Carrie & I stopped by Game Parlor yesterday and found the newest maps for Power Grid: Korea / China, so we picked them up. I mentioned them to Fuzz, so he stopped by last night for a little play-test. While adding a new set of maps to Power Grid always add variety, to really make things interesting you need to adapt the rules to match the geopolitical terrain of the new map. In that light, the newest Power Grid expansion really outdoes itself.
The Korea map represents both North and South Korea, which are given separate resource markets to reflect the differences in cultures. Each market has different refresh rates, and different capacities. During the resource purchase phase, any player can choose to buy resources from either the North or the South, but they must buy all of their resources for the turn from the same market. During the bureaucracy phase, the North market refreshes first, followed by the South. Both markets combined are the same as any other Power Grid map, but the North market (12 coal, 8 oil, 8 trash) is smaller than the South (12 coal, 16 oil, 16 trash, 12 uranium).
The China map reflects the state-managed economy with a rigidly controlled power plant market. The Power Plant deck is stacked -- all plants up to the 30-plant arrive in ascending order, with no future market. In the first round there will be one plant available for each player; in subsequent rounds in Steps 1 and 2 there will be always be one fewer plants available than the number of players. In Step 3 there will always be 4 plants available, regardless of the number of players. The power plants only refresh in the Bureaucracy phase and there's no difference between Step 1 and 2 except in the number of players who can connect to each city. To make matters worse, the map starts resource-poor (coal and oil start at 5, trash starts at 7, and there is no uranium at the start), and some of the more useful plants are eliminated.
We decided to play the China map, and Carrie consented to join us to make the game more interesting. It took some time to really understand the nuances of the map, but after a while we got the hang of it. Through careful bidding I succeeded in being able to connect and power more cities than either Carrie or Fuzz, but that meant that I was paying more for my resources. I balanced that out by being the only player with Trash plants. Fuzz focused on Nuclear and Wind plants, and Carrie carefully stayed at the back of the pack, hoarding coal and oil. Eventually I built up a lead on connected cities, but I misjudged the timing on a build-out and by the time we were in the mid-20s on plants I had connected 15 cities, Fuzz 14, and Carrie 13 ... leaving us unable to connect more cities while we waited for Step 3. One poorly executed bidding war later, I was left with the 30-plant ... and not enough money to fuel it -- oops. That mistake put me out of the running, and when Step 3 arrived, Carrie was able leverage her fuel monopoly and overtake Fuzz for the win.
The China map is the least random of all of the Power Grid variants ... and the most brutal. It will be interesting to play it again with 4 or 5 players. I'm also looking forward to playing the Korea map.