51st State: The New Era Review

51st State New Era game in play

After playing the original 51st State and thoroughly enjoying it, I felt it was appropriate to track down a copy of 51st State: The New Era to play.

Since The New Era is an expansion to 51st State, I am going to assume that you are familiar with the original game (and if not, please click on the previous link and check out my review of it). Therefore, I'm going to focus this review on the differences between New Era and the base game - though you should know that New Era is a standalone expansion that can be played without a copy of 51st State.

The Hegemony card from New Era
The Hegemony
First, The New Era is playable with 2-5 players instead of the 2-4 from the original game. In order to do this, they have added in the "Hegemony" faction. In addition to this faction, they have included all four of the factions from the base game, and those factions are completely unchanged. I felt like this was an area that could have been improved. Instead of using the same factions from the base game, if they had created 5 new factions, there would be much more replayability when combining the two games. Instead, if you combine the games, then you have a useless copy of 4 of the factions. In addition, though the game is now 5-player, I am not sure who would actually play it with five. Due to the length of the game (which seems to grow proportionally with the number of players), I think that four and below really was adequate. Either way, extra factions are always nice as they allow you to have a different feel when playing the game (which, again, is why I wish that they had different factions from the base game).

The next topic is directly related to my biggest complaint with the base game. The base game was incredibly hard to learn and teach. Whereas the New Era isn't entirely clear (I read the rules, played with someone else who had read the rules, and still had a few things I was unclear about), the instructions have added an "Abbreviated Game Guide" on the back.  This really helps when teaching the game. There are simply so many different actions available that it is hard to remember them all when explaining. This very small addition makes it much easier to make sure you don't leave them out.

Ultimately, there are two big changes in the gameplay. First, the leaders from the base game have been eliminated. If you combine the sets, then the leaders are still legal, but they did not include any new leaders in the expansion. I'm fine with this change, as I thought the leaders may have been a bit too powerful and helped favor whoever had the good fortune of drawing one.

Refinery card from 51st State New Era
Note the blue/red arrow
Secondly, the New Era has added player interaction. The cards now include a blue/red arrow that indicates how far the location is from the other players. So, in addition to making agreements with cards from your hand (playing them for the blue side), you can now make agreements with cards that other players have played as locations (white)! This is a nice addition. The other aspect of the player interaction (red half of the arrow) is that you can blow up your opponent's locations. If you successfully destroy your opponent's location, though, he can fairly easily rebuild it (assuming he has access to brick), and gains a victory point for doing so! Therefore, attacking other players can be useful when done strategically (specifically in games with three or more players), but if done haphazardly can actually help your opponent by essentially giving him extra redevelopment actions. This player interaction is done well, and I think that it adds value to the game.

The only other real change that I noticed was in the components. Instead of having seemingly hundreds of very small round cardboard chips (that were hard to pickup), resources have been replaced with wooden tokens. I think that this helps the game feel higher quality, but actually may be a touch more confusing during gameplay - instead of very easily knowing that a cardboard chip with a gear on it represents a gear, you now have to mentally convert a wooden gray disc into a gear (which is trickier with the brick and gun since the orange and red discs are somewhat similar in color).  They have also replaced the faction cards indicating what the faction's permanent actions are with a single sheet showing all four of those actions (including the redevelopment).

51st State and New Era cards
Old and New Faction components
Overall, I give 51st State: The New Era an 8.5/10. You may be thinking, "but that's what you gave 51st State!" Indeed, it is. I think that The New Era is an improvement over the base game, and I would recommend that people purchase it instead (or in addition) to 51st State. However, the gameplay isn't distinct enough that I thought it warranted a higher score. Either way, it is a very solid game that I enjoy playing!

If you like New Era, you might also like Race for the Galaxy, Eminent Domain, and Summoner Wars.

I would like to thank Portal Games for providing me with a review copy of 51st State: The New Era.


  1. Thanks for the review, Josh! As a fan of the original 51st State, I have been looking at this expansion recently.

    Does the player interaction really add that much to the game? Being a "standalone expansion" it has a full retail sticker price, and I'm not convinced that it's worth re-investing in a game that I already enjoy as is!

    And I agree, I don't know that I would really want to play it as a 5-player game. I appreciate the addition of a new faction, but I think I would choose to play it as a 4-player max, and blind deal the factions to add a touch of variety to the table dynamics.

  2. I would have to say that it depends on how big of a game you normally play. In 2-player games, the player interaction is nice, but isn't really that big of a change. In a 4-player game, the ability to attack each other can be a much bigger difference, as you can combine to slow down a player that is doing very well. I think you also have to factor in that the new game has new cards! ; )