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H-B-G
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image by Henning
Power Grid-Factory Manager is the new game by Friedemann Friese released at Essen 2009 and published in English by Rio Grande, it is rated for play by 2 to 5 players, in about 60 minutes, although this may be more in early game and actual play time will be dependent on player number.

I have to say that it was one of very few new games that appeared at Essen this year, which actually took my eye. I seem to be getting increasingly disenchanted with the apparently endless stream of new Euros, many of which seem to be either overly simplistic or at the other extreme, mind numbingly soporific engine builders with pasted on themes from periods of history that hold no interest whatsoever. It has got to the stage where, in my mind, any new euro has a presumption that it will be bad, barring anything which gives a hint otherwise. This is sad really as there are probably some games out there that I would enjoy if I could bring myself to play them, but I seem to have come to a stage where I believe that an interesting theme is important. What constitutes an interesting theme, will of course vary substantially from player to player.

Anyway, enough of the preliminary ranting about the state of Modern Euro games. What is it that attracted me to this game? Initially there were 2 reasons, first of which is the shameless marketing decision to associate the game with Power Grid, one of my favourite games, despite the fact that there is really very little that the 2 games have in common, so bearing mind the first paragraph, the marketing probably wasn’t a bad idea in my case, but it has to be said that there is no guarantee that liking Power Grid will mean you like this, equally disliking that game will not necessarily mean you dislike this. Second was the theme of running a factory, which is similar to one of my other favourites Industrial Waste, although again the two games have very little in common.

Having been drawn in by these things, my first impressions of the game have been pretty positive, so let’s have a look at it.


Components

The components are generally on a par with Power Grid that is very good, although the rules are now on glossy paper in colour (I note that the rules in the latest Power Grid expansion are also of the same quality so it may be that future Power Grid editions will be likewise), setting aside the quality though, there are certain problems with the rules, although these can be cleared up fairly easily by looking at the rules forum for the game.In addition to the rules there is a large double sided reference sheet of the same quality, detailing the initial set up and also the layout of the factory boards.

The game box, featuring that bloke from Power Grid, looks very like and is the same size as the former game and contains a central board to store the available tiles and track the energy price, together with 5 identical Factory Boards for each player to place their tiles and unavailable workers and track their production, storage and energy use.
Photos by Henning

There are wooden pieces in the 5 player colours. The workers are typical wooden euro pieces in two slightly different types to differentiate regular workers from seasonal workers. Cubes are used on the 3 player board tracks, together with a single black cube to track enery price on the main board.
Photo by andre1975

There are various cardboard tiles to represent assets to place in the factory(i), together with a set to show player order(ii) and a set to determine random increase in Energy cost(iii). Examples shown below.
i.
ii

iii
Photos by Henning

Finally there is a batch of Paper money, identical to that from Power Grid, I know that many will throw up their hands in horror at this, but I have never had a problem with paper money and in most instances, much prefer to have a nice neat stack of paper compared to a large pile of chips. This money is nothing special but perfectly serviceable.
Photo by Acenoid

Game Play

Each turn is played in 5 phases, which are described in some (although not complete) detail here.

1.First there is a turn order auction, which is the only real similarity I see to Power Grid (it uses essentially the same system as that for Power Planets in the former), other than the artistic style. You bid for tiles which have a number from 1 to 12, the player order will then run from lowest to highest, with the higher numbers having a discount on purchases for that turn to compensate for acting later in each phase.

Bids are made using workers and because each player only starts with 7, with the potential to hire a maximum of 2 seasonal workers, the auction does not take long, with positions often being sold for nothing, since workers used in the auction are unavailable for other tasks later in the turn.

2.Once turn order has been determined, each player in turn must add tiles to the market according to the number of workers they have available (which must be a minimum of 1), the last player also has the chance to move a number of extra tiles (depending on the number of players) into the market. These tiles represent machines that produce goods, together with storage for those goods, robots (which increase a machine’s production or decrease its manpower requirement) and control and optimisation systems which reduce energy requirements together with increasing production and/or reducing manpower requirements.

The tiles are laid out on a display and the cheapest of each type must be brought into the market before more expensive tiles of the same type, so it is an interesting situation if you are early in the turn order as you may have to bring down cheap tiles in the hope that those later in the order will being down the more expensive tiles of that type that you may want to buy. Conversely if you are later in the order, you may be able to bring down the tiles you want, but run the risk that someone earlier in the order may buy them before you get the chance.

3.Next is the purchase of new tiles and placement in the factory, together with the removal of existing tiles. Again you need workers for this, 1 worker to buy a tile, 1 worker to remove a tile. The cost of a tile is the number printed on it, less any discount that you may have due to your turn order tile. It is at this stage, following all other actions that you can hire seasonal workers, which will be usable until this stage next turn at the cost of 7 each, again less turn order discount.

The reason you may want to remove existing tiles is due to limitations of space, the factory can hold a maximum of 10 machines robots and storage tiles (increasable to 12, by paying 10 per space) and 1 each of control and optimisation systems.

4.In practice, this phase of the game has tended to be merged into phase 3 in the games I’ve played, with players moving straight on to carry out the necessary changes needed to their factories as soon as they have bought tiles, while the next player carries out their phase 3. This speeds the game up, but strictly speaking all players should complete phase 3 before the first player moves on to phase 4.

In this phase players decide which of their machines/robots are used and adjust their production, storage and energy tracks, at the same time setting aside the necessary workers to operate the factory in the canteen. These workers will not be available in the following turn for bidding or use in phases 2 and 3. Finally after all players have made the necessary adjustments, the energy price rise (from 0 to 2) will be revealed.

5.In this phase, players collect income which is determined by the lower of production and storage less the cost of energy determined by the amount used multiplied by the cost determined in phase 4. The income is doubled in the final round, so this is something to bear in mind.

Thoughts

This is an interesting game that should play quickly once players know what they are doing and I really don’t see that that should take too many plays. The turn order auction should be over quickly, with tiles, particularly early on probably going for zero cost, so each auction will probably only take 1 run round the table, maybe 2 later on, when people may have got to the stage where they have freed up some workers, or maybe are particularly keen to get an early spot. On early play, it certainly seems preferable in most cases to buy early to ensure you get want out of the market; the discounts are nice, but not particularly useful if all you are left with is rubbish.

Later phases should also play fairly quickly, although I can see that there is a bit of thinking to do when considering which tiles to move down into the market. You will perhaps be in the position if going early on of considering whether other players will do your work for you by bringing in the tiles you want, leaving you to bring down something else, having it in mind that they will need to consider that if they move those tiles down, there is likely a real possibility that other players, earlier in the order, will grab them before the later player has the chance. There should not be that much thinking time involved when it comes to a players turn to act, as much of the thinking can be done while others are acting, with the exception of adjustments needed to account for what those others have done immediately before.

Strategy boils down to the best way to maximise production (with corresponding storage) while minimising use of workers and energy, which will involve consideration of what machines to buy and whether to use robots to increase production or reduce manpower used, having in mind that you need to run 1 machine for each robot in use. Consideration has also to be given to the limited space available within your factory, the higher value tiles are better than the lower ones and you want to avoid, as much as possible, the position of having to waste workers (and money spent previously) to strip out earlier tiles. This is a particular problem with control and optimisation tiles for which there is only 1 space for each in the factory, with the other types you do have the additional option of opening up the 2 additional spaces, although the cost involved means that this, too, is something to be avoided if possible. It should be noted that this game is of the type (which seems slightly unusual these days) where amount of money at the end directly determines the winner, rather than money just being a resource in the quest to acquire some type of Victory Points.

Conclusion

I like this game, although, at this stage, I would certainly prefer Power Grid if time allows. Factory Manager gives an alternative quicker option. That said I’ve also heard a few people saying how they much prefer this to Power Grid.

I do have some lingering doubts as to the replayability of the game and wonder whether if you play enough, you will see everyone fighting to pursue the exact same route to profitability every game. So far it has to be said that here has been plenty of variety in the games I have played (with 3, 4 & 5 players), with some games where a lot of people go for a lot of machines, compared with others where robots are much in demand and further variation in whether people go for production robots and/or personnel robots. There has also been variation in demand for optimisation/control tiles. The one thing you can guarantee that will be wanted is storage and some machines.

Anyway at this stage I’m going with an 8/10 rating, this being based purely on game play as although I will talk about things like component or rules quality, and I’m not going to say nice presentation doesn’t play a part in drawing my eye to a game, when it comes down to playing, they are not to be considered, unless they seriously detract from the game play.

Edited as one of the pictures got out of place.
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Alan Goodrich
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Nice review - appreciate all the detail. As someone who is very much not a fan of Power Grid, but who does love economization games, I've been looking forward to this one. Like you, I enjoy Industrial Waste and am hoping this will be a more complex version of that idea. My only concern (which you address) is if the game will have staying power, or if play will eventually become rote.

The only point of disagreement I have is your feeling about Euros in general. Yes, some are overly complex, and many have a pasted-on theme, but assuming all new Euros are bad seems completely whack to me. Even this year's Essen, without the "breakout" game that other years have hyped (like Agricola or Dominion), seems very rich to me - perhaps moreso than in the past. Gates of Loyang, Dungeon Lords, Opera, Carson City, Macao, Tobago, Shipyard, PG:FM, Vasco de Gama, and the list goes on. All of these look very, very good to me, and are on my want list. So far I've only gotten my hands on Loyang, but it lives up to my expectations. I've found this years Essen crop to be, overall, my most anticipated yet.

So overall, I'd say Euros are more vibrant than ever. Perhaps you don't like the themes of some of these - well, that's more your taste, it doesn't make them de facto bad games. I would agree that there could be more innovation afoot in the world of Euros, but even in the short list of Essen titles, there are many fresh ideas (Macao, Tobago, Dungeon Lords, and even Loyang all have some innovations).
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H-B-G
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Thanks for the reply, you may be right about some of the euros, but as mentioned, there are probably some good games that I will miss, because of bad experiences with others. For example I played Endeavor on Wednesday, which again seemed to confirm my views as I found it utterly uninspiring. Of the Essen games you mention I have only tried Tobago, which was quite fun and I would play again, although I wouldn't seek out a game. Dungeon Lords does sound interesting and the theme appeals, but I read of the worker placement type mechanics which don't inspire me. Loyang I have avoided due to its lineage (Agricola I liked at first then quickly cooled on it, Le Havre left me cold from the start).

But those are strictly just my opinions.
 
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B C Z
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DaveD wrote:

There are wooden pieces in the 5 player colours. The workers are typical wooden euro pieces in two slightly different types to differentiate regular workers from seasonal workers. Cubes are used on the 3 player board tracks, together with a single black cube to track enery price on the main board.
Photo by andre1975


That is a really subtle differentiation between 'normal' and 'seasonal' worker-meeple.
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Steve Duff
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I found them much more obvious in real life.

And, it really only matters when you stop paying for them and it's time to separate them out of the group and put them back. Until then, they play exactly the same as "normal" guys.
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Grzegorz Kobiela
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They could have used exactly the same shape for both meeples - it really doesn't matter. Just remember you've got two seasonal workers. So, either you pay for one or two, or one or both must lay aside.

Also, when I first saw the seasonal workers, I thought like "hey, they've included some nazis".
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German Mike
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Ponton wrote:
[...] "hey, they've included some nazis".


Exactly my first thought...
 
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Martin G
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DaMilli wrote:
Ponton wrote:
[...] "hey, they've included some nazis".


Exactly my first thought...


Same here. We referred to the seasonal worker phase as "hiring a Hitler".
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Zubbus O'Really
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While it's very rich with both words and pictures. Somehow I didn't get a very good idea of how the game is played from this review.
 
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J. Green
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DaveD wrote:
...mind numbingly soporific engine builders with pasted on themes from periods of history that hold no interest whatsoever.


This is a magnificently pithy and accurate description of so many eurogames. Honestly, I think the last truly original games I have seen in about 5 years are Caylus and Dominion, and I don't even really get excited about either one. Blah blah blah.

Oh, and thanks for using "soporific," one of the few "big words" I've had to look up in a dictionary in probably 10 years. I'm sure I'll get that in a sentence sometime in the next decade, if I try real hard.
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