51st State is all about building an engine. And like the post-apocalyptic world it represents thematically, building things that you want to build will be difficult and not always work without a little bit of ransacking and raiding.
You see, to create one thing you’ll need to produce another thing, and to get that other thing you’ll need to produce a third thing that can be turned into a fourth thing that can be exchanged for the second thing…It’s a pretty standard engine-building game in that way. Each playable faction will have their own strengths and weaknesses as far as what they can produce. They’ll have a bit of technology leftover from the old world, or they just know how to scavenge for certain items. Sometimes, though, you’ll need to destroy a building in order to get to the salvage you need. Sometimes it’s better to use force to take what you need from another player.
Most of this is happening only within the thematics, of course. Take away the post-apoc pictures and descriptions and it could be a game about matching colored squares or numbers to produce mathematical equations. But the theme of industry after the fall of civilization goes a long way in this one, and every action and outcome is brilliantly matched with visuals and representations that help you transcend a basic engine-building game and really experience the struggle of post-apoc living.
What I’ve found with 51st State is that you may not know what your strategy is until you’re halfway through the game. Items you were trying to produce take a backseat to others because you suddenly discover a little combo that you’d like to exploit. Or perhaps you’ve looked up and realized that you need to go raid your neighbors tableau, and that’s so fun and easy that you decide building your own salvage yards aren’t worth your time. The cards that become available to you will drive new strategies, much like a wanderer in the wasteland making do with only the scraps they can find.
51st State has some of my favorite game pieces of anything I’ve played in recent memory. It’s not the standard wood and stone of most Eurogames. Instead there are guns, and gears, and gas cans. This adds a refreshing new element that helps it stand apart from similar games, and the themes are so realized that they will immediately burrow into your brain. You will be that mutant scavenging for scrap. You will be a post-apoc entrepreneur.
You aren’t going to get the exploration feel of Fallout in this game, and you won’t be simulating combat like in Dust. But for strategy lovers, deck building enthusiasts, and anyone with a taste for the post-apocalyptic, this game is going to have a permanent rotation in your game collection.