Metatopia 2017

By | November 9, 2017

Hello and welcome! It’s been a few weeks since my last non-announcement post because we’ve been terrifically busy. Not only is Forthright Open Roleplay now available (and a silver seller!), but Sarah and I moved to a new house (and corporate office, I suppose) and I headed to New Jersey for the one-of-a-kind Metatopia. I didn’t bring anything of my own, because my goal this time was to give back to the community that made Forthright possible by playtesting as many other games as I could.

It’s taken me a while to sit down and write this because, alas, my flight back to RDU from Newark was cancelled due to clouds. Like, apparently, seriously terrifying clouds that shut down almost all traffic out of Newark this past Sunday night. So I had to cancel my flight and drive home…an 8-hour drive…starting at 8pm. I am not a young man anymore, that was hard.

Anyway, my brain seems to be fully-functioning again, so let’s talk Metatopia!

Networking

Metatopia is in a big way a networking convention, and this year I think I met and had wonderful conversations with more people than the previous two times I’d been to Metatopia. I think that’s mostly on me, as my previous visits were with Sarah and Ray and if I’ve got somebody I know I tend not to branch out to meet people I don’t. But I was also previously burdened with a severe case of impostor syndrome, like I didn’t really deserve to be there, and that anything I had to say was pointless and dumb compared to the gaming greats around me. Combined with a compulsion to stay entirely focused on the then-unfinished Forthright, I don’t think I was in a mind space to fully appreciate what Metatopia had to offer in this regard.

This time, I arrived with confidence – we had developed Forthright and gotten it to publication, and people in general liked it. That pushed impostor syndrome right out of my head – I had done something. And I got to hang out with a lot of great people and really enjoy myself as a result – and I thought about listing them all here, but that feels strangely like name-dropping oh look who got to hang out with. So…next!

Panels

I only attended two panels this year, one of which I was on. From Idea to Product: Your First Game was a panel I was on with John Adamus and Laura Simpson. It was a really interesting experience to share advice with a room full of people, and hopefully the mistakes we’ve made will help some of those fine folks avoid making the same ones. And I got to meet Laura Simpson, who developed Companion’s Tale, a game I’d not heard of but am now dying to play!

Generic But Indie was a panel I attended at the urging of Jason Pitre and boy, am I glad I did! This panel had Jason, Brennan Taylor, and Hannah Shaffer talking about the difficulties of creating, marketing and sustaining a generic product with supplements. I’m really glad I went to this panel, because that was very much the original business plan for Room 209 Gaming: create Forthright, then do a bunch of game-setting products. We wanted to avoid the pushback Fantasy Flight experienced by repackaging the same rules over and over for Star Wars.

But, as it turns out, indie games tend not to suffer that pushback because they’re small enough that they offer additional growth opportunities rather than a burden. So that’s led to a shift in how we’ll be developing Gamescape products in the future.

Playtesting

The last time I attended Metatopia (2015), the con had grown to a point where there was friction between developers and players. Designers were expecting more robust feedback than they were getting, while players were expecting a more traditional con experience. I’m happy to say that this year, that did not seem to be the case – Double Exposure printed up packets for all the game tables that explained the roles and responsibilities of the devs and the players, and provided handouts with some great tools for structured feedback. I was pretty impressed.

And I got to play some really interesting games. “Take two stats and add numbers into a single die pool to roll” was a favorite mechanic this year, at least at the tables I gamed at. Some of the highlights (in alphabetical order):

  • BLOCKBUSTER! was the last game I got to play, from Duffy Austin, and it was an absolute blast. You take on the roles of egomaniacal actors who are swinging a directionless movie production back and forth to give themselves spotlight. It only needed a couple of tweaks, and I can’t wait to play this game again.
  • Harnessed by Ian Jarrard is ostensibly a sci-fi game where players powers stolen from an ancient cosmic evil to fight that same evil when it returns. In the state it was when I played it, it was still a fairly traditional game, with lots of things that it didn’t need because they weren’t what it was about. But Ian was very receptive to feedback, and this is the one game I can say I wrote that a mechanic was too damn fun, so why wasn’t the whole game revolving around that? Fortunately, Ian is going to be reworking it more into “Doctor Strange in Space,” which is kind of what it was, and I’m looking forward to the next iteration of the game.
  • ISSUES! The Comic Book Continuity Building Game, from 9th Level Games, was a surprise for me because, while it was kind of a roleplaying game, it was also kind of a storytelling card game. The players got to take on different roles in a comic book company, building comics together based on card prompts. I think this is going to be a great party game when it’s done.
  • Pasion de las Pasiones, from Stop, Hack and Roll, was not a playtest I participated in. But damn do I wish I had! This was in a lot of ways the star of the con – everyone I encountered who played it was talking about it, talking about it passionately, and talking about it positively. In it, you play both the characters in a telenovela and the family at home watching the show. It is designed to be raucous and hilarious, and the volume from the playtesting tables certainly attested that it’s doing its job!
  • Project Violacea from Wrong Brothers Gaming (I love that name) is an interesting one. It’s marketed as a biopunk dystopic future about underrepresented demographics fighting against the controlling elites. I was fairly nervous about the quality of feedback I could give on this one, but overall the playtest turned out pretty well. It uses an interesting d100 mechanic with Fate-like aspects. This was an alpha test, but the mechanics are sound and I’m looking forward to seeing how they approach the world.
  • Retrievers, from Saddle Shaped Games, had a very interesting tension mechanic that built and released tension over the course of a heist-style game. I’m interested to see where James Dagg goes with it.
  • Save The Universe by Don Bisdorf is a PbtA-style game where the players are Guardians of the Galaxy-style heroes who are facing off against a galactic menace. This game was very polished and tremendous fun, but what really stood out for me was the rearranged die mechanic. Rather than 2d6+Bonus, higher better, Don has rearranged the difficulty curve, adding more entropy by making the face of the die matter based on your character’s strengths and what you’re attempting to do. Very impressive, I’m looking forward to playing more.
  • Space Ice Hauler Heartbreak, from James Malloy, is about two lovers – the Lighthouse who stays behind and the Hauler who heads into space – changed by their long-distance relationship and the ravages of time dilation. While emotion-games aren’t usually a thing I go for, the potential in this game is tremendous. This was another alpha test, and even in this rough state I could see how beautiful it could be when it’s finished. Rob Donoghue as my Lighthouse telling me I need to stay away from caramel apple empanadas because the doctor says so was a highlight of the convention 🙂

Overall, Metatopia 2017 was another successful convention from Double Exposure and a great opportunity to play some great new games in their infancy. I hope I was helpful! And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go get a caramel apple empanada XD

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