Theme and What is it?
In the late 1800’s Nikola Tesla, Thomas A. Edison, Elihu Thomson, Sir Hiram Maxim, and Charles F. Brush (base game) as well as Madam C.J. Walker (expansion) were key players in the booming electric current industry. You play as one of these historical figures and attempt to grow your electric company to the fullest potential by managing the stock market, investing in projects in large cities throughout the U.S., and having other historical figures come to work for you.
Set up play by handing players $14K and going through a drafting process to select the inventor/company you wish to play. Each inventor has an individualized set of skills, marked by icons with numbers on the left side of the card as well as a special ability unique to that inventor.
There are three phases of Tesla vs. Edison, and two turns in each phase. During each turn, players “exhaust a luminary” AKA “use a character card” to perform one of four actions:
- Claim a project (build energy network in a city)
- Advance in technology (move marker up the tech track, possibly buy a patent)
- Engage in propaganda (buy a propaganda card)
- Visit the stock market (only in base game, buy/sell stocks) OR Develop your HQ (only in Powering Up, buy special abilities tailored to your inventor)
After all character cards are used up, there’s an end-of-turn upkeep called “bookkeeping” which involves many different steps as outlined in the rulebooks. Rules are different based on whether you’re playing the base game or the expansion, so I won’t go into detail. Playing the stock market happens in bookkeeping in the expansion pack.
Each action eventually affects the stock market, in one way or another. Propaganda usually causes the fame track for companies or AC/DC technologies to increase or decrease. This has an impact on your stock prices at the end of turn. Claiming a project, or building an electric network in a city, directly causes your stock price to rise. Advancing in technology and buying a patent also causes your stock price to rise. Buying and selling stocks affect prices the way you’d expect, and HQ cards also have the potential to affect stock prices.
In the base game, the player with the most expensive stock portfolio wins. In the expansion Powering Up, victory points are used to calculate the winner. You gain victory points through your stock portfolio, cash on hand, and how developed your HQ is. HQ cards can also affect your victory point total.
When I first saw this game, I was really excited about sharing it with my nine-year-old. I wanted to make sure to play with adults first, so I definitely knew how the game worked, but stories like the Tesla vs. Edison story get told in my house all the time. Our dinner table conversations cover mathematics, biology, technology, medicine, the arts, current events, and a host of other topics. I can say definitively that we have discussed Nikola Tesla before and to see this struggle made into a game is right up my family’s alley. I was super excited about this title.
Game Build Quality
The cards used in the game have a nice linen finish and feel extra thick, but still flexible enough to shuffle well. The board has a nice matte finish to it and lays very, very flat on the table. I love a good flat board. The base game comes with a cardboard insert to elevate the board above the playing cards and pieces, but I took that out so I could fit the contents of Powering Up inside there too.
Hands-down, my favorite component of the game is the money. The rules refer to it as “paper” money, but hello, Dolly, this is some seriously good stuff. It’s not actually made of thin, flexible paper, it’s made of a nice cardstock. It has weight and heft, which means it feels nice in your hand and it won’t blow away if you have a fan running (hello Ohio summers). It stacks well, won’t tear easily, and it can’t get crumpled up in the box. I wish all games with “paper” money did it like this. Maybe I’m easily amused, but the quality of the materials in this game made me ridiculously happy.
The art features mostly muted colors, lots of blues and browns. The historical figures rendered on the cards are designed to have a 19th century feel to them, fitting perfectly with the theme of the game.
Half of the board is a map of the United States, from Nebraska in the west to Tennessee in the south, and all the way to the big cities on the East Coast.
The routes between cities are clear, the lines between sections of the board open for the number of players is clear and unobtrusive, but I do wish that the names of the cities were in larger print. The Roman numerals representing the project level are big and bold; I wish the same attention had been paid to the city names. For anyone with vision issues or an out-of-date glasses/contacts prescription, it may be difficult to read.
Getting started with the base game was a bit rough for both Cute Husband and me. A big part of that was directly tied to the rulebook. It read like a doctoral level textbook. Very dry, lots of new terminology to master (you don’t just play a character card, you “exhaust a luminary”) and it just felt like it took twice as many words as necessary to get the point across. (Hopefully you don’t feel that way about me!!!) I spent two evenings reading and rereading the rulebook and still felt like I had no idea what I was doing when it came time to play. Thankfully, Cute Husband is better at reading texts like this, so he was able to interpret and explain to me as we went along.
Once we got about halfway through the game, we both had worked out how the game functioned and only referenced the rules for the last part of each turn: bookkeeping. I was absolutely THRILLED to see a small reference card in the expansion pack, Powering Up, that outlined turn actions and bookkeeping procedures. Getting our noses out of the rulebook and into the game made for a much more enjoyable second half, and I even pulled ahead enough to win!
During solo play using the Powering Up expansion, I still spent a lot of time in the rulebooks, making sure I was playing correctly. I am confident though, that having played multi-player and against the game’s AI, that the next time we bring out Tesla vs. Edison, we’ll have a lot more fun. The game’s really not all that complicated, the rules are just really poorly written.
Age Range & Weight
Age range? After playing with adults, I think I’ll hold off on introducing this one to my nine-year old for a couple of years. He’d be able to play, but he wouldn’t be able to grasp the full impact of the stock market’s complexities. I’d rather wait to teach him this game when he has a better understanding of economics so he enjoys it to its fullest potential, rather than ruin it by introducing it too early.
Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents and its expansion pack Powering Up are midweight games, and they take longer the more players you add. The Powering Up expansion pack allows for solo play against up to 5 AIs, which is a really nice feature. My day job is being a stay-at-home parent, and this gives me something fun to do while the baby naps — without pulling out a screen. I played solo as Madam C.J. Walker against Elihu Thomson as the AI. I won, but just barely… and that was on the normal setting. There’s also an option for expert level play, but I think I’ll stick with normal for a while.
As difficult as I found the rulebook to be, I have to say the end result was worth it. And I also have to admit that the rulebook has a lovely player aid on the back cover that summarizes things for quick reference.
The game is just gorgeous, plays well, and I enjoyed both the multi-player and the solo game that I played. It’s nice to have options: solo or 2-6 players (assuming you have Powering Up). It makes the game a lot more versatile.
I can see how teachers of middle school and high school students might be able to incorporate the game into their curriculum when they cover the late 1800’s, economics, scientific discoveries about electricity, or other such themes. It might make history come more alive for non-history buffs, to make the types of choices that people like Tesla and Edison did.
When all’s said and done, Tesla vs. Edison is a great game, and one that makes me want to go to some personal research on some of the historical figures and events that appear in the cards. It’s definitely worth your time!