Our world runs on electricity, whether it’s powering the lightbulbs that let you enjoy nighttime activities, the machines in a factory making tractors so we can eat, or any of a million other uses for this lifeblood of our modern era. Electricity has to come from somewhere, however, and how it’s produced can leave a dark stain on our environment or be relatively neutral or even net positive. Every power source has its trade-offs, so it’s not such an easy equation to solve universally.
Enter the new deck-building game Power Advance from designer Keith Smith and Buddy Pal Games. I’ve previously reviewed the company’s terrific Jungle Run game, so got this prototype with high hopes. The game supports 1-4 players and I opted to evaluate solo mode, the challenge being to build a deck that would let me acquire green power facilities faster than my automata opponent. Here’s how it all went…
POWER ADVANCE SETUP
The game, billed as “Build Your Deck – Save The Planet”, is a pretty straightforward deck-building game, with a “Vault” of goal cards, a “Market” for cards that can offer up increasing purchase power and cards that offer various ways to gain future advantage or stymie your opponent(s), and a starting deck of simple Market cards that are just about all purchase value only. Here are three of the starting cards:
Their purchasing power values are in the center, so these three combined would give me 4 points to spend. Two of the cards offer additional capabilities too: The left card lets me BLOCK my opponent (in this case, the automata) from acquiring a card from the Market, at the cost of it being subsequently discarded. The rightmost card allows me to add an additional card to the Market if the space is available. The Market, as you’ll see momentarily, has five slots, three of which are always full. The other two can be filled with ADD cards, though once that card’s acquired, the spot won’t refill until another ADD card is played.
Market cards have a cost and value, along with a frequent additional capability. For example:
The top right value denotes the cost (5, 6, 6, with the third one oriented horizontally, which rather confuses things in this regard). The center value is the purchasing power. The leftmost card lets you view three cards to pick the best when you enter the Vault, the middle card costs 6 but is worth 4 every time it appears in your hand, and the rightmost is a PowerUp, a very powerful card that costs 6 but gives you three more buying power every subsequent turn once it surfaces in your hand. Notice also the “Synergy” along the bottom of the middle card: Every two Synergy cards you have in your hand allow you to draw another card from your deck. Powerful!
You’re buying and cycling through the Market cards to improve your purchase power. Once you have a total of 7 or more, you can opt to examine the top two cards of the Vault, including victory point cards that help you win the game. The Vault cards can be a bit complicated, as these two demonstrate:
The card on the left is worth two victory points (the orange background, rather than the green) and represents a hydroelectric plant. The Not So Fast card is one you would play on an opponent, limiting their Vault view to a single card rather than the default two (or even three, as with the View 3 Market card shown earlier).
STARTING TO PLAY POWER ADVANCE
I should note that these card designs are subject to change since I’m playing a prototype. The Power Advance mat is also in prototype form. It has a very attractive design, however, as shown in this first-turn photo. Market cards are stacked on the left, Vault cards on the right:
Turns consist of dealing yourself four cards out of your deck, and then deciding what actions to take based on their values. In the above, I have 5 purchase points, which means I could purchase any of the three cards in the Market. The Smog card is an attack card that you play on someone else; in solo mode, the automata can play it on you, so it’s generally a good one to block (notice my rightmost card allows a block), though this early in the game it won’t have a negative impact on my game so can be safely ignored.
Once I’m done with my turn, the automata takes a Vault card, which isn’t very useful:
The entire goal of the automata is to accumulate power plants as quickly as possible: Once it reaches 6 of the same type of facility or a total of 18 points it is crowned the winner of the game. Recall earlier the hydro plant shown was worth 2 points, so that’s not a lot of cards for it to acquire!
A few turns further along and I’ve cycled a three-pointer into my deck, giving me that magical 7 points that will let me start rummaging in the Vault if I choose:
It’s a smart strategy to be judicious about the first Vault draw, however, because as soon as the player taps the Vault deck, the automata becomes more challenging, picking the highest point value of two Vault cards drawn rather than just the top card on the Vault deck. (Actually, it’s a bit more complicated because it will only check a second Vault card if the first doesn’t have a point value, like the earlier Take 1 Card from Market. If the first card does have a final point value, like the hydro plant, that’s the card it will keep)
In the interest of building my deck, I’m going to buy both the left and right cards. It will cost 7 purchase points, but definitely improves my deck from the primarily 1-point cards of the initial starting cards.
FURTHER INTO THE GAME
A bit further along, you can see that the automata has 2 points with a wind turbine facility while I again have 7 points. This time I’m going to delve into the Vault:
The general rule with the Vault is that you reveal two and take one. The other remains face-up and is one of the possible cards for the automata to choose when its turn rolls around. Confusingly, those cards go into the space adjacent to the Vault deck, even though there aren’t spots denoted for them. Yet another turn or two later, here’s how that all looks:
This is a bit trickier than it looks because it’s my turn and I can only take one of the Vault cards shown. If I pick solar, the automata will choose the wind turbine, which is also listed as a “Match 2”. That darn automata has one of the same already, though, so by matching two, it will automatically get an additional free card from the Vault. If that also has victory points, this single turn could get it up to 5 of its total 18 points required to win. Dangerous! As a result, I will strategically choose the wind turbine and earn two victory points.
Worth noting is that my goal as the player is different than the solo mode automata: I can win if I get 15 points total or five of a single power facility, while the automata has to attain 18 points or six of a kind.
Yet further along in the game, I’m doing pretty well, but that automata is stacking points at an alarming rate:
If you count, you’ll see that the automata has 12 points of its needed 18, while I have 5. Concerning, but the game isn’t over until it’s over, right? From playing a half-dozen times, it seems that the automata tends to race into a commanding lead mid-game, but that the player can still jump ahead with some strategic play (especially playing the cards that allow you to block the Vault, which effectively skips the automata’s turn).
In the above, notice I have that glorious PowerUp that gives me a +2 purchase power, so I have 9 points. I can spend 7 points to pick the best of two from the Vault, then the remaining two points to buy another Block card (critical for when Smog cards come up to ensure the automata doesn’t play them on you).
The very next turn I’ve used my ADD card to have five revealed in the Market. The card I was seeking has appeared: Lock Vault:
My purchase power here is 15 points, plenty enough for two visits to the Vault, which would let me basically pick the best of four cards, but my other power-up is “View 3 When In Vault”, so in fact, I could pick the best of three, then the best of three again. A formidable combination, particularly when I can drop the Lock Vault when it next comes into my hand and skip the automata’s turn.
Luck is with me, because one of the cards I draw from the Vault is worth FOUR points!
The above shows the automata with 15 points and me with 17 points, thanks to that glorious 4-point card. This means I win the game!
THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS
There are some games that are what I call heavily themed, where every aspect of design and gameplay reinforces the core concepts and ideas. Dungeon crawlers have such a rich mythology from which to draw, and consequently, most of them tend to be heavily themed. Other games are more lightly themed, where there’s a tried-and-true style of gameplay and a relatively abstract application of a theme or concept. Power Advance is definitely in the latter category, as demonstrated by the fact that the cards don’t really make sense for a theme summarized as “a marketplace of ways to earn money so you can purchase green power facilities”.
Truth is, as currently designed, if you’re looking for a heavily themed green eco game, perhaps for a classroom or just because you like eco titles, you might be a bit disappointed by Power Advance. If you enjoy deck builders and want to try an interesting variation, however, this could be a good game to add to your collection.
In terms of changes, I’d like to see an iteration on the design of the cards and playmat to make it more consistent (for example, where every card has its cost on the top right and value in the center). I also still don’t quite understand how all the card effects relate to the basic theme. There’s a lot to like here though, and it is a prototype, after all. I’m sure the final game will have improved on the aspects I’m highlighting, at which point it will indeed be a fun and entertaining eco-themed deck-building game worthy of your time and attention.
Price, availability, distribution, and Kickstarter campaign are all to be determined.
Disclosure: Buddy Pal Games sent me this prototype of Power Advance so that I could review it. Thanks!