Sunday, 4 September 2011

Power Grid expansions marathon

I recently purchased three Power Grid expansions from Jeff (a.k.a. CK), and over the Hari Raya (Eid ul-Fitr) holidays, Michelle and I played through all six of the maps. We also played the Power Grid Promo Cards Set, which Allen gave to me. He acquired two sets when he bought stuff from In all games we used Variant 3 of the Power Grid Power Plant Deck 2 expansion. In this variant, six big plants are added to the deck, and the number of connected cities required to end the game is increased from 21 to 24 (for 2-player games). Since I usually only play Power Grid as a 2-player game against Michelle, I think in future we will always use this variant. Here's our journey to some exotic (to us) parts of the world. How many people can boast visiting 7 countries in one week?

Korea. What's unique is there are two resource markets, and every round you can choose to buy from only one of them. I lost this game due to resource dependency. I had a big nuclear plant, which meant I needed to buy from the South Korean market. However I also depended on coal and garbage. In the final round, no matter what I did, Michelle could starve me of either coal or garbage by buying up more than she needed, and I wouldn't be able to power all my plants. In hindsight, I could have connected to fewer cities in the previous round so that I had priority in buying resources in the final round; I could have stored resources (especially uranium) so that I wouldn't be so stuck. One thing I like about Power Grid is whenever I lose, I can usually look back and tell what I have done wrong and how I could have done better.

Yellow houses block off areas that are out of play.

We started close. Michelle was red and I was green. We established a frontline and marked our territories like tomcats from the early game.

We visited Seoul some years ago and were lucky to be there during the cherry blossom season (about one to two weeks in a year). I enjoyed visiting the folk village near Suwon too.

China. What's unique here is a planned economy, where for the first two thirds of the game the power plants appear in a strict ascending order. The number of plants available for purchase every round is much fewer than the standard game. I (green) blocked off Michelle (red) and kept her in the north east, but she eventually paid to jump to the south.

I recently watched a Chinese movie called Aftershock (唐山大地震) directed by Feng XiaoGang, about a family that survived the 1976 earthquake in Tangshan. I like the movie a lot.

Russia's power plant market is smaller, so players have fewer choices. Also when the start player does not pick a power plant to auction, the smallest power plant is immediately discarded, which means a better plant may become available for the other players to buy. The leading player has a difficult decision to make.

The map only covers the western half of Russia.

Japan. I have played this once at Old Town Kopitiam Cheras. Connections are mostly expensive. Players can start two networks, which is a unique feature.

Step 3 (i.e. the last third) of the Power Grid Japan game. The rightmost power plant with the green edge is from the power plant deck expansion. Normally you can only have three power plants, but you can have four in a 2-player game.

Two of the cards from the Power Grid Promo Card Set. The one on the left is just a warehouse for you to store up to 3 resources. It doesn't count as one of your power plants. The one on the right removes three resources which are cheapest from the resource market, thus increasing the price. When these cards turn up, they are immediately auctioned off to the players (or acted upon). We played with this promo card set when we played the Spain and Portugal map.

Another weird card. When you gain this fun fair you place one of your houses on it and it is treated as another city that you have connected to.

Spain and Portugal. No new uranium is added to the resource market in the first Step, but many will be added in the second Step. At the start of the second Step, three wind power plants will become available.

The rightmost power plant is a flux generator, which is from the promo card set. It is quite useful, because it can process any resource and it powers 6 cities.

Madrid the capital of Spain was unfortunately not in play in our game. We blocked it off with a yellow house.

Brazil. The garbage resource is treated as biofuel tanks here. All biofuel plants are always in play, regardless of the number of players.

I (green) started in the north east, where there were many cities close to one another with low connection costs. Michelle started near the centre and spread both north and south. The connections between my area and hers were expensive, and she blocked me off before the start of Step 2 (when cities would accommodate two players), grabbing those cities in the north west which were my only remaining affordable avenue for expansion.

Michelle and I played 4 maps in 2 days, and by the end of that we were both a little sick of Power Grid. We took 2 days off before completing our quest. I am a little amazed at how we managed to enjoy Power Grid as a 2-player game. I think the ideal player count is probably four. BGG says best with 4 or 5, and recommended with 3 to 6. 2 is not even a recommended player count.

I don't have any strong preference among these six maps. I think the China map is less interesting with 2 players, because there are only 2 power plants available every round. That's very restrictive. With more players, the number of plants will be one less than the number of players. Considering purely the maps (and not the special rules), the Japan map is interesting. It's long and narrow. There are small groups of cities here and there with cheap connections, but most connections are expensive. The possibility of starting two networks is also interesting. Do you start your second network early or later? It is a very useful ability that you don't want to squander.

Rules-wise, the two resource markets in Korea are interesting. Also the Russian map rule where the smallest power plant is discarded if the leading player doesn't put any up for auction makes for a very interesting and difficult decision for the leading player. Overall I'm happy that each map has some unique enough aspects, and none distort the game too much to make it unwieldy. Well, Power Grid can be considered a little unwieldly in the first place, heh heh.

I've never been a game expansion completist. I don't have much interest in weird small expansions, like the X-Deck of Agricola, and the small promo expansions of various games. I like expansions that have something solid to offer and not just minor novelty. So the Power Grid Promo Card Set doesn't do much for me. Just a nice-to-have. So it's more valuable to me as a momento than as a game play component.

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