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Author Topic: Endgame Plants: When to buy them/getting them early (draft)  (Read 2095 times)

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AdamH

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Endgame Plants: When to buy them/getting them early (draft)
« on: April 03, 2013, 11:56:43 am »
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My first attempt at a strategy article. I'm not super-enthused about this title either, so suggestions are welcome.

This one seems long too, maybe I was too detailed. Perhaps if there are sections that can be removed or shortened without missing the point, you all can help me find them?

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I'll begin this article by defining what I mean by an "Endgame Plant." These are plants you don't intend to replace for the rest of the game. Generally any plant that powers five cities or more fits into this category, but depending on the number of players you can have more stuff that fits here, including plants that can only power four cities. A simplified version of this rule is that in a 4-player game, you need a plant that powers 5+ cities; in a 5-6 player game, 4+ cities will work, but you'd still rather have a 5+ plant.

The one exception is the 20 Plant (3 coal -> 5 cities). It's often accessible early, but if you buy it super-early, just be aware that more often than not its use over the whole game can cause a coal shortage at the end of the game, which means you might have to replace this one.

So how many power plants do you want to buy in a game of Power Grid? Ideally, as few as possible; best-case scenario is four. This is because at the end of the game you don't get anything back for plants that you've destroyed, which translates to cash. People who win Power Grid will almost always buy four or five plants over the course of the game, meaning that past your starting plant, you get one "mid-game plant" at most before you need to start thinking about endgame ones. This article focuses on the case where you are aiming to buy only four plants over the course of the game.

This kind of thing isn't always possible, since it requires a little bit of help from the power plant deck. If it's a 2-player game or you're on the China map, you can just forget about it.

There are two different situations here: it's either turn two or turn three; the analysis is different if you have two plants already. If it's turn three and you still only have your opening plant then one or more of these things might have happened:

1. I really hope your opening plant powered two cities. That's a much better place to sit than powering only one city for the first two turns of the game.
2. The board was expensive enough that you knew you weren't getting up to powering 3 cities on turn 2, so you decided to wait it out

What probably didn't happen is that you decided on turn 2 to gamble with the power plant market to put yourself in this situation when you could have gotten a midgame plant and powered three cities instead. I'm struggling to come up with a situation where this is a good gamble to make.

Buying an endgame plant on Turn 3 is a great move, but it's a common move, because you've been paid twice already and you have the money to support it better. This article wants to focus on buying an endgame plant on turn 2, where you're making a long-term strategic play, but sacrificing quite a bit to do so.

So here's the sitch: it's Turn 2 and you have the opportunity to buy a juicy endgame plant. This almost always means that if you buy that plant, you won't have enough money left over to build any cities, even if you get the plant at market price. In fact, in some cases, it's better to just use your opening plant again! If this is not the case, then one of these things might have happened:

1. Your opponents failed to bid you up on this plant to the point where this happens to you. They have nobody to blame but themselves (or each other, maybe)
2. You were the last person left to bid on a power plant and this gem just fell in front of you. You are very lucky and your opponents are probably saying dirty words to you. Smile.

Either way, you're sitting pretty. Enjoy your lead and don't look back.

For those of us who aren't as fortunate, you have a really difficult decision to make, and there are a lot of factors that weigh into it. You're sacrificing early income to skip buying a midgame plant that will eventually be replaced, so once you've decided if it's worth it or not to go for it, you'll want to minimize the damage and maximize the benefits. It's an aggressive play that can pay off if you navigate it well.

The Sacrifices:

You aren't getting paid much this turn, and early money is more important than late money. Your opponents are going to have a temporary tempo advantage on you. You're going to have less money for building cities, so if you're trying to contest a few key places to build, you've got an issue here. You can't let this make you fall behind even further because you can't afford to build cities or else you won't be able to recover.

If the connections are expensive to begin with, or you're only powering one city this turn, it's going to be difficult to build two cities next turn with the small amount you're getting paid if you already can't build one now. All of your income for the next few turns should be devoted to building cities, so make sure you don't leave yourself $1 short of your next city next turn or you'll be hurting even more. You'll probably be in last place for a few turns, so you'll be able to plan decently well. If you aren't doing two cities a turn until you need a new plant, you should reconsider this move.

The Benefits:

As mentioned before, you'll be low on cities so you'll have lots of benefits available to you. Make sure you use them! You won't be buying a plant soon so that one is already gone, and make sure you leave yourself enough money to pick a couple extra resources and continue to build, because when you move up in cities, you'll suffer in the turn order (you probably have the "best" plant out there). If your snazzy endgame plant is really efficient, make sure you realize you're throwing this advantage away as well, and make sure you capitalize on city building. Of note is the 30 Plant (3 garbage -> 6 cities), going first isn't going to make the garbage any cheaper as long as you're burning three each turn. Since you're behind in city building, that's where you'll need your advantage the most.

This is an aggressive strategy, which is more prone to working on cheaper/faster boards, so keep that in mind.

You also want to think about how you'll be positioned for a Step 2 Stall. Of course that's enough for a whole 'nother article. It's nice, though, to be positioned where you can either power five cities efficiently, or power six cities semi-efficiently. If thinking about this with your new endgame plant (plus your starter plant) makes you cringe, then either don't get the plant, or make sure your board position is such that you can prevent a Step 2 Stall.

This can be a high risk/high reward scenario, so if you set yourself up to succeed, you have a very good position for the endgame.
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theory

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Re: Endgame Plants: When to buy them/getting them early (draft)
« Reply #1 on: April 03, 2013, 01:37:32 pm »
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I think the title is fine.

Most of the time my problem comes from when the endgame plant shows up, people bid it super high, to the point where I'm like, no way!  And then nothing but crap plants come out for ages, meaning I'm stuck with bad plants over and over again and then I lose.

Is this:

A) I should know the deck better;
B) I should have bid the endgame plant higher;
C) All of the above?
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AdamH

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Re: Endgame Plants: When to buy them/getting them early (draft)
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2013, 11:31:03 am »
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In this case, you might chalk this up to bad luck: assuming they knew what they were doing, your opponent took a calculated risk here and it paid off big time.

You should make sure to bid up the plant to the point where you're spending all your money minus what it takes to power your existing cities this turn (if you've decided you want the plant yourself), but if they just have more cash this turn because they only built one city in Turn 1 and still managed to come back strongly from it, then there's nothing you could have done.
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Shiroiken

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Re: Endgame Plants: When to buy them/getting them early (draft)
« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2013, 05:12:48 pm »
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It is possible to overbuy your plants and lose that way. I've been in the situation where I was the last one left to buy a Power Plant, with NO intention of buying one, when the 30 drops in my lap. And I just bought the 25 last turn. I don't need it, but I can get it cheap, so I bail my plans for the round and get it. Congrats to me, I took 3rd place.

Why? Because I didn't expand. That turn, I sat on what I had. Then I started to expand, but Step 2 had opened up, and everyone built around me. My choices became quickly limited, and I struggled to keep up on the massive loss of tempo (I was behind about 3 cities on average in Step 2). I was only able to make 3rd because I never bought another plant (I never had the cash to build beyond 14 cities).

That's not to say you shouldn't pick up a super bargain plant, only that you should realize that changing your plans mid-turn can ruin your game if you are not careful. If you already have most of your Turn planned out, and it's good, then don't spend the money unless it's late in Step 2 and you need another Endgame plant (preferably your last).

On further consideration, I don't think this post was helpful at all  :-\
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AdamH

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Re: Endgame Plants: When to buy them/getting them early (draft)
« Reply #4 on: April 25, 2013, 09:26:07 am »
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On further consideration, I don't think this post was helpful at all  :-\

Not unhelpful, IMO: I suppose the main message is that sacrificing your ability to expand in order to buy an endgame plant is a calculated risk that is only worth it if the situation is right. That situation will not likely happen after Turn 3, and it will only be once per game.
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philosophyguy

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Re: Endgame Plants: When to buy them/getting them early (draft)
« Reply #5 on: June 04, 2013, 10:42:15 am »
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I've now played four or five games of Power Grid and plant buying is absolutely killing me. I'm playing three player, and it seems like getting 6 plants over the course of the game is incredibly hard.

What usually happens is that on the first turn I'll get a plant that powers 1 city. Then, I need a plant that powers two the next turn. Then there's a bunch of junk plants and finally something shows up that powers three whole cities, and since that doubles my capacity I need to get it. But now the resource costs from those first two plants are killing me and so I need to get something more efficient, but there's nothing that powers four or more plants and even the stuff powering three is bad, so I try for a really efficient two-city plant. At this point, I've bought four plants and I still don't have a single endgame plant.

How should I play differently? Do I just need to be comfortable with only powering three cities for a really long time?
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AdamH

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Re: Endgame Plants: When to buy them/getting them early (draft)
« Reply #6 on: June 04, 2013, 11:11:54 am »
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I've now played four or five games of Power Grid and plant buying is absolutely killing me. I'm playing three player, and it seems like getting 6 plants over the course of the game is incredibly hard.

What usually happens is that on the first turn I'll get a plant that powers 1 city. Then, I need a plant that powers two the next turn. Then there's a bunch of junk plants and finally something shows up that powers three whole cities, and since that doubles my capacity I need to get it. But now the resource costs from those first two plants are killing me and so I need to get something more efficient, but there's nothing that powers four or more plants and even the stuff powering three is bad, so I try for a really efficient two-city plant. At this point, I've bought four plants and I still don't have a single endgame plant.

How should I play differently? Do I just need to be comfortable with only powering three cities for a really long time?

I'll point out first that in 3-player games, more plants are removed so depending on what happens there, you may come across some more extreme situations. If good plants are removed from the game, you may be forced to buy 6 or more plants to compensate. Also, when there are less than 5 players your goal is 17 cities or more, which makes it nearly impossible to buy only 4 plants all game. 5 Plants is ideal here and 6 is a good healthy goal to set for yourself.

After your first two plant buys, you should make an effort to run those plants as little as possible, which is best accomplished by buying an endgame plant. You should hesitate a lot to buy another power plant unless you either plan to keep it the rest of the game or it "pays for itself" in efficiency (For example, buying the 18 Plant (nothing -> 2 cities) at cost lets me power two more cities without spending money on resources; in two turns I will have made that money back, and I also get an indirect advantage on board position here, so it's better than buying nothing). Even then, you should consider the possibility that if you are not last in the turn order, a better plant will drop after you are out of this round for other people to buy, and you don't even get a shot at it. Buying a power plant comes at a high cost, so you really don't want to do it.

I've seen people (OK, just Nick) sit on powering only one city for the first three turns of the game and still win, and even though we made fun of him for it, it was the best move. It wasn't a good move, but it was better than any other move he could have made, and nobody else was making good moves either; the plant market was just that bad.

By not expanding, you're sitting back in the turn order, which means you have the best access possible to the good plants. Buying an early 26 Plant (2 Oil -> 5 Cities) at cost with no competition from a lucky drop can be game-deciding (but usually the person who put you in this situation made a mistake to take that risk). If it's not to your benefit to expand, then it's not to anyone else's benefit to expand either, so you aren't falling behind too much.

The disadvantages to not expanding can be board position (which isn't always important at every moment) and not getting paid as much as everyone else. Just make sure that the plant you don't buy makes up for the money you don't make and it's easily worth it.

Does this help?
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philosophyguy

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Re: Endgame Plants: When to buy them/getting them early (draft)
« Reply #7 on: June 04, 2013, 01:02:47 pm »
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Thanks Adam, that does help.

So, do you often spend turns firing fewer plants than you could afford simply because the lower efficiency plants that you already have aren't worth it? What I've done is always expanded my city network and powered more cities, rather than having a higher efficiency plant powering the same cities that my two lower efficiency plants did the previous turn.
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AdamH

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Re: Endgame Plants: When to buy them/getting them early (draft)
« Reply #8 on: June 04, 2013, 01:09:16 pm »
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Yes. This is quite common in the case of the starting plants, especially when lack of expansion drives early resource costs up.

Whenever you buy your resources (and whenever you burn them to power your cities), look at how much they cost vs. how much you make by powering those cities. If you're spending more than you make, then don't buy/burn them. This is often the case with your starting plants: I can only afford to build up to 5 Cities this turn (if I buy all my resources), but after using my 29 Plant (1 Hybrid -> 4 Cities) I need to pay $14 to power my 08 Plant (3 Coal -> 2 Cities) while only getting paid $10 more for powering my fifth city. Save your money and lay back in the turn order so you can have the best shot at getting yourself that next juicy plant.

It's better to pay $70 one time for one plant you want rather than $30 two times for two plants you don't want. It's even better than paying $30 once for a plant you don't want and $40 later for a plant you did want, but it's too late for it to make a difference.
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