Area 1851 from Game Salute review

Right, after all the chaos of holidays and a busy private life, things are settling back down to normal now and I can get on with things, like reviewing games (and more importantly playing them too). Next up is Area 1851 from the lovely people at Game Saulte. What did I think? Read on….

Area 1851 by Justin Blaske is an amusing game that plays from 2 to 5 players and takes about 90 minutes to play. In this game you take on a role of a Tinker in the wild west of 1851 where aliens have visited, plus the different technology of cowboys and indians make things even more interesting. You have to impress the locals of the town where you live with the gadgets that you make from the available technology from your homeland, the aliens and new arrivals. It is a Victory Point based game, so at the end of the game, the person with the most points wins. But we all knew that right?

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What is in the box? This is in the box, quite a bit actually.

The game is played over 15 turns. You have a hand of cards made up of a mixture of Gadget cards and Modification cards. During the turn you roll 3 D4 and this is money that you can spend on building gadgets and modifications. You have 2 actions to utilise each turn and the range from taking cards from your hand and placing them in your personal scrap pile. Everyone who tinkers with things in real life – cars, computers, electronics will have some sort of pile of stuff lying around, this is no different. Your pile of scrap is important and useful. More on this shortly. You can build gadgets, using the numbers on the dice, often you need all 3 dice to be able to build a gadget.

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As most gamers do, when you crack the game open you immediately sort out the bits, each player colour gets a bag.

Gadgets can be modified, you do this by building a modification, this is an action too. They need to be able to be attached to the gadget you have already built and the gadget needs to have the same type of connection that the gadget has available. Another action that is available to you is to draw a feat card. These are one of the two ways to score points in the game. Feat cards give points for certain achievements during the game or give some end of game scoring. However this is a limited deck of cards and once they are gone, they are gone.

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Some assistants may allow you to fiddle for free

Your dice can be modified by discarding scrap from your scrap pile. You will need to do this to be able to build the stuff that you want as the amount has to be exact, so I have found myself modifying dice down as well as up at times to build stuff. Scrap is handy. This is called Fiddling. “I am going to Fiddle!”

To help you manufacture these weird and wonderful items you have assistants. You start off with one, but as the game goes on you gain a second then a third. The assistants move around the board and give you extra abilities to do things on your go. They can be very handy indeed.

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The purple assistants look drunk

Once everyone has completed their turn they can deliver the assembled gadget with modifications (or just the gadget as the case may be) to the inhabitants of the town and see how impressed they are with it, otherwise known as getting points.

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A gadget with all of its modifications slots filled. Looks like a very sensible invention.

Then at the end of the turn you pass your cards onto the neighbouring player and then they refill their hand to 5 cards. This prevents hanging onto the best cards for yourself but you can put the ones you want to keep in your scrap pile, as there are ways of getting stuff out of your scrap pile, but this all costs precious actions.

What I have not mentioned is at the start of the turn there is a random event drawn from a deck that can completely change the following turn. This can lead to all sorts of best laid out plans being scuppered as apart from cards 5, 10 and 15 in the deck they are taken randomly from the larger deck of event cards.

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One of the nicer event cards. 

This is a pretty unusual game. Sure the normal elements are there for a Eurogame like grabbing victory points, limited action points etc. are there but I found it to be a nice combination of a light hearted game and a more serious Euro. When we delivered a gadget we read out to the other players what we had created which lead to a number of laughs around the table. It is not one for the player who only likes the heavier Euro as they would not like the randomness of the events (which can really make a mess of your plans), the fact that you can just spend the first few turns hoovering up the Feat cards, leaving non for the others (not really in the spirit of the game) and the erratic cost to points values on the cards, for example, a card that costs 12 to build will yield 4 points, but one that costs 2 to build will give you 8 points. It feels like a light-medium Euro, but not a serious one, and should not be taken seriously when playing. It certainly fits on the ‘I need to play something silly that is not too serious’ shelf. The artwork is really good and the Assistant figures are excellent. You can tell that they are cowboys with spanners. The point markers are little wooden flying saucers that stack nicely too.

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The cover art

We found that we preferred it playing with more people, although we liked it with 3 players, it felt more fun with 4 or 5, I guess that more gadgets being made and read out, the more funny it was.

When you get this game, resist the temptation to look through the entire deck of cards, so not to ruin the surprise of what you can build. I have tried to keep examples to as few as possible as to not spoil things. We didn’t read the event cards either and just dealt with the pain when it happened. The cries of ‘what the hell’ and ‘you have to be kidding’ plus the general despair were great fun.

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