METATOPIA 2012: Test your Play

05Nov12

The second annual METATOPIA convention in Morristown, NJ was this past weekend, and it was a great time, as always. We had called ahead to ensure that power was on at the hotel and that food would be available in the wake of the hurricane. And indeed, the only resources in short supply were gasoline (which we filled up on before leaving PA) and time enough to playtest and talk about all the things we wanted to.

Friday night was Kat’s playtest of her game “May the Odds be in Your Favor”, a sort of remix of elements from Serial Homicide Unit with setting inspiration from The Hunger Games. This is the third iteration of the rules, and the changes provoked a much more team-centric “us vs. them” mentality than previous versions. Less tragic, more exciting. Which meant for a high energy level at the table. I kind of missed the drops of sadness at each point where the tributes died. But being caught up in the excitement of violence, even when it’s a terrible, tragic thing, is also a phenomenon to be grappled with. Kat made some further changes before her second playtest on Saturday that I was not a part of, so things might be very different now. Regardless, I enjoyed my game a great deal and can’t wait to see the next iteration.

Saturday morning, I played Russell Collins’ game “Tears of a Machine” which is Neon Genesis Evangelion with the serial numbers filed off. It’s a much more traditional design than I’ve played in a while. GM delivers situation, players react to it. Roll some dice to resolve a conflict. The imaginative work of Russell’s setting creation was impressive. We didn’t do much in the way of debriefing, but I personally would have liked more player decisions, even about what to do, where to go, how to address things other than combat. Although, just listening to Russell’s dulcet tones describe the sensations of becoming a hundred foot tall alien robot was engaging enough. Maybe he’ll need to release an audio track along with the game.

After lunch, I was supposed to playtest some new space combat rules for Mobile Frame Zero, but Joshua wasn’t able to make it to the con. I tried out a card game about Civil War infantry combat called “Ready, Aim, Fire.” It’s a quick, two-player strategy card game where you need to try to get cards into their proper order of “Load, Ready, Aim, Fire” in six piles and score points for doing so. It wasn’t quite my thing. I enjoy real time card games enough. And I enjoy strategy card games enough. But just for my own tastes, there was too much strategy for the time frame. Or maybe the strategy parts of my brain don’t like to share with the quick-thinking parts of my brain. I enjoyed it, but proabaly wouldn’t seek it out again.

Saturday night, I playtested Brendan Conway’s hack of Don’t Rest Your Head called “Titans.” It’s inspired by stories like Watchmen and The Authority where superheroes try to actually change the world to meet their utopian vision. The premise is good, and the character creation questions elicited some pretty interesting characters from us. I made The Pendragon, the once and future king, who wanted to bring the whole world under the realm of law and righteousness. Lisa properly described him as “Doctor Doom with better PR.” I was aided in my quest by M.E.R.L.I.N., a sentient computer that wanted to bring enlightened self-interest to the world, my vizier Dr. Veritas, the super genius who wanted to eliminate religion. We were opposed by the forces of Everyman, an Anonymous-like movement of anti-Titan sentiment. Rich, as the player of Everyman, decided he was just one guy, but could possess people to do his bidding. It was a neat setup, with the initial bang being my character saving London from a bomb, and harnessing its energy to raise an island of Avalon from the sea. During the course of the game, I even threatened the Sect. of State that I would personally conquer the US if they got in my way. The fiction we came up with was good. The mechanics that led us there were not quite where they could be. There was really no solid way of changing the environment, of changing the world. We gave Brendan a whole heck of a lot to think about, and I hope he ponders it thoroughly, because i’d love to play another version of this game at Dreamation.

Sunday morning, I was just going to pack and go, but Rob Bohl roped me into a test of his new game Sad and Miserable: The Secret Lives of Stand-up Comedians. It’s got a long way to go, but it’s got potential. You create your stand-ups, and a friend of theirs. And then that friend character, is also the antagonist character to a different stand-up. Which is a nice way to develop a relationship map on the fly, and give immediate depth to the supporting cast. Sometimes, the supporting characters even had more depth than the stand-ups themselves. Rob has a lot of work yet to do on the resolution mechanic (we essentially playstormed that part) but he’s on an interesting track, and I’d like to see more, as well.

And then we left and I drove smack-dab into the middle of a surprise birthday party for me! My wife is tricky when she puts her mind to it.

Thanks to Vinny, Avie, Kate, and the entire Double Exposure family for another fantastic show. Counting the days until Dreamation (109, for the curious).

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