Neanderthals, cavemen, early humans. Regardless of what you want to call them, I was immediately impressed with this designers ability to think outside of the typical theme box. Power Grid: The First Sparks, is a brand new Friedemann Friese title. For those who might be a little bit newer to the Euro-game market place, Friedeman Friese is a rock star among board game designers. He has designed such games as “Mega Star”, “Black Friday”, “Power Grid: Factory Manager”, and of course “Power Grid”. His games are always thought provoking resources management games that are delicately balanced to keep the games close and cut throat. He is a favorite in my house.
However, I have begun to see an annoying trend: “Power Grid”, “Power Grid: Factory Manager”, and now “Power Grid: The First Sparks”. All three games have the “Power Grid” title slapped onto it, but only one of them is truly “Power Grid”. The other two seemed to be piggy-backing on the first ones good name. I find this kind of marketing to be irritating to say the least. I found that at least “The First Sparks” had a decent excuse for doing so.
|Artist||Fréderic Bertrand, Lars-Arne "Maura" Kalusky, Maren Rache|
|Publisher||2F-Spiele, 999 Games, Albi, Edge Entertainment, Filosofia Éditions, Rio Grande Games|
|# of Players||2 - 6|
|Mfg Suggested Ages||12 and up|
|Category||Animals, Economic, Prehistoric|
|Mechanic||Area Movement, Card Drafting, Modular Board, Route/Network Building|
|Expansion||Power Grid: Oracle & Industrial Espionage|
|Alternate Names||Alta Tensión: Las Primeras Chispas, Funkenschlag: Die ersten Funken, Hoogspanning: De eerste vonken, Mégawatts: Les Premières Étincelles, Pravek|
The German name of the game “Power Grid” is “Funkenschlag” , which apparently translates into “First Sparks” (or at least that is what the forward by the Mr. Friese says. According to Bable Fish, the word Funkenschlag translates into “Spark Impact”). This got him thinking about cavemen creating the first sparks with flint stones, and this caveman themed game was born. Friedemann made the mechanics of this game closely mirror the mechanics in Power Grid, but a little more stream lined for a shorter play time, and released this new game to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the release of it’s predecessor.
That being said, I’m very glad that I am very familiar with how to play Power Grid before I sat down to the rules for First Sparks. The instructions really were not very good, leaving me to reread sections a couple times before comprehending what the author was trying to get across. Ultimately, if I hadn’t known how to play Power Grid, and thus couldn’t draw upon parallels, I think I would have been up a creek. Furthermore, the editor of the rules needs a slap on the wrist because we found multiple typos in the instructions. Typos happen, but in a published game I expect a little more polish.
Each of the turn phases in First Sparks closely relates to similar phase in Power Grid. At the start of the turn, players take turns offering up and purchasing tools and knowledge from a present and future market. This is almost an exact copy of what Friese did in Power Grid with the power plants. The main difference is that bidding has been eliminated. Previously a player would offer up a power grid with an opening bid and then bidding would go around the table until a clear winner was determined. That winner would pay the price and gain the plant. However, now players offer up a tool or knowledge and beginning with the player in last place and progressing up the ladder, each player is given the opportunity to buy that tool or knowledge for a set price. No back and forth bidding. This made this phase go much much faster, and also forced players into a slightly different mindset.
The second phase in Power Grid was to buy resources. Tools and Knowledge don’t require resource, and instead this step was swapped out for hunting and gathering. If you have people next to appropriate hunting areas, and you have a tool that can be used in that area, than you gather a certain number of goods from that area based upon how many items are there. For example if you have a person next to an area of Bears, and you have a bow that lets you hunt bears, you see how many bears are in the pool of bears and receive a given number of bears accordingly.
The third phase in Power Grid is to expand to new cities, similarly in this spin off you expand your tribe into new hunting territories. Just like the end game condition of having a given number of cities, the new end game condition is to have 13 tribe members. While Power Grid deals with fuel and money, everything in First Spark is done with food. Food is the ultimate currency that pays for expansion, feeding members, and buying new tools and knowledge.
The last phase is the same in both games: Bureaucracy. Refill the food just like you would refill the resources, burn off the high card and place it under the Step 3/Shuffle card. The only thing you don’t do is get money, because all currency is food and you get food when you hunt. Otherwise this step is an exact duplicate of what you do in Power Grid.
Besides the poorly written instructions the only other downfall I really see is the price, and really that is relative. The game’s MSRP is $44.95, which in this economy seems high for most families looking for a new game. Over our Christmas stint at the Washington Square Mall, most families promptly set back on the shelf anything running over $30. However, you do get a good amount of bang for your buck. The game is made of quality components: lots of custom cut wooden pieces, nicely illustrated cards, and custom board pieces that are made of a thick cardboard and don’t seem prone to warping. So really, this downfall is a two edged sword: you get what you pay for.
So what did I think? Overall we really liked it. The game played very similar to Power Grid but played in almost half of the time. The games took an hour or less, and thus was much more manageable. While the game was shorter on time, it wasn’t shorter on quality mechanics. Each game was remarkably close, required slews of strategy, and was very enjoyable. I also think that the customization of the board and the randomness of the technologies and knowledge give this game enough replay-ability to be enjoyable for many more games to come. Overall, this is a good buy in my book.