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Subject: Power Grid - A Differing Opinion rss

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Chris Norwood
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Power Grid


Designer: Friedemann Friese (2004)
Publisher: 2F-Spiele/Rio Grande
# of Players: 2-6
Play Time: 120 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #2/8.16
Weight: Medium/Medium-Heavy

(This review originally appeared on www.gamerchris.com)

Power Grid is a very popular and well-respected game, and we at the Hypermind BoardGamers thought that it would be a good choice for Game of the Month! in February. As it turned out, however, my copy ended up traded away and I don’t care if I ever play the game again. In other words, I don’t think much of the game.


Components and Setup

To me, I always thought that Power Grid looked absolutely fantastic. The box art, graphic design, and selection of components all fit together to give a quirky yet attractive look. Speaking of the components, the game provides a set of 22 nice wooden houses in each of 6 player colors, a whole selection of wooden resource tokens in various appropriate colors and shapes, a stack of paper monopoly-style money (“electros”) in various denominations, and a deck of square power plant cards. To set up, each player takes a set of the player houses and puts one on each of the score and player-order tracks. The resource market is populated with a prescribed number of each type, giving an initial value to each. The starting power plant market is then established by placing plants numbered 3 through 6 in one row (the “actual market”) and plants 7-10 in another row (the “future market”). The draw deck is built by shuffling most of the rest of the deck, placing the #13 Power Plant on top and the Step 3 card on the bottom. Initial player order is randomly determined, but is changed immediately after the first auction.



Basic Gameplay (click here for the full rules)

Power Grid is played in 3 steps. In most cases, Step 1 lasts until someone builds into their 7th city, while Step 3 begins when the “Step 3” card is drawn from the power plant deck (which means that it has been played through one entire time). I’ll try to point out what differences that happen in each step as I describe the turn order below. Each game turn is divided into 5 phases:

Phase 1 – Determine Player Order: Players are put into order based on how many cities they have connected to. Ties are broken by which player has the highest number Power Plant.

Phase 2 – Auction Power Plants: The player in first position of the order track chooses one of the power plants in the actual market (consisting of the four lowest number face-up power plants) and makes an opening bid at least as high as the number printed on the card. Bidding then continues clockwise around the table until all but one person passes. The winner pays the amount bid and is out of the rest of the auction phase. The next power plant card is revealed and the market is adjusted again with the four lower plants being in the actual market and the four higher ones being in the future market. Now, the highest remaining player on the player order track starts another auction. This whole process continues until all players have won a power plant. Alternatively, players may choose to pass instead of initiating a new power plant auction when it is their turn to do so. In that case, they are removed from the auction phase just as if they had won an auction. If all players pass in this way, the lowest numbered power plant is discarded and another is drawn to replace it.

In Step 3, there is no future market. Instead, the market is reduced to 6 plants but all are available for purchase.

     
   


Phase 3 – Buying Resources: Starting with the player in last place on the order track, players may buy resources for the power plants they own. Each resource costs an amount equal to its position on the resource market, and as resources are purchased their price increases. If all of one kind of resource is ever purchased, no more of this resource is available for purchase in the current round. Players may only buy resources that can be stored on their current power plants, each of which can hold twice as many as it can use in one turn.

Phase 4 - Building: Again starting with the last-place player, everyone gets the chance to expand their network by building into new cites. In the first round, each player may choose which city to start in, but thereafter must work outward from their current "power grid", building out from cities they already control. To connect to a new city, one must pay first for the connection cost printed on the conduit between the cities and then also pay to build in the city. The first player to connect to a city costs 10 electros, the second is 15, and the third is 20. But note that a second and then third player may connect to a city only if the game has progressed into the second or third Step, respectively.

     
   


Phase 5 - Bureaucracy: To finish a round of play, a few things happen. First of all, players spend resources to power cities using their power plants. They are not required to power all of their connected cities, but they may also not choose to partially use a power plant. In other words, if a plant requires 2 coal to power 2 cities, they may not choose to use only 1 coal to power 1 city. Players then receive payment for the number of connected cities that they were able to power. Next, the resource market is re-supplied based on a chart in the rules, which changes depending on how many players there are as well as which step the game is currently in.

Finally, in Step 1 and 2, the Power Plant market is manipulated by placing the highest-numbered plant in the future market onto the bottom of the draw deck and drawing a new one to replace it. This both keeps the market from being too clogged with overpowered plants early in the game as well as setting the stage for Step 3. From there, a new round starts with Phase 1.

The game is completed when, at the end of Phase 4, one player manages to build into 17 or more cities. At that point, whoever can power the most cities with their current network, power plants, and resources wins the game. In the case of a tie, the player with the most money wins.

What I think…

People just seem to love this game. Of course, very few of those people were in attendance at our game nights while this was Game of the Month! I'll be the first to admit that Power Grid is a terribly well-designed game. The resource market is just brilliant in how it simulates real supply and demand. The power plant market and auction are very clever and solid mechanics. How the power plants use resources and cities are powered makes total sense and works very well. There's a lot to rave about in this game, and you can check out several of the other reviews on BGG to see all that. As far as this review goes, however, we're going in a totally different direction.

     
   


For me and a lot of my group, the main thing missing from Power Grid was fun. What does that mean? Well, let me be specific. First of all, the game is very fiddly. There's a lot of manipulation of the power plant market, the resource market, the playing order track, the score track, and the board itself. While I totally see why all of this is necessary to maintain game balance, it also detracted from the illusion of reality that the game was trying to create. As hard as the game works to create a realistic economy, the sheer brute force required in artifical game manipulation just ruins the over effect for me.

Along with that, there are also many mechanisms in the Power Grid to help mitigate the potential runaway leader problem that is inherent in this type of game. Who goes first in each phase switches back and forth in an attempt to bring down "the man" in the lead and give a little handout to the ones in the rear. There is, of course, no thematic basis for these mechanics, and therefore further tarnish the atmosphere of the game for me. What's worse is that they still don't really work. If one player is able to get a good turn ahead early in the game, it is still very difficult to catch them (or worse, if you fall a turn behind the pack early on, you're in for 2 hours of misery with no way to really catch up).


Speaking of game length, the pace of the game is also something that I'm not a big fan of. Being rather dry and mathy, Power Grid can be very prone to analysis paralysis, or at least relatively slow play as players all try to be efficient in their play. Particularly in larger (5-6 player) games, downtime becomes a significant problem. This does give you a lot of time to think and plan your move (which is a good thing), but when that is most useful as the game gets really tight near the end, it also becomes more likely that someone else's play will drastically alter your plans (which is bad).

Finally, the thing that bothers me most is that the game is terribly repetitive. While I usually enjoy games that encourage long-term planning and maximizing efficiency, Power Grid is just too single-minded for me to really enjoy. Every turn and every game you play, you're always doing exactly the same thing. There is no other path to victory except to be as efficient as possible in building and managing your power grid. I just have a hard time really getting into such a long and complex game that has the limited strategic variety of a purely abstract game.


The Verdict!

Over 7 games, 9 different people in the Hypermind BoardGamers gave Power Grid an average rating of 7.47.

• Rules: Easy to grasp; a little too fiddly but efficient at what it does.
• Downtime: Can be significant, especially late in the game or with more players.
• Length: Our longest was 147 minutes, shortest was 90 minutes, and averaged right at 112 minutes
• Player Interaction: Lots of competition in power-plant auctions and board position, but no way to damage opponents' current position.
• Weight: Medium Heavy
GamerChris’ Rating: Like I said, while I can appreciate the game, I don't really enjoy it much at all. And if you're not having fun, then what really is the point? My final rating is therefore a 6.

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James Cheevers
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Excellent review of my favourite game that I completely disagree with.

Thumbs up!!
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Brian Beyor
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Although you seem to want to give Power Grid a bad review, you still rate it a 6, which in my book is still darn good.

I find the game plays quite a bit better when there is one or more players willing and able to be 'facilitators' Someone who handles the power plant auction and the turn order, another player will take care of the powering up of plants/payout and the replenishment of goods. Basically they 'run' the game. I am usually one of the players to do this and the game plays a lot faster.

One example: OK Red it's your turn to pick a power plant for auction, alright plant #6 is at 7 Electro's Mr. Blue what is your bid. You pass, OK Ms. Yellow you already passed earlier so you're out etc. OK Mr. Blue purchase your fuels...


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Sheamus Parkes
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This review pretty much perfectly sums up my view. Innovative and unique, but the annoying parts sap all the fun out.

So sad.
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Tom Chappelear
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I agree: I admire this game more than I enjoy it.
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Chris Norwood
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umber wrote:
Although you seem to want to give Power Grid a bad review, you still rate it a 6, which in my book is still darn good.

"6 - Ok game, some fun or challenge at least, will play sporadically if in the right mood."

Like I said, I admire the game enough that I might would play it again sometime, but I so completely don't see how that game is number 2 here at BGG. I focused more on the negative side of things in the review because plenty enough has already been said to praise it.
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j s
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An excellent review your opinion of coarse is wrong, but still will played

Edited for spelling
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Joe Wyka
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Taste is a funny thing. I've introduced this to my wife's family - casual gamers - and this has quickly become the hands down first choice to play. Yes it's mathy, but the delicate balance to strike with every decision keeps it engaging for everyone.
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Billy McBoatface
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It's a well written review, but I disagree. I don't find it repetitive; each part of the game has such a different feel, from the early jockeying for board position and decent plants, to the late-mid game bidding wars for the best plants, to the final rush and counting where everybodying is checking whether they can end the game with a winning position on a given turn!

And don't think of the turn order stuff as "keeping down the man." I'm sure that it was put in for that reason, but it makes the game much more interesting. Without all that, it would be a straightforward "can you grow faster than everybody else" game. But with that, it becomes a game of "how much and how fast can you grow while still staying towards the back of the turn order chart." True, not very thematic, but it creates a lot of interesting strategy!
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Sheamus Parkes
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wmshub wrote:
True, not very thematic, but it creates a lot of interesting strategy!


I can almost let it go in Power Grid, but the whole circular routes in AoS and RRT is where I just can't let the logic go. I realize that these mechanics create interesting decisions, but they are just so far-fetched that I have trouble suspending belief while making them.

I guess I've got at least a little wargamer in me somewhere
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Chris Hillery
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I definitely agree with the review's issues and conclusions. This game is interesting, slightly unusual, makes you think, and... just isn't very fun for me.
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Nice Review. Good to hear someone part from the norm. I actually enjoy power grid but it can be long is played with someone who has bad AP on making a bid, or building.

I do not find the game fiddly with the shuffling of the plants, but I tend to play a lot of FFg games so maybe chalk that up to conditioning. It does help to have a guy who does this and a bankers and a guy who does the market.

The one problem I have with this game is that it seems that often the winner boils down to who gets the lucky flip in the final auction. Where is a lard plant is up and someone wins it and they win if no other large plant pops up. If one does then the guy who saved his cash will win it on the tie break.

-M

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My first game was a 2 player affair. We made it half way through and quit. Not to be deterred, I tried it with 3 and had a great time. Since then, I've come to appreceate playing 2 player on the Italy map but for 3 or more I found the game to be very fun. It really isn't that fiddly, it isn't Through the Ages. To each his own as they say.
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malloc wrote:
Where is a lard plant is up and someone wins it and they win ...


This is definitely true of the American map.
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Nicolas Acosta
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Hey Chris!

I deeply respect your point of view, even if I'm standing right in the opposite side.
Thumbs up and a little tip for you because making a negative review being respectful is not easy, and you just did an amazing thing in that department.

Power Grid is a pretty weird game. In my experience, it has been a blast with gamers and non-gamers. In my opinion, this should be the #1 Game on BGG, because almost "everybody likes something about Power Grid" (everybody, but you ).

With your permission, I would like to add something to your review (keep in mind that I give a 10 to power grid on BGG scale).

Power Grid, is a game of dynamics. The game itself has a dynamic which you have to not only understand, but also to harmonize with. At the very first moment when a player start moving at a different rhythm, his opportunity to win the game are thrown to the trash can.
What I'm I talking about here? Well, it all comes down to 2 rhythms playing at the same time: Plant capacity, and turn order.
Every single game of power grid comes down to controlling those two variables. Plant capacity is that you need to grow your plan capacity according to the game's rhythm, or you will be knowing that you can not possible win just right before the final turns (that's one of the main reasons I dislike the Plant Deck 2, because everything seems to be much easier on this variable). On the other hand, it's pretty important to know when to play first, or when to play last. It's not true that leading the whole game will prevent you to win it. You just need to hold back in the right turn, and victory can be yours.

Well, here comes another issue with power grid: It MUST be played for equally experienced players. Players that understand how game dynamics work. Here is where the carnage starts.

Great Review!
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Russ Williams
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I've read others complain about the calculations and game length and inability to recover from a bad start, which I can understand (though I'm not bothered by them). But this struck me:
Quote:
While I totally see why all of this is necessary to maintain game balance, it also detracted from the illusion of reality that the game was trying to create. As hard as the game works to create a realistic economy, the sheer brute force required in artifical game manipulation just ruins the over effect for me.
...
There is, of course, no thematic basis for these mechanics, and therefore further tarnish the atmosphere of the game for me.

I never imagined that Power Grid was attempting to be any kind of serious or realistic simulation (just like most Eurogames), so I was surprised that this mattered so much for you. E.g. I see you rate Tigris and Euphrates a 10, the best possible rating, yet it seems even less of a realistic simulation of ancient Mesopotamian power politics than Power Grid seems a realistic simulation of electricity economics. Ditto for plenty of other Eurogames you rate highly. So I sort of wonder if your objections about unrealistic mechanics aren't after-the-fact rationalization...?

(Which doesn't change that the game simply wasn't fun for you, so of course you should not rate it highly. I just mean that apparently realism is not actually as crucial to your fun as you seem to think in this review, seeing that you really like a lot of other similarly unrealistic games.)

By the way, I agree that an early mistake in Power Grid can be costly and insurmountable (having once suffered 2 hours as you describe). Whether that is a flaw in the game is less obvious.
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Jay Little
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Excellent review. I agree with your niggling points about things that detract from the game experience. I am not fond of Power Grid. It is a game with very nice components, but featuring many, many elements that do not appeal to me and that I'm not very good at...
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Quote:
If one player is able to get a good turn ahead early in the game, it is still very difficult to catch them (or worse, if you fall a turn behind the pack early on, you're in for 2 hours of misery with no way to really catch up).


Honestly, I've never seen a run-away leader in any game of Power Grid that I have played. There have been strong leaders at various points early on, but that has never guaranteed victory.

The thing I like about this game is it's balance.
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Andrew C
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Probably the best negative review I've ever read. And the fact that you have so many folks' opinions to draw on really adds some weight to it.

thumbsup
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tim Tim TIm TIM TIMMY!!
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Just bought it cause a friend really wants to try it, I was like it seems like a long game to me about a theme that is boring for me , but I bought it and will see if we have time to play this one
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I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to be wrong, wrong, wrong.
kilroy_locke wrote:
Basic Gameplay

With so many reviews already on BGG, it was not necessary to go into such excruciating detail explaining the rules. However, this did make clear that you weren't suffering any serious rule misconceptions (and that's a big problem with newbies and this game).
kilroy_locke wrote:
For me and a lot of my group, the main thing missing from Power Grid was fun.

Fun? Okay, if you look at a table of people playing Power Grid, they don't tend to be smiling, laughing, or otherwise exuding enjoyment. They tend to have stern faces, while they intently ponder the situation. The same can be said of about 90% of the top 100 games on BGG. If you want just fun, I suggest Apples to Apples, Fluxx, For Sale, Aquarius, Stupiduel, or Ubongo. The highest BGG ranking of those is For Sale which is 110th.
kilroy_locke wrote:
First of all, the game is very fiddly. There's a lot of manipulation of the power plant market, the resource market, the playing order track, the score track, and the board itself.

I must agree the fiddliness detracts from the game. There's a lot more to running the game than just playing the game. With my regular group down in Los Angeles, I was banker, Michelle handled the resources, Chris ran the plant market and the turn order, and Mike just played. Then Mike played the game with his sons and found out just how much work there is in running the game. But the work is worth it so we can have...uh...fun.
kilroy_locke wrote:
While I totally see why all of this is necessary to maintain game balance, it also detracted from the illusion of reality that the game was trying to create. As hard as the game works to create a realistic economy, the sheer brute force required in artifical game manipulation just ruins the over effect for me.

You lost me on this. Real business involves a hell of a lot more bookkeeping and dealing with details than Power Grid.
kilroy_locke wrote:
Along with that, there are also many mechanisms in the Power Grid to help mitigate the potential runaway leader problem that is inherent in this type of game. Who goes first in each phase switches back and forth in an attempt to bring down "the man" in the lead and give a little handout to the ones in the rear. There is, of course, no thematic basis for these mechanics, and therefore further tarnish the atmosphere of the game for me.

Federal/EU regulators. Totally in keeping with the theme.
kilroy_locke wrote:
What's worse is that they still don't really work. If one player is able to get a good turn ahead early in the game, it is still very difficult to catch them (or worse, if you fall a turn behind the pack early on, you're in for 2 hours of misery with no way to really catch up).

Not really. It is possible to screw up early and never recover, but you have to screw up bad. You need to build up your plants, and the player in lead is frequently missing out on getting plants. If you pay 25 for plant 13 then you're putting yourself way behind, but if you don't throw money away you should be in the hunt for most of the game.
kilroy_locke wrote:
Speaking of game length, the pace of the game is also something that I'm not a big fan of. Being rather dry and mathy, Power Grid can be very prone to analysis paralysis, or at least relatively slow play as players all try to be efficient in their play.

There's a definite analysis paralysis problem here, but experience and willingness to learn by experience mitigate it. About once per game, a player should slow things down while he counts his cash and his expected city costs before bidding on a plant. However, I am always mystified that people call this game "mathy". Last night I had to calculate 8 + 15 + 11 + 20 + 8 + 20 + 8 + 20 + 20 = 130. That's second grade math. Actually I substituted 3 + 20 for 8 + 15, pulled out the 5 * 20 = 100 and then calculated 3 + 11 + 8 + 8 = 30. I guess that means I did algebra to make the arithmetic easier, but the arithmetic is not hard even if you do it the long way. Don't they have calculators at the dollar store where you live?
kilroy_locke wrote:
Particularly in larger (5-6 player) games, downtime becomes a significant problem.

It's better to learn the game with 4 players. A 6 player game with newbies can run over 3 hours and that is not good.
kilroy_locke wrote:
Finally, the thing that bothers me most is that the game is terribly repetitive. While I usually enjoy games that encourage long-term planning and maximizing efficiency, Power Grid is just too single-minded for me to really enjoy.

Well it's not like Mordred where there are five different ways to win, but it's hardly repetitive. Sure you're trying to improve your efficiency, but how? Which fuel is cheapest (and will stay cheap)? How many turns will I run that plant? Where shall I build my cities? Where is he going to build cities? There's lots of stuff to look at.
kilroy_locke wrote:
Over 7 games, 9 different people in the Hypermind BoardGamers gave Power Grid an average rating of 7.47.

That's a higher rating than I expected reading this review.
kilroy_locke wrote:
• Length: Our longest was 147 minutes, shortest was 90 minutes, and averaged right at 112 minutes

Not bad for new players. 147 is long, but I know many games that run longer on a regular basis.

I find it a little surprising to a group called Hyperminds would find this game mathy and more work than fun. What sort of games do you Hyperminds people like? Of the top 100 games at BoardGameGeek, what games do you regularly play?
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Sheamus Parkes
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russ wrote:
E.g. I see you rate Tigris and Euphrates a 10, the best possible rating, yet it seems even less of a realistic simulation of ancient Mesopotamian power politics than Power Grid seems a realistic simulation of electricity economics.


I'm going to side with T&E being more thematic. Why? It's logical. Power Grid loses it's theme from it's illogical mechanics. I can feel the civilizations rise and fall. No odd ball rule about turn order or "step progression" gets it the way of resolving my conflicts.

And just to be sure, I know this is just my opinion. I just happen to be on the same page as the original poster.
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Stephen Groves
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Good review of my favourite game. I do have to say that the reasons you do not like this game would be the same reasons that put people off euro games so I am curious as to what constitutes a good game for your group.
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sevorges wrote:
Good review of my favourite game. I do have to say that the reasons you do not like this game would be the same reasons that put people off euro games so I am curious as to what constitutes a good game for your group.


I'm not the reviewer, but I have a similar view of power grid:

1. It's just too slow. Your decisions are interesting, but they just don't come around quick enough. If you buy the first plant in a 5 player game even, you might as well go get a snack. I need my games to offer more meaningful decisions at a quicker rate.

2. It's just not fun. Other than the 2-3 pivotal auctions, there's just not enough excitement. There's plenty of tension, but just not enough excitement. All the fiddly money and turn order mechanics are too distracting to get to the fun underneath.

I enjoy many other Euros. Through the Desert is probably my favorite traditional Euro. It offers me meaningful choices nearly every turn, and each turn goes by quickly. Also, there's plenty of fun since everybody has to moan when they get cut off. And you'll get cut off multiple times per game. It has tension & enjoyment.


But again, those are just my views...
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DAMN ALL YOU POWER GRID HATERS!!!
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