Published on May 10th, 2013 | by Across the Board Games Staff
Have the Berries to be Cro-Magnon?
By Richard Phoenix
Have you ever found yourself yearning for a simpler time, but don’t have the creativity to do historical-recreative theater, the deep knowledge of physics and engineering to built your own time machine and/or dimensional transport, or the raw fortitude for a Flintstones marathon? Then Power Grid: The First Sparks may be the answer to your very odd prayer.
A stand alone title from Friedemann Friese, The First Sparks was made as a celebratory 10th anniversary game marking the release of the original Funkenschlag (Power Grid). Your role in the game is that of a tribal leader; to lead your people to prosperity by way of new technology. Improve you berry collecting capabilities by building a better basket, plant and harvest from bountiful fields, better your relations with rival tribes by founding language, or hunt wild bears and mammoths with new weapons. While built for 2-6 players, First Sparks tends to be better with 3-5, and an average game clocks in at only an hour: half the duration of the original Power Grid. This along with a simplified basic strategy, slimmed down components, and a lighthearted theme and design make this a better game for beginners, but still enjoyable for fans of the original.
What’s been missing from your life? The answer is Mammoth Meeple.
The material quality of the game was thoroughly on par with others of it’s title; solid tiles, colorful wooden pieces, and a questionably translated rulebook. But the details of it really told me that this was a game to be treated as much a resource management game as a fun, competitive experience. When you hold up a brown or black wooden cube and ask someone what it’s supposed to represent, there is some room for ambiguity. But the pieces in First Sparks keep representation simple. The little blue fish is a fish. Who would have thought? The respective pieces for all of the food sources and clan members are straightforward and keep very well with the theme. Another welcome change is the modular board consisting of six different double-hex tiles that create the board for each game. Different tiles configurations will yield different strategies and experiences with each game. The artwork and design for different technology cards and the board itself are both simplified, more engaging , and surprisingly humorous. There is even a nifty achievement list for various milestones in the game, perfect for groups of players who want to make this game part of their regular rotation.
This Cro-Magnon army marches on its stomach.
Food is the key resource in The First Sparks, used for bidding on new technologies and weapons, expanding your territory, and naturally for feeding your people. But there is only so much to go around. This makes turn-to-turn decision making crucial and it’s in these decisions that the heart of the game lies. Expanding your territory and acquiring newer technologies will bump you up in the turn order, allowing you to get first picks of the bids and gathering food first in the next turn, but the players who go later in the turn order will have less competition for the bids and the last player will only have to pay the minimum price on their pick of technologies. And all the while you must account for the available pool of food you will be harvesting, potential loss of food to decay, keeping your people fed, and what you hope to accomplish next round. The game ends on the round that a player increases their clan size to 13 members and can feed all of them. Whoever has the most fed clan members at the end of this round wins.
“Caveman hijinks” or “A fresh pile of bear carcasses”
The wide variety of potential strategies in the game and overall streamlined fashion of its design make it both a fun experience and a tactically deep undertaking. The technologies and resources are both flexible in their uses, so that there is no one right path to a successful strategy. Choosing when and where to expand will cause the other player’s plans to shift, effectively letting the different player strategies rotate around one another. Impeding movement to valuable hunting grounds can completely alter the way the rest of the game will play out. The multitude of these strategies and randomized gameboard give it more long-term value without a mass of expansion content.
Born of a long-standing series, but now it stands alone.
Having been released in 2011, this still young game has gained acclaim for it’s playful design, sleek gameplay, and for being an overall fun game to play. The heavier rules and somewhat stark theme of it’s parent title have been successfully shed and make it a great introduction to resource management games and a must-play for long time enthusiasts of the genre.