Power Grid: The Card Game
- Designer: Friedemann Friese
- Publisher: 2F
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: ?
- Time: 30-45 minutes
- Times played: 2, with publisher’s prototype copy at the Gathering of Friends
As I alluded to in my Gathering of Friends report – there is a new card game coming in the Power Grid family. Now that the embargo has been lifted, I will give a bit more detail about the game. I had the chance to play it a few times at the Gathering, and after glancing through the rules, it appears that there were not any major rules changes from the version that I played.
Power Grid: The Card Game (PG:TCG) is a streamlined version of the full game where you get a lot of the feel of Power Grid but in about a third of the time. This version of the game focuses on power plant acquisition and the resource market – but takes out the map play. This version of the game also uses some of the rules changes that were introduced to the Power Grid system from the Power Grid Deluxe release from a few years ago.
There are a number of different decks of cards in the game. There are power plant cards which look very similar to those from the base Power Grid game. They have a number at the top that shows its initial bid price while the bottom of the card tells you what resources you need to power the plant and how much income you will get from the bank for successfully powering that powerplant. The power plant cards are divided into two decks – a deck of 13 small plants with dark green backs and 29 big plants with light green backs. There are also resource cards. The show the resource type in the center, and they have the numbers 0-3 on the sides of the card. This card can be rotated around to show how many of that particular resource are represented by that card.
To start the game, the player order cards are randomized and placed on the table. Each player starts with 12 Elektro. The small power plants are shuffled and then 8 cards are drawn from them, they are arranged in two rows of four in ascending numerical order. The top row, with the lower numbered plants, is the active market. The bottom row is the future market. The discount marker, which looks like the number 1, is placed next to the lowest numbered plant. The deck is then prepared with some cards being removed based on the number of players in the game, and then shuffled with the small plants on top, the larger plants on the bottom and the One More Round card being placed on the very bottom.
Then the resource market is set up – there are four columns, marked with cards for “1”, “2”, “3”, and “4”. Then based on the number of players, a number of cards is put in the rightmost three columns – the “1” column remains empty. (For four players, there are 5 cards placed in each column.) The cards are placed with the highest number on top.
The game is then played over a number of rounds until the game ends. Each round follows the same three phases
1 – Auction off power plants. This phase goes on until all players have either purchased a power plant at auction or passed out of the auction phase. The first player in player order starts by either passing out of the round or by designating any of the power plants in the top row for auction. If the player passes, he is out of the entire auction phase, and he is therefore choosing not to get a new power plant this round. If there is an auction, the initial bid must be equal to the number on the card. The player offering up a plant for auction must make the first bid – it does not have to be exactly the minimum; it can be any amount that the player wishes (assuming he has the Elektros to cover the bid).
Bidding goes in player order with each player either raising the bid or dropping out of this particular auction. The highest bidder takes the power plant. Players have a limit of only 3 power plants; if you buy a fourth one, you must discard one of your existing three from the game. Players may only buy one power plant per round.
There is an exception here – at the start of each round, the “1” marker is placed on the lowest numbered power plant at the round start. The minimum bid on this plant is 1, not the number on the card. The marker is not placed on another power plant until the start of the next round. If the marker is still in play and a lower numbered power plant is drawn from the deck, it is discarded. If the discounted plant is still in play at the end of the round, it is discarded from play.
There are special rules for the last round – I will discuss them later in a specific last round section.
Once a power plant is purchased, the player who is earliest in turn order that has NOT already acquired a power plant this round nor passed out of the auction phase this round takes control, and he can decide which power plant to offer up or drop out of the auction phase himself. This continues until all players have bought a plant or passed out. As a consequence, the last player remaining in the auction is able to win his power plant without opposition at whatever the starting bid is.
2- Now players buy resources from the resource market – this phase is played in REVERSE player order though. The first player for the round buys as many resource cards as they want. It is important to remember that the power plant market does NOT replenish during this phase. When he is done, the next player buys as many cards as he wants, etc. The prices for the cards are found on the number cards at the top of the column. Players are limited to holding a number of resources equal to double their current power plant needs. There are special rules for the last round – I will discuss them later in a specific last round section. If a player cannot hold all the resources that they buy, then turn the card down to the number which they can hold, and the refused resources are placed as single resource cards in the “1” column of the market. The purchased cards are placed in the player’s storage area.
3 – In the Bureaucracy phase, first you power your plants. Each player decides which power plants they want to power this turn (they are not obligated to power anything), and they reduce their resource cards for the powered plants. Players calculate how much money they make from their powered plants and collect that from the bank. Once that is done, re-arrange the turn order cards with the player who made the most money this round going on the left of the line. If there is a tie between players, switch the relative player order between those players.
Next, you refill the resource card market. First fill in column 2 – using cards from column 3 initially and then from Column 4 is needed. Then fill column 3, if needed and if possible, from column 4. Once all the cards have been moved to the left, refill the empty spots in the resource market grid. If the resource card deck is empty, you reshuffle the discards, adding in cards marked “+” which were set aside at the start. Also, you remove the lowest numbered power plant card from the game and replace it with the top of the deck. If this were the second time thru the deck, you now add “++” resource cards to the deck (and also cycle the power plants again).
Finally, you update the power plant market. The highest numbered plant (the rightmost plant in the bottom row) is now placed on the bottom of the deck. Remember, at the start of the game, we placed the One More Round card at the very bottom. Now, each round of the game, we take the highest plant available and place it under this One More Round card.
So what happens when the One More Round card comes up? Well, strangely enough, it means that there will be one more full round in the game. Whenever you see the card, you place it as the highest card in the bottom row, and you shuffle the cards in the draw deck. Then at the end of that phase of the game, you remove the lowest numbered plant as well as the One More Round card from the game. You will now have 6 plants in the market, and all are available for purchase now.
The final round in the game is the one where there are only 6 power plants in the market. In this final round, there is also a restriction on purchasing resources. In this final round, you are only allowed to buy enough resources to power your plants for that final round (not double the cost as usual). There is also no Bureaucracy phase in the final round as you don’t need to set up for anything else.
Instead of Bureaucracy, there is a final scoring at the end of this final round. Though perhaps it would be more exact to say the “only” scoring – as this is the only time that you collect VPs in the game. Players now spend resources to power your plants. Instead of collecting Elektro from the bank, you now collect VPs equal to the number printed on the card. Additionally, you score 1VP for each 10 Elektro left in your personal supply. If there is a tie, the player with the most Elektro left wins. (Though, perhaps it would have been easier to just say that players score 0.1 VP per Elektro left…) If there is still a tie, the player with the highest numbered power plant wins.
I should also note that there is an expansion/extension mentioned in the rules – but I really can’t comment on it as I haven’t tried it yet. The “Demolition Contractor” comprises five or six cards and it can be used with either PG:TCG or the full Power Grid. These five cards (for PG:TCG) or six cards (for PG) are placed in order. They represent the Demolition Man. The first player to scrap a power plant in a round gets an Elektro payment as printed on the card – this money is only paid out after the new plant has been paid for. All other players who trash a plant in this current round receive nothing. The card is discarded at the end of the round, and the new one has higher payouts on it for later rounds. When you get to the final card, it is never discarded, but it continues to only pay out a bonus to the FIRST player to scrap a card in any given game round.
My thoughts on the game
PG:TCG was a delightful surprise at the Gathering for me. I had joked with Friedemann and Henning in the past that they should make a card or dice version of the game, and this year, they finally produced the goods. For me, this game is a great distillation of the complex game of Power Grid, putting it in a more accessible form, and one that can be played in 30-45 minutes. This is exactly the game that I was hoping First Sparks would be…
The main simplification in the game is the removal of the map. Now, players do not have to earn/save money to expand on the map nor are they limited by the connections on the map. You simply use money to buy plants and resources, then run the plants to generate more money to continue the cycle. While the map play is definitely a big part of Power Grid, I think that you still get a great feel of the base game with this taken out – and lose about 90 minutes of playing time as a result.
You still have to be cagey when buying your power plants – you would like to get power plants that provide the best return for the lowest resource cost. The cost of those resources though is still driven in part by what is available in the market at any given time as well as how many other people are vying for the same resource. Just as in the base game, turn order is of premier importance. Depending on your current state, you may want to go first in order for auctions so that you can select the power plant that best suits your setup; though, it may be just as likely that you want to be last in turn order so that you are buying resources first (and therefore at the lowest prices).
I have only played the game twice thus far, so I’m not quite ready to pass a final judgment, but from what I’ve seen so far, this is exactly what I’ve wanted from a smaller version of PG. I’m not ready to give up Power Grid though – it is still one of my favorite complex games (along with Age of Steam) – and there are definitely times when we will want to break that out. But, for a shorter time period, or a less complex game, this game clearly supplants First Sparks as my go-to mini-Power-Grid.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (6 plays) – I played Power Grid: the Card Game very early in the Gathering – before Friedemann had even arrived, thanks to Henning. And then I taught the game five times, as I’d really enjoyed it and wanted to play it more. For me, this is what Power Grid _wanted_ to do with Funkenschlag – providing a similar experience in a fraction of the time. Funkenschlag is consistently a two hour game; PC:tCG will consistently finish in under 30 minutes for us. I don’t yet care for it as much as Funkenschlag, but unlike Power Grid (which I like, and will gladly play, but let go years back) I believe the card game will be in my collection for years to come – at least once I get it _in_ my collection. In my book it’s hard to beat a short economic game that’s really worth playing…
Larry: I only got to play this once, but I definitely enjoyed it. It does seem to distill much of Power Grid into a much shorter package. Currently, I’d say I like the game; with a few more plays, it could easily rise to “love” status.
Dan Blum (4 plays): I like a lot of what Power Grid and Funkenschlag do, but both outstay their welcome for me. PG:TCG does most of what I find interesting in the longer games and reduces it to a short, punchy game. (I agree with Dale that this is definitely better than First Sparks.)
Fraser: A few plays on a post Gathering prototype. I’m a big fan of Power Grid and Funkenschlag, so approaching this was interesting. The map has gone and there are some subtle differences that old hands need to note, e.g. turn order past turn one is based on income generated. With the lack of the map the potential connection wars are absent, but everything else from the original is still there, the power plant auctions, the resources, the can I afford to stock or power this power plant? It is most of the Power Grid experience in a smaller and quicker package. It won’t replace Power Grid for me, but it will be a welcome addition to the family.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Joe H., Dan Blum, Fraser
- I like it. Larry L
- Not for me…