Home > session report > Power Grid: schooled by a newbie

Power Grid: schooled by a newbie

Okay, so this is embarrassing to admit: I was schooled on Friday at Power Grid by a newbie. Not badly schooled, mind you, but still schooled. Here’s how it happened.

There were four of us on the scene, so to speak: three game night regulars and one alternate. I’d played the game maybe 8, maybe 10 times; one of the regulars (D) had played a couple times; the other two (B & A) hadn’t played at all. I explained the game while we were setting it up, gave everyone a role, and we got started.

I volunteered to go first in the auction and opted for the number 4 power plant. I don’t think anyone bid against me. No one took the 3, so I was good to go as far as turn order went. We were playing the four easternmost blocks of the U.S. board, so no huge connection fees.

I chose Chicago and Detroit (Chicago would probably have been sufficient) to wall off and claim the north for myself. D chose the northeast, B chose the southeast, and A chose the south. It was looking to be a good game.

We played roughly neck and neck through the first step: I expanded both east and south, leaving the north all to my greedy self; D expanded into the southeast a bit; B expanded to the west a bit; and everyone was getting squeezed but me. Just the way I like it. :-)

I think I was the one to trigger step two, but it could have been any one of us. Having made it to the eastern seaboard already, I drove south along the coast and gobbled up a bunch of the cheap cities before B could come up, but D was beginning to move into my territory. I spread into MPLS et al to grab the as-yet-unclaimed-and-therefore-still-cheap north, kept up in power plant production reasonably well (getting lucky and grabbing the 25 unopposed once when I was last in turn order), and managed to avoid any fierce confrontations over resources. Things were looking very good indeed.

D was getting badly squeezed in the northeast and was lagging a bit in production. A still had some room to grow to the west but wasn’t bidding aggressively enough to get the power plants he needed. But it was B, one of the two newbies, who was beginning to mount a serious challenge. I decided it was time to make my move.

I don’t know if this is a common strategy or not, but if I find myself a little ahead in the mid-game (9 or 10 cities), I like to forge ahead, grab a lead, and try to hold on to it. I don’t do it every game, as it depends quite a bit on the situation, but I often find myself wanting to surge forward, grab a two-or-three city lead, and see if I can’t ride the wave all the way to end.

It’s not, I’ll readily admit, a perfect strategy, as it puts you first in turn order and leaves you vulnerable to a come-from-behind victory. You have fewer choices in the power plant auction, and a whole lot less control. But if you do it right, and you get far enough out front, the extra income often proves to be worth it.

Anyway, I surged, leaping out to 13 cities. With the production to power all 13 (I had a 2-, a 5-, and a 6-rated power plant) and access to relatively cheap resources, everything was looking rosy. My plan was to upgrade the 2 as cheaply as possible, get only the resources I needed, and build to 17 cities on the next turn, thus ending the game.

The problem was, I was just a couple bucks short. I upgraded the 2 to a 6 (probably overkill, given where B was, and definitely my worst move of the game), bought just enough resources to power all my plants, and was about five or six bucks short of building the fourth city. No problem, I figured, I still have way more cities than him, better production, et cetera, et cetera. I should be fine.

The best power plant of the six (we were now in step 3), unfortunately, only powered 6 cities. I didn’t feel like I could pass, seeing as how I could only power 17 cities (5, 6, and 6) with my existing plants, but what I really wanted was a 7 — that would have put it out of reach. I put it up for auction and B started bidding against me.

Here was the dilemma, the agonizing choice. Do I let him have it, bringing his production up to 17, or do I bid higher, boosting my production to 18 and giving him a shot at the next plant to be turned up? If it was a 6 or less, I was fine — but if it was a 7, then he’d be at 18, too. I bid again, fearing that the next card would be worse. He bid again. Every dollar was starting to count.

I decided to bid one last time. He let me have it, and I, with mixed feelings, upgraded my 5. I could now power 18 cities.

He flipped the next card and it was a … 7. He won it without too much argument and brought his production up to 18, too. It was going to come down to the money.

I still didn’t figure I was in too much trouble, since I would only have to build 2 cities (I was at 16) and he would have to build 5 (he was at 13). He had stockpiled more resources than I had (I was out), but I still didn’t figure that would matter much. I was so far ahead, there was no way he could come back.

He began building first, and to my dismay he began by saying, “let’s see, 5 cities, that’s 20×5=100 for the cities plus connection costs.” He laid the 100 dollars on the table, just like that. He chose the 5 cheapest cities and laid down another 17 dollars to cover the connection fees.

I knew it was going to be close, now, so I looked the board over several times before concluding that the two cheapest cities out there were going to cost me 23 and 26, respectively. I put down 49 dollars and claimed them as my own.

So how did it come out? We both had 18 cities, and we could both power 18 cities. We counted our money. He had $17. I had … wait, that can’t be right. I rubbed my fingers over the bills, hoping to separate two that had gotten stuck. No such luck.

He beat me by three lousy dollars!

Maybe it’s time to reconsider the surge….

 

More experienced players will probably scratch their heads at a couple of my decisions (or even my overall approach), but hey — we’re all learning. :-)

Update: I just bought the Theme Park expansion off eBay and am looking forward to trying that soon. :-)

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