Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Post-apocalyptic Fun: A Review of 51st State

by Randy

51st StateOne of our recent acquisitions is 51st State, a card game from Toy Vault based in the Neuroshima world (like Neuroshima Hex). There has been quite a bit of buzz about this one, often with it being compared to Race for the Galaxy. In fact, many claim it will effectively replace Race for the Galaxy in your collection. I want to share how we're feeling about the game after a handful of sessions under our belts. For those of you not familiar with the Neuroshima world, it is a post-apocalypic North America with various factions vying for power. It was originally based on the Polish roleplaying game Neuroshima. The designer of 51st State, Ignacy Trzewiczek, is also one of the designers of both the Neuroshima roleplaying game and Neuroshima Hex. For those of you familiar with Fallout, what I've seen and read about it seems a lot like the world depicted in that series of videogames. It's an interesting setting, and the art of the cards does a great job of conveying the post-apocalyptic theme.

The rules of the game are not too complex, though I must indicate that the rulebook isn't that great. It meanders a bit, and some things are not referred to throughout but not explained until the very end. That being said, a couple reads and look at some online resources helped us get started. It starts with players selecting cards from several set out at the beginning of the turn. After card selction, players earn an income and then take turn executing actions. Actions can be playing a location (more on this later), using a production location with a worker, playing a leader, rebuilding a location or a couple other minor actions. Play continues until all players have passed. For the most part, gameplay is multiplayer solitaire, much like Race for the Galaxy, or even Dominion.

Most of the cards you'll see are locations, and locations are very interesting in this game. Each location may be played in one of three ways, each with a color associated with it. The most basic function is white, and that is putting the card in your play area as a location; doing this can derive one of several benefits, such as giving an income of a resource, or being able to produce victory points or having a trait that stays in effect. Some are production locations that you, or sometimes an opponent, may play a worker on to get its benefit. Another option is to make a deal, which is the blue action. This will give you a modest income of its resource (or sometimes a card or victory points) each turn. The final action, denoted as red, is to conquer the location. This will yield a one-time windfall of resources, cards or victory points. This is a definite strength of the game. Each time you look at a card, you have to decide how you want to play it. It's a very interesting tactical consideration, and very thematic to the world.

Each player takes on the role of one of the world's factions. There are four: Mutants, New York, Appalachian Federation and the Merchant's Guild. Each faction is trying top establish dominance by controlling areas. They each play a little different. The differences are not huge, but somewhat thematic. This is reflected in how they spend resources to accomplish the three basic actions for dealing with a location, and income they receive in the resources present in the game: scrap, building materials, weapons and fuel. As can be expected, each has an advantage towards one of the basic location actions.

I have to say I've been enjoying this game. Rulebook woes aside, it's a great game. There is certainly a bit of randomness with the limited card availability per turn, but the cards seem balanced enough that you won't have a situation where you need to fish for cards to implement your chosen strategy. It has enough complexity to be interesting, without dictating a dominant strategy.The stated playing time is 40-90 minutes, and is accurate. In an earlier blog post I talked about the "sweet spot" for games in regard to fun versus time spent, and I think this game does a good job hitting it. 51st State gets a solid recommendation from me. I encourage you to give it a try!

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