The year is the 2159. The country was devastated by several hidden atomic bombs explosions. The last one was in the few icy remains, where Antarctica used to be. Penguins have not lived here long ago. They moved to Greenland, which is the only white place across the globe. Under snow is mean.
The remains of human race, who managed to hide from radiation, are now racing through the newly formed deserts, declaring their small independent states. These small communities are brought together and then divided by fierce battles and waves of government decisions. People are a rare commodity. As well as many other materials, especially water.
Nothing is more precious today, than delicious crystal clear water. My parents died for its sake, defending our small family farm. And near this water stream I am hiding right now. I have not joined any clan yet. I am still looking for my little brother. But once I find him, we join forces together to create the society as it should be. According to foundation I remember only from my parents tales. We will create a fifty-first state!
The year was 2010, when Ignacy Trzewiczek introduced to the world his game 51st State under the auspices of the polish publisher Portal. Players like the post-apocalyptic world almost instantly, because there is too little games with this subject. Many Fallout (computer game) fans were happy, to be able to visit the impoverished nuclear countryside again.
But the game was not totally perfect, small things deteriorated its name. And so the time came to be reborn again, this time under a new name. And so New Era began, or 51st State: New Era, if you like. Both names are used frequently. It is not actually an extension of the original game, rather than early reissue.
Visually the games are related to each other. A New era can be found in dark green box with the figure in an oxygen mask. It is hidden inside a medium sized box, which basically corresponds to the inclusion of the game, which are mostly cards.
So you will probably not be surprised to find a pile of different game cards inside. These cards have name in the top part and are wearing a lot of icons. They are divided into three sections – upper red, white middle and at the bottom, you will find a blue stripe. To the right of a thematic image, you can see the two arrows, one black and one red/blue – both describing the distance you need to overcome to get to the site.
In addition to cards, there are also sheets of cardboard chips. Most of them are wearing numbers, some are also decorated with an asterisk. Individual fractions (you will play the game as one of them) also get one ancestral cardboard with options each. Those are contact opportunities. We must not forget also to the relatively thin plate, which contains a summary of the rules along with the scoring track.
We will close list of components with four colored wooden wheels, black figures of the workers and of course the rules booklet. Rules themself could use some adjustments. Some things are difficult to find. Learning 51st State is not for the impatient and just reading the rules is not enough. You need to sit down with the game, play few rounds and understand how it works. Perhaps this time you spent with it, will be back in the next hours of entertainment. We should find out this answer very soon.
At the beginning of the game, each player will select one faction to play. It is important to know that individual families differ in aggresiveness and political skills. They have their stregth of arms and diplomacy accordingly altered – the weaker faction can conquer only across smaller distance. The stronger they are, the further they reach. The same accounts also for politics.
This faction players will receive a board and two cards with a picture that shows a bit how their people look in their society. On top of that, there are also seven fractional tokens wit a symbol of their society. One of them placed on the counter for the number zero, all others remain in their posession for now.
All the remaining components and wooden tokens are placed in piles between players. They have to earn it and will take them up during a game. The last preparatory part is related to game cards. They should be shuffled carefully and prepared as a drawing deck. For the first round, you have to prepare an offer, which contains five cards. Players také cards from here at the beginning of each round, so they stand against narrowing choice – in each round of selection on one card less. In total, each player get two cards and the third draws from the top of the deck.
We discreetly got into the game itself. After the survey phase, from which you get just the cards, it is time for manufacturing. Players now finally get materials and workers according to their current income – from the main faction card they get regularly three workers and one piece of material. In the later stages of the game, also conquered (either by force or political means) location produce materials and many other things.
In addition to materials, there are two more specific currencies in the game – the victory points, and especially the contact chips. With their help you can play any card from your hand on the table in three basic ways: conquer it by force, establish business relationship, or politically absorb it and make it part of player state.
The cost of these individual acts are different, as well as profits from them. Always you have to pay a sufficient number of contact chips of some color. If you reach location by force, then you must slide the card under faction card, so that you see only the red line. If they will be cooperating, then the blue part will stick out. Just forcing the location to join your state results in putting the card on the table. In future turns, you can use their special abilities.
If you’ve conquered the card by force, then its profits (materials, victory points, etc.) can be used only once at the production phase. Card is discarded immediately. Blue color brings you its benefits each production phase, but the reception is not so big. White absorbed location allows you to use its special ability, whether only by owning it or sending a worker there. Some places are even open to competitors, who can send their workers and get those benefits as well. Likewise, you can send your workers into their factories.
And now we come to the interesting specialty, where the 51st State differs. First of all, you will lose all materials and workers, that you gather during the round. The game simulates the demanding conditions of postnuclear world, where all the goods deteriorate faster, and nothing will last long. Even people.
The second principle, which is not so often encountered in games, it storage of victory points directly on the cards that produced it. All have also their upper limit set – they can only bring their owner three victory points for their existence.
This results in reducing the impact of early player onset. If someone is beginning to run away at start, his lead will not simply increase as the turns go by. You can be sure, that his income will stop and your opponent will have to make another good decisions for the rest of the game.
The winner is the one, who reaches the 33 points. Number three accompanies the whole 51st State game. For example, you can have only up to three cards below your fraction card, or you can cooperate only with three opponent sites at once. You can easily plan ahead in this game – you can take a card and use materials to deploy some other cards in future turns.
Of course, 51st State offers more, than we have described here. For example, the above-mentioned cooperation with rivals, or building reconstruction – you can trade one building for the other with this move. As a result, the victory points are moved from the location to your faction card. They stay there until the end of the game. Now you can start again with new site and collect more! You can defend against attacks with defensive locations, that provide larger distance and therefore increase the value of a contact chip, a player needs to get to the site.
This system of distance of locations is the main principle of 51st State and offers interesting strategic options. For each type of contact you need a different material. Of course, your faction card provides you some basic contacts for each round, but they are enough just for close places (depends on faction, you are playing). If you want to go somewhere farther and conquest, you need to own contacts chips.
The whole game is elegantly simple and offers an interesting gaming experience. Since its publication, variety of forums filled enthusiastic responses, comparing it to popular Race for the Galaxy. The similarity ends in players laying cards for points in front of them. The 51st State: New Era has an interesting topic and is tempting for drawing cards from a common stock, where no player has a distinct advantage. But it somehow did not grow to our hearts in our newsroom.
We are not sure if there is a problem in us, but every game we played was just quest for points. It lacked any interlude, which would players enjoy. An interesting game system also takes its toll, because this is not an easy game to learn a newcomer. And we are not talking about beginners. We also fear, that when you have not played game for a while, you forget some important details and limitations, which belongs to the game. You will have to look them up again in the rulebook.
Although the game offers the opportunity to attack the opponent’s location, establish cooperation with them or use their own skills workers, yet we lack any significant interaction. The final result is still focused more on solo play instead of the rivalry game, although there is more conflict than in original 51st State.
The topic itself is actually fairly intertwined with the game. Everything fits. Firstly players look out fir locations, that they would be interested in. Then they prepare accordingly the production phase, to fulfill their requirements. And then they fight for them. Materials deteriorate faster and you lose them almost instantly, just as the workers.
The constant need to count victory points is unpleasant – at the end of each round, players must determine, how many points they own. And because you do not count only tokens with a star, but must also played locations, so it takes a little time. Otherwise, however, the game plays smoothly, players alternate in playing their actions (number of events in the round number is limited only by your materials and intensions). The entire game is usually played within the promised time.
Three posibilities, how to play different cards, can slow down the whole game, when players try to figure out the best option. To make things even complicated, renovation (exchanging location for another) provides also victory points on its own.
Some players may be frustrated by neverending moving of tokens here and there. On beginning of your turn, you take them only to lose all the unused or give them away, when playing cards.
Illustration on the all cards are nice. The game got a one more new faction in this reedition, but lost the leader cards that were in the original version. Pity that the help cards are not for every player, or at least a separate card. When you need to read something during the game, you have to lean over the board, because scoring chips lie there. In you first games, you will wonder about meanings of different icons, but you will get used to them.
Ultimately, the 51st State: New Era failed our expectations. With several games, we have taken control of its innovative system, but a deeper experience had not appeared yet. But do not despair, if you are interested in this topic, try to play it first. A lot of players likes it, and our tastes could not match with yours. At least with this one.
+ post-apocalyptic world theme
+ original principles
+ demanding strategic card game
+ lost of tactical decisions
+ players have same card pool
+ limited supply of victory points from cards
+ possibility of long-term planning
- complicated decisions making long turns
- constant manipulation with tokens
- lots of tiny rules, you easily forget
- confusing icons (first plays)
- playing solo most of the time