Monday, 14 January 2008

Power Grid Benelux/Central Europe

Power Grid is one of my favourite games, about running a power company. Players compete to buy power plants, to buy resources (coal, oil, garbage, uranium), to build their power network, and to earn money by supplying power to cities. The base game comes with a two-sided map, one side showing USA and the other showing Germany. I have since bought three expansions to Power Grid, Power Grid Italy/France, Power Grid Benelux/Central Europe and Power Grid Plant Deck 2. The first two are new maps to play on, and the third is a new set of power plants.

I have played the Power Grid base game 15 times, and each of the expansion maps - France, Italy, Belgium/Netherlands/Luxemburg, Central Europe - just once. I don't play enough of this game. I enjoy it a lot and really should play more. I think the reason I don't is I want to play it with 4 players or more. Most of my games were 2 player games against Michelle, which I think is not as good as with more players. I have also played some 3 player games with both Michelle and Han, but one element of tension lacking from a 3 player game is no one will get cut off completely, because eventually a city will allow 3 players to place a house (to indicate connection and supply to this city). So, I have been hoping to play a four player game, for a long time.

Having only played each of the four maps of the expansions only once each, I am not really qualified to do a review fo them. In fact, I am not even sure I remember all the rule changes that come with each map. Each maps comes with some minor rule tweaks, and the maps themselves also offer some variety and some uniqueness. E.g. on the map of France, Paris is made up of 3 cities, and the connection cost between these 3 segments is zero. The Central European map has some restriction about nuclear power. In the Netherlands (and Belgium and Luxemburg), the people are very eco-friendly and if the first power plant in the future market is an eco-friendly, it is available for purchase, in contrary to the standard rules. There is one city in the Central Europe map (Wein?) which allows you to buy garbage (a resource for powering your power plants) cheaper. I find that the expansions add some freshness to the game, although I really have not played the base game enough for it to start getting stale. I don't find the game to be significantly different on the expansion maps. The minor tweaks and different maps make things interesting, and are also thematic, e.g. the abundance of coal on certain maps, but Power Grid is still Power Grid. They don't (at least for me) enhance the game a lot, but they definitely do not make it worse either. It is possible that some game expansions make things worse, even though in the first place the base game must be doing quite well for the publisher to consider printing expansions. Some expansions may make things too complex for some players. Some expansions may change the nature and strategy of the game, and the change may not be welcome by all fans of the original game. For me, I like the Power Grid expansions. I just wish I had more people to play this with.

I have not tried the latest expansion - the new deck of power plant cards. The online retailer left it out by mistake, so they are sending it to me now.

The Benelux map. Luxemburg only has one city.

Close-up of a game in progress on the Benelux map.

Reference card, houses (to denote connection to cities), money (cheap generic poker chips which I bought in Taiwan; the game comes with paper money which I prefer not to use), and my four power plants (usually you are allowed to have three, but for 2-player games you can have four).

One thing that surprised me a little is that Power Grid is the #2 game on BoardGameGeek now. And the thing is, I don't know why I'm surprised. I like the game a lot and should be happy. I don't know why it doesn't have the #2 game aura to me. Maybe I'm unconsciously stereotyping the "Top 3 Games", or "#2 Game". And I know I'm undeniably a boardgame geek now that I'm starting to talk about "#2 game aura".

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