So this past weekend was Metatopia, the new Double Exposure convention they started this year. Unlike the other conventions that DE runs which are for general audiences, this one was targeted specifically for boardgame designers and playtesters. There have been other gatherings of this sort, but they tend to be smaller organic affairs rather than full blown conventions. While most of the top flight designers will no doubt have their own core group of playtesters, this allows them to present their games and get feedback from a different pool of people, as well as giving smaller names access to a pool of gamers they might normally not have access to. There's also a bit of a marquee status if Vinnie and DE can get a con like this off the ground. While it'll mostly pull the small and the local at first, the key will be to see if the big names not in the area start showing up down the line.
All in all, I hadn't planned on going to Metatopia. As I was telling a friend, I'm more than a bit jaded and the glitz and glamor (what there is) in playtesting doesn't really appeal to me anymore. Sure, back in the day it was a point of pride to be able to tell people that your name appeared as a contributor/playtester on page 38 of some game manual in 3 point font but it grows old with time. Not to mention the convention would be taking place just a couple weeks after the whole 'move without going anywhere' fiasco and I figured I'd still be spending my time cleaning up. So it was with some surprise that I got a call from Vinnie a couple weeks before the con. He was looking for experienced boardgamers and was shaking the trees. I imagine that a lot of the normal DE attendees were probably scared off by the description of it being more of a designer/publisher's convention. Like I said, I hadn't really planned on going but I figured I could help out and it's not like I don't have the time.
Fast forward another week and I was returning from my exile at my grandmother's. Vinnie had been supposed to call me but if he did, all he would have gotten was an empty house. The answer machine had been hooked up for that period but surprisingly now that everything had been moved back in, it was MIA. I decided to just write the whole thing off rather than try to hunt down some contact info on line. After talking with Lori at a boardgame Meetup, I knew that Vinnie had called her and others as well so I figured he would wrangle up the people he needed. What ended up changing my mind is an email from Curt Covert of Smirk and Dagger.
I've known Curt for several years now, ever since I met him at one of the DE cons and had an absolutely amazing time playing Hex Hex. In addition to having one of the coolest names ever (It's totally a secret agent 007 sort of name), he's also a freaking unbelievably nice guy. He's done a lot for me as far as providing prize support for game days, always offering me copies of his newest games, and always interested in my opinion about this or that. In return (though I would have done it anyway because I love his games), I've tried my best to pimp his games to as many people as I've run across by running demos and whatnot whenever possible. It turned out that Curt was going to Metatopia and was looking to test some new expansion ideas for some of his games there. I figured it was the least I could do, and after contacting Vinnie I found out that his sessions could use more people since he needed people with past experience with specific games rather than newbies. I scanned through the event catalog and decided to make Metatopia CurtCon '11.
Curt's events were the only ones I signed up for, barring one, and in the end the only ones I attended. He ended up running us through a new expansion for Cutthroat Caverns which would finally be adding attributes to the player characters. The abilities could only be gained at the start of the game and had to be purchased with life, essentially making your character more likely to die in exchange for cool new abilities. The Friday playtest went well, not ending until 2 hours past schedule due to player table talk and then an ability by ability breakdown. It was then that I dragged myself over to Connie's place and managed to not get any sleep at all, watching Big Trouble in Little China, The People VS Larry Flint, and the first two thirds of Toy Story 3. There's always a danger whenever you don't watch even network tv anymore and end up somewhere that has ever premium movie channel enabled.
The next morning I dragged myself back to Metatopia to sit in on another playtest of a game Curt was interested in publishing. It would be the first game Smirk and Dagger put out that he hadn't designed, assuming it went through and in addition to the mechanics and gameplay, he was looking to see if it had the Smirk and Dagger feel. The game was interesting, but definitely had some rough spots as far as the gameplay went. There were some nice ideas bandied about which I think could make the game much better....at the cost of it needing a major overhaul.
After the session I went back home and freshened up before heading over to the Bills for their post-Halloween, Halloween party. As per usual, I played almost nothing while I was there, spending the time instead yakking nonstop with Christina and others. We actually spent a lot of the time discussing China, which had come up since my parents, uncle, and grandmother had just gotten back from there and Taiwan several days ago. The entire country is a walking paradox and it's hard to know where it'll end up in 20 years. I can't help but get the idea that there is potential for great evil and great promise and no one knows to which side the tipping point will come. I try to tell myself that people no doubt said the same thing about the US back in the day and despite some rockiness, things turned out pretty well overall.
I usually stay at the Bills parties until they close out, being one of the last to leave as I end up milling about engaging in small talk. This time around I cut a little after 9, absolutely exhausted. I'm just getting old and I don't bounce back from sleep deprivation the way I did a decade ago. I can do without a single night's sleep, but after that I pretty much start to drag and crash.
In the morning, it was back to Metatopia and another session with Curt. It turns out that technology and the times have passed me by. I assumed that most of the games I hear about people playing on the iphone and ipad and iwhatever were mostly of the farmvile or mafia wars variety. Basically, simple games with mostly static graphics or even generally text based at the worst. I had no clue that game apps had advanced as far as they had, nor that computer AIs had crawled out of the stupid ages. Curt had heard from a game developer who wanted to turn Cutthroat Caverns into an ipad game. He had some simulated visuals and it looked fantastic. What he needed from us was some insight into a potential computer AI. While the game would be multiplayer enabled, it also had to have an AI good enough and varied enough that a person could play single player and enjoy the experience.
What followed might be the weirdest most unbelievable game of Cutthroat I have ever played. We basically would take notes before each card play about what our situation was, what our plans where, and what thinking led us to the play we were making. It just so happened that I was having a ridiculously unusual game. I have never in my life had card draws this good for Cutthroat. My opening hand had 2 items, 2 double strikes, an opportunity fire, and a counterstrike. The bounty continued and that excessive good luck actually ended up choking me to death. I couldn't draw an attack card to save my life. I was forced to repeatedly waste the greatest cards in the game with nothing to show for it. Ever see someone play a counter strike + double strike and end up doing 0 points of damage? At one point I had 6 cards in my hand, all of them blue, and was forced to bury one each attack round.
What ends up being the sickest part is I was jotting down notes which prominently featured the word 'SCREWED'. I was also grousing quite a bit and during a final card draw before what would end up being the final round, I refused to draw myself knowing I was just get hosed. Another person drew for me handing me a critical hit which being my only attack card I played and because of a confusing mishmash of events ended up winning me the game. Craziest game of Cutthroat ever. I'm not sure all the notes will be of any use to Curt but it was a worthwhile experience just for the improbable end.
After that I spent the rest of the day just chatting. There was a pretty hilarious discussion of the Occupiers after the Cutthroat game ended as we shared the recent news reports of chaos in paradise. It's only going to get worse too. As the temperatures get colder, the generally sane faction of the Occupiers will start to disembark and they'll be increasingly outnumbered but the violent anarchists, the drunks, the druggies, and the crazies who have all flocked there since it's become a law and order free zone. I have to admit I'm more than a little looking forward to it because nothing entertains me more than watching people get their naive idealism stepped on. Hey, you wanted to represent the 99%. Meet the bottom 10%.
I also had lunch with Curt where we ended up talking some more about the current state of game applications and other various tidbits. All in all, things went pretty well with the con as a whole. I don't feel like I did a whole heck of a lot, but if any of it ends up being helpful then it was worth it. I puttered around for a little longer but decided to cut out rather than joining any other events. I am sort of curious how the con did overall and whether it'll be back next year. The general response seemed to be positive but it wasn't exactly teeming with people which makes me wonder if it's sustainable from a financial standpoint. I guess only time will tell.