From Funkenschlag to Power Grid

2 Aug

Thought I’d do something a little bit different this time.  I’m going to take a look (through several photos) at how my favorite game of all time, and one of the top games as ranked by BoardGameGeek, has evolved over the years.

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The 5 cent description of Friedemann Friese’s Power Grid: players buy power plants and resources in order to supply power to their ever growing network of cities.  The player able to power the most cities once end game conditions have been met wins.  I know it doesn’t sound exciting at first blush, but Power Grid brings quite a bit of tension and fun to the table.  Also, a lot of math.  It’s probably not the first game you’d want to play if you’ve never given more modern games a try, but it is a great second or third level game.  This is not going to be an in-depth review of the game.  I will try and walk you through a typical turn, while showing some of the differences between the games.

The original Funkenschlag was released by 2F Spiele in Germany in 2001.  Power Grid was released in Germany by 2F, and Rio Grande Games in the US in 2004.  According to BoardGameGeek, versions of Power Grid exist in 14 different languages. Let’s break open the boxes, and see how the game has changed over the years.  In most cases, the pictures I will be showing will have the Funkenschlag edition first, then the Power Grid edition second.

Power Plant cards

The first step in the each round is an auction where players buy the plants that they will use to power the cities they build into later in the game.  The auctions all have to start with a base bid equal to the large number in the left hand corner of the card.

Each card requires a certain type of fuel / resource in order to power a number of cities (denoted by the number inside the house symbol).  Green and blue plants are either hydroelectric, or wind powered, and therefore have no resource costs.

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Obviously, the Power Grid cards are much more colorful, and have a wider range of plant drawings. The Funkenshlag cards are quite a bit taller, even a bit larger than baseball cards.  Power Grid plant cards are square.  I do find it interesting that the original game had plants that went up to a base price of 60, whereas in Power Grid, they stop at 50.  There is a second deck of plant cards you can buy that includes the plants up to 60 (more on add-ons later).

I think I like the bolder colors showing the type of plant on the original cards.  It makes it much easier at a glance to see what your opponents may be focusing on.  However, between the hard to see bid numbers, and the very similar drawings of the trash cans and oil barrels… the original cards aren’t as nice overall.  In case you were wondering, the picture on the back of the Power Grid cards is a German wall outlet.

Resources

Once players have bought their plants, they have to get the raw resources the plants need to supply energy to the network.  An interesting twist in this game is that the player in last place gets the benefit of buying resources first, thereby getting them cheaper than other players.

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Here’s where I admit I was doing this at 3AM while at work, and didn’t notice that I set the resources up in the wrong order.

The resources in the game are coal (brown cubes), trash (yellow), oil (black, and nuclear (red). The newer resources are all noticeably smaller than the originals (newer printings of Power Grid do have larger red “nukes” that are still smaller than the original ones).

The resources start the game on a resource market.  The prices of resources depends on how many are in the market.

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In Power Grid, the market is printed along the bottom of the board.  The original market is just on a very flimsy cardboard sheet.  Obviously, the copy I own didn’t get played much, as this has a pretty permanent hump in it.  Each price box on the Funkenschlag board is supposed to hold up to three of each type of resource (except for nukes, only 1 nuke per box).  In Power Grid, each resource cube or barrel has a designated space.  It used to be much easier to set up the market…just toss a bunch of the resources in the right box.  Now you have to meticulously set up each cube it its correct box.  However, I think this makes it much easier to count up how much resources cost, especially if buying over multiple price levels.  Also, you’re less likely to make a mistake like putting too many or too few resources in a box.

Building

Once everyone has resources, it’s time to go onto building into new cities, and making your network grow!  Once again, as in resource buying, the player in last place gets first choice of the prime real estate.  And here’s where things gets REALLY different between the two games.

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Funkenschlag’s board shows a random, mythical mass of land.  Each of the large red dots is a city, and each other dot is a type of terrain.  To build between cities, you must cross various types of terrain, each type has its own cost.  Players draw their routes on the board using the included crayons.

017This more than anything shows the game’s roots.  Funkenschlag was developed as a variant of sorts on the classic crayon rail games such as British Rails or Empire Builder.

There are a few issues with the Funkenschlag board.  First off it’s made with very flimsy card stock, with a light coating (presumably to make it easier to wipe off the crayon at the end of the game.    Next, the board is tiny!  The board was only about 2/3 the length of the standard keyboard I was using to keep it flat, as it had also developed a permanent hump.  I think if I ever want to play this game, I’ll have to invest in a thin piece of Plexiglas to keep the board down, and a set of dry erase markers to draw with.   I can’t imagine comfortably getting 6 people around this board for a couple hours of gaming.  Finally, it’s just kind of an ugly board, and if you play yellow (like I do) your rails are going to get so lost on this map.

019Here’s the Power Grid USA map.  Bright, colorful, big icons easy to read from space.  Sure, it looks busy (especially in the Northeast), but once you understand the basics of the game, you realize it’s laid out very well.  The board is very large, I’d guess nearly 3 feet across.  You don’t really get the crayon rail feeling here, because the designer has done the dirty work of figuring out the connection costs for us.  And instead of drawing in crayons to show your route, you get to use little houses which fit nicely thematically, since houses are used on the resource cards to denote cities.

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Bureaucracy

Yes, bureaucracy is actually a phase in the game.  It’s basically a clean-up and reset for the next turn phase.  So I’m going to use this chance to show off a few of the other bits from the games.

Money… 

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030Frankly, I like the original money better, but I don’t use either form of money.  This game works best with poker chips.

014Funkenschlag’s turn order path.  I don’t like this because it suggests that if you’re in first place, you’re happy.  I can assure you that in Power Grid, if you’re in first, things can be extremely difficult.

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025Player cheat sheet cards.  The third one in the German version is the terrain price sheet.  If you’ve played Power Grid before, you’ll notice that the payouts in Funkenschlag are a fair bit lower.  I’ve read that it tends to be a longer game in general because of this.

020I did mention add-ons in Power Grid earlier.  There are 2 different power plant decks, 7 different double-sided map boards (meaning you can play on a total of 16-different maps!), special promotional power plants (even A Flux Capacitor!) and even Robots, should you be short of players.  Having a complete Power Grid collection can be expensive (especially if you’re a moron like myself, and buy the occasional foreign edition of the game for a map that later gets released anyway), but the variety in game play means it will take a long time to ever get bored of it.

I hope you enjoyed this look into one of my favorite games.

Next time… so, you invent a game that becomes one of the seminal icons of a generation.  How do you follow it up?  By inventing one of the most incomprehensible games of all time.

 

 

 

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