Friday, November 11, 2005

Powergrid. View from the rear.

Or How a Humiliating Defeat Can Breathe New Life Into a Stagnant Game

I've played Powergrid several times in the recent past and it never really sparked my imagination. It has been our go-to game when we needed a non-war-like game for 6 players. I think I rated it a 7 on BGG, but I was sorely tempted to rate it as a 6 or even a 5. Choices seemed to be obvious. Power plant auctions seemed to lack tension, because it was difficult to value power plants early in the game and there was a never ending supply late in the game. There were few interesting choices in the commodity market, despite the fact that many fanboys claimed that the commodity market was the heart and soul of the game.

The thing that bothered me most about the game was the tinkering with the turn order from phase to phase within a round. Determining turn order from phase to phase is an important part of Powergrid, if only to keep the leaders in check. I've received grief for this position before, but it is my contention that any game that has fiddley criteria to determine player order from phase to phase within a round for the purpose of keeping the game close is inherently flawed. I'm not going to make that case right now, but let it be known that it is a mechanism that annoys me.

Well, something happened this last weekend that made me re-think my opinion of Powergrid. I got my butt handed to me. The view from last place gave me a new perspective on, and a new appreciation for, the game.

I don't believe I have ever done worse than tie for second place in previous games. Not only did I lose last weekend, I lost by a wide margin. I now appreciate some of the strategy nuances that I had missed in previous games. As a perpetual leader in Powergrid your choices are rather obvious, especially if your opponents aren't playing to screw you.

First, I got blocked out of my easy connections. Then, I miscalculated the cost of connecting a certain city by $10. That mistake didn't so much cost me the game, as it cost me my dignity. May you be so fortunate as to never lose by such a wide margin.

Fiddley turn order did not help me one iota. Although I was trailing by too wide a margin to capitalize, I did see that the commodity market could be more effectively manipulated than I had thought. My opponents in previous games just didn't manipulate the market effectively, nor did my opponents in previous games calculate the value of power plants very well. My opponents in previous games were less interested in blocking access to new cities than they were in protecting their own connections.

Powergrid is now on my must-play-with-cut-throat-players-only list. And off the not-quite-boring-game-to-be-played-only-when-we-need-a-six-player-game list.

I don't know if it will go higher than a 7, I think many of my original concerns are still valid, but losing has renewed my interest in Powergrid. After I get a few games under my belt with aggressive players I'll report back.

As a side note: This is another game I will only be playing with poker chips in the future, instead of the provided play-money.


Curious story concerning my acquisition of Powergrid:

A year ago my local game store had been unsuccessfully trying to get Powergrid into stock for several months. The owner, who wouldn't pull my leg, told me on a couple occasions that he had talked to his distributor and they assured him the game would be sent. About that time a couple of his shipments were lost by Alaska Airlines, and he never was able to get Powergrid into the store.

One day the owner told me that he appreciated my patience, but I might as well order the game on line. I went on line to order the game and every store but one was sold out. That particular store was in Canada, and would only ship to Alaska via UPS Next Day Air. Forget that. That added another $30 to the price of the game.

I lamented this fact on Boardgamegeek, and who should send me a private message? BGG fixture, and fellow Roads and Boats junkie, Sterling Babcock. He said his local game store had a couple copies in stock and he could help me.

Sterling lives in Longmont, Colorado. That is odd because my only brother also lives in Longmont. Figure the odds. Anyway, I was able to get the address of the store from Sterling and my brother picked up the game for me.

Thanks again to Sterling, and never underestimate the long reach of Boardgamegeek.



Shannon Appelcline said...

I've long been meaning to give Powergrid a second chance, but it really didn't enthuse me the first.

Sterling Babcock said...

Re: Getting Power Grid from Colorado: The nice thing about it is it was a nice way to make a new friend. Now perhaps you all will come to visit and play games at my place!