Power Grid celebrated its 10th anniversary with a deluxe, standalone game and the deluxe version of the game is what we’re covering today. The game isn’t a Ticket to Ride clone. Sure, it uses the route/network building mechanism and you’re connecting cities with your power grid, but the auction and resource management in Power Grid separates it from the Days of Wonder game that came out the same year.
It doesn’t hurt that Friedemann Friese is a guy after my own heart. He loves the color green, incorporates it in his company’s logo, his game designs, chooses green whenever he plays (we might have to leg wrestle if we ever played a game together), and he dyes his hair green. No fooling. Here’s a picture of Friese.
That’s hardcore, even for me.
We’ll turn the lights on this review in a bit but let’s cover some game specs.
The Fiddly Bits
Designer: Friedemann Friese
Publisher: Rio Grande Games and 2F-Spiele
Date Released: 2014
Number of Players: 2-6
Age Range: 12 and up
Setup Time: Around 10 minutes
Play Time: Around 120 minutes
Here’s fair warning. Power Grid has a lot of moving parts: 5 phases to each turn and 3 steps to the game. This will be a lengthy Game Flow but Power Grid’s parts aren’t that difficult—they just take a while to explain.
The goal of Power Grid Deluxe is to supply the most cities with electricity by the time someone’s network reaches a predetermined size. The size varies by how many people are playing the game. We’ll talk more about winning the game but let’s get to the game’s setup and its different phases.
We’ll concentrate on the North American map (there’s a Europe map and it plays differently but stick with the “Murrica” for now) and this is how it should look at the beginning of the game if you have three players.
Overview of Power Grid Deluxe
As you can guess, the map and setup change a little with the number of players just like the winning conditions. We’ll discuss the different areas in detail but let’s break down this map—trust me, it’s not as complicated as it appears.
Close Up of Power Plant Auction House
The stack of cards in the top center of the board is the power plant draw pile. To the right of the draw pile is the current power plant auction house (those are the plants available for purchase).
The map itself consists of seven areas. Since we have three players (purple, green, and yellow), we have to eliminate four areas of the map—that’s why there is a card on top of the brown, blue, yellow, and purple areas to the west. You can choose which areas to block off so long as the areas left in play are connected. When I play with my kids, I open up at least one or two more regions (sometimes all of them), so there’s more room to place your generators.
Close Up of the Player Order Track
Off to the right is the Player Order Track. This section determines who gets to do what when. The track of squares invading Mexico – right around the Yucatan…mmm, Yucatan – is the indicator of how many generators each player has.
Close Up of Number of Generator Track
As soon as a player reaches one of the benchmarks, all players enter a new step. Various things happen during each step: the number step dictates how many generators can be placed in a city, the power plant auction house changes how it does things, and even the number of resources you get per turn changes.
Close Up of the Resource Market
At the very bottom of board rests the discard pile – that’s the solo square off to the left – and to the right of that is the resource market.
Fortunately, most of these sections are used during the different phases of a turn, so we’ll cover these areas and the phase in which they’re used at the same time.
Power Plant Auction House/Auction Phase
Technically, there’s another phase before this one but that’s the “Determine Player Order Phase.” If you’re just starting out, you’ll have to do this at random. I like grabbing one of each of the players’ generators, shake ‘em up in my hand and drop a generator one at a time on the board. No matter how you determine who goes first, the first player goes on the top of the Player Order Track.
Close Up of Player Order Track
After the first turn, the number of generators a player has in play determines the turn order, most to least, and if you have any ties, the player with the bigger power plant goes first.
Close Up of Power Plant Auction House
The size of the power plant is in the top corners of the power plant cards. The power plant auction house is set up with the largest to smallest power plants filling the board from left to right, starting with the top row and then the bottom. The top row is the future’s market. You can’t purchase any power plants on this row in the first two steps – you’ll have to wait until the third and final step – but you can decide to auction any plant in the bottom row. The player who is first on the Player Order Track picks which plant to auction. Before we get to the auction portion, let’s take a closer look at the plants we’ll be auctioning.
Close Up of a Coal-Fired Plant
This is a coal-fired plant. The top is how big the plant is and how much the minimum bid is for the plant. The bottom left indicates how many units of coal you need to run the plant. The bottom right shows you how many generators this plant can power. So, you must have two units of coal and that will power one generator. As you can see, there are a lot more energy efficient plants on the market.
Close Up of Petroleum Plant
This is a petroleum plant. It costs a minimum of 10, uses two oil, and can generate enough power for two cities.
Close Up of a Nuclear Plant
This is a nuclear power plant. You only need one uranium to power two generators and it costs 13.
Close Up of Gas Plant
This is a natural gas plant. One unit of gas can make enough power for three cities and it costs 19.
Close Up of a Hybrid Plant
This is an odd duck; it’s a hybrid plant. It uses any combination of two natural gas or petroleum, costs 35, and powers a whopping 5 generators.
Close Up of Green Energy Plant
This last one is a green energy plant—yay, green. It doesn’t require any fossil fuel and can power two cities. Let’s get back to our auction example.
Choosing a Nuclear Plant for Auction
Let’s say that the first player chooses the nuclear plant because they want more efficient energy, even though the plant costs a little more. They’d place the hammer piece on the nuclear plant and the starting bid they use must be at least 13 coin (Power Grid calls it Electro but that reminds me of the Spider-Man villain, so I call it coin). The player to that player’s left decides whether they’ll increase the bid or pass. If you pass, you can’t jump back into the auction. The auction ends when only one player’s left.
Green Won the First Power Plant Auction
When a player gains a plant, they move their marker to the right side of the Player Order Track. You can only purchase one plant per turn. In this case, green picked up the nuclear plant, so yellow starts another auction because they don’t have a plant yet and they’re still the first player.
Draw a New Plant and Adjust the Auction House
But before the next auction, you must refill the auction house with a new plant and adjust the rows accordingly. (Looks like green missed out on a hybrid plant that costs 8.) The auction phase continues until everyone has either purchased a plant or passed on buying a plant for the turn. If you’re the last player standing, you have your pick of any plant available. You pay the base price with pesky auction.
Auction House after One Turn of Auctions
Another thing that occurs after all the auctions is that the plant with the lowest cost gets the “One” token placed on it. On the next turn, you may open an auction for that plant with one coin instead of the card’s true cost, so that 8 hybrid plant just became a 1 hybrid plant.
One last note: you can only have three power plants at one time. If you would have more plants than three, you must discard one of your plants and replace it with the new one.
Resource Market/Buying Resources
Mmmm…who doesn’t like the smell of new resources? I know I do and Power Grid has one of the most interesting resource markets in the business.
Close Up of Resource Market
The resources fill from right to left. The far right side costs 9 coin per resource unit, while the far left side costs 1 coin per resource unit, so you want to purchase resources before other folks. It just so happens that players buy resources in reverse Player Order Track. So it hurts to have the most generators on the board during this phase because player 3 goes first, driving up the cost of the resources he/she picked up.
But you can’t just pick up any old resource. You must have a plant that uses the resource you purchase but you can store up to twice the number of resources needed to power you plant on your plant’s card.
Fortunately for green, purple bought coal, so uranium’s price didn’t go up.
The Map/Building Generators
Like the buying resources phase, the building generators phase also goes in reverse Player Order Track, so sorry, yellow, you’re going last again. Because Friedemann Friese loves green, let’s use green as the example for building generators.
Building Your First Generator
To build your first generator, you need to pay 10 coin and then you can place a generator in any city that doesn’t already have a generator in it. (There’s a 10 on the left-hand side of each city space and it has a ten on it.) The 15 and 20 spaces of each city do get used but in the second and third steps of the game. We’re still in the beginning, so you must find an empty city.
Green Building a Second Generator
In order to build a second generator, you must place your new generator in an available space and then pay the connection fee. Green chose Ottawa, so they had to pay the 3 coin to connect Montreal to Ottawa and then pay the 10 for the new generator. The grand total for green’s second generator is 13 coin.
Now, green has several options. He can purchase a third generator and place it in New York for 22 coin, go to Boston for 19 coins, or Quebec for 15. But he’s tapped out on coin at the moment, so he passes his turn to yellow.
Once everyone has had the chance to build generators, you move to the final phase.
Several things happen in this phase. First, you earn money. You look at the number of generators you have on the map and see how many generators you can power with your plants.
Green picked up the nuclear plant that can charge two generators and he has two generators on the board in Montreal and Ottawa, so he can power both cities by spending one uranium on his power plant. Note: you can only use your power plants once per turn, so you can’t use two uranium to power four generators.
Payment for Powering Generators
If green chooses to fire both generators, he earns 33 coin. He can also choose to power only one or no generators. (Powering no generators in a turn is a viable option and could be strategic as you can horde resources on your plant.) Each player chooses how many of their generators they can power and they turn in resources to the bank and then earn the corresponding number of coin to how many generators they used.
Resupply the Resource Market
Based on the number of players, you’ll place more resources in resource market but there’s a finite supply of resources. If someone has a lot of resources on their power plants, you may end up with very expensive resources the next round.
Update the Power Plant Auction House
During Step 1 and Step 2, place the highest numbered power plant from the future’s market face down below the power plant draw pile and draw a new power plant. Adjust the auction house as usual.
During Step 3, discard the cheapest power plant.
How do you get to Step 2 and 3?
Close Up of Number of Generator Track
You reach step 2 when one player passes the white stick on the generator indicator. You reach step 3 when a player passes the black stick (on the generator indicator), or you unearth the following card in the power plant draw pile.
Close Up of Timer Card
I didn’t mention this card before because it didn’t come into play until now but when you first setup the game, you place this card face up on the bottom of the power plant draw pile, so that all those high-priced power plant cards go underneath this card. You can skip step 2 and go straight to step 3 if this card shows up.
However, if a player does pass the black stick, everyone finishes the turn they’re on and then the end game occurs.
Players fire up their generators as normal but the player who can charge the most cities, wins.
As you can tell by the length of the game flow, there’s a lot going on in Power Grid, but I like it. It’s the gamer version of Ticket to Ride. Or is Ticket to Ride the simplified version of Power Grid? They did come out the same year.
Each map has its own character. You get more options for nuclear power in North America, while Europe gives you more power plant options as a whole and there’s a lot of power plant discard. And if you’re wondering how Friese came up with the numbers between the different cities, you answered that question during an interview by saying, “I measured the distance between the cities and came up with a formula to determine the amount of Electro needed to connect the cities.” That’s why the western United States has large numbers connecting its cities, while the eastern United States has smaller numbers.
Overview of Map with Generators
There are so many strategies and options to this game that you could spend hours and days trying to make each one work. You’re not just battling for power plants, resources, and spots on the map. You have to manage where you land in the Player Order Track. You’ll want to be close to first (because that means you have a lot of generators on the board) but there’s too much of a drawback to being the first player.
Yellow Goes Last during Resource and Generator Phases
You’ll also want to diversify your power plants. My son likes to play with nothing but green energy plants but that limits the number of cities he can power. You also don’t want to use the same energy everyone else uses because those resources get real expensive after a few purchases.
Friedemann Friese developed an elegant and layered resource management system with Power Grid and Power Grid Deluxe continues that tradition. I just hope he’s planning an Asia and Africa expansion. I think the full title of this game suggests that we should see one soon.
Power Grid Deluxe is an in-depth resource management/network building game that gamers should play once if not own. It does take a healthy chunk of time but it’s time well spent.