Full disclosure: A review copy of Power On was provided by Taiwan Boardgame Design.
Another Taiwanese title! I’m powering through a few; Dadaocheng and Formosa Flowers are both in my scope and I’ll hopefully be able to get through those before the end of the month. There are so many good games coming out of Taiwan that I struggle to play even the ones I’ve been sent (there are just … lots). But that’s more that I can talk about with y’all, so, let’s talk about Power On! and see what’s up with this game!
In Power On!, players take on city power grid development, and no, not that power grid. Your goal is to provide power to your cities as best as you can, while factoring in your impact on the environment. If you’re not careful, you may have an actually physically deleterious effect on yourself, your coplayers, and the world around you. Gotta watch out for those coal plants. Will you take the high road and work to bring about a green revolution? Or will you stick with nonrenewables no matter what it does to the environment?
This is pretty straightforward, which is nice. First, if you’re not playing with four players, remove all the cards with a four-player symbol on them from the game. That should be some City Cards and some Action Cards.
Either way, shuffle the City Cards and flip three face-up:
Then, shuffle the Action Cards:
Deal each player 5, discard 10, and reveal six face-up to form the supply. Set the Action Tokens nearby:
And the Carbon Tokens should be placed nearby, as well:
Choose a player to start!
Weirdly enough, like Stellar, this is a pretty simple game. Your goal is to power cities by playing cards, similar to Hatsuden, but a little bit more physical; should you enlist the aid of nonrenewable resources, you must pay a carbon penalty by building a physical tower of carbon tokens to represent that. Everyone builds the same tower. Powering cities is worth points, and the player with the most points wins!
On your turn, you have three action points; you may spend them on any of the three actions listed below in any combination:
Draw an Action Card
You may take any one of the six face-up action cards. You may only hold up to 8 cards at a time, however.
Play an Action Card
You may play any action card from your hand for one action point. If you play an Event, it’s discarded and its effect is resolved. If you play a Plant, it’s placed face-up in front of you.
Power a Nonrenewable Plant Type
Your green Plants are always active. Solar and Wind are powered equal to the number on the back of the card on top of the deck (0 – 2). Hydroelectric consistently generates 1. That’s a lot! But it might not be enough.
To augment that, you may make use of other, nonrenewable plants. This requires using an action to power all plants of one type (coal, natural gas, or uranium) and providing fuel. Each plant may only be powered once per turn, and each requires its own specific fuel resource:
- Coal: Any one action card per plant.
- Natural Gas: One gas resource card or any two action cards per plant.
- Uranium: One Uranium resource card and either another Uranium resource card or any two action cards per plant. The first one is for waste disposal.
For the non-uranium plants, this generates carbon (4 for each coal plant and 2 for each natural gas plant). To pay that penalty, you must stack carbon tokens onto the current carbon tower one at a time. If one doesn’t currently exist, feel free to set one up anywhere on the table you want. You may also stack the pieces in whatever orientation you want.
If you drop a piece or knock the tower over, your turn ends and the carbon tower is taken down. When that happens, you lose your next turn and every other player discards a card. You generate no energy on your turn. Try to avoid doing that, as you might guess.
End of Turn
At the end of your turn, first check your energy output. If it meets or exceeds the value printed on a City Card, you may claim it. You may claim multiple City Cards provided their total energy cost is met or exceeded by your city’s total energy output for that turn.
Either way, refill the supply to 6 cards and let the next player take their turn.
End of Game
Once there are fewer than 3 City Cards left in the game (the third is taken, leaving only two or fewer), the game immediately ends. Count the stars on your City Cards; the player with the most wins!
Player Count Differences
Not many, though players will be competing for a finite resource (renewable energy plants). There aren’t really enough for everyone, so you’re best off if you take them as soon as they show up. If you can’t do that, well, nonrenewables are going to get harder to use as the player count increases and more polluters make themselves known. It might be worth it to be among the first major polluters. Effectively, what you do in that case is pollute a bunch and make it difficult for other players to pollute without causing a massive crash. I’m told that’s being a policy leader. At two, there are just a lot more cards in play, so you’re not going to be able to tighten up on one player as easily (since the split will be a bit more even). I wouldn’t say I have a strong preference, though; the fact that the City cards are limited and they cause the game to end is usually a nice scaling proposition. The game doesn’t take much longer with more players, as a result; scores just tend to be lower.
- I highly recommend taking carbon penalties before anyone else gets a chance to do so. If you do that, you can basically snake out an easy placement before other players do! That’s usually one free City card if you’re playing your cards right. Then, they have to deal with the problem! Just don’t go too deep and fail to notice that they are gathering energy using other means; you don’t want the only polluting player to be you.
- Do not let the carbon tower fall on your turn. That’s pretty much a game-ender. You’ll get nothing this turn and lose your next turn. Your opponents will be able to score a lot in those two turns while you sit on your hands. Place carefully or exercise restraint.
- Jump on those Hydroelectric power cards. They’re just a free 1 Energy every turn. That can be useful for bumping you up to the next point tier for City cards, especially if players keep going after the cheap ones.
- Using Event Cards to make your Wind and Solar power cards more useful is a very wise move. I primarily mean using certain cards to sift the deck so that you have a more favorable number on the top of it. If you can get a 2 up there and you have some wind and solar? You’re in great shape. Just make sure you don’t use that card hastily and lose power.
- Ultimately, even if you don’t want them, you should grab some renewable energy sources if for nothing more than not letting one person get them all. They’re extremely good in the right hands. If you have 5+ of them, you can generate 10+ energy without lifting a finger if you have the right cards! That’s a lot of power. Usually enough to guarantee a City card and potentially then some, if you do choose to pollute.
- Feel free to put the carbon tower in an inconvenient spot or do weird things with the stacking. Your goal is to make it easier for you and much harder for everyone else. You don’t want them to be able to play without knocking it over. Feel free to pivot the tokens or make the tower segmented so that it leans slightly. It’s nefarious but effective.
- If you’re worried the carbon tower might fall, might as well burn the cards in your hand. You don’t want to be forced to lose something good, so either get to 0 cards or get some fodder in your hand. Think of it like a corporation getting a slap on the wrist fine.
- Nuclear power is awesome, but very expensive. It generates 6 energy! But at the cost of a lot of cards. It’s a very good augment for renewables, if you need them to be augmented.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I’m pretty much ideologically in favor of anything mashed up with a dexterity game. This one’s an economic tableau-building game with press-your-luck elements mashed up with a dexterity game? Sold. I feel like you’d have to go pretty deep into the dry Euro space before I started to get uncomfortable and even then I’d be willing to try it if it were mixed with a dexterity game.
- Really great theme. I’m all for games that are a bit environmentally conscious, especially lately. It’s good to help people understand the impact of where electricity comes from.
- Watching a player stack the carbon tower is nervewracking. I love it. The fact that you can be as weird as you want when you stack is even better. Just make sure you play on a secure table!
- I love that the cheap option has such a hefty penalty associated with it. It lets you take the cheap route if you have the dexterity to manage it, but, jeez that’s a lot of penalties if you’re deciding to do that. You can be an aggressive polluter and just make pollution non-viable for the rest of the game! I did that once. It was great. For me.
- Lots of ways to win. Do you go pollution, green, nuclear, or some combination? You have to do some work if you want to generate the right amount of energy and you need the dexterity to match.
- Very portable. I had it in my Quiver for some time. Maybe a couple months? I remember having it at BGG (unnecessarily, given that BGG had several copies and I played one of theirs). Great fun.
- Very colorful, too! I really like the yellow box! I mentioned the same thing for Hashi de Cubes; some mild irony that the only two bright yellow boxes I’ve really seen outside of HABA happen to be in the same week. And Oink, I suppose, but they do every color boxes.
- I’ve played games where you need to pass some token or card to keep track of actions before. We always forget to do it. It’s not something I particular care for or like, but if you find it helpful then I’m glad it’s in there. I think it’s because there aren’t really states that you can easily track like you can in other action point allowance games.
- The text on the cards is a bit small. It could be a bit larger. It’s not hard to read, but it is rather tiny.
- Game’s got a bit of a “rich get richer” issue. If you’ve already got a good energy-generating apparatus (especially green power), you can focus on taking resources other players need to create their infrastructure. It’s unfortunately kind of on-the-nose, but it makes the game feel a bit unfortunate, especially if you never get access to green energy.
- Forcing a player to skip their next turn is pretty brutal. I really don’t like it, honestly! I think it pretty much always knocks them out of the game. I’d much rather just see their turn end or they have to discard a few cards, but that’s two straight scoring turns with no points, and that’s never going to end well in an otherwise-tight game.
- You can get dealt a pretty strong hand if your luck is good. Starting with a few green energy plants should be enough to keep you at the head of the pack; even more so if the back of the deck has a 2 on it.
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, it’s got some bumpy bits, but I think Power On! is a lot of fun! I think it’s best played at a brisk clip, though, since the luck elements are going to be pretty noticeable if you stick around in the game for too long. Plus, dexterity games and analysis paralysis are a risky combination, I think. Thankfully, turns are short and carbon stacks are tall in this smart little game. I think it’s nice that there are a lot of games coming out that take tougher looks at the environmental impact of certain decisions and lifestyles (this and Ocean Crisis come to mind immediately [along with Frontline Defence, but that doesn’t totally count] as games to recommend). I want games to explore those areas and challenge us to make better choices. I think it’s interesting. And, unless your stacking skills are top-notch, I think Power On does that. It does a great job of showing what a losing game playing catch-up on polluters is with other players, and highlighting how unfair it can be when a player has a head start on generating that pollution. Best of all, it does so by highlighting its best mechanic: building a giant carbon tower. I don’t love that you lose your next turn if you knock it over, but I assume that was put in place to strongly disincentivize players doing so intentionally, which might have been a problem otherwise. Either way, I think it’s got a pretty clear message, but it presents it as a challenge. And that’s cool! If you’re interested in it, I’d recommend checking Power On! out!