Sunday, December 04, 2005

The same... but different.

Ahhh, two well loved games... but each with a twist making them feel "new" again.

Puerto Rico was first up. I've had the expansion for quite a while, but never felt like I knew the base game well enough to give it a try. Dictator Luch was tired of waiting, and so we threw it in. What do you know? It was pretty good.

Playing Puerto Rico without knowing the buildings was a strange and daunting feeling. Now I know (again) what it's like learning this game from scratch... pretty intimidating. The new additions were not all included, as the rules call for a "draft" of the buildings to start. Essentially, if the base game had 2 buildings which cost 3 dubloons, then the game with expansion is limited to the same (etc, etc). This ensures that some of the balance is maintained.

The new buildings have a broad range of effects.

Some explore new variations on old ideas (like the one that behaves like a factory, but gives bonuses to multiples of the SAME good)

Some bring new but straightforward concepts (like the forest plantations, which give discounts to buildings without needing to be manned and without the limits of quarries but take much more effort to aquire)

Others offer very strange ideas (like the black market which allows you to get discounts by trading in workers, victory points or goods... or the Union Hall which gives you victory points for pairs of goods before they are shipped... or the guest house, which allows up to 2 workers to reside until the player decides he/she wants them to be moved to somewhere else (a very powerful way to avoid having to wait for the mayor phase to occupy buildings or plantations))

Tili joined us for the game, giving us a full complement of players. I chose to try a "Corn Strategy" bolstered by the new Union Hall and the Guest House. In the rush to place the new buildings, I completely forgot to make sure the Wharf was available! Normally, focussing on corn and not getting a Wharf is deadly but (lucky for me) it didn't go too badly. We all suffered from "New" shock... we're not used to playing 5 players, and the new buildings threw us. This basically ensured we all played equally poorly, and spent most of the game just "trying stuff" (in fact, Shemp mentioned on many occasions that he couldn't formulate a strategy). Shemp and (to a lesser extent) Kozure tried to accumulate Forests. Tili played a straight game, but frequently found herself at the wrong end of the trader or captain, losing valuable opportunities. Luch got good mileage out of his aqueduct. I managed to accumulate many VPs through the Union Hall and shipping. The Guest House allowed me to man the corn fields as soon as I aquired them. I ultimately won the game, though it's only by luck since we were all shooting in the dark and I happened to pick a combination which worked well.

Next was Power Grid. Again, we've played this before but always on the Germany map, so we decided to try the USA. The South West was randomly determined to be out of play (hurricanes?). I placed in the far East, thinking no one else would follow suit since it was so heavily constricted from the "out of play" areas, but to my dismay Luch and Shemp both set up camp on the mid east. This left Kozure with the entire West half to play with (which is expensive at the Rockies, but it was quite an advantage none the less). Sure enough, as the game progressed the three of us in the East where fighting for every scrap of free space, and Kozure slowly absorbed the rest. Both Shemp and Luch eventually branched off into that half, taking 2nd and 3rd stations in western cities, but I was hopelessly stuck behind masses of unavailable conduit. Lucky for me, I always had JUST ENOUGH to do what I needed. I often had to overspend, but at least it was possible. At the end, Kozure made a critical mistake and only realized it too late (he forgot that in the 3rd phase he could buy powerplants from both rows, and instead purchased a lower capacity plant). I seriously lucked out and was able to buy the "50" power plant (a "green" plant which powers 6) uncontested late in the game which vaulted me back in contention. Shemp and I were both within striking distance and both went for the kill by going to 17 cities with the ability to power it all. It came down to cash... and Shemp had 1 DOLLAR MORE THAN ME.

1 dollar.


So I lost a photo finish, but it was fun!

Power Grid is a very good game, and clearly a favorite in our group. It's not a personal top 10, though, and I'm hard pressed to figure out why. The only thing I can think of is that the game feels more like a "race" than anything else. Everyone is jockying for position, trying to make it to the finish line first (giving ground to the leader during the game where it is strategically effective), but it can feel a little like multiplayer solitaire. Other than indirect conflict, such as blocking a route of purchasing fuel another player needs, everyone kind of goes their own way (and the tight money supply pretty much ensures that making a move which doesn't benefit you just to "screw yr Neighbour" is pretty risky and rare). The most important part of the game, in my mind, is manipulating player order to try to stay in last place as long as possible... but EVERYONE is following that strategy, so again it's kind of a race. Funny, because Princes of Florence has the very same criticism: "there is little competition, it's essentially a multiplayer solitaire race to see who scores more", yet it's one of my favorites. All I can say is that in PoF, there are far fewer moving parts, the system is more elegant and the game is shorter. Different people will have different opinions, but that's mine.

One last note: Am I the only one who finds the mid game power plants basically useless? Every game, we just wait for them to cycle through until we get to the good ones. Not a huge criticism, but something I have been feeling is a bit "odd" in the game design.

Anyway, while Power Grid is not in my top 10, it's in my top 20, so I don't want to make it sound like I don't like it (and games right into the top 30 are ones I love to play).

Just thinking out loud...


  1. When you get tired of those buildings I have another 90 buildings you can try, many of which are as good or better balanced and more interesting than the official ones.

  2. While I enjoyed the Puerto Rico expansions, I think we should hold off on using them again until we've got a good half-dozen more games of the vanilla game under our belts. I just don't feel confident enough in the gameplay quite yet to warrant adding all those new variables.

    As for Power Grid, that was one of my top ten all-time blunders. I'm pretty certain it cost me the game.

    A few more plays of Power Grid should indicate better the value of the 20-35 range of plants. No comment yet.