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For the family that wants a more challenging boardgame
on 19 August 2011
If there was one game that deserves to join Settlers of Catan in knocking the age-old family classics off their dusty shelf, then it's this beautiful German game.
The premise is simple - each player has a energy company with the aim of becoming the first player to power enough pre-determined cities. To do this, they must first obtain various power stations of differing energy sources such as coal, oil, uranium, garbage, buy the necessary resource from the stock market and then place their respective markers on a city, paying a cost to link up from one location to the other. The map has differing costs for certain links, with the idea that the shorter the distance, the less you have to pay. The number of cities they are able power determines the amount of money they receive at the end of the turn.
If this sounds a little dry, then the real "juice" of the game is in the mechanics of these respective stages. Players must bid for Power Stations and here the chance to foil or mess up someone's chances are great - you could force someone to pay much more than they had envisaged, but at the same time you could end up purchasing one that you really had no great interest in buying. Choosing what station to bid on is crucial. In the energy resource stage, you can hike the price of a resource needed by a competitor by buying in bulk, and in the marker stage, you can block them off from making connections, forcing them to pursue an alternative.
What makes this game work is determining who goes first on each stage, which is always allocated to the person with the least amount of cities powered, ensuring that they have a chance to play catchup. It's an intriguing game that takes a potentially esoteric theme and produces some great fun. As there's no luck involved, every turn you take produces a number of hard decisions to make, which is what all great boardgames should be about. Some budgeting/maths skills won't go amiss, but this is a great game to teach kids about money and how the stock market works without having the sense of ruin that Monopoly or Settlers can provide. Although you can make decisions that affect other players, it's not direct confrontation.
The components and artwork might not be initially appealing, but they're sturdy if a little simple. My only complaint would be that the money in the game is rubbish and somehow devalues it, but it's not enough to knock off a star. Simple wooden counters would have been much more appropriate. Nevertheless, this is a true classic of the boardgame genre and there are also a number of expansions available.