Last night I was at a games night with CTRL-A, University of Waterloo’s anime club. This is a nice alternative to the board game nights I used to attend with TAG on Wednesday nights. To that end, I’ve been getting more chances to play some of the other board games in my collection. My family loves Ticket to Ride, but I do like to switch it up every so often. One of my more recent acquisitions is Power Grid, published by Rio Grande Games.

The objective of Power Grid to is connect cities to your power grid and use the power plants and raw materials that you purchase to supply power to those cities and collect money to do it all again. Power plants use four different resources: coal, oil, garbage, and uranium. As well, there are power plants that require no resources (wind/solar power). Players auction off power plants, buy materials to stock them, and fire each of their plants once at the end of each turn to determine how many of the cities in their grid they can supply power to. As the game progresses, power plants become more efficient and the dynamics of the supply of resources changes. The game ends when at least one player has 17 cities in his network. At that point, all players fire their power plants and whoever can supply power to the greatest number of cities wins the game.

What makes this game most interesting is that the resources system has been pretty well designed. A power plant can stock double of the type(s) of resources it uses. Only a certain number of units of each type of resource is restocked at the end of each turn, so over time resources that are getting bought up a lot will become more expensive while resources that aren’t will get cheaper. In short, the resources follow the principles of supply and demand pretty closely.

Should you buy up a particular resource while it’s cheap, or save your money to build connections? Do you need to replace one of your power plants with a more efficient one? These are all questions that players must ask themselves as the game progresses.

One downside of the game is that it does run somewhat long, particularly if you’re used to shorter board games like Ticket to Ride. I’m still getting used to the rules, so games of Power Grid I’ve played have run about 2 hours on average. When I played it for the first time at one of TAG’s events, a much more experienced player was running it and it was over in about an hour to an hour and a half. The rulebook isn’t laid out very well and fans of the game have created their own rules reference sheets to help them run the game, which I consider absolutely indispensable.

Power Grid can also get quite swingy; the phases of each turn are designed to give players who are behind a sort of advantage so that they can catch up (trailing players are first to buy resources and connections), but that means that sometimes you can take advantage of being in last for a while to build up massive resources and then ambush the other players to take the game.

There are a number of expansions available for Power Grid, mostly maps of different countries/regions around the world to play on, some with their own special rules. The main game comes with a two-sided board which has the United States on one side and Germany on the other. I recently bought another game board that has France and Italy, and I’ve also seen China/Korea, Spain/Portugal, and a couple more. You can also buy another set of power plant cards to give the game a bit of a different flavour; for instance, in the new power plants deck there are more efficient wind/solar plants to make the “no resources” strategy more effective (though you will still pay through the nose for the plants compared to other power sources).

Overall, Power Grid has become a favourite of mine even though I’m still getting the hang of the strategies. I would recommend this to anybody who loves board games and is looking for something with considerable depth that isn’t too hard to teach. While it’s certainly not as simple as, say, Ticket to Ride, it has still been a hit with many of the players I’ve taught it to.