51st State (Master Set) (Portal Games, 2016)

Date played: May 8, 2020 (in the interest of full disclosure, it was not a full game, the reasons for which will become clear below)

Basic details: 1-4 players, 60-90 minutes

Gist of the game: In this post-apocalyptic hellscape, your goal is to create a new state (really, city) by gaining territory and thwarting your opponents. In multiplayer mode, your opponents are obviously your fellow players. In solo mode, you play against a “virtual player” which follows the same steps each round. Each player (but not the virtual player) controls a faction.

Play proceeds across several rounds, with 4 phases in each round. In the Draft/Lookout phase, players reveal the top card of the connection deck and draw new cards to place in their hands (this part occurs twice, once beginning with the first player and once beginning with the last player).

In the Production phase, players gather goods via their faction board, any deals they have struck with locations, and production locations. Goods take the form of cards, victory points, contact tokens, and resources (guns, workers, gas cans, bricks, cogs).

In the Action phase, each player takes a turn and play proceeds to the next player until no player can take another action. Possible actions are to build a location, make a deal, raze a location from your hand or in another player’s city, use a card action, use a faction board action, use another player’s open production location, take a Connections card, and play a Connections card. Once you pass, you cannot take another action, but nor can other players interact with your city, whether to raze buildings or to use open production lines.

There are two ways to build a location. You can construct a card from your hand, spending the appropriate number of grey contact tokens. Locations are placed in separate rows by category: production, feature, and action. Players can also develop a location by choosing a card from their hand and in their state that share a type, spend a brick, discard the location already in the state, and replace it with the card from their hand. Grey contact tokens are not needed when developing a location. Production locations produce their goods immediately, and some locations provide a building bonus.

To make a deal with a location, spend the appropriate number of blue contact tokens, and place the card under your faction board so that only the deal portion of the card is showing. Deals provide the given good every Production phase.

To raze a location from your hand, spend the appropriate number of red contact tokens and take the goods shown in the spoils section of the card. To raze an opponent’s location, spend the appropriate number of red contact tokens, and take the specified spoils. The opponent gets the goods specified in the deal section of the card. The card is then flipped face down (but could later be developed).

To take an action from a building card or faction board, spend the appropriate goods and place them on the card (so you don’t use that action again).

To send a worker to an open production location, place a worker on that card and take the specified goods. The player who owns the location gets a worker from the general supply.

To take a Connections card, spend 2 workers. To play a Connections card, simply perform the action on the card. Connections cards provide goods when played.

In the Cleanup phase, you can use any location storage abilities to save goods. Otherwise, all goods are discarded back into the communal piles. Between rounds, you only keep goods in storage and the cards in your hand. Any remaining face up Connections cards are discarded. The first player shifts across rounds, rather than remaining the same player the whole game.

In solo mode, as mentioned above, you play against a “virtual player.”

In the Draft/Lookout phase, you reveal the top blue and red Connections cards from their decks. Draw the top 4 cards from the top of the deck. Choose one for yourself, randomly select one for the virtual player, choose a second for yourself, and give the remaining card to the virtual player. The virtual player also receives an additional card from the top of the deck.

The virtual player does not receive any goods during the Production phase, but you do as normal.

You are always the first player, and take the first action each Action phase. When you raze a location in the virtual opponent’s state, it is discarded rather than remaining as a ruins.

On the virtual player’s turn, they will first try to claim a Connections card. Doing so earns them 2 victory points. When there are no more face up Connections cards, the virtual player will try to attack, up to 3 times. The virtual player stops attacking and passes once they raze one of your locations. For the virtual player attack, reveal the top card of the deck. If its location types do not match any location in your state, the attack fails. Repeat the process up to 2 more times, on separate virtual player turns. If a location type does match a location type in your state, raze that location. The virtual player receives 25 victory points, and you receive the deal payout for having it razed. If the card that should be razed has a shield on it, you can discard the shield instead of razing the location.

You can interact with the virtual player with some modifications. If you send a worker to one of their open production facilities, they gain a victory point instead of a worker. Nor does the virtual player receive goods from razing locations.

The game ends once a player reaches 25 victory points. When this happens, you complete the current Action phase as normal and add 1 victory point for each location in the state for both you and the virtual player. If you have more victory points than the virtual player, you win. If you win, you can compare your score to a scale and achieve various titles (mutant at the lowest end to grand master at the highest).

Color commentary: First, as a solo game, this falls outside of the theme for the month.

This game is garbage as a 1-player game. I played like, 3 rounds before giving up. The virtual player probably has an advantage anyway because they automatically get two built locations per turn (and maybe you can only build 1, or none), and to give them a 3rd makes it incredibly unlikely that you will win. I don’t need a guaranteed victory, but it’s no fun to play a game when it’s a foregone conclusion that you’ll lose.

Also, it’s way too much to keep track of. Taking turns in the action phase is hard to keep track of, because it seems like the attacks by the virtual player should be a single turn since they automatically do it up to 3 times, and remembering to even give the virtual player a turn is also difficult because once they attack 3 times or successfully attack, you basically get unlimited uninterrupted turns. Moreover, there’s a chance that even if you gain the red contact tokens needed to raze a location in the virtual player’s state by taking the red Connections card, you won’t actually get a chance to attack. If you take the Connections card as your first action, the virtual player will take the blue card as their first action. Then, for your second action, you would have to play the card to get your tokens. On the virtual player’s second turn, they’re already attacking you. IF that attack fails, on your 3rd turn you can raze a location in the virtual player’s city. Oy.

I think it’s probably better, and perhaps even fun, as a mulitplayer game, but the solo mode was so unenjoyable I don’t know when or even if I’ll actually try to play it as a multiplayer game.

Thoughts M might have had if he had looked through the box: I could do without the vaguely sci-fi theme. Post-apocalyptic is fine, but do we really need a “mutants union” faction? New York, Merchants Guild, and Appalachian Federation are fine, in principle, but some of the art is, again, weirdly sci-fi. The individual on the New York faction board appears to be a cyborg, maybe? Why can’t we just have the nice, wholesome post-apocalyptic ambiance of Mad Max: Fury Road? No need for monsters or artificial intelligence. The hellscape can be awful enough with regular people who may or may not drive porcupine cars and/or be basically perpetual blood donors. No need to get weird about it.

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