Dale Yu: First Impressions of Power On!

Power On!

So, one of the early hits of the Essen 2019 bunch for me is Electropolis.  We reviewed it earlier this month – you can read it here… Power On! Is from the same publisher and uses the same power plants that you find in Electropolis.  Here you will find the same coal and oil plants that make pollution, the nuclear plants which do not make pollution but require both nuclear fuel as well as a nuclear disposal card, and the wind/water plants which are green and work without causing pollution.  However, instead of a tile game, Power On! is a card game with a dexterity twist.

There are two types of cards in the game – the City cards, which have an energy need at the bottom and a victory point score at the top, and the Action cards, which are a mix of power plants, fuel cards, nuclear waste disposal facilities and special action cards.  The game starts with a display of 3 face up City Cards and a market of 6 Action cards.  Each player starts with a hand of 5 cards drawn from the deck, and each player gets a player aid card to keep in front of them.

On a turn, the active player gets three cubes with which he will use to mark his three actions for the turn.  The player aid card nicely lists the possible action choices that can be done: Draw a card, Play a card, Power a type of power plants.  

Draw a card – choose any of the 6 Action cards from the display and add it to your hand.  You have a limit of 8 cards in your hand.

Play a card – play an action card from your hand. If it is a Power Plant card, it goes face up in front of you and can now be used to make energy.  If it is an event card, read it out loud and apply its effects.

Power a type of power plants – by putting a cube on a colored spot, power as many your plants of that type that you want.  For coal and oil plants, you must have fuel cards (or use wildcards) to discard from your hand.  However, these plants cause pollution.  This is represented by black hexagonal wooden bits.  As the game goes on, a single stack of these black wooden bits is made. In order to successfully power your plants, you must be able to successfully stack their pollution on this stack without having it topple over.  If you cause a fall, you do not make any energy, miss the rest of this turn and also LOSE YOUR NEXT TURN.  All other players have to discard a card from their hand as well. 

Nuclear power plants do not form pollution, but they require two cards: a fuel card (or proxies) as well as a nuclear disposal card (cannot be substituted for).  Note that you  do not have to take an action to power your green plants, they work all the time.  Some of them have a fixed small energy production; others have a variable production, determined by the back of the top card on the action card draw pile (will be 0, 1 or 2 energy units)

After your three actions are complete (assuming that you haven’t lost your turn from a pollution stack collapse), you calculate how many total energy units you made this turn, and if you have made enough, you can spend them to collect one or more city cards from the display.  Afterwards, refill the display of both the city cards (to 3) and the action cards (to 6) and pass the cubes to the next player who then takes his turn with 3 actions.  The game ends immediately when there are not enough cards to refill the city card row to 3.  The player who has the most VPs on their collected city cards is the winner.

My thoughts on the game

Overall, this is a very interesting card game with a neat dexterity twist.  I really like the way that it uses the same theme and art from Electropolis.  I can definitely see a themed game night with these two (and maybe a Power Grid) in my future.  The card play here is interesting, and there may be a bit of social commentary here in the game which is an interesting lesson, but maybe one that comes at the expense of game play.

What I mean by that is that the prospect of powering fossil fuel plants becomes higher and higher as the game goes on.  Once the pollution stack gets to about 10 or so, it becomes quite risky to power multiple plants, especially coal.  The penalty for toppling the pollution stack is truly severe, essentially losing two turns in a row – in a game that might only go 10-12 rounds, this is a huge penalty.  The end result of this in our games here has been that the fossil fuel plants get fired a few times in the game, and then the table tends to abandon them because no one can afford to lose two turns.  I don’t even know if this is an intended message, but the game has official ties with the Bureau of Energy, so maybe this is part of the agenda of the game and its backers.  Anyways, the game’s energy production definitely shift to nuclear and green for much of the end of the game.  Yes, a lesson is learned, but man, this seems to reduce your options past the midpoint of the game.

But, that being said, there is a fun puzzle here trying to draft the best cards you can and trying to power the cities.  I have tried a strategy where I tried to use only nuclear and green plants, and I ended up crushing the opposition (after a very slow start).  I think if there were higher competition for those plants, this strategy would not work – mostly because I wouldn’t be allowed to have so many green plants.

The other niggly thing is that there is a mild first player advantage that is not compensated in any way.  Sure, in a 20-30 minute game, maybe this doesn’t matter.  But the first player (or earlier players in turn order) have the chance to end the game immediately and end up with more turns than the players later in turn order.  There are a myriad of ways this could be changed, but again, maybe not something you worry about in such a short game.

Power On! is a interesting mix of drafting, tactical card play and a little bit of dexterity.  It is by no means a perfect game, but it has a lot of nice concepts that make me want to play it again.  Also, given the thematic tie to Electropolis, which I love, I can see me keeping this around, if only to serve as a short entry/closer game before or after Electropolis.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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