First Play: Power Grid

Power Grid has been one of the biggest surprise hits in the office. It's an economy game where players compete to build power plants and supply electricity to as many cities as possible. It's also excellent!

By Jamie Maisner

Our ‘First Play’ guides describe the experiences of relatively experienced board gamers playing a new game for the first time. As such, they don’t include in-depth thoughts on strategy, depth or re-playability.

Rob Clarke Daniel Jamie Maisner Bex Jordan

Don’t Judge a Game by its Cover

When it was first suggested in the office that we play Power Grid; I’m pretty sure that Rebekah and I booed. We booed! Was it the art style? Was it the size of the box? Maybe building our own power network just sounded a bit heavy for a Wednesday morning.

Either way I think it needs to be said now, out loud, once and for all; Power Grid, I’m sorry! You are not a ‘boo’ worthy game. You’re an excellent game!


Set Up

Power Grid is an economy game which see’s 2 – 6 players attempt to dominate the power trade by building power plants and investing in different sources of power such as coal, nuclear and eco-friendly.

For an economy game with quite a few components, it was a surprisingly quick setup. All that needed to be done was sort out the components into the different playing colours, arrange the resources and then create a pile of cards that would be used to auction powerplants.

While the theme of building a power plant network might sound a bit daunting, the game was surprisingly straightforward to get to grips with and after the first round it became clear how each phase of a round worked. I think part of the reason we were all able to understand the game is due to its clear theme and how everything made sense when you thought about it in the real world.

How Does it Play?

Players firstly bid on the type of power plant they would like to have access to. Next, they can buy resource cubes to fuel their plants. For example, coal is needed for brown plants, uranium is needed for red plants and yellow plants require garbage.

As players get more cash, eco-friendly power plants are also available which don’t require any resources; but come with a high price tag. From my own experience, eco-friendly plants were great for boosting your network in the mid stage of the game – especially if you had the cash. But, when it came towards the end of the game, it was tricky (at least on a first playthrough) to be solely eco-friendly and meet the victory condition for the game by bringing power to 18 cities.

Finally, players would add cities to their network on the map; and then work out how much money they have earned.


What Did We Think?

One of the aspects I really loved about the game was the dynamic marketplace used to purchase resources. In Power Grid the price we had to pay for each of the resources was directly influenced by how in demand it was. So, when coal started to become more and more expensive, some of us decided to move onto initially expensive sources of power such as uranium which were cheaper in the long run due to the lack of competition. As mentioned earlier, this made eco-friendly sources of power, that used no resources, in increasing demand and it was particularly hard to secure them in the bidding phase.

I found that the most important tactical decision was investing in a resource that was less sort after. This meant I could afford to stock up for future rounds to avoid price hikes and beating the market in this way was particularly satisfying. Every power plant card has a set reward for using it and securing efficient plants is costly but worthwhile often improving how many cities they will power for a fraction of the cost of cheaper plants.

I also loved the bidding stage of the game where we would bid for powerplants especially when driving up the price of plant cards I had no intention of buying, purely to make my competitors spend precious cash. In a lot of euro-games player actions and turns can feel quite disconnected but here it really felt like I could have an impact on other players strategies, plans and funds!

Aside from effecting other players plants, building your own network is super satisfying especially when you find ways to improve efficiency.

Power Grid I’m sorry. You surprised me, and I regret booing you.

Don’t make the same mistake that Rebekah and I made. Power Grid is worth your time; whether you are new to economy games or a fan of the genre.

Other players views

Unlike Rebekah & Jamie the idea of building out power networks instantly appealed to me - and boy the game delivered. It's one of those games that very quickly you get drawn into the world and you feel you're in control of a growing network of power stations. There is a perfect amount of risk and reward balance with what you buy when to make this game enjoyable throughout. I loved that there wasn't a clear and obvious winner too soon into the game. Powergrid is absolutely up there with the greats of board gaming. - Daniel