I have 30 cards. Each of them has a red watercolour on the top and a blue one on the bottom. Each has a name written in the middle. One is called Guardhouse, another Petrol Station, and another Bunker. I take all thirty of them and go to the board games club in Gliwice.
Asiok is the first one to arrive in the club.
“Come in, let me show you something” I say and take out the cards.
“A new prototype?” he asks
“A brand new one.” I say and give both of us five cards each. “It’s set in the Neuroshima universe, a post-war world with the mood from Mad Max. We’re the leaders of some organization with the aim of expanding our power. Every turn we scan the horizon in search for interesting locations. There are three ways of making contact with a location. You can assault it to immediately get a lot of resources or you can start collaborating and start getting a smaller amount of resources every turn. You can also incorporate it into your micro-country by building a road. In this case you use that location to its full extent. OK?”
Asiok looks at his five cards.
“Ignacy, these cards are blank.” He shows me his cards marked with paint with names in the middle. Like I never saw them before.
„Imagine, that there’s something there. Show me what you’ve got. There, you have a Petrol Station. If you assault it, you’ll get lots of fuel at once. Or collaborate with them and get one fuel every turn. Or build a road there and you can start selling that fuel to me.”
“OK, I’m assaulting the station and take lots of fuel.”
“And I have a Watchtower. I’m making a road connection.”
“What does a Watchtower do?” Asiok asks.
“I have no idea to be honest. Let’s say it defends you from attacks.”
“Can you attack one another?”
“For the time being you can’t. Keep playing. What’s in your hand?”
“I’m placing Barracks, it’ll give me soldiers. I’m making a road connection and it’s now part of my country.”
“OK, I’m contacting a Pub, it’ll give me one hit man every turn.”
Five minutes later we run out of cards. I’m collaborating with a Pub and a Refinery. Asiok has Barracks, has also assaulted a Petrol Station and an Arena. We have no idea what these cards do. It’s irrelevant at this stage. It’s the potential that counts.
„And?” I ask, “Can you imagine how it’s going to look in the future? Would you enjoy such game and its features?”
“If you make it well, there’ll be lots of choices. Players will have plenty of potential moves.”
“Did you have any vivid ideas? Did you feel you were assaulting and signing contracts, and that it has nice atmosphere and makes sense?”
“Yes, there’s a potential here. Bring a new version next week.”
I showed the game to a few other people that afternoon. I played with Sheva, Mst, Allchemik and Korzen. The latter, to my amazement, after playing a weird, made up match with me, took those 30 cards off me and played each other, also making up card’s functions as they went.
It was clear to see – 51st State had an idea. When someone asks me what this game is about, I won’t have to say: “Well, it’s a new kind of pick and delivery with a twist…” I won’t have to tell: “51st State is the four hundred and fifteenth take on territory control mechanics, where the players fight for field advantage…” I won’t be embarrassed by saying: “51st State is a game using deck building mechanics known from Dominion, but introduces a little twist…” It’s not a boring, three hundredth variation on a popular theme.
I made a game about which I can say something interesting in two sentences. 51st State is a game, where players look for locations and are able to make contact with each and every one of them in three different ways. You see an Old Radio Station and you invade it and steal their equipment, you start collaborating with them and use it in every turn or you annex it and it becomes exclusively yours, indefinitely.
Two sentences selling the mood of the game. Two sentences telling about mechanics and a multitude of choices and tactics. Two sentences showing that it’s a great piece of tangible storytelling fun.
That day I started believing in the potential of 51st State. I saw a vivid idea that works, that people played a card game where the cards had no rules on them. And yet they could imagine what was happening and enjoyed it. I enjoyed it too. It was a nice, playable idea. It was something new. Not another eurogame with cubes, not another Dominion clone. Something different. Assault a location, collaborate with it or annex it to your territory.
One card – three colourful, strong storytelling outcomes.