Not long ago I decided to pick up a copy of 51st State, a card game set in a post-apocalyptic future (in fact, it’s set in the same time and place as Neuroshima Hex, but there isn’t much to indicate that).
I was a little wary of 51st State at first, as it made me think it was going to be like Race for the Galaxy, a game I don’t care for. And in some ways, it is. You’re pulling cards from a shared deck, and interacting with (attacking, negotiating, controlling) the locations on them in a race to get to a set number of victory points before the other players do. Like RFTG, there’s very little player interaction and there’s a lot of weird iconography. Yet for some reason it clicked with me in a way that RFTG didn’t, and I was pleased with my purchase. Luckily, it seems that a fair number of the friends I game with liked it as well.
I was planning on writing a review of it here but wanted to get a few more games in first. Something happened, though.
The big international game expo, Spiel, took place in Essen, Germany a few weeks ago. My pal Mike went, and I asked him to bring a few things back for me, one of which was The New Era, a “stand-alone expansion” for 51st State.
Matt and I cracked into this the other night and discovered that the phrase “stand-alone expansion” is not quite the right description of this game. It’s a complete re-do of 51st State. It’s literally the same game, done again, with some rules and mechanics changes.
One of the changes is huge: you can now interact with your opponents’ locations. Not only can you send workers to their factories as before, but you can also negotiate with them and blow them up. This is a major difference and it adds a lot to the game. To facilitate this, all the locations have a new piece of info on them, the defensive value. There are also now locations which can help your defenses even more. This new level of interaction works smoothly and makes the game even better.
This is the biggest change, but there are others. Leaders have been removed (possibly for a future expansion?) and some of the rules and actions have been streamlined a bit. There’s also a new faction, The Hegemony, allowing up to five players. You now have a starting hand. For some reason the game ends at 33 points instead of 30 as before. There are also some cosmetic changes. Resources are now wooden bits instead of cardboard tokens, there’s a score track that isn’t on the back of the box, and there’s a nice glossy player aid. Instead of getting three additional cards with your faction, you get one big one that has all its abilities on there. It’s a very attractive package.
If I’m making it sound like The New Era is superior to 51st State in every way, that’s because it kind of is. It’s Version 2.0, and it makes a great game even better. This is good news for people looking to buy a cool, fun card game.
For people who already bought 51st State, well, it’s something of a mixed feeling. I’m glad that a game I like has been improved, but not glad about putting that game away completely in favor of the new version. The rules claim you can use the cards from 51st State with The New Era (including the Leaders) and they give rules on how to determine the defensive value and how to use certain special cards, but I would be leery of doing so for fear of wrecking the balance of the deck as is. I’m hoping someone on BGG will determine what can be added without messing things up.
Plainly put, if you are looking for one of these games to buy, The New Era is the way to go. The only reason not to, I imagine, is if you dislike player interaction (the ability for other players to “mess up” your little domain) , in which case 51st State is probably more of what you want. If you already own 51st State and like it as is, then I guess you’re good to go. But if you were looking to The New Era as a way to expand your game and add a little more to it, you need to realize that you’re pretty much buying a new game and shelving the old one, without even getting any kind of “upgrade” discount.
Incidentally, Mike also brought me back a little expansion set of cards for the game. They’re 51st State versions of cards — one of them is a leader and they have no defensive values. Which is annoying.