Saturday, May 28, 2005

Bright Lights, Big City

New Week.
2 new games.

Joined by our honorary Wagster, JayWowser, we took on Kozure's new copy of Power Grid. This is a top 5 game which had a reputation for fiddly rules but tight and enjoyable gameplay. How did it fare? Well, first off, we played a 6 player game where half the players had played a basic game and the other had never played. For this reason, our first full game took quite a long time (over 3 hours). Still, it turned out to be quite good.

Most of the criticisms regarding fiddly rules are valid. There are 3 rounds, and the rules change in each successive one, every turn has a lot of steps, there are lots of little pieces which all do different things and finally the is a lot of "book-keeping" type activites which SOMEONE playing the game needs to remember (ex: power plants getting cycled in or out of the game, resources being put back into circulation, etc). I remember thinking that this was one of those games which would play in under 1/4 of the time if it was turned into a computer game.

That being said, the game's got a lot going for it. For all their complexity, the mechanics do two things very well: 1) They create the illusion of a changing economy, a fluctuating market in fuel sources. 2) The players who are trailing have advantages against the leaders to keep them in the game. It's not terribly elegant, but it works.

The basics are simple enough:

1)Each player bids on power plants until everyone has bought one or passed.
2)Fuel is purchased for the power plants
3)Players build connections between cities
4)Players burn fuel to produce energy to those cities in order to generate money

The winner is the player who, once the requisit number of power plants have been built by any player, manages to power the most cities (and if that results in a tie) the one with the most money.

There is honestly too much going on in the game to decribe succinctly, but a few items deserve to be noted:

1) The fuel economy is represented by a chart indicating the cost of different fuels. The larger the available quantity of fuel, the cheaper it is. Different fuels power different power plant (coal, oil, garbage and uranium). In the beginning, coal is plentiful and cheap, but if everyone buys coal power plants it gets snapped up pretty quick and becomes expensive. In contrast, since garbage and uranium are initially expensive players are tempted to avoid the plants which use them as fuel. This seems to lead to a few players who have easy access to the fuel when it becomes cheap. Of course, everyone wants the wind generators, since they provide power without the need to purchase any fuel! for all the interlocking systems of the game, there is one they DON'T have which would seem to be a natural: Players who invest in a technology early gain no advantage or discount on future power plants of the same type.

2) The board is made up of cities which are eligible to receive power plants. In each phase from 1 to 3, the players can only have as many cities as the number of the current phase. This has the interesting effect of making the board alternately constricted and open as the game goes from phase to phase. Since the progression from phase to phase occurs differently each game, players must be flexible and think ahead in order to avoid being boxed in for a few turns. To keep things constricted, a game with fewer players uses a smaller portion of the board.

Interesting note: In a classy move, the board ships with two maps on a two sided board, U.S. AND Germany!

3) The winning conditions are counter-intuitive at first. The game ends once SOMEONE builds his/her 14th power plant (in a 6 player game). At the end of that turn, the player who was able to power the most of his/ her plants in the cities wins. Therefore, if the player who built the 14th plant first only has enough fuel to power 3 cities, any other player who manages to power more than that will win. More typically, what seems to happen is that a few players manage to make it to 14, but not all of them have reserved enough fuel to power all of them. If there are ties, the most remaining money wins.

In our game, we quickly discovered that the board feels very full, very fast. Our starting cities where all very close and I feared that my proximity to Tili and Kozure might do me in pretty early. I banked on claiming about 5 cities in my area, but my first plan was to secure an escape route for future growth in Eastern Germany. Sadly, turn order didn't go my way and Tili blocked up the escape route right away. I slowly put plants in the 5 cities nearby and then, when phase 2 came up, started claiming the second spots in the territory of my neighbour to the south: Kozure. Little did I know that JayWowser had plans to snap up all but 3 of them in one turn! (He was clearly playing a boom and bust game, doing very little for several turns and then exploding with big purchases once in a while). Having been outbid on the eco-plants by Tili, I resorted to focusing on coal. I managed to build a trio of plants which could power 14 cities quite early, and that proved to be instrumental later on... As other where busy bidding on plants to get to 14 in the last few rounds, I was able to spend my second last round just buying fuel for the plants, and my last round doing nothing but building my last cities and powering them (putting me in a very favorable financial position compared to the others, who were spending big bucks bidding on power plants). Shemp managed to also build plants in 14 cities on that last turn, but I had much more money in hand, giving me the win.

Luch spent, I think, the entire game in the "last player" turn order. This afforded him the opportunity to buy fuels first (making them cheaper), and build first (giving him a jump on prime locations). Unfortunatly, that strategy didn't pan out for him. Still, it seems that it could definitely work because the advantages are clearly there.

A few early notes on possible strategy:

1) The North West section of the Germany board, with many nearby cheap connections, really seems like the place to be.
2) Cycling your plants too many times gives diminishing returns. The plants are expensive, and cities progressively return less money (going from 1 to two cities gives a player 11 more electros, but going from 13 to 14 gives only 5 or so more).
3) Going last in the turn order can be a huge advantage, but it would likely have to be teamed up with a strategy of using coal or oil power plants (Because buying those first would always mean cheap fuel and cause other players to pay more). If the last place player is using eco plants or nuclear energy, his ability to go first isn't that useful, since he's not in competiton for fuel anyway.

Anyway, great game. Look forward to playing it again (I bet it will be much faster!)

Next up was Fairy Tale, a japanese card game brought to us my JayWowser.

I won't spend too much time describing this one... it's basically a set collecting game where players try to accumulate points by matching complementary cards, playing high scoring single cards and satisfying the condition on them or play cards which disrupt the other player's plans. The theme is that players are building a story, or something. The card art is quite nice in a Manga sort of way (although overly busy with symbols), but in the end the theme is quite thin... Which is okay because I though the game itself was really good.

The heart of the game is in the hand building... Each player is dealt 5 cards. They choose one and pass the rest to the left. Then they choose 1 card from the fours they were passed, and so on, until they have chosen five cards. Then they discard 2 cards and play the round with the remaining 3.

Players then choose 1 of their cards and reveal them simultaneously. Players check to see if any cards have global effects (such as the "Hunt" cards which immediately cancel any black cards just revealed, or the variety of cards which reveal or hide previously played cards). This continues until all three cards are played, and the whole thing (drafting of cards, etc) happens 4 times, for a toal of 12 cards layed.

At the end, each player counts up to see how many points they've made. Many cards are simply worth the amount printed on them. Others act as multipliers for themselves (if you have 1, it's worth 1 point. If you have 2, they are each worth 2. Etc) Others are "friends" of another card, and are worth 3 times as many of the "friend card" which you have managed to accumulate.

In the first of our two games, we didn't do too badly considering we didn't really grasp the way the cards worked just yet. Kozure won it, I think. The second game saw us all trying a few strategies, with the most impressive being Shemp's, who managed to get all but one of his baby dragons, resulting in 6x6 points=36. Unfortunately, as it turns out, that wasn't enought to win... My hand of "Friend" cards and individual points nudged slightly ahead of Kozure's version of the same.

All in all, a great filler game which only takes 20-30 mintues to play and was lots of fun. It's a shame it's such a hard one to find!

Anyway, JayWowser (if you are reading this) it was nice having you again, and we look forward to another!

Powergrid: 8.5
Fairy Tale:8

6 comments:

  1. This comment is in an inverse order, with respect to a typical Shemp Duchamp comment.

    As an aside, there appear to be 6 whole people who get the RSS feed of this blog. I'm pretty shocked - that exceeds my expectations by at lease 6.

    Ratings:

    Power Grid: 9
    Fairy Tale: 7

    Fairy Tale is a great example of a filler game - I've got a few design quibbles, but it plays smoothly and quickly, and emphasizes tactics over strategy, which is what I personally look for in a shorter game. The only things I would really look for instead would be slightly larger cards, so that the small reproduction of other cards's art would be easier to see. Of course, it could just be that I'm too old, and my eyes aren't what they used to be, whippersnapper! I think that once the icons are explained, they make a good deal of sense. Theme? Whatever. It's all card matching to me, and that's just fine.

    Now, Power Grid. Excellent! I've been thinking about it since we played, and liking it more and more in retrospect - that almost never happens. At the time of playing, there was a lot to take in, but I think that this has the potential to hold up to repeated replays nicely.

    I hadn't thought that the "fiddlyness" was out of control - now that you mention it, yeah, there is a lot of book-keeping, but I think the designers have done a good job of minimizing it's intrusiveness to the actual flow of the game.

    I was thinking that Power Grid is the same basic idea as Ticket to Ride, but the auction mechanic reduces randomness while the maintainance mechanic (powering stations) introduces a greater degree of difficulty in planning. Both of those are improvements, in my mind.

    In addition, it has beautiful board & pieces, with Moebius-inspired art, which nicely suits the theme. That gives the game a +.5 right there.

    My only complaint is that there was a bit of lag time in the 6 player game, but I imagine that will rectify itself as we become more familiar with the setup. Really pleasantly surprised, and I can't wait to get another crack at it.

    Strategy wise, I think that staying in last could be a good move, too, but would be very difficult to pull off without winding up the game in a hole that is too big to climb out of in the end. Playing will reveal the truth, methinks.

    Lastly, nice entry, Easy. Your posterly voice is clear - I don't need to actually read who posted, but can tell when it's you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. PS - Easy and Kozure: Note on the sidebar: I have added a link to my profile at Board Game Geek, mainly for my own ease of use. The links for both of you are not yet activated, but I can do it easily if you would like. Just say the word. If you want the inactive links removed, I can do that too.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sure, linkify me.

    Also, what's this about an RSS feed? I don't really know what that is, or how it's used. Are you saying that 6 people are subscribed to our blog, in some way?

    How do you know?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yeah, I mean that there are 6 people who subscribe to the site, according to this page:

    http://www.bloglines.com/preview?siteid=291834

    (sorry, I don't think that links work in comments)

    I've been thinking about adding a list of gaming blogs on the side bar - there are quite a few out there, that might be fun to check out from time to time. Not sure when I'll get to it, though.

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  5. Wow. 6 RSS feeds. Neato.

    None of those 6 are me.

    I really like Power Grid. I might actually like it a little better than Puerto Rico, if it were not for the fiddly bits with remembering certain details. They might be solved with some extra reference shows and repeated plays.

    Fairy Tale: Cute and novel, but not spectacular. I think my success largely hinged on cottoning onto the rules faster, rather than any particular skill level. I'll play it if offered, but I don't think I'd buy it.

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  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete