Power Grid Australia – play report 2

This time, we got the rules right.

Saturday saw Rich, Sarah, Dave and me playing another game of Power Grid. We used the new Australia map, which was the first time Dave and Rich had played on the map.

Power Grid is a simple game. Each turn goes through the following phases:

1) Determine Turn Order. The player with the most cities goes first, ties broken on largest power plant number.

2) Auction Power Plants. Each player gets the chance to buy one Power Plant. It is an advantage to go last here, so whoever is leading the game goes first. The market of plants constantly changes, as new power plants are added as the old ones are bought. Eight plants are always on display, but only the four plants with the lowest numbers are available for sale.

3) Buy Fuel. Power Plants need fuel! In this game, Coal, Oil and Garbage were the available fuels, and they get more expensive the more that are bought. So whoever is winning the game gets to go last.

4) Buy Cities. Just having power plants isn’t enough: you need places to sell your power. You can buy as many city connections as you like. To connect to a city costs $10, $15 or $20 depending on how many people are already there, and an additional cost applies depending on how far it is to your previous connection. In the Australian game, that additional cost caps out at $20. Again, it’s an advantage to go first when the costs are cheaper, so the leader of the game goes last.

5) Bureaucracy. You power your plants and get money; the resource track refills, and the power plants in the market cycle. In the Australian game, you also sell Uranium from your mines.

The game goes through three stages. In Stage 1, only one player can connect to each city. In Stage 2, two players are allowed per city. In Stage 3, three players are allowed per city and the market changes to six power plants which are all available. There are a couple of extra rules and specifics, but those are the basics of the game. Easy, aren’t they? However, it’s a very challenging game.

Merric=green, Sarah=red, Rich=black, Dave=blue.

The initial power plant auction for the game saw me getting my traditional plant #04 (turns 2 coal into powering 1 city), which would allow me to be “losing” the game and thus in the best spot for buying resources and making connections. I followed it up by building in Melbourne, my home town. Sarah took plant #08 (3 coal->2 cities), Rich won #07 (3 oil->2 cities) and Dave took #05 (2 coal/oil->1 city). Sarah and Dave were competing for links in Queensland, whilst Rich was in Sydney.

The next turn saw Sarah take plant #09 (1 oil->1 city), I took #22 (green->2 cities), Rich took #20 (3 coal->5 cities) and Dave took #10 (2 coal->2 cities). I was quite surprised by the plant Sarah took; powering only one extra city wasn’t exactly a great choice. It did allow her to take the prime place on the turn order, but I’m very wary of the power plants I buy. Getting a green plant, which requires no resources, was a great coup. Rich paid quite a bit for his plant, but it was worth it.

Turn 3 did not see a lot of good plants on the market, certainly not when it was my turn. I passed on buying a plant. Sarah picked up #24 (2 garbage->4 cities) which was a much better plant for her, but no-one else picked up a plant.

Turn 4 & 5 saw me pick up plant #18, another green->2 cities plant. Rich picked up #29 (1 hybrid->5 cities) and #11 (uranium mine, 2 uranium). Dave took plant #13 (green->1 city) and plant #19 (2 garbage->5 cities). Sarah and I were lagging behind on plants, but at least I had the Green options. I was worrying about my connections, so I forced Stage 2 at the end of the fifth turn, connecting to 7 cities despite only having five plant capacity. Sarah had leapfrogged into the Northern Territory, and Dave and Rich were remaining on small networks, as they didn’t really have the money to connect better. The turn ended with me on 7 cities, Sarah on 5, and Rich and Dave on 4 cities apiece.

Finally, I got the chance to properly upgrade my plants. Turn 6 brought plant #32 into contention (3 oil->6 cities), and I didn’t have to pay too much for it! Sarah took Uranium Mine #23 (3 uranium), Rich won plant #33 (green->4 cities) and Dave got #26 (2 oil->4 cities). I moved up to 9 cities connected, Sarah to 7 cities, and Dave and Rich to 6 cities. Sarah was really feeling the lack of good plants at this stage; she wasn’t bidding quite as hard as the rest of us, and by the time she was the last in the auction, the remaining power plants were poor. Rich, on the other hand, had great plants but not enough connections on the board. Sarah’s income was now better due to her mine, but her plant capacity was poor.

Turn 7, I took time off from upgrading power plants to instead get uranium mine #28 (4 uranium), which would happily produce $16 each turn for the rest of the game. Sarah also took mine #34 (3 uranium), Dave got plant #35 (1 oil->5 cities), and Rich upgraded plant #25 to plant #31 (3 coal->6 cities). Personally, I think that Rich was spending too much on too small upgrades, but his place in the turn order was keeping his costs down. Sarah, Dave and Rich were now on 7 cities apiece, whilst I was on a dominating 11 cities.

And the third stage of the game began, quite surprising me.

From here, the game was very much about getting extra capacity and – especially – getting more connections on the board. Sarah took plant #50 (fusion->6 cities) and was very pleased with herself. Rich did another incremental upgrade (#44 green->5 cities), I took a big upgrade with #39 (3 coal->7 cities), and Dave took #38 (3 garbage->7 cities). Possibly more pertinent were our connection costs; Rich didn’t have enough money, but Sarah now beginning to catch up to me: Merric 13 cities, Sarah 9 cities, Rich 7 cities, Dave 7 cities.

Turn 9 saw us completing our power plant collections. Sarah took #46 (3 hybrid->7 cities), I took #37 (green->4 cities) which took me to 17 capacity exactly. Rich took #42 (2 coal->6 cities) and Dave was happy with what he had. The power plant market was now empty – this was it for the game! More important was gaining city connections. By the end of the turn, I had 15 connections, Sarah had 11, Dave 10 and Rich 9. I was feeling happy with myself – it seemed unlikely that anyone else could reach 17 cities.

Turn 10 proved me wrong: Sarah could! However, it cost her almost all her money. Rich and Dave just didn’t have the money to buy enough. When the game ended, Sarah and I had 17 cities apiece, and Rich and Dave were tied on 13 cities. It came down to money, and it wasn’t surprising to find I had more money that Sarah, and Rich had more money than Dave. The game was over, and I’d won!

Rich and I are very used to game of Power Grid where the power plants you buy are terribly important. This actually tripped Rich up this game, because as it turned out the high cost of making connections in Australia meant that getting a lead there was far more important. I was the first to build in a massive 13 cities! That’s a substantial saving, and it was enough to win me the game. Sarah and Rich made more use of the Uranium Mines than I did, but, now we were starting with the uranium demand track filled, it was nowhere near as dominant a mechanic, and the choice of getting a mine or not was a meaningful choice!

I have a lot of expansion boards for Power Grid, but we haven’t played the game all that much; it’s something we’re likely to correct going forward, especially as it seems a number of our game nights will have four or five players; the numbers where Power Grid shines.

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