GAME REVIEW: Warehouse 51

This was one of the 40+ games me and my fellow gamer Dan came home with from GenCon.  I wasn’t sure about the game and wanted to check out a demo before I bought it, but my buddy Dan decided that the theme alone was good enough for him, so he just bought it right then and there without a demo.  Was that a wise decision?  Let’s find out!

Warehouse 51 plays from 3-5 players.  The box says 2-5, but that is a misprint.  The designer himself has even admitted that.  So there is no 2 player variant.  The game takes about 30-45 minutes and can be played with gamers 8 and up.

The game takes place about 30-40 years in the future and the American Government has spent all of the country’s money and is now bankrupt.  So the Government is forced to auction off all of their items from Area 51, a fictional (or not so fictional) place where the Government stores all kind of ancient, and supernatural relics.  Each player takes on the role of a billionaire, bidding on these rare (and potentially dangerous) items from Area 51.  But be careful, because some of these items are counterfeit, and you could be cheated out of victory points.  Also, some of these relics have blessings (which are good) and curses (which are bad).  So bid at your own risk!

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Before the game begins, you set out 4 stacks of relic cards.  The backs are of different colors, representing different categories: Red = Eastern Cultures; Blue = Western Fantasy & Literature; Green = European Mythologies; and Gold = Near & Middle East.  These are the cards you will be bidding on during the game.

Each relic card in the game has a corresponding counterfeit card.  Shuffle the counterfeit card deck. then put out 1 (or 2 in a three player game) card(s) in between each player.  Every player can look at the counterfeit cards immediately to their right and left.  So there will be 2 or 3 counterfeit cards they won’t know are out.  This is important, because at the end of the game, if you end up with a relic that ends up being counterfeit, that card is discarded before the final scoring begins.

Once you have all the cards in place, each player chooses a character board (which is basically just a player aid with a character on it), and 10 gold ingots.  The youngest player picks the top card of one of the decks, turns it face up, and the bidding begins.

The game is a pure auction game, so that’s all you’re pretty much doing.  Just bidding.  At the beginning of the round, the start player (who is the player who won the last auction) flips a card face up, and makes a bid.  Most of the time, it’s open bidding.  Which consists of a player saying a number, then the next player can place a higher bid if they choose.  If they pass, it goes to the next player.  If all players pass, then the last person who made a bid wins.  Here’s the catch.  Whoever wins the bid, pays the player to their left.  It’s weird, but I’ll get into that later.

There are also closed bids, which are identified by a closed fist in the upper right hand corner of the card.  For a closed bid, every player takes all their gold into one hand and chooses how much to put into their other hand.  Whoever has the most when the players reveal their hands wins the bid and pays the player to their left.

At any point during the game if a player has 5 or less gold ingots, they can pawn off one of their relics to receive 5 gold.  At the end of the game, a player may buy back any relics they have pawned for 10 gold each.

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To spice up the game, there are also blessings and curses on many of the cards.  Blessings might give you special actions or abilities, like secretly looking at another counterfeit card, swapping relics with another player, score an extra point, etc.  Curses are never good and usually hinder the player, like some make you discard a relic from your collection, or not let you buy any more relics from a category, etc.

Once the last card is auctioned off, the game ends and the final scoring begins.  All of the relic cards have a number at the top left (1-3).  These numbers will be used toward the final scoring.   Whoever has the most and the 2nd most points in each category will receive points.  Also for each full category set (1 card from each category) will score you 5 points.  You will also get 1 point for every 5 gold ingots left over.  Whoever has the most points at the end is the winner

There are a few little details to remember, but this is a pretty simple game.  All you are doing is bidding.  The whole game.  I have played games where there is an auction mechanic, but this is my first time playing a pure auction game (I know there are others out there, I just haven’t played them).  I wasn’t too sure about this game, but to my surprise I really enjoyed this one.  Maybe it was just the simplicity of playing a game where all you are doing is bidding on legendary, rare relics?  Who knows?  But I loved it!

The theme for me adds to the fun.  I love it when a game comes up with silly reasons to do things, and this one is a doozy.  I was laughing while reading the premise out loud to the other players the first time playing this.  America blowing all their money, and now they have to sell relics from Area 51?  That’s hilarious and really adds to the fun spirit of the game.

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The artwork has fun, cartoonish artwork.  I love all the characters, and the relics have a nice sheen to them.  Speaking of the relics, how cool is it to bid on the holy grail or the ark of the covenant.  That’s great!

The card abilities of each relic give the game a nice flavor to it. One thing that I really liked was that there are some special relics that can make counterfeit relics legit.  But be careful, because if your special relic is counterfeit, than you’re screwed….. which happened to me more than a couple of times.

The game flows very smoothly, from one auction to the next.  What really makes this game flow is probably my favorite thing about it….. and that’s paying the player to your left.  Now I’ve read and watched a number of reviews that complained about this mechanic, about how it doesn’t make thematic sense.  Well, I guess I can’t really argue that.  It doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.  BUT, mechanically it really works.  It makes everything flow so well.  I love planning out how you are going to get more money from the player to your right, usually by bluffing by bidding on something you don’t really want.  I thought this was refreshing.  It works so well that I don’t really care at all if it makes sense thematically.  This game is supposed to be silly fun anyway, so I feel like it’s in spirit of the game.

This game moves at a fast pace, and it’s always fun trying to out bid the other players.  And there’s a little bit of bluffing to be had too, which is always fun.  I also love that you know some of the counterfeit cards, but not all of them.   That makes it a bit of a guessing game throughout.

This is a simple, fairly quick, light filler.  The theme makes the game pop with flavor.  The first time I brought it out to my gaming group, the other players immediately wanted to play it again.  I highly recommend Warehouse 51.  My surprise hit from GenCon.  Easily one of the best filler games of the year.

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