The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Power Grid

A few thoughts on recent games

Timechase — I remember when Mu und Mehr came out and discussing it with Jeff Goldsmith (who is still a much better bridge player than I am, but hopefully less so than two decades ago) and his comment was basically “Trumps don’t work.” Unpacking that, it was too easy to void yourself of a suit and too many trumps. Timechase has a great idea …. you play to a trick. The losers earn gems, and you can use gems to go back to a prior trick and play another card (changing the winner), you earn gems by playing low on a trick and some every turn (less for each prior trick you won).

And it doesn’t work. The leader has a huge advantage, and if you have to follow suit, that’s it. But worse, if the last trick was won by the ace of spades and you still have any spades, you can’t win it! You can also go back to “Trick zero” which just sets trumps (if you are alone). A hell of an idea, that doesn’t work. It would be better if there rotating trumps (for example, you could beat the ace of spades with the duece through four of clubs, which just changes the suit). I spent a game following suit for 2 tricks, jumped back in time to a suit I was now void in, trumped it, and then had no good options. (Trump had changed again and … even assuming I had any … I would have to follow suit and lose to any prior trick). I’m assuming this is better with less (we played with five) but at best I’m indifferent and this is borderline avoid, but I’ll likely try once more with 3-4 players.

Got in another game of 1889 — one thing that playing various other new 18xx (like ’46) is that I’m more enthusiastic about games that do not reward “hyper fast ROI at all costs and figure out how to rescue your train buys later.”(Which is not to say that ’46 doesn’t reward it, but it is not the sum total of the game). That being said, ’89 is fast and clean. I played an interesting game where I solved my long term problem by dumping my companies while they still had 3s and 4s while Diesels were a long way away and being a minority investor in safe lines. I’d had such an early jump that I was able to (barely) out score people with more shares than me at the end. Still enthusiastic, but I’d prefer a few other titles (including revisiting ’70) that are floating around the city. Also I heard City of Big Shoulders has qualities between 18xx and Arkwright, which is intriguing.


Played Power Grid — Northern Europe Map. Fine, and I like the idea that you adjust the deck based on which regions are in play, which gives some simple variety. The ‘no nukes’ rule seemed a bit weak, since you just had to have a non-nuke at all (as far as we could tell), but this was a fine variant map. Still playing Power Grid, so enthusiastic.

Had a decent game of Wingspan with not much Eggs, and may have won if I remembered you can substitute food 2:1. I focused on getting a lot of tuck+egg powers on the water (draw cards) row, and a few leeches on other people’s lay eggs. The fact remains that I’ve seen huge wins on engines built on the egg row and possible wins on other rows when nobody really thrashes Eggs. I guess that means you just need to grab certain birds ASAP. I’m considering raising my rating but right now I’m indifferent-plus.

Written by taogaming

September 13, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Does one dimensional chess work?

As a gedankenexperiment, can one dimensional chess work as a game? Would it scratch the same tactical (and positional) itch? My gut feeling is that it would not, but let me try to reason out why.

Chess works (as a tactical game) because you have a variety of threats, and most of the threats deal with interactions between pieces. Some things in chess just don’t really work. A fork threatens multiple pieces. That can strictly be done in one dimension (a rook or bishop can fork by moving). Discovered attacks by moving out of the way become more difficult, unless you have pieces that effectively move every N squares (skipping over the square in between). These are one-dimensional bishops, although an argument could be made that modular arrays create a second dimension I’ll let it slide, since developing a one-dimensional chess variant that’s interesting is probably a hard problem. Given that some very clever people (including Sid Sackson and Martin Gardner) have tried, I’m going to just go ahead and say that one dimensional chess doesn’t work.

Why? There’s some interaction between the various dimensions. As we’ve forks become much more common and interesting, pins, discoveries, etc proliferate. You need restrictions in a game (as we’ve noted before, letting people move every piece doesn’t work). There’s nothing particularly magical about a single move — double move chess can work — but letting every piece move means you can’t fork, pin, and the like. The game falls apart.

Now, in most games (non-chess) the term “dimension” is more abstract. There are constraints. Not necessarily spatial. They may be temporal (X actions per turn), economic (a literal cost). You may have random constraints (roll and move or other randomizers). You may have incomplete information. You can like big sprawling games (ahem), but if it isn’t just a salad … if the design is actually good, you pare and trim. As the man said…

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Star Trek got it wrong — 3D chess isn’t an improvement over chess, but neither is 1D. Two dimensions is enough for the game to express itself. 3D chess can exist, but it exists as an inferior product. Similarly, 1D chess is inferior.

I don’t think this is particularly controversial, but perhaps I am wrong. I suspect I may be wrong trying to generalize it to other (non-abstract) games, but non-abstracts live across a huge variety of dimensions. How do you compare Food Chain Magnate (which as spatial, temporal, economic, organizational, etc) with superficially similar 18xx — both games are about building and growing a business on a spatial map, but feel nothing alike (to me). They share a few dimensions, but the dimensions they differ on (the fact that the player is 100% owner in FCM and may suffer from agency issues in 1830, for example) make the games distinct.

It’s a complex issue.

All of this propelled by the thought I had earlier tonight — If Power Grid: The Card Game works as a game, does that mean that Power Grid (the board game) is 3D chess and we just didn’t know it?

Written by taogaming

January 3, 2017 at 12:50 am

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with

Miss Celanious

  • Say, does anyone know a good online place to get a large # of the 50 count ultra-pro CCG cases? But less than 200 count (a case). Amazon’s 2 for $10 is nuts, I used to get 4 dozen for roughly a dollar each (plus shipping).
  • Playing Shadowfist with the TaoLing. It’s fun but it’s not primarily a 2player game. Perhaps in the summer I’ll take him to the Shadowfist night.
  • We also watched Real Steel; a movie made for young boys.
  • Finally got a copy of The Resistance. I can’t get anyone to play BSG anymore (because the regulars who play it stopped showing and everyone else prefers the Resistance). I like the game, but I miss BSG.
  • Apart from German Railways, I also tried Oltre Mare this week. Clever idea, but I’m indifferent.
  • Other movie of the week — L’Illusionist. Basically an animated Jacque Tati flick. If that doesn’t make you excited, you should avoid it.
  • Also played First Sparks again, its fine. I can see how some would prefer it because of the streamlining and smaller numbers, but I’d rather spend an extra 30 minutes playing the real thing. I picked up the PG robots expansion though, mainly just because.

Written by taogaming

January 28, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Our long national nightmare is over …

… I finally got in a good session (unlike last month).

The people have spoken … no need to punch the Race expansion tiles. In that sense, I understand those who think it’s overpriced. I’m paying $18-25 to use 25 cards. I don’t particularly care about the solitaire part, or the tiles. From a game point of view, it’s still a great investment if I’ll get another few hundred games out of it.

Middle Kingdom is better with five, but (like many impulse purchases) not something I’m going to play compulsively. It stays in the bag to see if it grows on me.

The Tribune ‘Alea iacta est‘ victory condition (only three requirements, but tribune is mandatory) didn’t work nearly as well as I hoped. I was the first person to get a Tribune (on Turn 5) and had an unblockable victory next turn. Tribune may be best with 4.

Power Grid China felt vaguely like “Power Grid: Age of Steam.” Less plants than players (per turn) and few resources. (It still isn’t as brutal as a typical AoS map). I’m probably not going to buy it anytime soon, because I don’t need 10 PG maps, but worth playing if you like the system. Haven’t tried Korea.

Written by taogaming

November 4, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Yesterday’s Gaming

I played a game of Power Grid! On the Central Europe Map! With the new Deck.

It broke up Race for the Galaxy into two blocks, totaling roughly six hours. As Eric said, this is the Race Blog until further notice.

Power Grid was good — I like the new deck, as the order is a bit more mixed some “High cost, many cities” options right next to “cheap and clean” … a less orderly progression, and fewer “I can’t imagine buying that” choices. There was a time when Power Grid was my “Yeah, let’s play that” game of choice. Partially because it was online, but it’s just inoffensive.

I was thinking about it yesterday, and how much more Power Grid do I need? I’ve got four expansion maps, two decks and a nice version of the Atolla Modulis (actually, two copies of that). Even if I play Power Grid once a month, that’s only twice a year for each map (assuming I ignore the Atols). That’s enough variety. Age of Steam is the same way (and I haven’t even gotten a game of that in this year … the shame). I long ago decided that I have more 18xx games than I need (although I’d still like to try some of the new ones).

Some expansions toss stuff in, but the “New Map” expansion seems limited for all but the most hard care of people. Just an idle thought while I wait for the Race expansion.

Anyway, I’ve finally gotten Research Labs to work, although I still consider slapping it down early a desperation move (unless you tagged a small Alien world and are producing/trading). Using the Labs in a Pioneer role (by constantly exploring) just gives up too much timing control. So you have to slap it down, explore 1-2 times to deduce what the cards are telling you and build up a hand, and then go ahead. Not a stunning insight, but still satisfying to win with.

There’s a thread on the Merchant Guild that left me wondering … which is the least useful big (6-cost) development? Obviously they all require you to go in a specific strategy …

New Economy, I’m looking at you. Discuss.

(Incidentally, the rulebook says 15 developments consume one or more goods. I count 16. Given all developments come in pairs, save the sixes, I make the “Big ones” as Mining League, Free Trade, New Economy and Trade League. Trade League does have a consume (as well as trade) power, right? Is that a typo in the charts?)

Written by taogaming

December 23, 2007 at 10:47 am

Posted in Race for the Galaxy, Ramblings

Tagged with

Quick Thoughts

Played Take Stock Monday. Not bad, not great. So I read Shannon Appelcline’s article on game math, which discussed Take Stock. While everything said is true, its taken out of context. [I’m going to dispense with the mechanisms, which are summarized at the link].

Playing an 11 or 12 as a certificate scores you more … but playing it on the stock locks in your gains. 3 shares at 11 is worse than 6 shares at 7 (33 vs 42), but the round keeps going. Many events knock share prices down. 3 Shares at 11 beats 6 shares at 3. And if you have six shares of a stock … well, nobody else will help it. [If the 11 or 12 is your last card, then playing it as a certificate will also end the round, making that the superior play.

I’d say that one of the standard decisions many games offer (good or bad) is “Small gain now vs larger (but riskier) gain later.”

On the other hand, I’ve only played T.S. once and we never had someone play the 11/12 to end the round. So Shannon could be right. There are three or four ways a round can end, so I’d like more data points. We only played a few rounds; I can’t tell if that’s a style issue.

I’m not anxious to try again, but it’s a reasonable filler.

In other news, I feel dizzy.

Played the Benelux map of Power Grid last night. A nice variant map, fast. (You remove two plants/turn during Phases I & II — the highest goes under the Phase III card, the lowest is just out). Combined with the cheap connection costs, it shaves a few turns off the game. We took an hour or so. I love cheap expansions.

It seems like Tumblin Dice is everywhere these days, but I remember it from the Gathering a long time ago (it feels like 5 years or so, can that be right). Did it just find a distributor or something?

Written by taogaming

December 9, 2006 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with , ,

Post Groundhog Gaming

Last night we had guests over for brownies and gaming. Lot’s of blasts from the pasts. Power Grid, Puerto Rico, Fearsome Floors and Ricochet Robots.

That means I’ve played Puerto Rico fifty times (face to face).

I’m also played Ticket to Ride with my daughter today. She wins about 1/3rd of the time using the monomaniacal powers of youth, by drawing lots of cards (mystery, especially) playing long routes, and connecting her starting tickets, no more. It works fairly well.

Online, Caylus rules with an iron fist. I’m definitely starting to respect the “VP + Money track” and just give up on blue buildings unless it’s easy. One thing I do know is that if one player builds the mason/lawyer/architect, the players who ignore the blue track and don’t build said buildings can run away with the game. Remember, any sufficiently complex system invites parasites. Damn VP track running parasites. There are several players online, the Jedi of Caylus, and I’m not sure if they’re just using the strategy guide better (fewer mistakes, etc) or if they see something I don’t. I’ve started watching quite a few games. Perhaps I’ll figure it out.

Written by taogaming

February 4, 2006 at 6:37 pm

Fundamentally Flawed vs Broken

My loose talk generated a question on the difference between ‘fundamentally flawed’ vs ‘broken’.

They are fairly similar, but not interchangeable. In my mind, “Broken” means that a game has a single, dominant strategy (usually a very obvious, very easy to implement one). It usually applies to Asymmetric games, or CCGs (where players have their own resource set), or any game that somehow differentiates the players (otherwise they could all follow the broken strategy). If it suddenly turned out that you could win a chess game (by move two or three) by 1. H3!, Chess would become broken. No fun to play (at least, no fun to play if 1. H3! was the opening).

I mainly fling “Broken” around in relation to CCGs. I don’t just play Shadowfist, I playtest it. Our job is to make sure that no published card dominates the game. Our other job is to try to make all published cards good enough to be playable, and to make them interesting.

“Flawed” means that the game has a problem. This is much more subjective (I think). Power Grid may be flawed, but I still play it. “Fundamentally flawed” just extends that. The core of the game is flawed, not just some peripheral system.

To a certain extant, flaws depend on what you are trying to do. If I try to write a tragic play, jokes are a flaw. If you view Taj Mahal as a poker variant, then it’s structure is clearly flawed. [Sklansky and Malmouth discuss how ante structures affect the game and how some are better than others, in case you are interested.] By Greg’s summary (which I prefer to my poker analogy), the same idea comes out. There is a clear way to win (not get involved in fights), which you have no control over. Since a game (by my hazy definition) must give you some control over it (otherwise it would be a simulation, or something), Taj Mahal is flawed. The fundamental system doesn’t work. But it’s not broken. There’s no dominant path to victory.

Broken, in my mind, is proveable. If I claim card X is broken in Shadowfist, I should be able to build a deck that can ‘run the table’ against any other deck that doesn’t have the same card (or possibly a card that specifically cancels mine). [In fact, I have been arguing that a card on the list for next set may be broken, and trying to build such a deck]. Similarly, if I claim that the “Road Strategy” in Settlers is broken, I should be able to win if I follow the strategy against opponents that don’t. If the “H3” opening is broken, I can defeat all comers (as white).

Flawed depends on what you set out to do. A game that sets out to be a quick, fluffy romp is flawed if the rules take two hours to explain. Paths of Glory’s rules take forever to read, but it’s not flawed (or, if it is, not for that reason). A game that sets out to model historical events that produces wildly impossible results would be flawed. Imagine a WWII game where the US could force a Japanese surrender in Feb ’42 after Pearl Harbor. [Perhaps ‘inaccurate’ would be better, but that’s just a specific flaw].

Of course, flaws have levels. Mild flaws are just that, mild. Lots of games have the flaw that a weak player can throw a game (as discussed before). The game may be interesting in general, even if a particular playing isn’t. As you expand the flaw (so that random events, or unknowable distributions decide the game), then it becomes a major flaw.

Sometimes I just don’t like a game. I don’t want to play 60 hour games that extensively covers the some minor war, or fluffy silly games. But if those games set out to do that, I can’t call them flawed. Taj Mahal sets out to be a “Reiner Knizia” game in the Alea box line. That gives me certain expectations about how much control players should have. The core system of the game (as I’ve tried to describe with my analogy) puts the players in an uncontrollable situation. Take Greg’s formulation:

You win the game by avoiding fights. You have virtually no control over whether you get into a fight or not.

If that assessment is true, then ‘fundamentally flawed’ strikes me as perfect description. [Needless to say, I agree with the assessment, and many commentors disagree].

By the way: I’m done referring to Greg’s formulation, as I may start owing him royalties.

Update: I just played a few games of Roll or Don’t versus my computer. Here randomness isn’t a flaw, as I expect that in a ‘push your luck’ style of game.

Written by taogaming

September 22, 2005 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with ,

Actual Gaming & More Power Grid thoughts

I played Power Grid and Around the World in 80 Days with a new group. (And it’s nice to find another new group in San Antonio).

Power Grid has an evaluation problem: How much to bid on a plant? For example, in the early game there’s only one reasonable plant available. The next plant (on the future market) is great. But the replacement plant (top card of the deck) may be terrible and show up instead of the great plant. Or it could be a plant that is good, but not great.

This probabilistic evaluation showed up several times last night. But I’ve noticed … even if you can set a value that completely encompasses the risk of the future, the actual future will often be quite far away from the evaluation. [This issue shows up quite a bit in my work, too, and I want to explain it with technical terms like “Strongly Bimodal”]

To make this easier to explain, let’s take the reverse. One good plant available, two players, and the next plant to fall into the market will be bad. However, there’s a plant (or two) in the deck that are great and will go into the the market. [The rest of the plants wont, or are terrible].

The good plant will be bid up, of course. But each player will have to weigh the fact that they could get a great plant (cheaply) if they drop out. That lowers the premium that should be paid. So if you are willing to pay 45 (say), that’s because you’d normally be willing to pay 50 (if the next plant was guaranteed to be terrible), but factor in a chance of something good happening. That’s valued at five. (All numbers made up).

Here’s the thing. I place the value of ‘a good plant may show up’ at five (or whatever). But once the card flips, I’ll usually get zero (bad plant) or some high value (good plant bought at face value, instead of bid up). Call it forty. So the risk premium is five, but the actual value is never five.

This is like having an auction game where one item you can bid on is worth a zero, unless you roll 11+ on 2d6, then it’s worth sixty. I don’t think I’d look too kindly on such a game.

Power Grid has lots going on, but as we move up the learning curve, I expect more games to be won or lost on the turn of a card. [My last BSW game was a runaway when I got a good plant for face value on turn 3 or 4]. And this will be true even if everyone values the risk correctly. If the “turn of the card” premium is correctly evaluated and followed, some number of games are going to have one player jackpot or crap out. [The ‘crap out’ option leaves the other n-1 players all fighting evenly].

I’ve been thinking of Power Grid as a “Top Ten” game. (I’ve played 50 times on BSW, and probably 30+ face to face). But this fact has been gnawing at the back of my mind for a while.

Written by taogaming

September 22, 2005 at 9:10 pm

Posted in Session Reports

Tagged with

Power Grid Thoughts

Now that I’m pushing fifty for Power Grid on BSW, some thoughts are in order.

  • Bid up on the permanent (5+ city) plants. A 10-15 premium is usually worth it. Paying double (once you are close to stage 3) may be reasonable.

  • I think that in my first games the board position didn’t matter nearly so much as the power plant auction, but once players get better then you have to start taking board position into account. In the early position, the trick is to figure out cheap points and choke points. In the early game, it’s important to recognize if the board is linear (all regions in a row) or if there is clumping. If the regions are all linear, then the build order matters much more.

  • If there are linear regions (A-B-C-D) I’d much rather be in one of the middle two. That way, during the phase shift even if I go last, I can always spread outside. If you are in one of the outer regions, you must build before your non-adjacent inner opponent (For example, if you are D, you need to go before B). Then again, this may not matter if region C is long (between B and D), but you’ll need phase three to hit pretty quickly, or get boxed in. This changes based on # of players.

  • If you are behind on powerplants (and normally I only consider permanents) then you should be on the lookout for grabbing a medium plant that may save you money over a turn or two, just to unclog the market. Especially if you go last, or the power plant you let onto the market isn’t permanent.

  • The 4 plants may be permanents, especially in a 5 or 6 (where you only need to power 15 or 14 cities). Even in a game with only 3-4 players (17), you can reach it with a four, as long as you get a seven and six. Possible. And the ‘4’ plants often provide a good return. I’d still prefer a ‘5’ plant, but sometimes you have to make do. ‘4’s also work well with racing.

  • Don’t get fixated on free (wind/fusion) plants. The ’13’ plant early on is sometimes poisonous, particularly if you can’t build your 3rd city the turn you get it. [If you only got a ‘1’ plant on the first turn, you need one of the plants that powers at least 2 cities on the 2nd turn]. In the late game, the fusion (50 plant, powers ‘6’ cities for free) is often a worse value than one of the methane plant (30 cost, three trash for 6) as trash is cheap, even if you are going to use it two turns.

There are several possible endgame, one trick is to recognize which one you are in:

  • The race — Here one player will build up before anyone can power teh full compliment (sometimes in phase two!) This often happens if everyone passes on a non-permanent plant (to avoid opening up the market) for several turns. Once you’ve built up a warchest, the last place player can buy a medium plant and then build out, winning. If a player has a plant lead, sat for several turns

  • The push — Someone builds to reasonably threaten an extra city or two, sending everyone into a scramble for one more city. It’s sometimes reasonable to do this when you could end it if you’ll be a city or two short (say, 16) because everyone else can build less cities and win the tiebreaker. You really need to have the 6s and 7s for this.

  • The close game Sometimes it’s just all about who can get the cheapest stuff. Not much to do here.

  • The screw — Running out of resources can easily decide the game (at least knocking one player out). Being ‘best’ (going first) in the last turn can be dangerous, but most games will see methane/nuclear power relatively safe (and oil is often pretty reasonable). When considering what to do on the next to last turn, look at not only how much will be restocked, but what plants are up (or in the deck) that may take it. If a few coal plants are in the deck, you’ll want to stock up on coal. [This also applies to the middle game for getting fuel cheaply]. Other tips for dealing with resources:

    1. Don’t use critical resources on the penultimate turn. The difference between powering 11 and 15 cities isn’t usually worth the resource cost anyway (last game I reminded myself, bu accidentally powered all of my plants anyway. Knocked myself out). Another nice aspect of holding onto a set of resources is that it allows you to safely upgrade (say from the 20-3coal-5city plant to the 42-3coal-7city plant) if the game turns into a push.

    2. Stockpile if you are in first place but can’t finish. The only anti-stockpile reason is that you suspect one (or more) players will race the game this turn.

    3. Don’t build up an extra city if it’s safe (this often happens in 2-3 players). However, sometimes you have to build to prevent a lock out. Another time to build is if it allows you to be 1st or 2nd (instead of 2nd or 3rd). If you are already in first position, don’t automatically say “I may as well build it now”. The game may last an extra turn.

    4. In general, don’t stockpile early. Wait until the shortage is imminent, or next turn the price will go up because of the plants that will be auctioned).

    5. Because resources are often so limited, the methane plants are worth a good premium early, and will often go for ridiculous amounts late (just because they can’t be locked out). The player in first will often only have one ‘safe’ plant (unless he held resources).

Oh, one other trick I’ve seen a (very) successful BSW player pull. Hold off on a 2nd (or 3rd) plant, and just accept that you won’t grow beyond 4 cities until stage two. You can build a reasonable stockpile, and the money you lose buy not growing is made up in resource costs (buying first) and not wasting money on a plant that will have to be thrown away later. But there’s a lot to consider about doing that, and you may get trapped.

Update: Since I’m losing yet another game, perhaps you should ignore this post.

Written by taogaming

September 18, 2005 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Strategy

Tagged with