All the Paper Money With Some of the Math - Power Grid: The Card Game Review
A conversation often had between my board gaming friends goes something like this: “Hey, remember Power Grid? Why don’t we ever play that game? I remember it being great!” Which is then followed by a few minutes of attempting to schedule a 2 - 3 hour game session where everyone is free, realizing there is no such time, and then begrudgingly going back to our busy lives. This is the problem that Power Grid: The Card Game attempts to solve, and does a pretty decent job.
For those who haven’t played Power Grid, the card game or the older board game, here’s a quick summary. Each player plays as a CEO of a power company, looking to generate revenue by providing power to different cities. The board game consists of 4 phases per turn; auctioning on new power plants (each of them requires a certain natural resource and provides an amount of energy), building the power structure in one or more cities, buying natural resources from the marketplace, and finally generating energy (and by proxy, income). The winner of the game is the person who, in the last round of the game, is able to successfully power the most cities on the board.
The Power Grid Card Game doesn’t vary a lot from this formula, but it does have one major omission - the map. The second “building the power structure” phase is completely omitted from the card game, which seems to be the main complaint about the card version. It’s easy to see that the map in Power Grid plays a major component of the strategy; blocking optimal routes and the unlock of the 15 and 20 spaces all play into a large component of the game. Not to mention the primary way of expanding the main board game is by purchasing more maps. That said, it is also the longest part of the game. The time spent doing mental math in the game (most seasoned board gamers will use “mathy” as the first adjective for Power Grid) to ensure you can maximize your turn is most felt during the “houses” phase, so it makes sense that it gets cut in this 60 minute variant.
That said, most of the other phases remain intact. The power plant auction is almost identical, the resource market is slightly tweaked but along the same idea, you power your plants by consuming natural resources, which in turn generates revenue, and the revenue determines turn order (which is another huge strategic component of the game). Heck, they even kept the paper money! I think describing Power Grid The Card Game as a faithful adaptation of the original that can be played in 60 minutes is a very fair assessment.
Unfortunately, for most of the players at the table, the sentiment at the end of the game was the same - “I don’t mind this, but given a choice I’d much rather play Power Grid”. With the absence of the building phase it seems like the most important part of the card game is the power plant auction, which switches the focus of the game from being a money-management player-blocker to an optimal auction position game. I found the marketplace was very rarely in contention, at least not as much as it is in the board game version; even by maxing out your capacity for natural resources other players can almost always obtain the things they need at a higher price. Paying the higher price somewhat handcuffs you in the auction phase, but because you only pay for two things (power plants and resources) instead of the three (houses) the impact of spending more money is lessened.
So, in conclusion, I think I’d place Power Grid: The Card Game firmly in the “6 - OK game, some fun or challenge at least, will play sporadically if in the right mood” camp. You’d be hard-pressed to find another auction or marketplace game that fits into the 60 minute timeframe (save maybe Ra), but the omission of the map makes it a not-quite-complete game.