Browian, Grzech and I finally have the chance to meet and discuss 51st State, three weeks after they took the prototype. They live in Wroclaw, I live in Gliwice. With 200km between us the only contact comes courtesy of Skype. But thanks to Pionek, a convention for gamers, we can finally meet and play together.
“The Merchants are too powerful”, starts Browarion. “They win all the time.”
“It’s possible. You got the deck for testing, didn’t you? I never noticed it and perhaps you have found a way to win the game by using the Merchants.” We sit down and play. „Take the Merchants.” I say.
Browarion takes his Merchants. We play the three players version. The Merchants come third.
“Let’s do it again” says Browarion. Again we sit down and play. The Merchants come last. We play again. The Merchants come last for the third time in a row. I’m tempted to tease him but Grzech beats me to it.
“I told you but you wouldn’t listen. Don’t look at nations, look at players. When we played in Wroclaw you didn’t lose to the Merchants, you lost to me. I told you.”
The match has been on for good fifteen minutes now. Piotr has been moaning like a slaughtered calf for good fourteen minutes.
“The Merchants are too weak. They can’t do anything. The contracts are of no use to me, three spots and that’s it. This needs to be changed.”
“Stop moaning and play.”
“But they are. Can’t you see that?!”
“How many points do you have?”
“How many do I have?”
“So will you, please, stop moaning?”
“I’m being serious. Do you know how I struggle to get these 14 points?”
Another 10 minutes pass like the whole eternity, since Piotr manages to fill every one of them with ten minutes of moaning.
“The Merchants are weak, what a joke. I have the contracts’ spots blocked and you’re all over me.”
“Stop moaning, concentrate on the game. I’m finishing in the next turn.”
“I would finish too, but with those stupid Merchants I stand no chance. Maybe with a fourth contract spot, or a universal resource instead of the stupid fuel? This would bring some commerce mood and I would stand a chance…”
We’re done in the next ten minutes.
”How many points do you have?” I ask.
“36. And you?” he asks.
“36.” I answer.
“See? I barely managed a draw!”, he is moaning again!
“You have more cards left in hand, which means that you have won. It is tiebreaker. Merchants won.”
“Do you realize how tough that was? The Merchants are too weak, I’m telling you!”
After another series of tests I discard the Baby Swift from the deck. The players have too few cards in hand to afford discarding two more for a victory point. Baby Swift is an unplayable, dead card. We play without it and everything works well until the next rule change. Now the players have more cards in hand, so Baby Swift gets another chance. It comes back. We play subsequent matches and indeed, Baby Swift makes more sense now, even though it seems to be one of the weaker leaders. Players tend to put their money on Borgo or Greedy Pete, Baby Swift is usually a second or third choice. I make notes and analyse everything, constantly monitoring which cards come into play and which ones are regularly ignored during the draft. It seems to me that Baby Swift walks a thin line between being popular and being unused. It’s a little too weak to be a hit and slightly too strong to simply be discarded from the deck. It gets used sometimes.
In the meantime Michal Oracz prepares another version of the prototype for me – new graphics from the illustrators came in. We can finally play with the original Baby Swift artwork that will appear in the final game. The graphics are insane. Another wave of matches and tests commences.
Baby Swift is the most popular leader in the game now. It’s on the table every game. It’s always the players’ first choice.
I haven’t changed a single rule. I only changed the graphics.
Testing games is crazy fun. You get tens of contradictory conclusions and pieces of information. Every tester tries to pull in their own direction. Each one has a different view. Each one expects from the game something different. One tester plays well, another one is not that good. One tester claims that a certain faction is powerful, another finds it the weakest. Testers from Wroclaw catch me on Skype in the evenings and ask me not to listen to testers from Opole, because 51st State doesn’t need negative interaction. Opole rings me and says that the players from Wroclaw are little girls, and Neuroshima is for big boys. Wroclaw writes that Opole is biased, since they prefer war games there. And that the merchants are too weak.
Games’ reports. Results’ files. Statistics. Opinions and claims. A continuous flow of information.
I sit and filter through it. I pick recurring remarks. I check and thoroughly analyse opinions which seem to appear on a regular basis.
And everything else… into the bin.