Game Buzz: 51st State

It’s been interesting over the last few years to watch the growth of the gaming industry.  I haven’t been in the hobby for that long…it’s only been three years since I first registered on BGG.  But I still notice trends, and the emergence of games from European countries that are not Germany has been fascinating.  France seems to be doing well for itself, what with Days of Wonder and Asmodée releasing high quality stuff left and right.  Great Britain been producing a number of great European style games, particularly the perfectly blended theme and mechanics from Martin Wallace.  But I’ve been most impressed with the quality of stuff that is starting to come out of Eastern Europe.  In particular, I’ve become a big fan of Vlaada Chvátil out of the Czech Republic – Galaxy Trucker is one of my favorite games, while Space Alert and Dungeon Lords will probably ascend the ranks if I can ever get them to the table.  Over the last couple of yhears, Poland has been asserting itself as well, particularly with Neuroshima Hex and Stronghold, two games I haven’t played but want to.  Stronghold’s designer, Ignacy Trzewiczek, is coming out with a new game at Spiel 2010, and that’s the one I’m going to talk about this time.

51st State - image by BGG user trzewik

51st State is a game for 2-4 players that is being published by the Polish company Portal.  The design is by Ignacy Trzewiczek, and art is by Mariusz Gandzel.  The suggested age range is 10 and up, and the game should take about 30 minutes to play.  It’s a card game where each card can be used in several different ways, much like Glory to Rome.  The game takes place in Neuroshima world, first set forth in an RPG also published by Portal (Neuroshima Hex is also set in this world).  The basic plot is that you are in the United States over 30 years after war devastated the country.  Four factions are emerging that want to control the 51st state, a territory that will symbolize hope as civilization starts over.  There’s New York, the traditionalists; there’s the Appalachian Federation, the miners; there’s the Merchant’s Guild, the economists; and there’s the Mutants’ Union, the warriors that form a new human race.

Each player will take one of these factions at the start of the game, as well as the corresponding permanent contact cards and faction markers.  The deck of 106 cards (leaders, locations, and contacts) is shuffled, and four are dealt to each player.

Each turn follows a specific sequence of phases: lookout, production, actions, points, and clean-up, with the first player marker passing clockwise after each turn.  The lookout phase goes like this – reveal five cards from the draw pile.  Each player will get to take two cards into their hands (with more than two players, you’ll be adding cards from the draw pile at specific times during this phase).  You can’t have more than 10 cards in your hand, so if you draw a card that would put you over the limit, you must immediately discard the card you just drew.

In the production phase, players will receive resources, which can be produced from your base, from Agreements you obtain during the game, from Spoils that you can trade, and from Locations.  Players will receive their resources in player order.

In the actions phase, you may be able to use those resources.  You’ll play one action at a time, in player order, until all players have passed.  After passing, you get no more actions this turn.  You could conquer a location (play a location card as Spoils), establish cooperation (play a location card as an Agreement), or incorporate a location (play a location card as a Location).  For these, you will tuck the card under your base so that the red is showing to indicate Spoils; or tuck it in so the blue is showing to indicate an Agreement; or leave it to the side of the base to indicate a Location.  Spoils give you a one-time reward.  Agreements give you smaller but longer-lasting rewards.  Using a card as a Location gives you permanent access to its resources and special abilities.  Other actions you may want to do include redeveloping a Location (pay a resource and discard a currently played location), playing a new Leader or exchanging the current Leader (by paying one Weapons resource), sending a worker to work at a Location, sending a worker to an opponent’s Location (by placing a faction token on their production Location and collecting those resources immediately), sending two workers to work at a Location for a second time (but that’s the last time you can use it this turn), sending two workers for resources (discard two to gain one of the four basic resources), performing a Leader’s special action, or discarding two cards to draw one new card.

Once all players have passed, you can count up your points.  Much like Settlers of Catan, points are cumulative.  You’re not earning points every turn you have a Location on the table; instead, each Location earns you one point (as do the settlements in Catan).  Leaders also give you a point, and cards have the capability to earn you more points.  This phase is just a chance for you to stop and see how everyone is doing.  It also gives you a place to end the game – if someone has reached 30 points, the game is over (don’t do the clean-up phase).

During clean-up, you discard all unused resources, workers, contact, and redevelopment tokens, as well as any tokens you used during play; you get your faction markers back.

When the game is over, the player with the most points wins.  If there’s a tie, the player with the most cards wins.  If there’s STILL a tie, the player with the most unused resources and workers wins.  If there’s STILL NO WINNER…FINE!  NO ONE WINS! (flip the table in disgust)

On the surface, this game reminds me of Glory to Rome, where every card could be a resource, a worker, a building, or points.  Cards in 51st can also be used in a number of different ways, and that makes things very interesting.  Without knowing what the cards say, I can’t know what kind of interaction there is between players in the game.  I get some ideas from looking through the symbol guide at the end of the rulebook, but I’d have to play the game to find out more.

Speaking of the rulebook, this is a significant improvement over Stronghold, which has one of the WORST rulebooks I’ve ever read.  This one is laid out quite nicely, with different sections even color-coded for easy reference.  There are lots of illustrations, and the text is very understandable.  My big complaint right now is the funky quotation marks that look like „this”.  Apparently, that’s the Polish style, but it throws me for a loop in an English rulebook.

Overall, I’m looking forward to trying this game out.  Be sure to check out what Trzewiczek himself has to say about the game on BGN, and read more buzz on BGG.  If you’re interested, it looks like the game retails for around $50.  Thanks for joining me!

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