Monday, February 15, 2016

Quick Review - Game of Energy - Kickstarter Preview

Game of Energy
Designer: Nathan Wright
Publisher: Nimex Games
Quick Review - Game of Energy - Kickstarter Preview

Over the past few months I've been watching a game grow and evolve on a few of the game design groups I'm a member of on Facebook.  I even helped with input on the design of the game board and some other components.  I watched the artwork go from good to great with a lot of input from myself and a number of other people.  It was really a pretty cool experience.  So when designer Nathan Wright asked if I would review Game of Energy before its Kickstarter campaign (which launches on February 16 July 26), I jumped at the chance!  I was super excited to have the chance to play the game that I had watched grow up.  I knew the artwork was great, and now was my chance to see if the gameplay matched it.

Game of Energy is a very thematic, medium weight tile laying, economic, Euro style game for 1-4 players ages 14+ (although I think 10+ could handle it fine) and plays in about 45-60 minutes.  The game is $45, plus shipping.  In addition to getting more information on the Kickstarter Page, you can actually try the game out on Tabletop Simulator!

UPDATE: Game of Energy is available again on Kickstarter!  Through August 30, 2016 you can get a copy for $49!  Be sure to check it out now, it's a great game!

Initial Impressions
When Game of Energy arrived for me to review the first thing that struck me was the quality and care that went into making this prototype.  The components are far from top notch quality, but this is a prototype and for a prototype the quality is outstanding.  I've received games without any packaging, games that have had hand cut components, home made game boards, etc. all  before, and Game of Energy was no exception.  But what set it apart was the incredible attention to detail and care that went into making this prototype.  Aside from having incredible artwork and very nice, prototype components, everything was sorted and individually bagged and labeled.  The whole game arrived packed in a big plastic scrapbooking storage case with more bubble wrap and packing peanuts keeping everything protected than what I often get from Amazon shipments.  The game even included an awesome 3D printed card holder that allows you to slide cards to the bottom of the draw deck instead of just picking up the deck and placing your card at the bottom.  This is a game that was made and crafted with love and pride and the amount of care that went into creating the prototype is a great indicator that the final product will likely be cared about just as much.
Game of Energy is chock full of beautiful components.
Presentation, artwork, details, that's all great. but what's really important is how well the game plays.  So I pulled out the game and set it up.  I read through the rules, which, although they were a rough draft that definitely needs cleanup, were simple enough to understand.  There was mention of a solo variant in the rules, so I gave that a try just to make sure I understood the mechanics before playing with a group.  The mechanics were very simple and the game was super easy to learn and understand.  Almost too simple.  The solo variant was almost completely random and there was no real choice at all.  I felt like the game played itself, but I got the mechanics and was ready to play with other opponents, especially since the designer said the solo variant was still in very, very early stages and really didn't reflect the multiplayer experience at all.  So I was a bit worried when I pulled it out for friends that it would be too simple, but was excited to try it out, and the awesome artwork and presentation made it easy to get others interested in trying the game.  It took me about five minutes to explain and then we were off.
The prototype is printed on corrugated plastic,
but the final game will be an actual game board.
Gameplay Overview

In Game of Energy each player represents an industrialist that is competing for a huge contract from the United Nations to provide energy to the world.  They must balance the production of energy with environmental friendliness.  Energy Credits are the currency used in the game (and are good playing card stock, not flimsy paper) and are spent to Permit (build) various types of power plants (solar, wind, hydroelectric, biofuel, fossil fuel, and nuclear) in one of four different territory types on the board; Flatlands, Mountains, Shoreline, and Tundra.  Players earn more Energy Credits for permitting green energy industries, like wind and solar, but dirty energy industries, like fossil fuels and nuclear cost more, take up more space, and produce a lot more energy, measured in Terawatt Hours (TWh), which are the points in the game.  So the game becomes a balancing act between earning enough Energy Credits to permit power plants and permitting power plants that provide more energy.  And to top it all off, every time you build a power plant you need to place a tile onto the game board in one of the terrain types.  Space is limited, and so is the number of each industry available, so eventually there isn't room to build those big fossil fuel plants and then players are also competing to get those smaller, greener plants built before space, and tiles run out.
Every turn has interesting decisions to make as
the game grows and evolves.
This makes for some very interesting decisions, despite much of the gameplay being driven by the roll of a die and the draw of Grid cards.  Each turn begins with a player drawing a Grid Card, which may have a benefit on it (like a Fact card that give you ten credits, plus has an educational fact about the energy industry), or a way to hinder your opponents (e.g. maintenance costs, etc.) or a natural disaster that may affect everyone.  Players get to choose when to play these Grid cards and can keep them until they are most effective, but players can only have two in their hand at the end of their turn.  But Grid Cards cannot be discarded; they have to be played.  This means that eventually those bad cards are going to get played whether you like it or not.  So, while the drawing of cards is random, the decision to play them isn't, but the mechanic results in some cards getting played every round.

Once a player has drawn their Grid Card they then earn any Energy Credits they have coming.  This value will be lower at the beginning of the game, but will increase as the game progresses and players have more power plants earning them credits, a nice engine building aspect of the game.  It is possible to have debt that has to be repaid (because of calamities caused by the Grid Cards), but the rest can be used to Permit industries.  But industries cannot be Permitted just anywhere.  A custom die is rolled and it will indicate which of the four Territory types industries can be Permitted in this turn.  Then the player spends credits and adds the appropriate tiles to one of the Territories that match the die.  But there are four territory types and six sides to the die.  The other two sides indicate an Investment, which is a small deck of 10 Investment cards, 6 good and 4 bad investments.  If a player rolls an Investment they may choose any one of the Investment cards and then earn or pay the credits indicated.  Then they may Permit industries in any Territory type of their choosing.  So it's a gamble, but the payoff could be pretty good.  Alternately, a player can choose to end their turn any time after rolling the die, but before Permitting any industries and take another Grid Card.  Then the final step of a player's turn is to play Grid Cards so that they only have two left in their hand.
As the game progresses, Territories fill
up, making placement an interesting challenge
And puzzle.
That's pretty much it!  The game is simple.  At the end of each turn players adjust tokens on a track that indicates how much TWh of energy they are producing and how much the are earning in Energy Credits.  The game can be played either for a specific number of rounds (6 or 8 is good) or until one player is producing a certain amount of energy (3000 TWh is good).  There are also Captains of Industry cards that are passed out at the beginning of the game that give each player a unique ability, just to add some additional variability to the game.
In the end it's the player that produces the most TWh that wins.
Final Thoughts

The four player game we played was great!  There was a lot of player interaction, the decisions were important, and having four players on the board really tightened things up.  So yes, I was very happy with how well the game played with four players.  There were a few balance issues with some of the Grid Cards and Captains of Industry, but I've been in touch with the designer and all of that is being worked on still.  They weren't huge issues and the ideas that Nathan is working on sound great.  I also gave him a few suggestions for some adjustments to how different industries earn energy credits and those are also going to be tested out.  Another big change between the game I played and the final version will be for games with fewer player counts.  Rather than the entire board being used for all player counts, there will be a few areas that will have alternate borders to make the playable area smaller and tighter, creating more tension with the placement of power plants with fewer players.  A much better solo variant is also being tested out and will hopefully make it into the final game rules, or possibly as a future expansion, but I feel confident that a solo variant is very doable with Game of Energy.  Right now Game of Energy is a good game, but I think it'll be a GREAT game by the time it is ready for production.

Overall I am very happy with Game of Energy.  Especially after hearing about the additional improvements to both gameplay and components that are still being worked on, I think Game of Energy will be a wonderful gateway game.  The rules are easy and straightforward, the theme is very accessible, the artwork is absolutely gorgeous, has multiple layers of strategy and depth, is somewhat educational, and most of all it was a ton of fun to play!  I can't wait for Game of Energy to hit Kickstarter and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great, medium weight game that is good for families, casual gamers, and the occasional hard core gamer.  This is a winner that should please just about everyone that has the opportunity to play!

Look for Game of Energy on Kickstarter starting February 16th July 26th!

UPDATE: Game of Energy is available again on Kickstarter!  Through August 30, 2016 you can get a copy for $49!  Be sure to check it out now, it's a great game!

Preliminary Rating: 8/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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