Pier 51 Imports
Remember the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indiana Jones is getting all shouty about the government’s “top men” not acknowledging the true power of the Ark of the Covenant? Well, you should have seen him when the U.S. announced they’d run out of money and were going to be auctioning it off. He just about nuked the fridge.
The auction at the heart of Warehouse 51 positions itself as the most ill-considered sale of all time. Deeply in debt, the powers-that-be have decided to sell off the nation’s treasures. Not a big deal so long as they’re peddling David’s Harp or a flying carpet, but perhaps a little more spurious once Pandora’s Box is on the table. When your moneymaking scheme rests on the hope that your buyer won’t lift the lid, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your business strategy. It’s sort of like selling a working atomic bomb with a big red DETONATE button to a tribe of islanders and hoping their natural curiosity won’t get the better of them.
As a game, Warehouse 51 couldn’t be simpler. Everybody starts with a stack of 10 gold bars — each worth a billion dollars, we’re assured — and one by one various mythological items are unveiled and offered for sale. Every so often you’ll be subjected to a blind bid, where players hold their bid in closed fists, but most of the time these are honest to goodness open auctions, complete with the ability to drive the price up, sell a stinker by backing out of a bidding war unexpectedly, or complain about the game’s weird cash system.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Warehouse 51; it’s that there isn’t much right with it. Oh, there are a few interesting systems at play. For one thing, all the money spent on a successful bid is passed to the player on your left. This is weird, sure, but it creates an interesting ebb and flow, everyone occasionally flush and sometimes strapped. Nicely, this provides a good reason to drive up the price on certain artifacts to force a leading player to pass on their wealth to someone else. What’s more, the fact that some of the artifacts are worthless counterfeits adds a splash of intrigue to the game. Because each player is only given the identity of two counterfeits, it’s worthwhile to watch for anybody avoiding a particular item even when it would benefit them.
Less inspiring are the abilities on the artifacts themselves. It’s not that I want the option of popping open the Ark of the Covenant the instant I’ve purchased it, melting off the faces of everybody in the room—
Wait. Yes, I very much want that option.
It’s a missed opportunity that the items feel less like awe-inspiring mythological artifacts and more, well, pedestrian. Some are cursed, like how the Shirt of Nessus makes you lose ties or the Spear of Destiny knocks you out of the next auction altogether. Others provide blessings, transmuting counterfeit artifacts into the real deal or making it easier to pawn your newly-acquired treasures for more gold bullion. Which is to say, when artifacts have abilities at all, they’re fairly dull. Whichever investment consortium picks up the Excalibur under the assumption that they’ll become sovereigns of England will be sorely disappointed upon translating the inscription on the blade only to discover it reads “This Relic shows no effect.”
As I said above, there isn’t anything strictly wrong with Warehouse 51. As a bare-bones auction and set collection game, it works just fine. It’s competent. Unfortunately, however cute the theme, it simply doesn’t have enough going on to warrant a recommendation.