Six ways to show your family the amazing (and bureaucratic) energy industry.
by Ben Kellison and Brady Pierce
December 22, 2017
You’re heading home for the holidays and need a way to keep conversation focused on the the congenial things in life -- like the global energy transformation.
What better way to trick your family into talking about the nuances of grid investment than with a game?
With the board game revolution well underway, there are now plenty of options that focus on energy. There are also a few notable apps. Whether you want to be an inventor in the heyday of electrification or a captain of industry trying to navigate a near-future global energy crisis, there is a game for you.
GTM’s Parlor Games and Entertainment (PG&E) Department put together a list of the top games to help make electricity a part of your holiday season.
1. Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents
If you want a quick history lesson alongside your board game, Tesla vs. Edison is a perfect choice. Expertly incorporating many of the historical figures from the electricity revolution in the late 1880s, Tesla vs. Edison will have you developing the AC, DC and bulb technologies that drove the electrification of the United States.
As you improve your own company and develop power projects, you can also slander your competitors or trade their stock -- tagging on to their greatness or selling them into obscurity. Or maybe you’ll be the one to navigate the ups and downs of the stock market, riding some prudent early-game investing to victory.
With so many ways to gain victory points, Tesla vs. Edison will become a regular on your table.
2. Power Grid, created by Rio Grande Games
Power Grid is an excellent strategy game that enjoys a wider appeal than many of the others on our list.
Your objective is simple: to power the greatest number of cities. You can play on a map of the United States or Germany (and even more with expansions!) depending on how Euro you like your Eurogames. In order to bring power to the cities in your network, you’ll need power plants. You’ve got your pick of oil, natural gas, nuclear, or solar/wind resources.
As you develop your power network, keep in mind that your power plants will need raw materials, with the exception of the solar/wind plants. It might be worth it to pay a little extra to go green, avoiding the often-volatile resources market.
This is a great option for the committed board game player. With a phase in each round loosely translating to “bureaucracy,” this German game is a dream for regulators, but can be tough for most American audiences.
3. The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire, created by Minion Games
Manhattan Project: Energy Empire puts you in charge of a country as you deal with the impending climate crisis, while also managing the need for power that your citizens demand.
While Power Grid advantages clean energy by removing the resource requirement, Manhattan Project: Energy Empire punishes players who don’t actively work to keep their generation cleaner. Gather resources, spend energy to develop science, remove pollution to conserve production capability, and more.
If you play Yahtzee and think, “I really wish this game had more dice,” Manhattan Project: Energy Empire is your game. It comes with 24 total dice, representing five different types of power plants, each with different pollution, generation and radiation effects.
Manhattan Project: Energy Empire can certainly seem daunting, given how many pieces come out of the box. But pay attention to the advantages of your nation card, and you’ll have a strategy that will put you on the path to energy dominance.
4. The Game of Energy, created by Nathan Wright
A newer addition to the energy games compendium, The Game of Energy was released in 2016.
It’s still a little tough to track down a copy. But if you are able to find it, you’ll be tasked with the purest energy "win condition" of all these games: generating the most terawatt-hours of electricity. Develop different types of generation technology, diversifying your portfolio to guard against natural disasters and take advantage of new energy technologies.
The biggest power generator will get the United Nations contract for a global energy provider and forestall a global energy crisis.
5. Newtonian Shift, commissioned by Eneco
If you happen to have a family full of utility executives, policymakers and proto-entrepreneurs, then Newtonian Shift could be the best pick on this list for you. Dutch utility Eneco commissioned this room-sized game to create dialogue among industry players about the changing industry.
The game was adapted for North America by Canadian incubator MaRS Discovery District, and it places players into various industry roles in fictional Newtonia, a land dependent on energy imports from adjacent countries, as well as its own legacy fossil and nuclear plants. The game tests a player’s ability to think quickly as challenges mount over hours. This one is not for the casual gamer.
We all need a plan for that moment when your uncle proclaims his support for Rick Perry's coal NOPR. This is the perfect game for escaping for a few hours.
6. Balance, presented by Statnett
Balance provides an excellent experience for any budding control center operator or transmission planner. The app is only available on Android, but offers several hours of perplexing challenges that test a player's ability to build a grid capable of withstanding rock slides, overloads and windstorms.
This basic simulator does not wow with its poor controls, but provides a great refresher on basic principles of power system design that is enjoyable to play. (We at GTM may be biased on this one.) Statnett’s Norwegian pedigree is evident, as hydro plants make up your generation base, and solar and wind plants offer all-on or all-off accents. Balance is a great game to bring out the inner engineer.
If you have any favorites you think we missed, let us know in the comments. Whatever you end up playing, we here at GTM hope that your holiday season is filled with fun, food, family, and most importantly, rigorous discussion of the impacts of grid engineering.
Happy Holidays from the GTM PG&E Division!