Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tell me what's on your mind

(Hmm... I think maybe my title references are getting a bit too obscure.)

Last night Hillary and I met up with the area boardgaming group, and we got to try Power Grid for the first time.

I'm not going to post a full review, since this is a heavier-weight game than I've been covering, and a single play isn't enough to get a solid feel for it. I'll just give some quick thoughts.

The first thing I noticed is that there's a lot to remember. Even the experienced players were referring to the game turn cheat sheets pretty often. The actual decision-making mechanics are pretty simple though -- there's an auction phase, a resource-buying phase, and a building phase. We've done all of these things before in various games, just not necessarily in the same one. At the end of each turn, players' powered cities pay off, and there's a "maintenance" phase that evolves slightly as the game progresses.

The only real criticism I have from my first play is that it's incredibly easy to get behind early on, and it seems very difficult to catch up. I was struggling to upgrade and fuel my power plants while trying to save enough cash to expand. Meanwhile, the lead player was able to throw around cash like a... cash-throwing-around machine. It's frustrating to find yourself in a deep hole fifteen minutes into a two-hour game.

The game mechanics attempt to balance uneven games by rearranging turn order (the lead player has to go first in bidding and last in building), but in my game the leaders were always able to extend their lead just enough that there was no real hope of catching up.

I definitely want to give Power Grid another spin and see how possible it is to catch up after poor decisions (or bad luck) early on. The theme is solid and the mechanics are engaging, so nobody will have to twist my arm to get me to play this one again.

On another note, we also played Incan Gold, which is becoming one of my favorite "filler" games. It often gets panned for being too simplistic -- the only decision players face each round is "stay" or "leave" -- but the games I've played so far have been quite fun. It's kind of like Apples to Apples: ridiculously simple, but everyone is laughing throughout the game. I should write up a full review in the near future.


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