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Power grid has 2 plant decks; the basic deck, and the "new plants" deck. You can also mix and match: combine cards from two decks. The "new plants" conveniently have green backgrounds, so you can rule that greenback cards rank as higher than greybacks for the purpose of establishing the turn order and even have cards with the same value in the deck.

New players tend to buy weird plants on their first play. It's hard to evaluate how good a plant is when you only have played this zero or few times before. It doesn't help that there's "duds" in the deck, things you shouldn't want, or that an experienced player will memorize the deck to auction more strategically.

In order to prevent the above, I thought to add some extra randomness to the game, I've been making random selections of cards, basically shuffling the decks together (excluding any card above 50) and taking out however many cards are used in the game. This gets you interesting games, but I'm not too impressed with the results. I think a well-tuned designed deck can improve on this method.

What would you suggest is a good mix of cards to use for a first game?

  • 1
    Can you clarify, my game does not have the "new plants" deck. Is it an expansion or special edition or what? – Andrew Savinykh Jan 31 at 21:57
  • @AndrewSavinykh - Would appear to be an expansion: BGG link – AndyT Feb 4 at 14:19
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If you're interested in the direct answer and not in the reasoning behind it, scroll to the bottom of the post!

A simple option is to just only use the new plants. Their internal balance is somewhat improved. That being said, it does change the game dynamic from the regular game. Early plants are more effective, so a game can be shorter. That can actually be detrimental; it's easier to exploit an early lead.

A second option is to play more of a 'teacher' role: just explain why you're interested in a plant openly and fairly, or answer a question like "Why do you think I should bid on plant X?". The problem is that it can take away agency and that you're not really playing to win. It's hard to do this well.

Rather, I would suggest this preferred (if somewhat complicated) solution instead. Take the old deck, and remove all the plants that are bought almost 100% of the time they are in the game, as well as the plants that are bought almost 0% of the time. Replace these with the new plants, shuffling a few plants around so we have as few double numbers as possible.

These things are 'harsh' about the game's regular plant deck:

1> Bad early plants. These "traps" are just something you learn to avoid. They're bad enough that they'll cripple you in 99% of games, only serving to 'block' the market. Instead, it would be better if the worst plants are at worst mediocre, allowing you to at least make a bit of money, instead of just costing you.

2> Really good plants new players won't immediately realize the value of. The experienced player can oftentimes get a steal for an amazing power plant like the 21, 25, 26, or 30. This problem is somewhat less of a concern if you take the time to explain that 5 or bigger plants are really good, because you don't have to replace them later on, even if they use up a lot of resources, i.e. go through a few example evaluations of the plant market.

3> Low capacity late-game plants. Again there's another trap here. If these are bought at the start of phase 3, you could simply get into a situation where you don't power enough stuff.

4> The '3' and '4' capacity plant trap: new players will often buy too many of these, leaving them strapped for cash in phase 3. Adding a few 7 and 8 capacity plants allow players to keep one 3- or 4-capacity plant and still get 17 total capacity (3-6-8 or 3-7-7 or 4-5-8 or 4-6-7).

What we do NOT want to do is alter the game's resource balance. The default deck is well tuned with respect to the resources available, so we want our new deck to have roughly the same number of 'resource symbols' total on the cards, as well as keep the amount of symbols in each phase of the game similar.

In order to make the deck somewhat more forgiving, I suggest the following:

Gentle Deck

Start out with the regular Power Grid deck.

1) Replace the [3] plant with the new [2*] plant. In our new configuration the old [3] would not be good enough. Here having it be 1 cheaper means it is comparable to the [4] in value.

2) Add the new [5*] plant, leaving the old [5] in as well. (The new [5] counts as higher). The new [5*] offers an interesting capacity option, much like the [8].

3) Replace the [6] plant. The new [6*] is a great efficiency plant, though it suffers in turn order. The old [6] is essentially bought only on non-standard maps with cheap starting trash, or to break a stall.

4) Replace the [7] plant. The new [7*] has good efficiency. The old [7] is a mediocre plant bought only very rarely, it tends to not make enough money.

The starting market ends up as 2* 4 5 5*, 6* 7* 8 9, 13.

Phase 1 and 2 plants:

5) Replace the [14] plant. The old [14] is quite literally a garbage plant, and is basically never bought.

6) Replace the [15] plant. This adds an extra windmill early on. The [15] is usually a mistake when bought, but is quite insidious: it seems good at first glance but turns out not to be great.

7) Remove the [17] plant. The worst plant in the game.

8) Replace the [19] plant. The [19] is mediocre at best at this point in the game.

9) Replace the [21] plant. This gives back another Trash option, and the default [21] is arguably a bit strong. The new [21*] is also a 3-resource plant, keeping the resource use the same for Trash.

10) Replace the [25] plant. The default [25] is the second-best plant in the game. The new [25*] is a worse version of the old [26], the best plant. Removing the [25] also removes a bit of mid-game coal, allowing plants like the [20] and the new [14] to be less risky.

11) Replace the [26] plant. This gives us a 3-power wind plant.

12) Replace the [27] plant. Trading the wind plant for another decent Trash plant.

The midgame deck is thus 10 11 12 14* 15* 16 18 19* 20 21* 22 23 24 25* 26* 27* 28 29 30 31 32 33

Endgame plants:

13) Remove the [37] plant. A wind plant with only 4 cities and this high of a number is a trap.

14) Replace the [44] plant. Again, only 5 cities is not really good enough. With 6 cities the new plant is generally a great pickup.

15) Add the new [46] plant. (It ranks above the old [46]). This adds a good high-capacity hybrid plant.

16) Replace the [50] plant. This 8-capacity plant makes 3- and 4-capacity plants less bad. We already replaced the [44] so the equivalent of the old [50] is still in the game.

The endgame deck becomes 34 35 36 38 39 40 42 44* 46 46* 50*

Then follow the standard game rules with this new deck.

0

The best thing you can do for new players (in my opinion) is use the starting 8 plants from the new deck instead of the old deck and tell them not to buy or bid on a plant that costs 4 or less. Using the new plant deck in its entirety is one way to accomplish this. Here's why:

New players are most unsure of what they're doing during the first turn. The most consequential decision they will make in the first turn is where to build their first city, so I prefer to let them spend their attention on that rather than having to navigate complicated decisions during the power plant purchasing as well. A bad starting power plant can severely handicap a new player, so I try to help them get a good one.

New players shouldn't ever buy a plant that powers one city (with the possible exception of the 1-city wind plants). In order to successfully open the game with a plant only powering 1 city, you need to only build one city on the first turn to convert your monetary disadvantage into a positional advantage, and turn order advantage is something new players typically need to play a full game to properly appreciate. Thus, when playing with new players, I always start the game with myself first in turn order, because whoever goes first on the first turn has to buy a plant that powers only one city (assuming no one bids higher on the plant they pick). This is true no matter which deck's starting plant set you use.

When playing with the old deck of starting plants with 4 or more players, a second person (one later in the turn order) must also buy a plant that powers only one city (due to the 9-cost plant). This makes bidding on plants on the first turn much more complicated, and frequently leaves a new player with a plant that will only power one city (the situation we're trying to avoid).

The other issue with the old starting cards is that the starting cards will be clogging the market for two turns instead of just one. This is because power plants are discarded once someone has built a number of cities greater than or equal to the base cost of the plant. The higher cost of the 4 cheapest plants in the old deck (3 - 6) makes them stick around longer than the 4 cheapest plants in the new deck (1 - 4). This makes it more likely that a new player will buy one of the bad ones.

The one challenging thing about the new power plant starter cards is that with 5 or 6 players, someone will have to either buy a plant that powers 1 city or buy the nuclear plant (which is bad because uranium is very expensive to start on most maps). If you want to play a truly forgiving opening, replace this with the 8-cost plant from the old deck.

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