This week’s session allowed Avri to introduce Azriel, Peleg, Sheer, and me to Power Struggle, a cynical worker placement game with some interesting twists. The theme is corporate advancement. You are trying to be the first player to get to four victory points. You get VPs by excelling in certain areas – for example, shares held, influence, corruption (told you it was cynical) and so on – and you achieve this by maneuvering your workers into positions of power in the various company departments or the board of directors.
There’s corruption because each divisional head (and the chairman of the board) has a unique power they can use. In your turn, one possible action is to offer a bribe to the holder of that power. The person offering the bribe gets a corruption point. If it’s accepted, the power changes hands and the person taking the bribe is also corrupted. If the bribe is not accepted, the person offering the bribe exacts retribution by firing one of the other person’s workers. Brutal.
The game round has a unique flavour. Each round, the head of communications is dealt a batch of cards including the mandatory Bonus card (payout to all players) and Board Meeting card (end of the round with a board meeting). The head of communications can order the cards as he wishes. And, he can therefore set the length of the round – after a minimum of four cards – and hopefully profit from the knowledge of what is coming up when.
Most cards adjust the company’s reputation (standing?) and that affects bonus powers. Bonus powers are what you get when you bribe the basic power away from the original holder, allowing enhanced hiring, firing, bonuses, and share purchases.
Finally, each player has a secret nemesis (it can be yourself!) and secret goals. If you beat your nemesis in three specified categories, that is one VP – 25% of what is needed for a win. There is only a winner; no second prizes. Oh, and if your nemesis is yourself, I think you get the extra VP for being ahead of everybody in two categories.
As to our play, first we had Avri explain the rules as only he knew it. There’s a lot to take in, but we managed and were off and scheming after half an hour. Of course, we made mistakes. I managed to screw myself by allowing the play of a card that affected the divisional head and not, as I thought, the holder of the relevant special power. I made tons of mistakes, but as usual was more interested in seeing the game play than working out how to win. For sure, it’s a bit of a puzzle.
Avri, being experienced in the game, did fine. Sheer, as usual, went for the kill mercilessly, although he did try and pretend he was struggling by asking some questions! Azriel and Peleg played along, though I am not sure either of them was doing any better than me, at least at the beginning. In the later rounds, Peleg and Azriel raced away from me, though Sheer and Avri were clearly further ahead. A well timed board coup by Sheer was the killer blow, and so he won.
It’s interesting to compare this to Caylus. Power Struggle is less complex, but still has a lot going on. That may be one reason I preferred it, though I would not go as far as to say I liked the game. Another reason I found it better than Caylus may be that the Power Struggle theme fits better. You can almost see the plotting going on. Ultimately, it’s a question of personal taste.
One thing I was less keen on, was the luck element. (Avri disagrees there is luck.) This is a meaty game – not overly long – and there seemed too much luck to me. For example, the length of the round is dependent on one player’s selection. So, a strategy that needs more turns than are played gets burned. Further, the cards turned face over at the start of each round can affect the efficiency of your chosen action. Again, you have no control over this. And I don’t think it’s enough to say you can reduce the lack of knowledge by acquiring the post of head of communications, because that only works for one player. In addition, the bribe mechanism leaves you at the mercy of other players’ choices. The amount of the bribe given may be too high or too low, thus giving an advantage to one player or another, with no way of you legitimately influencing that decision.
So, in short, while I enjoyed playing the game, and I like it better than Caylus, it’s not going to be one of my favorites.
I will try and write up my thoughts about the whole scenario of euros, complexity, luck, and personal enjoyment.