepted bribes. Only later on we started to decline, to deny the briber the special power. One nasty thing that you can do in this game is after a division head power is bribed away from you, you get your division head to resign. This disables the special power, and the idiot who has just bought it from you will start cursing at you. Bribing changed form towards the end game. In the early game we were all honest bribers (if there can be such a thing). We offered a decent bribe, and we purely wanted the special power. Towards the later part of the game, we bribed also because we wanted that corruption point (offering a bribe immediately scores the briber a corruption point, but the target only earns the corruption point if he accepts the bribe). The special power was nice, but was not necessarily the main attraction. The briber was threatening to fire the target's employee. Also not accepting meant falling behind on the corruption track. The bribe offers became smaller and smaller. We were more blackmailing than bribing. Sneaky bastards!

Allen (blue) was chairman for quite long and gained many influence points. He also had two board members.

On the left, a share block for 7 shares. On the right, the special power cards of the Chairman and the Accounting Division Head. These cards have two sides - the silver unbribed side has a weaker power, and the golden bribed side has a stronger power. Both of these are the bribed versions. I have been doing a lot of bribing.

Since I was the rules reader and game explainer, I had a better grasp of the game and was first to achieve the 4 victory conditions. However, I now realise we probably missed one rule related to main departments. When creating one, 2 employees need to be fired. I think we forgot to do that. I had the most main departments, so this mistake "benefited" me the most.

The Thoughts

One unique aspect of Power Struggle is how there are 6 different goals for you to pursue, and you can choose which ones you want to go for, as opposed to one single victory point track in most Eurogames. This reminds me of Tribune. Power Struggle is much more thematic, and more complex. The strategy in both games can be difficult to grasp, because you have many options, and it takes time to appreciate how all the moving parts work and how to make them work for you, as opposed to randomly fiddling with them to see what happens.

One thing that I was initially worried about was whether the theme would be a turn-off. I work in a corporate environment. Office politics isn't a topic that I get excited about. Having played the game, I find the theme very well done. It ties very well to the game mechanics, and makes the rules feel very logical. I didn't mind the theme at all.

I like the game. I like how there are multiple areas that you need to compete in, that you need to prioritise. The secret archenemy is a clever mechanism. It gives the players slightly different priorities, and yet it doesn't restrict them from pursuing other goals. It is interesting to try to guess what your opponents are aiming for, so that you can try to foil their plans.

There are indeed many moving parts, and there are quite many rules and special powers you need to digest and remember. I find that it helps to just keep in mind your end goal - four of the six victory conditions that you want to achieve. Pick your goals, and try to make sure all actions that you take drive you towards them.


Anonymous said...

excellent review. I recently bought this game and been trying to get my head around the rules. Looking forward to playing it.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I played Power Struggle more than a year ago. What surprised me most was the theme did not annoy me at all. Before I played the game, I was reluctant because I thought it would be uncomfortably close to what we see every day. Turned out the game was quite fun. Hope you enjoy your play too!