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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Power Grid: Russia - Timing is everything

Players (4): Alex, Barbara, Chance, Diane

Played a four player game of Power Grid on the map of Russia (I think, or eastern Europe, whichever has the unusual nuclear rules) which was notable for two major reasons. First, an unusually long "Stage I". Second, an unusual position swap at the end of the game.

Opening Game
The game opened as Power Grid usually does.  There was some jockeying among Alex and Diane, with Diane trying to keep Alex from being able to get territory where nuclear power was an option, but after the third time around, we all had the option to purchase nuclear plants.

Bidding for plants and fuel was good, with everyone purchasing plants in the first three rounds.  By the end of the opening, Alex, Barbara and Chance had 6 cities each, Diane had 4.  This marked the end of the opening game.

Mid Game
We now entered into what makes this game unusual: a very long Stage I.  All the powerplants which came out within the first four turns were really good.  However, the we locked up the entire map with cities, except for a few which were far out from Chance and Diane's location.  Now, Power Grid has a "most money" aspect to it.  Basically, the player with the most money has power, so gathering money is important. However, turn order is determined by the player with the most cities (ties broken by power plant size).  Lastly, turn order is vitally important to the game, with the player who goes first basically having several disadvantages (must put up plants for auction or pass first, purchases fuel last, buys cities last).

Every plant which came out was "worse" than a plant someone already owned, so no one was purchasing powerplants.  Furthermore, with fuel costs the way the were, Alex and Barbera were making 10 and 6 dollars over Chance per turn.  Diane was making 11 dollars less than Chance.  From this perspective, and given that whomever purchased the "seventh" city would get the disadvantage of going first, Alex  and Barbera looked to be in a good place.  They could wait it out until cards triggered Stage III, and wrap up the game.  The longer it lasted, the better position they were monetarily.

As an example of how unusual this game was and how long Stage I lasted, Diane had over 500 Electros, an enormous sum of money, and she was the poor one.  Chance had around 800, and the other two had over 1000.

End Game
With a losing proposition and time working against him, Chance decided to break the stalemate.  Spending over 140 dollars for a city, Chance bought the seventh city, making it Stage 2 for the game.  Four other cities were purchased, bringing the total cities to 11.

With that, the flood gates opened- and no good power plants came out again this turn.  Alex purchased one, making a minor improvement over an existing one.  Diane purchased a better plant on the cheap, but the cities was where the action was.  Diane purchased cities in the middle, bringing her total to 11 and strategically driving the cost of cities up for everyone, except Chance.  Alex and Barbara purchased like crazy, and their city totals were 10 and 11.  Chance, having spent so much to get 11 cities,brought his total to 14.

Now came strategic positioning of power plants.  Next card flipped over revealed Stage III, and Alex and Barbara came to realize the game was going to end next turn.  Both Chance and Diane could power more cities, and there was no time to upgrade the plants fast enough.  They went from First and Second to Third and Fourth in a single turn.  Diane was forced to spend a large amount of money to upgrade one of her plant's so she could power as much as Chance, but the cost would come to haunt her.  Chance and Diane ended the game with 17 and 15 cities apiece, but they could power only 16 each.  Chance broke the tie however, by having the most money by 50 Electros.

Lessons Learned
Never underestimate the ability to grab initiative.  Although Alex and Barbara had more money, it was the subtle upgrading of power plants which did them in at the end.  Their reasoning seemed good to everyone, and moving to Stage II early would have crushed Diane and I.  However, waiting too long would have meant a loss for us in the end anyway, so I had little too lose and the possibility of something to gain..

By properly gauging (guessing) when Stage III would arrive, I managed to steal the initiative.  Realizing the two leaders would need to upgrade all three of their plants to match my power production, I hedged my bets I could hit the game ending city limit quickly.  Diane presented a good challenger, but there I used her lack of cash against hen.  I drove the price of the power plant she needed up on purpose, just to drive the price up and reduce her cash.  I calculated exactly what I would need to purchase fuel and cities to end the game, then just bid like crazy.  The end result was a bid she couldn't afford to lose, but one I couldn't afford to go crazy on..

I'd like to say I planned it that way, and in some small way I did.  But I doubt I could predict the timing of the Stage III card as well a second time.  Still, it was a very memorable game and one which I would remember fondly even if I had been on the losing side.

Has anyone else experienced an unusually long Stage I and how did it end?
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