Why Australia is the Best Power Grid Map

Okay, I really like board games that 1) have a lot of expansions and 2) have solid play testing. Power Grid is such a game. It is a classic (is is fair to call a game from the early 2000s a classic?) game that holds up well to this day. It also has multiple expansion boards that represent different parts of the globe. Expansion board rules seem well play tested for clarity, balance, and excitement.

I own all of the expansion maps, and today I am going to tell you why the Australia map is my favorite…and why it should be yours too.

— the Australia Power Grid board. In this particular game of 4 players, we omitted the yellow, central region.

The Ability to Place a House Anywhere

In classic Power Grid, to expand your network you have to place new houses close to your already placed houses due to the connect costs. Because there is no single, connected network of cities on the Australia map, you can put a house anywhere by paying a 20-Point connection cost. This mechanism allows players to strategically jump across the board on Step 2, Step 3, or any other time in order to cut off opponent networks.

The Uranium Mines

In Australia there are no nuclear power plants. Those plants are instead uranium mines. Players don’t buy resources for the mines and the mines do not power cities.

— those are not nuclear power plants, they are uranium mines!

Instead, during the bureaucracy phase the mines make money by selling on the international uranium market. The mines do not count toward a player’s power plant limit, and a player can possess any number of mines. This is a great addition to the game as it allows for a separate way to generate money (Elektros).

— the international uranium market. Players receive Elektros equal to the first uncovered space multiplied by the production of their uranium mines. In the last two photos, this player would get 20 Elektros (market price of 4 times the 5 production of the two mines).

The Carbon Tax

When Step 3 begins, Australia imposes a Carbon Tax. All prices in the energy market go up by 2 Elektros. This makes energy costs quite expensive!

— the 9 and 10 cost spaces for when the Carbon Tax goes into effect.

The Carbon Tax slows down the final progression to the game end. By making energy costs higher, it makes it more expensive to operate non-ecological power plants. It also makes those uranium mines more valuable, as they are a cheap renewable source of Elektros if a player can’t add new cities on a given turn.

The Auctions are Different

With the uranium mines being very good to get early, and the Carbon Tax looming at Step 3, bidding for ecological power plants and mines is intense! At the same time, a shrewd player can grab an efficient coal, oil, or garbage plant if other players have run out of Elektros bidding on the mines and wind turbines.

The Overall Game Play

The overall impact of the rules is to create a truly new Power Grid experience. While the victory conditions remain the same (ie power the most cities) the route to winning seems to have multiple paths. Players can opt for a traditional coal/oil/garbage efficiency route, but they better be ready for that rough Carbon Tax. Players can also try to monopolize the uranium mines. This slows down placing houses because buying a mine means that you didn’t buy a power plant with that money, but it leads to plenty of cheap Elektros that can later in the game be plowed back into power plants. Also, with the game going longer for a few turns (mainly because of the Carbon Tax), those ecological plants pay off more than in a regular game of Power Grid. In our last game by the end, two players had almost 100% resource-free power production. When do you see that in a game of Power Grid?

–Games on the Australian map can be surprisingly close. Here is the end of our recent game. My brother and I both finished with 17 cities powered. But I had only 1 Elektro in my possession and he had 6. He won, I lost. It could hardly have been any closer. Note: I was black and he was red. Can you see how he jumped from Western Australia over to the east coast? Also note the high price for resources because of the Carbon Tax. Gotta love the Australian rules!

If you have played Power Grid, or even if you haven’t, I highly recommend that you get yourself a copy of The Australian map (the Indian sub-continent) is on the back. Trust me, you will be glad that you did.

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Heart of Crown – The Tale of An Epic Game

Today I am going to recount the game of Heart of Crown that we had last night. You don’t know what Heart of Crown is? It’s a deck building game from Japanime Games. It has more streamlined rules than Tanto Cuore but basically plays the game: play cards from your hand for their effects and to purchase more cards. The difference is that at some point you “Back a Princess” (in other words, choose one princess from among the bunch of them) and then race to get 20 Succession Points so that you can Coronate your Princess and win the game.

The scenario: Crown of Sin

We had just finished a game of Tanto Cuore (where I used the online card randomizer to select the cards) where I smoked the only 3 guys. Having some time before dinner, we decided to get in a game of Heart of Crown. I have both expansions (Far East Territory and Northern Enchantress) so there are literally gazillions of possible card combinations for the Market. Okay, okay….maybe not a gazillion, but at least a billion, but I digress. One of the nice things about the game is that the rulebooks have scenarios (pre-selected card combinations for the market) so all you have to do is agree on a scenario and get started.

So, I handed the rulebooks to Lee and let him pick the scenario. He chose Crown of Sin from the Northern Enchantress Expansion.

— The Crown of Sin Scenario Cards

Why is it a sin? Strife in the Court and Infantry Battalion force opponents to discard cards; Battering Ram forces opponents to discard a territory that they played into their Princess’ domain. Only the Rampart protects against these effects–but there are 15 attack cards and only 5 Ramparts. There are very few cards that help a player trim a deck: only Regional Official and each can only be used once.

The Game: Bigger Decks than Normal

The game started out as normal, we bought up cards that gave us more card draws and servings, then tried to purchase Cities and Large Cities. Quickly we found out that the attack cards forced everyone into sub-optimal turns where each player had only 4 cards (instead of 5) and had not enough coins to buy those 6-cost Large Cities or get a 6-cost Princess.We found our decks growing large, which made getting combinations into our hands harder then normal. Before we knew it, we were running out of market cards without anyone having a Princess yet. We were now trying desperately to create card-drawing combos to get 6 coins played on a single turn.Bob started off the cascade of grabbing Princesses (okay, I didn’t mean that to sound like something out of a Harvey Weinstein news report, sorry #MeToo). He picked up Second Princess Laolily and scooped up those valuable Royal Maids. My turn was pure crap, letting Stew go next, grabbing Princess General Flammaria and avoiding having to put a Farming Village into his domain (thus avoiding the -2 Succession Point hit). Lee grabbed South Sea Princess Klam-Klam. When the round finally got back to me, I gambled on First Princess Lulunasaika and her 6 Succession Point bonus, technically putting me into first place in the race to 20 points.— The 4 chosen Princesses in clockwise order of choice from top left

The End Game

So the race was on to get to 20 points. Quickly Bob got into the lead by finding and playing those 5 Royal Maids for 10 points, but he had a Farming Village in play (-2) so he was only ahead of me by 2 points (his 8 to my 6). Lee used his Famed Horses to churn through his deck and start snatching up Dukes and their serious 6 Succession Points. Stew had more Regional Officials than anybody else and used their power to banish cards from his hand to get Dukes from the Market and trim his deck.

Surprisingly, we ran out all the Royal Maids but nobody had won yet and the game was super duper close. I had 18 points, Bob had 18, and the other two guys were within 3 points.

Then quicker than you can say “What the…” Bob played two, yes two not one but two, Dwarven Jewelers after playing 4 other, non-similarly titles cards.

— the key card that led to the Bob explosion of Succession Points!

Bob flew over 21 points and Coronated his Princess. Now every other player got a last turn to try and get their own Princess coronated: if no one could, Bob wins, but if someone else got to 20+ points, the game would go into Overtime!

My turn was next. I used card-drawing combos to churn through my deck in the hopes of getting my last remaining Duke. But I was not “top decking like a pro” (it’s a Magic the Gathering reference for those who never played that game–trust me it’s better that you didn’t, those who played it spent a fortune on those brightly colored pieces of flimsy cardboard, but I digress again), didn’t find my Duke, and was out of the game as a big loser.

Stew went next, and despite the success he had top-decking like a pro in MtG Pro qualifiers back in the day (I won’t tell you how long ago it was–the only hint is Queen Mary) he couldn’t find any Succession points and he lost too.

Lee had more luck. His card churning engine got him a bundle of points and brought his total up to 24! Overtime was on baby! The first player to 30 would win automatically. Bob got a few more points but Lee got really close (I don’t remember exactly whether he had 27, 28, or 29 points) and it looked like he would win. But Bob once again pulled out a 2x Dwarven Jeweler combo for +4 points and got to 30 first, claiming victory!

One Heck of a Game

I have been playing board games for 4+ decades, starting with the old school Avalon Hill and SPI, and now pretty much everything that I can find. I have some strong opinions about which games I like. Heart of Crown is just plain excellent! It is fun, balanced, and quite competitive. This particular session was one of the most enjoyable that I have had in a long time. I recommend anyone who doesn’t know about Heart of Crown to get a copy and give it a try.

State of Decay 2 – Five Tips To Enhance the Zombie-Slicing Fun

State of Decay 2 has finally launched for Xbox One. I was a big fan of the original game and spent hundreds of hours playing it. I also can faithfully say that I love the sequel. So without any further ado, here are my 5 tips on how to get the best possible gameplay experience.

Note: all photos courtesy of my iPad camera and my tv. Deal with it!

1 – That vehicle has a trunk

In the original SoD Undead Labs added carrying capacity (aka a trunk) to vehicles through some DLC. SoD2 has it right from the start. Vehicles that you are driving around have carrying capacity and broken down vehicles also have can be holding stuff. A vehicle trunk effectively doubles your character’s ability to collect and transport items. So next time you go scavenging don’t forget that I told you to put junk in the trunk!

My truck’s trunk with one rucksack in it. Just walk to the back of the truck and hit Y to interact with the trunk.

2 – Remember what Col. Kurtz said, “Never get out of the boat–unless you are going all the way!”

Darn straight. Your vehicle is both your protection against the zeds and a battering ram. Never, I repeat never get out of your car! I don’t care how much road rage you have, stay in the car! Trust me, you will live longer.

A picture of my truck after I rammed two, yes two, hordes.  Do you see me lying dead on the ground?  Nope, because I stayed in the truck.

A pic of my truck after I ran down two hordes. Do you see me lying dead on the ground? Darn straight you don’t! I stayed in the truck.

3 – Rucks jump from trucks!

Do you know what those parking spots are for at your base? So that you can unload stuff to your supply directly from your trunk. Don’t know what a trunk is? See tip #1.

Did you miss in the pic from tip #1 that on the bottom right it says RT to “transfer to base.” Now you know why you are looking at the same pic because most gamers have not yet noticed that tiny message! So go ahead and hit that right trigger and fire those supplies directly to your supply! No need to run back and forth!

4 – Outposts are for key utility service

In SoD1 you needed outposts to protect your base and provide basic stuff like food. Not this time as you can collect plenty of resources and those zeds walk right up to your base no matter how many outposts ring it. So instead use your outposts to provide utilities like water and electricity to your base! Trust me you will like the game more when your base lights are always on!

You better believe that I just made that water tower an outpost! It provides water for my garden and kitchen AND a morale boost! Much better than 1 extra food a day. And my yellow circle is highlighting the power station that I nabbed as my next outpost.

5 – Your radio is your best friend

I don’t know about you, but I can rack up some serious influence. So what is a guy to do with all that influence? Get on the radio! Use your radio to find resources, survivors, and other stuff. Heck, I bought the prepper’s pack so for a measly 200 influence I get a shiny new yellow truck dropped off at my feet any time I want! If you grab a military outpost you can even call in an artillery barrage. Ba-boom!

Use your radio early and often if you want to stay alive in style!

Special bonus tip #6

Use the co-op function to get your buddy in your game (or join his/her game). A real human to whom you are talking on a headset and is watching your back can make a big difference. And for real kicks bring in up to 3 friends, grab some trucks, and start a convoy of destruction (see tip #2) that surely will get rid of every zed in the city!

Okay, now go out there and chop up those zombies!

4 Things I Learned from 3 Games of Scythe

You would have to been living under a rock the last couple of years to somehow not have heard of Scythe. It has been getting rave reviews, the art is spectacular, and it seems like everyone has played it at least once. Yet, the high cost of the game ($90+) might have deterred you from buying it. I put it on my Amazon wishlist and it cycled thru my birthday and Christmas before my brother bought it for me (Thank you Stew!).

Having now played Scythe 3 times (all 4-player games), I certainly agree that it’s a great game. One of the aspects that makes it so good, is that it is a “deep” game: there are multiple layers of strategy that are not so obvious initially.

Thus without any further ado, here are the 4 things that I learned from playing 3 games. For the sake of disclosure, I won the 1st game with Saxony, was 2nd with Togawa (from the Invaders from Afar expansion) in the 2nd game, and a distant 3rd with Nordic in the last game.

1–Getting All the Stars is Not How You Win

Getting all your stars (i.e. achievements) down ends the game, but this should not be confused with how you win the game. A player wins by having the most coins, not by having the most stars. In fact, in the 2nd game I got the dubious distinction of placing my 6th star on the Triumph Track, but still I lost the game. At the end of the game coins are counted as 1) coins in hand, 2) stars placed, 3) territories controlled, 4) resources controlled, and 5) structure bonuses. So always pay attention to your opponents’ popularity and how many coins they will get in each of these categories.

2–Some Strategies Seem Good but Fail by the End of the Game

Oh man, nothing worse than thinking you are doing something right and finding out by the end of the game that you were wrong. For instance, in the third game I decided early to rush to the Factory, grab a good card, and then try to generate resources, place mechs to defend workers, and rush to the end of the game. I thought I did not have the ability to attack opponents, so I chose peace as the best way to pursue this strategy. This seemed good early…but failed in the long run. Other players gained more territory than I did, occupied the Factory at the end, beat me to encounters, and piggy-backed off my turns through Recruit Ongoing Bonuses. My initial advantage evaporated.

3–You Need to Fight like You are Voting in Chicago: Early and Often

I won with Saxony by beating up one of my weak neighbors and launching a couple of assaults on my stronger neighbor. Similar to games like Eclipse, if you attack early you can really set back your opponents…even if you lose the battle. Of note is that losing a battle provides for a free relocation of Character or Mech(s) back to your home space. All those Power points are not worth anything if you don’t use them…so get out there and smack around your opponents.

4–I Am Only Beginning to See How Many Different Ways There are to Win

After 3 games, we have had 3 different players win, three different factions win, and 3 different ways the game was won (Saxony violence, more popularity than other players, and more territorial control). I think we are only scratching the surface of the possible ways to reach victory. Much like our early assumption that Riverwalk is mandatory to get early (it’s not, but that could be another blog post), I am going to bet that there are many more lessons still to be learned.—————————-Scythe is an excellent, and fun, game. I look forward to discovering many more aspects of the game as I get a chance to play it more.

In Case You Missed It: The Star on the Shore for Call of Cthulhu


In Case You Missed It: A New Continuing Series Highlighting Game Products that May Have Sailed Under your Radar


Do you like going insane in the membrane? Do you like reading dark tomes of Forbidden knowledge only to lose your mind from the evil secrets held within? Is your idea of a good time looking down the slimy tentacles of some two-story tall unspeakable horror while you are armed only with a pocketknife and a lantern?

If so, Call of Cthulhu RPG is for you! But, I am sure you already have heard of the excellent RPG by Chaosium. And unless you live under a rock, you are aware that enough paper and pdf supplements are published to support Call of Cthulhu every year to sink the island nation of Iceland. And a good deal of these adventures are quite good…as are a lot of the old adventures from decades past, but how do you discover a gem in all this rough?

The Star on the Shore: Struggles Against Evil in 1920s New England

Well, one adventure published in 2017 stands out from the rest. Author Ben Burns created The Star on the Shore for Dark Cult Games (the publisher is now New Comet Games). The 95-page adventure stands out for the following reasons:

1-Massive Sandbox Setting

The adventure details the events in Rockport, Massachusetts and its surrounding environs. There are 39 separate locations (all stocked with NPCs) in Rockport plus dozens of other locations scattered around (and maybe I shouldn’t give it away, but also under Rockport) for the players to explore. This adventure is big with a capital B-I-G.

2-Detailed Plot Line with Reference Material for the Gamekeeper

The book includes a large reference section detailing the plot events, all the inclinations of the NPCs, The spells, locations of key NPCs, and possible final scenarios. There are the usual stat blocks for NPCs, monsters, etc as well. In short, Star on the Shore doesn’t just tell a story, it provides the numbers, names, information, and material that the gamekeeper will need to run a smooth adventure. And I am barely scratching the surface of how much stuff is in this book.

3-Gorgeous Maps and Handouts

Call of Cthulhu is always best when the players can visualize the setting. Well, set your peepers on this gorgeous map! Did I say it is a two-page tear out too! I didn’t? Well, I just did! Oh, and the gamekeeper has a labeled version of this map (albeit a smaller map).

–now that is a cool map!

And how about these handouts?

–photocopy, cut out, and terrorize the players with the knowledge of the horrors that lurk around them!

4-The Adventure is Top-Notch

Now this is going to be difficult to explain, so I will do my best. The sandbox feel of Rockport allows the players to roam around where they want and set the pace as they please. However…in the background Ben Burns has given the gamekeeper a timeline of events. And these events move day by day! As the players waste time smoking and joking with the locals, the evil plot (of the locals maybe?!?) keeps moving! Thus, the gamekeeper knows what is going on and can use this knowledge to build the tension.

5-Color Coded NPCs

Okay, I can’t take a photo of this because it might ruin the adventure for those who haven’t experienced it yet, but I am going to make this simple: each block of NPC stats has a background of either green, orange, or red. I think we all can figure out what those colors mean…but only the gamekeeper gets to see them, mwah ha ha!

6-This Adventure Takes Time to Complete

It took my group 4 game sessions of about 2 1/2 hours each to finish The Star on the Shore. And everybody loved it! If you like long-ish Call of Cthulhu adventures, this adventure is for you. Did I also say there is a side-adventure included too? Well, there is!


–does this artwork on the back cover give you a clue about the unspeakable events happening in Rockport? Does this scene actually happen in the adventure? You will have to buy it to find out!So, run don’t walk, to your local game store or the internet, and buy yourself a copy of The Star on the Shore. You might lose your sanity and your limbs, but you won’t be disappointed.

Have fun and good luck on those sanity rolls…you are going to need it.