06 March 2023
Power Failure is a quirky fusion of two genres: a resource management card game, and a dexterity game. Before we get into the sordid business of whether the combo works or not, this sort of experimentation is always laudable – from the bizarre shove-a-ha’penny-meets-stock-exchange experience of Safranito to the programmable actions in a 3D miniatures skirmish of Colt Express, old flavours are often granted new life when set alongside each other.
Here, we have a dash of Power Grid stirred into a highball glass of Jenga. Each turn, you’re going to grab a card from a tableau that features various types of power plants, specific resources like uranium, or one-off event cards that give you bonuses. Then you’re going to play a card from your hand. Finally, you may activate one type of power plant to generate energy. If you can generate enough energy to power one of the cities displayed in the top row, you claim that card and you’ll score the indicated victory points at the end of the game.
But there’s a wrinkle – a thrilling, dexterity-based wrinkle. Ooh! Every time you build a new power station, and whenever you generate energy using dirty, non-renewable sources, you must add blocks to the Carbon Tower. This is a stack of grey wooden hexagons that players build in the middle of the table, representing both a plume of black smoke rising into the sky and, symbolically, accumulating carbon. If you knock it over at any point during your turn, your turn ends immediately and every player discards a card.
Power stations that use renewable energy like wind turbines and solar panels don’t require you to add blocks to the Carbon Tower but the power they offer is unreliable – some turns, they give you nothing. Coal power stations are easy to activate but they churn out lots of blocks which you then have to deal with – no problem if other players aren’t being reckless polluters too, but quickly impossible to sustain if you’re all adding to the tower turn after turn.
Except everyone gets punished when the tower collapses, which is thematically consistent – windfarm investors have to share a planet with coal power station conglomerates – but a bit rough on anyone trying to play it safe. In the end, Power Failure rewards churning out exactly as much carbon as you can get away with and letting your more responsible rivals share the burden.
Both the card game and the dexterity aspects of Power Failure are only adequate rather than being interesting in and of themselves. Acquiring cards feels rather slow and linear. The event cards are balanced but not terribly exciting, allowing for extra draws, discounts on the resources a power station requires, or ignoring part of the carbon cost of activation. Players are rewarded for specialising, since you can only activate one type of plant each round. (though renewable plants generate energy without requiring an activation action)
Similarly, there’s not much to the dexterity portion. Whereas in something like Rhino Hero or even classic Jenga you’re managing a variety of shapes and angles, here you’re just stacking identical small hexagons. Yes, it gets harder as the tower gets higher, but there’s zero variety and little opportunity for finesse.
True, adding an extra two carbon blocks to the stack when you activate your natural gas power plant is quite exciting, and it’s often a gamble seeing if you can generate enough energy to swipe a big scoring city card without toppling the whole stack and losing your chance. The card mechanics work well enough. It’s just that this game’s competently executed but unspectacular parts don’t synergise to create something more.
Power Failure is a diverting, unusual game, for sure. Some groups may really warm to it. It plays in under an hour and comes in a small box – both pluses. It just feels, tantalisingly, as if it might be a few tweaks, a few final innovations, from being truly memorable.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Power Grid
Power Failure is to Power Grid as Pocket Mars is to Terraforming Mars – that is to say, a much quicker, markedly worse – but not dreadful – attempt at territory covered by a classic that nonetheless offers a playable card game with a superficially similar theme.
Designer: An-Qi Zheng, Yen-Lin Chen, Tao-Tao Chen, Yu-Xuan Su
What’s in the box?
- 31 Power plant action cards
- 13 Event action cards
- 15 Resource action cards
- 15 City cards
- 4 Player mats
- 3 Power cubes
- 24 Carbon blocks
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