The premise of a Power Grid is quite simple; You’re a power company trying to establish a network and supply Europe or North America with electricity. You will have to develop your power production and take the map city by city while competing with other players for the greatest coverage.
If you’re looking for an economy game with a wide range of strategies, some player interaction, and gameplay that keeps everyone in the running for the winner until the very end, you should definitely check out Power Grid!
Brief Overview of Power Grid
Power Gird is described as an auction & economic game and those categories certainly fit. It’s a game of strategy, optimization, and numbers, often described as dry from a thematic view.
The game can be played by 2 to 6 players, with an average playtime of 120 minutes. One of the main strengths of Power Grid is how well it scales with the increasing number of players, something I’ll touch upon in more detail later on.
The combination of high strategic complexity, long playtime, and lack of thematic engagement is going to be a deterrent for some players. Still, those who enjoy a true mental challenge are going to love this game!
Versions & Expansions
It’s important to note that Power Grid is now in its fifth English iteration called the “Recharged Version”. Since the game came out nearly 20 years ago, you’re not likely to get an older version of the shelf.
Even if you do, the content of the box has hardly changed over the years. Just make sure you get the one with the double-sided game board, and you’ll be fine.
Power Grid: Russia/Japan Recharged
Power Grid: Australia & Indian Subcontinent
Power Grid: Middle East/South Africa Recharged
Power Grid: Benelux/Central Europe
Power Grid: The Robots
Power Grid: Factory Manager
Power Grid: Fabled Expansion
Power Grid: The Card Game
Unboxing Power Grid
The box includes the following pieces:
- 1 Double-Sided Game Board
- 13 Wooden Houses
- 84 Wooden Resource Tokens
- 1 Auction Hammer
- 1 Discount Token
- 1 Step 2 Barrier
- 1 Game End Barrier
- 170 Electro Bills (Money)
- 54 Playing Cards
- Rules Sheet
The components of Power Grid are best described as practical. It’s odd to have a game that has nothing necessarily wrong with the components, but also nothing special about them, yet that’s exactly the case here.
The dozen or so pages of the rulebook are well organized and feature small illustrations and examples. The rulebook is a bit text-heavy, but that’s to be expected of a strategy game.
The board is the star of the game — a massive, double-sided representation of Germany & US or Europe & North America, depending on the version. The sheer size of it makes it quite impressive, though it’s first and foremost practical, which really matters.
The only thing I’m not a fan of is the paper money. I’ve never been a fan of it due to its lack of durability. The silver lining is that Power Grid isn’t a family game, so it’s not likely for the money to get creased and damaged.
How to Play Power Grid
There are quite a lot of mechanics and rules to learn before you can play Power Grid, but this short guide should give you some idea of what the gameplay is like.
The power plants represent the core element of the game — you’ll enter an auction with other players to secure them. I’ll reference power plants a lot throughout the guide, just keep in mind these three stats:
- The auction reserve, represented by the large number in the top-left corner.
- The resources required for power generation: oil, coal, garbage, and uranium.
- The number of houses (cities) the plant is capable of supplying.
The Flow of the Game
Power Grid is played over a series of rounds that are broken into five phases. There are also up to three steps to every game. The name is a bit misleading, as these aren’t steps, but overarching stages of the game.
Let’s go through the five phases in order:
1. Order of Play
The order of play has a significant impact on any player’s success. It’s determined at the start of each round based on the number of cities in a player’s network, from highest to lowest.
Powerplants are a must-have in a game of Power Grid, and players will get them during the auction phase.
The first player chooses a powerplant and makes a bid. Then the rest of the players can up-bid or pass on this powerplant. The process continues until the final bid, and the winner gets to pay for the plant and collect it. The next player not to purchase a plant repeats the process until everyone’s had a chance to buy a plant.
3. Purchase Resources
To activate power plants, you’ll need to satisfy the resource requirement. Buying resources is done in the opposite way, with the last player going first.
This makes it so that the leading players are at disadvantage, and may even miss out on getting the desired resource.
4. Build Houses
Power production matters only if you have cities to distribute it to. During the fourth phase, players again act in reverse order.
The players will have to pay the fee and continue expanding their network so it remains connected. Naturally, player paths may intersect, so cities allow for up to three houses, although the cost ramps up with subsequent builds.
Now it’s time to produce electricity from the power plants and supply the network. It’s a balancing act of supply and demand, as unsupplied cities or overproduction don’t count.
The players do not have to produce out of all the power plants, nor do they have to supply all the cities. The choice is left to the player to decide which action is the most optimal for their situation. Supplied cities provide money to the player to spend on furthering their infrastructure.
The game steps are really stages of the game that are triggered by certain conditions. The game will start in Step 1, with the most important modifier being that only one house can be built in a single city for the cost of 10 Electro (money).
Step 2 starts once someone manages to connect a certain number of cities (6 or 7 depending on player count). Step 2 opens up the second housing slot for the cities that costs 15 Electro. If the first slot is unoccupied, it can still be taken for 10 Electro.
Step 3 starts when you draw the Step 3 card from the power plant deck. During this stage, the power plant market will feature only 6 options and players can bid on all of them without restrictions.
The cities will now have the 3rd housing slot open at the cost of 20 Electro. Because of how the mechanic works, it’s possible to trigger Step 3 before Step 2. In that case, you’d complete all the events of Step 2 before advancing to the last Step.
When one of the players manages to connect 14 to 18 cities (depending on the number of players) the game comes to an end at the end of the fourth phase (building houses).
The fifth phase still happens, but players do not earn money and instead check who can supply the most cities with the resources and plants they’ve got. It works just like a normal bureaucracy phase, but instead of earning cash, the player who supplies the most cities wins!
Your First Game of Power Grid
Power Grid gets complicated once you get into the min-maxing math, but from a general overview, it’s hard to grasp the concepts of the game. All you’re doing is expanding your territory and trying to match it with enough production.
This is why it’s important to work on developing your network. Start from a secluded side, and work your way toward other players while the land is up for grabs. Once you’re close to other players, steer your network in another direction to carve your portion of the territory.
I feel like explaining the balancing of resources, power plants, and territories is too convoluted for someone who hasn’t played the game yet. That’s why I recommend that you learn this by playing, even if your turns end up being sub-optimal.
You must learn the pacing of the game, the importance of turn order, and how other players can deny you the strategy you’re going for. Through it, you’ll learn to adapt and increase the range of your tactics, a skill that’s crucial to winning a game of Power Grid.
Pros & Cons
- Excellent Scalability
- Highly Engaging Gameplay
- Simple But Effective Mechanics
As someone who frequently plays board games at the max player count, I can certainly appreciate how well Power Grid scales. With 5 or 6 players, the game will naturally take longer, but at no point are the pacing or the mechanics affected by it.
In a lot of games, you’ll take your turn and let your mind wander off, only to be reminded by others that it’s your turn again. Regardless of who’s turn it is, Power Grid wants you to pay attention to it and follow what’s happening.
You’ve got plenty of planning to do and tactics to adjust as you see what others are doing, which is what makes Power Grid very engaging.
When you boil it down, the core gameplay is very simple, but it’s what you do with it that makes it a deep and challenging game. I don’t think that Power Grid is hard to learn, but it’s certainly very hard to master.
- It’s a Numbers Game
- Dry Theme
It’s hard for me to say that Power Grid has any major flaws. In its own genre, it’s a very well-executed game and I’ve already given it a lot of praise for it.
The thing that Power Grid will never achieve is universal likeness. The optimized turns, constant counting, and planning can be quite taxing even for the more experienced board game players.
The theme is the only aspect of Power Grid that doesn’t impress in any way. Practical to a fault, the game doesn’t have any touch of lore or cool artwork that will spark your attention, if only for a bit.
Power Grid Review (TL;DR)
Power Grid is an exceptional economy strategy game that achieves a lot of depth and complexity not through bloated mechanics and rules, but through a few well-thought-out concepts.
If you enjoy creating optimal strategies and gameplay over the theme, you’ll have a lot of fun with Power Grid. It’s mentally challenging and takes a long time to master, so make sure you’ve got the right party to play it with!
Power Grid was on my wishlist for a while, but I never seemed to get the opportunity to try it. The games I played were satisfying, but I could definitely feel the weight of the game tiring me out, especially after a long day of work.
The group of friends I played with wasn’t as sold on Power Grid, which I expected to be the case due to how taxing the game can get. Still, I’d play Power Grid on a weekend night from time to time, just to get that mental challenge.
Thinking of it now, Power Grid reminds me a lot of playing an RTS game. It’s very satisfying whether you win or lose, but just like RTS games, it gives you that ‘phew’ moment where you realize you’ve done the best you could and can now relax.
In my opinion, Power Grid is a great game, but I cannot universally recommend it. You’ll need to not only like the concepts yourself, but be sure that your group of friends will like it too. Otherwise, it may end up joining Twilight Imperium on the shelf of games you wish you could play, but just don’t have the group for.
We hope you enjoyed our Power Grid review! Have you tried this excellent economic board game? What do you think about the Recharged version? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.