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51st State: Tens of Not Very Interesting Decisions

Jesse Dean
United States
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
Microbadge: I have more previously owned games than owned gamesMicrobadge: Out for blood - I play without mercyMicrobadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGG
In my last blog entry, I mentioned that I would probably end up playing Eminent Domain a bit in the near future, but there was also a chance that I would try out 51st State. Now, I’ve been mulling over 51st State a bit in my mind lately. It seemed like it should be a game I should at least take a look at. After all, it is a tableau-based combo-building game, and those games have done fairly well with me in the past. So with that in my mind, as I was out yesterday I stopped at my FLGS, Coolstuff Games, and swam past the Pokémon kids to grab a copy of 51st State. I also got lucky that a local gaming buddy, John, was looking for something to do that night, so he came over and we got in a few games of 51st State before moving on to other games.

51st State at its core is a relatively simple game. Each round players draft from a selection of cards, with the end result being three new cards ending up in each player’s hand. The draft is pretty straightforward, with each player taking a card from the selection into his or her hand and the cards refilling from the deck if the number of cards on the table go under a certain threshold. It ends with each player drawing a random card from the deck. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the game’s interaction comes from this drafting step and, because the advantages of hate-drafting diminish over time as individual players get access to more resources, this interaction is really pretty minimal.

The next step is a simple resource generation stage, where a large number of transitory tokens are produced for use in the player’s actions for the round. I’ve seen people complain about the fiddliness of this step, but considering that I greatly enjoy Merchant’s of Venus, and was able to get 33 plays out of Through the Ages before boredom hit, this did not bother me much.

The next stage, and the one that has the bulk of the game’s decisions, is the action phase. This is really the stage which will make or break a game and, unfortunately, it is not that interesting. What you have is a pretty bog standard resource conversion game where the “three uses” for the cards essentially end up being, “do I want a big one shot of resources,” “do I want a steady income of resources,” or “do I want a special ability related to resources and a victory point.” There is a small bit more subtlety and cleverness to it than that, but essentially all you are doing is converting resources between themselves and turning them into victory points.

This is actually where the large number of resource tokens is particularly telling, since it shows you what the main focus of the game is. This in of itself is not a problem, except for the fact that the resource conversion is really, really uninteresting. Maybe this is fatigue over resource conversion games talking, but if I am going to play a game focused on resource conversion these days I want it to be doing something new and different that gives me something new and meaty to do with the genre. If it doesn’t, why am I not playing Agricola, or Caylus, or Le Havre, or the various other resource conversion games that have some degree of interactivity or innovation? Granted, this one is a bit shorter than those, but I am absolutely willing to spend more time on a game if it is entertaining rather than an exercise in tedium.

Board Game: 51st State

So many components, so few interesting things to do with them.

So in conclusion, this one is definitely a pass unless you have a deep-seated enjoyment of resource conversion games no matter how solitaire or indistinctive, or want a resource conversion game that has an apocalyptic theme. This will not be a game that stays in my collection.
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