In a not too distant future, the government has gone bankrupt. Looking to pull the country out of the red, the world’s wealthiest people from across the globe are invited to Warehouse 51 to bid on the most valuable relics and artifacts in the world.
In Warehouse 51, each player is one of those wealthy few participating in an auction of those rare items. Money is very tight and some of the rare artifacts may turn out to be counterfeit. Once all the items are sold, the person with the most valuable collection is the winner.
Warehouse 51 is an auction and set collection game for 3-5 players, although it plays best with 4 or more.
Warehouse 51, designed by Bruno Faidutti, Sergio Halaban, and Andre Zats, focuses mostly on a closed-economy auction. The game is essentially a series of auctions where players try to accumulate sets to score the most points at the end of the game.
Relics are one of four colors and three different values. Players earn points at the end of the game for having the most or second-most value of each color. Additional points are scored for having sets that include each color. However, some relics will turn out to be fakes and not counted in the final tally. Managing limited money and using a small amount of hidden information to your advantage is key to successfully purchasing the best collection.
The game includes 5 player aids that show players helpful information, including how the final scoring breaks down and how many of each value card exist for every color. The cards themselves are fine; they aren’t handled or shuffled often so despite not being incredibly high quality, they certainly are more than adequate.
The money used in the game are bars of golden “ingots.” These are small cardboard tokens that are thick and sturdy. Unfortunately, they are just absurdly small. This may be to help facilitate closed auctioning, but I would have preferred something a little larger.
Overall, the quality of the components are extraordinarily acceptable. There’s nothing that you are going to be excited to open up the box and show your gaming group, but they get the job done and the inclusion of player boards to relay helpful information is a nice touch.
How To Play:
Before the auctioneer gets going, Warehouse 51 starts with each player getting a little bit of inside information. In a 4 or 5 players game, a counterfeit card will be placed in between each pair of players. You will be able to see before the bidding starts 2 of the items that will ultimately be worthless. In a three player game, there are 2 counterfeit cards between players, so you will know 4 relics that have been faked.
Then the auction begins by a player choosing one of the relic decks (which are separated by color) and the top card of that deck is flipped over and auctioned off. Most auctions are open bidding, going clockwise around the table until all players except one have passed. Some relics show a fist icon, representing a closed auction. In this case, players secretly grab however many ingots they are willing to spend in a closed fist and all are revealed simultaneously.
In either case, the winning bidder hands the money they have bid to the player to their left. The money doesn’t leave the game at any time, it just moves around the table. Players do have the option of pawning a relic they have purchased for an influx of 5 additional ingots, but have to pay back double to score that ingot at the end of the game.
Many relics give you an added ability, or sometimes a curse, that impacts how you can bid or how you score at the end of the game.
After every relic has been auctioned, the counterfeits are revealed and scores are tallied based on majority of each color, sets of each color, and remaining money. The player with the most points is the winner. Interestingly, there are two cards that can break ties, but if none of the tied players own those cards, they share the victory.
Each game of Warehouse 51 has been a bit of a mixed bag. There are some interesting twists on what is otherwise a straightforward auction mechanic. In practice they don’t always play well.
My biggest concern with the game is the length and repetitive nature. There are 26 relic cards. That means 26 individual auctions. Each one largely plays out the same as the one before it. Interesting mechanical twists aside, if having 26 auctions and then figuring up scores doesn’t sound like a good time to you, steer clear. This is a pure auction game, there is nothing to do after the auction ends other than figure out who won. I don’t generally mind auction games, but especially if any of the players took their time making decisions, the game seemed to drag on much too long.
The counterfeit mechanic is a nice touch that allows you to have some hidden information. The fact that it is shared with another player makes it even more interesting. There are some relics that let you “certify” what would be an otherwise counterfeit relic, so sometimes you can get a good deal on something that is known to be counterfeit only to end up being able to score it at the end of the game. Unfortunately, at 3 players the mechanic doesn’t feel like it plays as well. Each player knows 4 of the 6 counterfeit relics. And for each of those relics, only 1 person at the table doesn’t know they are fake.
Finally, paying the player to your left just didn’t seem to make sense from a thematic or in terms of the game mechanics. I really like having a closed economy in an auction game, paying a big price for an item not only depletes your funds but gives additional money to your opponents. But rather than distributing it to all players who didn’t win the bid, it goes just to the player on your left. If you find yourself sitting to the left of a player who is betting rather conservatively, you may be waiting a long time to get more money to use in the auction. Again, another interesting idea to try to mix up what is otherwise just an auction game, but it just doesn’t feel like it plays out well.
Warehouse 51 tries to puts some fresh ideas into a straightforward auction and set collection game. Ultimately it just misses the mark. Often taking too long to play out and the closed economy can really frustrate players who must rely on one of their opponents to supply cash to them.
The hidden information is by far the best part of the game and works really well at 4 and 5 players. Too little is hidden for my tastes at 3 players.
If you are a big fan of auction games, the length and repetition may not be as big of a concern and Warehouse 51 certainly is an interesting addition to the genre. For everyone else, Warehouse 51 is too long to just play as a filler and just isn’t unique enough for me to recommend everyone try it.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Warehouse 51, you can get it for about $20.
Final Score: 2 Stars – Overlong auction game with some unique ideas that just don’t click.
• Too long to be a filler
• Can overstay its welcome
• Always paying the player to your left doesn’t work