Game Name: 51st State
Publisher: Toy Vault (Portal)
Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
Playing Time: 90 Minutes
Retail Price: $39.99
16 Faction cards
84 Location and Contact cards
198 cardboard tokens
From Toy Vault/Portal:
Players take control of one of four factions vying for control of the post-war remains of a devastated United States. These factions struggle to build their stockpiles of supplies through conquest, trade, and expansion of their territory, until they achieve the stability to become the 51st State – and provide the foundation of a new society.
Do you like Race for the Galaxy? Fallout? Mad Max? Neuroshima Hex? 51st State has a little of all of those rolled into one. It is 30 years since the nuclear holocaust destroyed most of the USA. Humanity is slowly rising from the ashes and beginning to reorganize. The old 50 states are long gone, but there is hope in forming a new 51st state. There are four factions competing for power in the new world. You will be the head of one of those factions, your goal is to defeat everyone else to become the ruling power in the new 51st State.
51st State is a card driven game in which players build and expand their empires. The player who is the first to reach 30 victory points wins the game. The back of the box holds the victory track, which can be cool or annoying depending on how you look at it. You can download a new scoring track, along with a helpful player aid at the Toy Vault Website , which I recommend.
Initially, each player will select one of the four available factions. Each faction has its own special ability that helps determine what type of strategy it would be best to follow.
New York: New Yorkers are gone but not forgotten, as they slowly rebuild the city house by house. New York gets a scrap resource each turn.
The Merchants Guild: Roaming the old roads and highways, trading for goods, the Merchants Guild gets a fuel resource each turn.
The Appalachian Federation: The new world’s feudal system, with workers instead of peasants. They get a building material resource each turn.
The Mutants’ Union: Twisted by radiation, the Mutants simply want to live as equals with everyone else, or else. They receive a weapons resource each turn.
Each faction receives a set of 3 contact cards, which indicate what they need to do to develop connections to other locations in the new world. Each location card, which make up the bulk of the cards in the game, will provide certain resources or advantages depending upon how you wish to make contact.
You can either:
Send in a strike team, kill everyone at the location, and steal their resources for yourself. If you do this, you place the location card under your base card so that only the red portion of the location card is showing. You can discard this card to gain the resources listed in the red area of the card.
Send in some negotiators, strike a deal with the location. If you do this, you rotate the card and place it under your base card so that only the blue portion of the card is showing. Each turn, you will gain the resources listed in the blue area.
Or, invite them to join your expanding nation. This card is placed next to your base card and can provide a myriad of benefits to your faction. Some will allow you to trade resources for victory points, or other resources, or workers, or cards. There are many options.
This is where the biggest difficulty in the game comes in, as in Race for the Galaxy, the game is icon driven. You will have to learn a slew of iconage in order to understand exactly what your options are in the game. It will take a few plays and will lead to some head scratching, probably some questions that you won’t find the answers to in the rule book, which is not the best rulebook out there by any means. There are ambiguities, and missing info. It is not a difficult game, only 12 pages of rules, but an example of a few rounds of play would have went far to explain a lot of unanswered questions.
Once you get past that though, this is a full rich strategic game with literally hundreds of possibilities. There is much to keep track of as your faction expands, all with the goal of generating enough victory points to win the game. You have leaders that can add benefits and victory points. When you get tired of them, you kill them and install another leader in their place. It is a gritty, cutthroat world. The theme shines through, and you feel yourself wanting to tell the story behind what you are doing as you perform each action. “I’m sending in a team to waste everyone at the fuel dump.”
There are a lot of actions to choose from, and it takes time to remember how each one works. That is why I suggest the player aid, as it has a list of actions for you. The rulebook is crucial to have handy as all of the icons are listed in it.
Each round begins with card drafting, which is a nice touch as it allows you more strategic choices than just a blind draw does. Then there are 4 more phases in which you produce resources, perform actions, total your victory points, and clean-up to get ready for the next round.
There are a lot of tokens in the game, and these can get fiddly as you are constantly moving them about. They serve their purpose well though.
This will be one of those tough to master games. It will certainly be easier for those who are familiar with Race for the Galaxy. Everything seems to make logical sense though, you spend a weapon token to replace your leader, you send a worker to perform an action with the Trade Convoy, etc…
I found this game highly engaging and strategically intense. It is not a game to play with the family at the dinner table. It is more of a game to play with your serious gamer friends; Those who are willing to take the time to learn it and give you some good competition. For that group it will be a thoroughly satisfying experience. I also recommend watching The Road Warrior in the background, but not Beyond Thunderdome, please.
One final note: There are solo play rules from the designer on the game page on BGG. It is a good way to learn the game and try out different strategies.