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Gaming Canon: Power Grid

There’s a double entendre in the title of the next game in the Gaming Canon. The word “power” in Power Grid not only refers to electrical power. Once players see how interconnected the mechanisms of play are with the strategy and multiple layers of management tasks, the grid of power over all elements of investment, supply, and revenue become clear. This multiple tier strategy means Power Grid has lasted several years as a go-to favorite for heavy economy game fans.

In Power Grid, players are electrical power moguls intent on supplying the most cities with power by the game end. Tactics to this end need to be delicate, however, because with some game mechanisms the player with the most powered cities takes their turn last. Balancing expansion without over-extending your network is key. To do this, players will not only buy power plants at auction, but also purchase resources to supply those plants, pay money to extend their electricity network, and plan how to best save money for future investment.

Power Grid in Play
photo by Lou Olivera

Some may say that at it’s core, Power Grid is an auction game. This is not entirely accurate. The auction for power plants is only one element to be managed throughout the game. Its definitely the one with the most direct player interaction and the mechanism to generate the most cutthroat behavior, but by no means does having the most efficient power plants win the game. Because each power plant needs specific resources, getting certain plants also marries players to gaining certain resources.

If a player is already getting headaches from the auction, give them a moment before you lay the market-based resource management on them. As opponents buy resources at the market, they drive up prices for subsequent buyers. Nothing the players can do will interfere with supply, so players must plan carefully how long to keep a power plant before the fuel becomes too expensive. If a player is really lucky, they’ve got a few green powered plants which don’t require any fossil or nuclear fuel at all.

Once players have sufficiently powered their plants, now they get the added headache of expanding their electricity grid which, of course, costs more money. This third mechanisms now adds an element of area control to the game. Since the game winning condition is to have the most powered homes at the end of the game, players must constantly keep an eye on this. The one caveat to all of this is that going first and getting to be the first to power a city is an advantage since it’s usually at a cheaper cost. That also means that early players might also put themselves in the lead for homes powered, thus weakening the player order for themselves in respect to other phases of the game.

photo by Peter Hazlewood
photo by Peter Hazlewood

Based on the number of homes powered, players earn money and the cycle of play starts again. This continues until players reach a certain level of power plant development. At that time, a final round occurs and whomever can power a minimum number of cities wins.

Power Grid earns its place in the Gaming Canon for the depth of its economic play and the longevity of its welcome. Released in 2004, it quickly became a backbone game for many groups for such varied money management mechanisms. Players who have not played Power Grid may have played similar games, but extremely rare is a game that tests such money management skills all in one package.