Board games that tell stories

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Never before in my life I was so close to a heart attack...

Talks with National Bank of Poland have lasted for months. We knew there was a NBP department of education that finances educational projects. We knew that board games were a great tool for the postulated learning by playing and we knew we could make a fabulous economic board game that would teach players how to manage finances. There were offers, talks and first prototype versions. All this took us more than a year. During this time we have repeatedly visited Warsaw presenting draft stages of the game and reporting which economic mechanisms had been included and how they worked. Each time it was a journey into a different world for us. A world of adults. In the world of National Bank of Poland, there are people who dress in suits. They can tie neckties. At 7 AM they come to work with briefcases in their hands. They have lunch time during the day and vacation once a year which they spend in exclusive resorts abroad. And they use language such as could be heard on the business channel.
Each time I was there, dressed in my flannel shirt and combat trousers, with a rucksack containing a broken laptop that accompanied me on more than one incursion outside the city on my back, I felt I entered the world of adult human beings. The ones who live in the capital, who have serious jobs, the ones discussed on TV.

Oh yes, I always felt huge anxiety and dread before these expeditions.


Finally, in early September, our Pret-a-Porter was ready. The final, finished prototype. We had received a number of postulates concerning financial and market mechanisms to appear and changes we had to make in the game during those long months of discussions and consultations with representatives of NBP’s Board of Experts. Some of these demands had been included, some rejected, as they made the game less interesting and playable, and those had been our top priorities. Above all, we wanted to make an interesting game that would smuggle in the meantime a bit of knowledge about the world of finance.

There came a time of the final meeting. I’m going there. I’m going to present the game and justify myself from its existing and nonexistent elements and pieces.

I have never felt such dread in my whole life. The fate of the project depended on this presentation - NBP wanted to subsidize the game’s production and the sum was large, allowing us to publish this game at the highest level.

And so I’m going to Warsaw with a box under my arm and whole time I’m just a step away from retreat. I’m terrified.


Finally there - as it is typical there - a lot of suits, guard at the entrance, passes, phone calls, ya know, the capital. National Bank of Poland. I’m being led into a conference room, I prepare the game’s setup. There comes the project supervisor, the man who finally decides whether to give the game a green light or to pause the entire project, and one of the experts board.

“Have you met all the experts’ demands posed during our past meetings?” they ask bluntly.

“No, not all.” I answer.

"And why is that?"

The conversation heads in an absolutely wrong direction. I have the feeling that there lacks oxygen in the room. When I entered here it seemed to me that there was an air conditioning. Apparently, it just broke.

“Maybe we should play first and I will show you how the game works and then I will explain what we haven’t done - with your knowledge about the course of the game then."

“Great, then we should play.”

OK, the execution postponed.


And so we play. I analyze what is important during the first fashion show, what comes later on, how to plan whole this play. I'm awfully stressed, there’s emptiness in my head. I see only that the Quality will be most important now, yet from my experience I know that opting for expensive high-quality materials strategy in the first quarter is very risky. I watch the first opponents’ moves. One seems to go for the Quality, the other was lucky with designs and will probably exhibit three. I will try to win Trends and PR, and hope it will work out somehow. We play. One move, two, three, boom, the first maintenance phase. I can see that one of NBP employees, the one responsible for this project, practically spent everything he had. The second player, the invited expert, plays without hurry. I play chaotically, I cannot help it, I’m devoured by stress.

February. The first and the second move. I glance that the project manager is on his way to bankruptcy, he bought what he wanted, yet he doesn’t have enough for the maintenance. Damn. He will just get a loan and get mad. The expert did what he wanted to, he calmly took Credit, bought the materials in the Warehouse and he will go for the shows with three Designs absolutely undisturbed.

And I, I don’t even know what I’m doing. Chaos.


The second maintenance phase comes, the project leader (guy who now has to accept the game for its production and accept the NBP grant) is in trouble, the company is going through a rough time with no money for employees’ salaries. I explain to him this massacre, that he will get an expensive loan, that it is a terrible start, that he overinvested. “Hard luck”, he says. Meanwhile, the expert paid all the salaries ending up with 2 $ in cash. He cut it fine. Either he is very lucky or it was very carefully calculated. I bet on the latter.


Finally, the fashion show comes, our supervisor wins in Quality, the expert is a leader in Quantity and we have a tie in Trends. I get the scraps in the form of winning PR. We count our profits after the first show. My outcome is poor, the expert has earned quite well, after credit’s repayment he gets a nice profit. My project supervisor, the guy who has the right to decide whether the game gets green light, earns a lot from winning the most important feature, but after repaying the private loan he barely makes a profit, he’s earned, but not much.

“Well, I think we have seen enough to assess the project, we can stop playing now.”, he says pushing his cards, money and the board to the further part of the table. Never before in my life I was so close to a heart attack as in that very moment. The guy played only the first round, lost it completely and now he just stops the game. I could have advised him not to go for the damn Quality in the first quarter.

“I do not know about you, Marek” he says to the expert, “but I'm delighted!"

My body doesn’t know what to do. Whether to die from this heart attack or to faint from joy?

“It is a very good game." The expert answers.

“I intentionally risked too high costs to see whether the game reacts. As you well know, Mr. Ignacy, above all this game has to be educational, has to show young people the consequences of certain actions. I have overinvested, I didn’t take care of a credit line and it ended up with my company being barely on plus even though my clothes collection was the best. In turn, as I have seen, Marek played very calmly, when he needed to push forward he took credit and ended the first part of the game with the best result, right?"

“Yes, I wanted to see to what degree taking the credit and obtaining additional funds would allow me to invest in larger purchases of materials and exhibiting larger collection. The return rate seems to be very well balanced. "

I hear what they say, but little reaches my brain. They begin to talk about numbers, whether private loan has an appropriate handling fee, whether employees’ salaries are well balanced and whether the dependence of credit value on the investment size – that is the size of collection – is a suitable solution.

At some point I realize that they are talking to me.

“I congratulate you, Mr. Ignacy. You have made a very good game in Portal. I am glad that we have trusted you and undertook this project. The project has my full acceptance and Pret-a-Porter can move to production stage. "

I have worked for months in order to hear those words. It was absolutely worth it.

“I’ll accompany Mark out and get back to you in a minute, we have a few formalities to determine." he says and leaves. After a moment the door open again and I can see Mr. Marek.

'When this game is published, I could count on a copy for NBP here, yes? I would like to play with our team here. I like it a lot." He says with a conspiratorial tone.

'Yes, by all means."I answer.

I’m left alone. The feeling is amazing. I'm here, in the heart of National Bank of Poland. Yes, the National Bank of Poland. I have just played a game with Bank’s experts. And they are delighted.

This is it. Still, I think I might faint.
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