(I am porting over older reviews from my BGG profile. These might be old and/or bad. Please excuse their old-and-or-badness.)
The key question everyone seems to ask themselves about First Sparks is “If I already own Power Grid, should I buy this?” I think I can answer that question with another question (or two). First, How often does Power Grid hit the table in your game group? Second, how many of the players in your game group become paralyzed with indecision when playing Power Grid? Now, let’s define some threshold variables… and if either of these is greater than the number of times…
Ugh, I got lost in the math there. Let me start over.
Many members of my game group refuses to play Power Grid. I really like it, and I have a friend or two that really like it, but our game group isn’t always big enough to split into two games, so it’s difficult to get something that that some players refer to as “math fight” to the table. What’s more, a couple of our regulars are very theme-oriented people, who like to play visually appealing games with a fun/cute theme. I think Power Grid looks great, and is very thematic, but they don’t agree.
That said, every person in my game group was immediately interested in First Sparks, and everyone that played it really wants to play it again.
Since it’s probably important to you (and it was to me) let’s go over the things that are simplified/changed from the original game:
First off, while the mechanisms of the original (power plants / resources / cities) all have corresponding elements in this game, the relationships between them are subtly switched around. Instead of buying resources to power your cards to supply spaces on the board, you occupy spaces on the board to gain access to resources, and buy cards to collect them more efficiently. Instead of resources becoming more expensive as they become scarce, tools become less efficient at gathering scarce resources. This is changed up just enough from Power Grid to provide a different feel.
Secondly, placements can never be blocked; instead they grow more expensive. Additionally, you MUST feed every caveman, where you can CHOOSE not to power a station. These changes make growing/expanding one’s network have a different feel.
The board is made up of variable tiles, making setups more varied than Power Grid (though limiting the marketability of expansions). Which resources are near each other can change each game, so some tools may be useless to you at the beginning of one game but crucial the next.
The biggest change: There is no auction of cards, just a selection. “Hwhat?” you may say, doing a double-take and spitting out your water. “The auction was a HUGE part of Power Grid! I scoff at this game! SCOFF!” Well, the replacement is actually quite elegant and doesn’t require the use of paper money at all. Instead of auctioning, the first player simply puts an item up for grabs, which any player may call “dibs” on. Turn order is still vitally important in this step since the last player has the last chance to call “dibs” on any card selected by an earlier player.
So, the gameplay is similar enough that Power Grid players will “mostly” understand this game before they start playing (with a couple exceptions… I’ve read on this forum where it’s been taught as though it contains an auction? or where players can CHOOSE to starve their meeples? Hmm.) I’ve seen many players complain that the game is lighter than Power Grid… well… yeah. It is.
The game is unquestionably lighter than Power Grid, but I don’t think the game suffers from this at all unless your expectation is that it will be as heavy as Power Grid, in which case… play Power Grid, which you presumably own. For me, this game was a winner because it will hit the table many more times and on many more occasions than Power Grid could. It’s got plenty of brain burning even with its pared-down elements… considering the future market, seeing how expensive you can make your opponent’s placements, seeing how much you can expand this turn without messing up your next turn (make sure to take into account rotting food!) and lots of tough decisions to make. The difference is that the auctions, and shortest-path problems of the original Power Grid have been greatly simplified. This improves both the time and the complexity spent on EASY decisions, while leaving tough decisions relatively intact. I would recommend PG:TFS as a medium weight game with heavy weight decisions that plays in around half the time of Power Grid… which fits my game collection a bit better than a heavier game with a longer playtime does. I’m still a fan of Power Grid, but there’s room for both of these games in my collection.