Ignacy Trzewiczek


No. of Players:
2 - 4

G@mebox Star



At the SPIEL 10 Ignacy Trzewiczek introduced his new post-apocalyptic cardgame 51st State, and for me the game was one of the real highlights of the show, scoring not only with a very good implementation of the setting, but also with a tight-packed competitive playing mechanism which allowed for a short but hard-fought battle of predominance in post-war Amerika. A cardgame usually calls for an expansion, and when The New Era for 51st State was announced I directly suspected that this new game would be used for expanding the scope of the basic game. However, this finding was not fully correct, since The New Era can be played both as a standalone game or as an expansion for 51st State.

Considering the high quality of last year's release, the question may be asked why a new game might be needed, and the answer to this lies in the fact that The New Era contains a slight change of the rules, since now the players get the opportunity to cooperate with or conquer locations belonging to other players. In 51st State only two cards were included which allowed a direct interaction between the players in form of the stealing of resources, but otherwise the players pretty much kept for themselves, optimizing their own layout without spending too much thought about the developments reached by other players. While such an approach can be found in many good development games, Ignacy has given the issue some thought and came up with additional rules which keep the development-rules unchanged but at the same time lead to an increase of player interaction, and the result of this project now can be experienced in The New Era.

Okay, to understand this let's step back to the level of 51st State. All location cards available to the players could be played in three different ways: They could be conquered (a one time use of the red upper part of the card), they could be brought to cooperation (generating a continuous income of the things displayed on the blue lower part of the card), or they could be incorporated (which meant that the card is added as a location to the player's layout area, allowing him to use the attributes shown in the middle part of the card). The possibility to use a card always depended on the card's distance range, and so a player needed conquest, cooperation or incorporation markers which were equal or higher to the distance range listed on the card.

The New Era now adds an additional interaction distance symbol to the location cards, and if a card is incorporated (added to a player's layout) this symbol now displays the conquest / cooperation range which needs to be bridged if another player wants to interact with this location. To make things easy and to allow smooth interaction with cards from 51st State, the interaction distance depends on the type of the location card, so that cards with the production pattern (upper row of a player's layout) have an interaction distance of "3", cards bearing the feature pattern (middle row of a player's layout) have a distance of "4", and cards with the action pattern (lower row of a player's layout) are at distance "5". Thus, the new interaction distance is seamlessly integrated into the layout rules known from 51st State, since the position of the location in a player's display can be used to deduct its interaction distance rating. The closer the card lies towards its owner, the bigger the distance which another player needs to overcome. An easy and very catchy solution!


A player who is able to pay the interaction distance rating in form of conquest or cooperation markers is allowed to interact with this card as an action, but as can be guessed the handling of both of these actions is quite different. If a cooperation with another player's card is established, then the player who performs the interaction puts one of his three new interaction markers on the desired card. He then will receive an instant benefit in form of the resources shown on the lower blue part of the card, and he will keep generating this benefit in all following production phases until he either cancels the cooperation by taking back his marker or the location is destroyed or replaced. Thus, cooperation with another player's location is not harmful, but things are pretty different when it comes to conquest.

If another player's location is target of a conquest action, the raider will receive the things printed on the upper red part of the card as an instant benefit. The card's owner on the other hand has a last possibility to salvage some of his property, and so he will receive the things displayed on the lower blue part of the card for a final time. Then the card is considered to be destroyed, and it will be turned downside so that I will not be useable any longer. However, even in destruction lies some hope, and so a player who has been the victim of such an attack may use one unit of building materials to build one card from his hand on the debris of his destroyed location. This rebuilding action can be performed regardless of the distance range of the newly played card, and so even the destruction of a location can turn out to be helpful.

Looking at the distances which need to be bridged for interaction with other players' cards, the stepwise collection of cooperation or conquest markers becomes very important in The New Era. Thus, a player usually needs several actions to get enough markers to make a long-range conquest of another player's location, and this means that the other players will get time to react. So, a player who sees another player starting a buildup of conquest markers actually may chose to pass on further actions, and all players who have passed cannot become the victim of an attack for the rest of the round. On the other hand, The New Era includes some locations like the Combat Vehicle which allow the production of conquest markers with a negative range rating, and when it comes to an attack a player who has produced such tokens may use them to reduce the conquest rating of the attacker. Thus, the attacker may be forced to use additional conquest markers, or to choose another target for his attack at a reduced distance.

As can be seen, the factor of good timing becomes much more pronounced in The New Era, since the players now have to weight the benefit of taking additional actions against the possible negative effects of a hostile conquest. On the other hand, the game is not unbalanced by the occurrence of a hostile conquest, since the rules for salvaging resources from the target location and for a later rebuilding action certainly give the attacked player at least a partial compensation.

Many new kinds of strategic approaches become available by the enlarging of the interactive bandwidth, because the players now have to consider the benefits which can be found in other players' layouts as well as those which can be gained by playing a card from their own hand. As playtesting revealed, this broader choice of possible strategies seems to overcome the inbuilt balancing dilemma found in modern-classic Race for the Galaxy, since there victory can strongly depend on a lucky drawing of a matching "Cost 6" development card which can multiply victory points at the end of the game. 51st State already reduced drawing luck to an absolute minimum due to the outlook phase in which the players choose the new cards for their playing hand, but now The New Era gives a the possibility to use other players' cards and couples this with a choice of new location features so that the players have a broad choice of possible actions at their hand. Thus, the "production" of victory points is certain, but the players will face a tight competition who does this at the most effective level.

The total amount of victory points needed to end the games has been increased from 30 to 33, but this has not changed the fast-paced character of the game since the overall duration of four to five rounds is still in place. Instead, the playing time is slightly increased by the fact that the new interactive rules need to be considered by the players, but after the first one or two games the new possibilities and also the new symbolism used on the cards once again will be understood by all players.


The rulebook also provides rules for combining The New Era with 51st State, and such a combination works smoothly especially due to the easy accessibility of interaction ranges for the older 51st State-cards (as outlined above). Such a combination of games makes sense insofar as The New Era contains no leader-characters, and the number of cards which duplicate cards from 51st State is less than a fifth of the cards included in The New Era. However, in order to maximize variety, it seems advisable to remove all duplicate cards from 51st State, since this gives the players a better chance to find interesting new cards among the larger deck. At this point the deck balance profits from the fact that the rules focus on the "production" of victory points on a short term strategy, and so the combined games once again can score in comparison to Race for the Galaxy after adding one or more expansions, since even the enlarged cardset does not lead to balancing problems.

As a finishing touch The New Era has been equipped with some wooden components - meeples for the workers and wooden disks for the resources, and so the shifting of these markers on and off the location cards becomes less fiddly than the same exercise in 51st State. With all these elements falling perfectly in place, The New Era is able to outclass even its great predecessor!

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany