As a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, I’ve always been drawn to the world of 51st State (or Neuroshiuma Hex). Cool factions, repurposed machines, alternate history, it’s got it all. Years ago, I tried out the 51st State Masters Set that, while it didn’t displace my love of Imperial Settlers, I still found it to be pretty fantastic.
Today, we are going to take a look at the third addition to this edition of 51st State. The Moloch expansion promises to add semi-cooperative gameplay to the game as a horde of robots are coming to ruin everyone’s day.
There are two decks of cards in the Moloch expansion. First, there are 27 standard cards that get shuffled into the core deck. These work just like every other card in 51st State. The other deck is made up of 23 double-sided machine cards here to terrorize all the players. The expansion also adds in two new phases that key off this deck.
After Production, you now have an Assault phase where any machines on the table attack the players. These will do things like steal your resources or raze cards. Then there is a Deploy phase where several machines are added to the table based on the number of players and what difficulty level you are playing.
To fight the machines, you have two options. You can either use your red distance arrows to raze them, earning yourself a VP, and sending them to the discard pile. Or you can hack them, buy spending 3 matching resources and/or workers. Doing so lets you add them to your hand. The reverse side of each machine is an empire card that can be used like any other (built, razed, or made a deal with).
The only other rule change of note is that, at the end of the game, the player in the lead loses 2 VP for each machine left on the table.
Game Experience with the Expansion:
When I first explained the rule changes to my fellow players, they all seemed a bit skeptical. Our biggest worry was that the game was going to be bogged down with these new cards and phases, dragging the length out. We also were worried that it would become a massive resource sink, stalling out the game.
Yet for the most part, that didn’t happen, at least playing on the lower difficulty levels. The “recruit” level adds one machine per player, which felt like a solid way to use the expansion without having things turn into a slog. While I couldn’t try it with 4 players at the “Veteran” level, I would imagine that it would definitely add some playtime.
Yet despite adding a little extra runtime to the game, I really liked the expansion. The new machine cards are really good, and it almost got to the point where we were each jockeying to see who would be the first to hack them to get the card ability. Some, like the Stormtrooper, will key off how well you’ve been hacking machines (giving you a worker for each hacked unit), while others will increase your efficiency. Such as the Clown that gives you a gas or brick every time you make a deal.
For the most part, we rarely got hit with the assault of the machines because we were doing such a good job of destroying them. I think it was a really great idea from Portal Games to provide a solid benefit to taking them out. This took a mechanic that could have been an exercise in frustration and, instead, gave us a carrot to work towards. Not once did we feel like we were wasting resources to avoid the Moloch assaults. Instead, it gave us an extra goal to work towards, or a way to use spare resources.
The only thing I didn’t really like was the odd catchup mechanic rule. The player in the lead loses 2vp at the end of the game for each machine left. I’m not sure what prompted this rule, but it feels a bit arbitrary and unnecessary. I could imagine it would be particularly punishing at higher player counts and difficulty. If there are only 1-2 machines left, it’s probably not a big deal, but more than that it could be a game-changer. Players not in the lead are disincentivized from attacking machines in the last round. To be honest, we’ll probably house rule that one out in the future. Just feels a bit tacked on.
The Moloch expansion for 51st State was an overall win in my book. While it does add a bit to the playtime since you are forced to divert resources to these robot cards, the payoff is worth it as the cards are nice and extra VPs are always welcome. And since the rule overhead was so low, I think I’d always want to play with the Molochs in the future. Even with all the content for 51st State (there are almost half a dozen expansions already), this one is still a must-buy in my opinion for fans of the game.
• Catch up mechanic rule feels unnecessary