Hey guess what, a special edition of the Nerd Watch is going out tomorrow. Special and late, even later than this thing! Because man, we’re tired as the day is long (the day is 24 hours long) and did not have much time to work on the actual Nerd Watch this weekend due to going to the magical land of wonderment known as TopatoCon! It was a lot of fun.
So we’re going to try to give you some concept of the show and what was neat about it. Partly by talking about what we did and who we spoke to and partly by showing off some of the items that were purchased by James, our weakest-willed member.
So first of all, thanks to Holly Rowland and Jeffrey Rowland! They put on a neat show, and it seemed like a hard thing to do. Also, thanks to Melissa Lewis-Gentry and Baily Kung, who organized volunteers. They were both helpful and on point about what needed doing, and we really appreciated having them around to let us know what was up and when it was up!
So anyway James volunteered to do two things at the con: run some game demos and act as a “ranger” that did whatever it was the con needed at any given moment.
Let’s talk about the game demos!
Breaker Blocks: A couple of extremely nice people made this extremely cool game that James bought right after the demo because it’s really, really fun. It’s a very simple sort of domino-like competitive strategy puzzle, and it’s just so easy to get the concepts and move right on to having fun trying to outfox whoever you’re up against. It’s a contained 15-20 minutes during which every single action is significant. Plus, it’s something you can play without fear at a friendly local booze or coffee-atorium because it’s got pieces that are cut out of some sort of space-age material that isn’t cardboard. We really, really recommend you get it.
Sawbones: good, but slightly less good than Breaker Blocks. James did not immediately buy it. Basically it’s a game about going in one of two directions on a victory track: either you’re healing a patient or killing a patient. Either way, you’re accruing blame tokens. If you’re killing them, you want the least blame. If you’re saving them, you want the most. The thing is, your cards are almost uniformly going to make it hard to keep someone alive. It’s clever, but there are some play and pacing issues. It ramps up a bit slowly, and it can be confusing to need to check things like “the last person who played a [thing]” because who was keeping track of that? Still, decent time and also Sawbones is an amazing podcast you should check out.
Special note: We were next to people playing Children’s Crusade, a tower-defense board game about children protecting the world from evil toys, and it was uniformly a joyous experience for the table. People loved it, and we think that indicates it’s probably a thing people will love. People… like you.
Also of note in the boardgame area: A.E.G.I.S, produced by extremely friendly folks from Worcester. It’s a combining-robots tactics game and it just seems… real nice? Like, if you’re the sort of person who likes to think about how to move A Thing all the way from Here to There while still being able to do This it seems like it would be up your alley. Plus, how cool is the idea that you can just squish your team into a big old Mega Zord whenever you want?
Speaking of tabletop games: what about Role-Playing games? Friendly local folks and noted people interviewed at previous junctures by the Nerd Watch Hannah Schaffer and Evan Rowland were there with some of their brilliant works like Questlandia, alongside Joshua A.C. Newman, the person behind a lot of neat things like Mobile Frame Zero and Shock: Social Science Fiction.
James bought a nano-game from each of Hannah and Joshua: birds are amazing and Lover of Jet & Gold. They neatly encapsulate what it’s like to be around them. On the one hand, Hannah’s game consists of tweeting made-up bird facts and the game rules stipulate that once you begin, it will never end. On the other hand, Joshua’s game is a miniature yet elaborate game about being a sorcerer who entreats the spirits of the world via the power of True Names.
Oh oh oh and there was a neat card-game and also faux RPG sourcebook thing from Nerdcore Medical that was all fantasy bacteria fighting fantasy antibiotics and it’s kind of great! We got a poster.
After demoing for a while, we stopped by the TopatoCo store for a second to squish fuzzy T-Rexes and Yelling Birds before checking out the Pioneer Valley Game Dev TopatoJAM! It seemed like the sort of time that people who find real enjoyment in the fraught process of pulling a creative work from the void and melding it into something interesting. They were all working on a bunch of different concepts, tied together by the general theme “it is dangerous to go alone, take this”. They were still kind of getting into gear and so we stopped bugging them and went over to the exhibitor space.
We had kind of forgotten that so many of our most favorite people were at this con, everyone! It was jam-packed with luminaries of the field of things that we’ve been reading on the internet obsessively since childhood.
But first, some of the locals! Alexis “Lex” Cornell writes and draws a neat comic about a monster town. It’s cute, and we got some of the comics because of how cute it is. Also, Lex was really nice, as was co-table-person Sarah Tacey. They made cookies and were just handing them out like it was no big deal! We got a free cookie, a first at any con we have ever attended. The tops, both of these exhibitors.
We also spoke to real nice people Jedidiah Berry and a second person whose name we cannot recall because we didn’t get a card, sorry second person! If anything, you were the better conversationalist, second person. They made the Family Arcana! A story told in 52 cards, it’s a very cool concept delivered in a very cool manner. It was a big Kickstarter success story, and they publish out of Amherst! Our very own little Amherst!
So now, a bunch of memories from the exhibitor floor that we can only really clearly recall because James bought some physical item, locking the moment in a prison of time:
So that was it for the convention floor for a bit. Then, James volunteered for a little while! Got to meet Dr McNinja creator Chris Hastings and that was a delight, got to speak with spectacular artist and world-smith Evan Dahm a little bit, which was also really nice! Manning a table was interesting. It was a window into how desperate and strange it is to have all these wonderful wares lined up and to just have people briefly pass over them whilst avoiding eye contact, then running away. It’s understandable, no one has money for everything, but it was interesting to see from a different angle.
After working a table for a bit, James got to clean up trash! By cleaning up trash effectively, he avoided being put in the “forgetting hole”.
After that, it was nearing the end of the first day, and we stuck around for Monster Milk, during which we were subjected to what can only be described as definitely crimes. KC Green and friends held our collective hands as we were led through two horrific animated features: The Wizard So-So, and The Search for the Titanic. Each was horrible and hilarious in ways that are impossible to get across via text.
Really neat stuff. Oh! And speaking of local games: there was an awesome map created by demo players of The Quiet Year on display in the Game Labyrinth!
We also saw the excellent Pleasure is the Measure panel, hosted by local notable Emily Nagoski and featuring several of the greatest cartoonists in existence: Kate Leth, Jess Fink, Spike Trotman, and Danielle Corsetto. They talked about interesting things including what awful bullshit they hated, funny sex things, where the clitoris is as demonstrated on a giant vulva puppet, trans representation, the definition of female, dealing with the fact that people get on your case if you do both kid comics and sexy comics, teaching secret sex ed classes, and much more! It was awesome, and everyone loved it.
A bit after that panel, we went home for a nap and then verrrrry slowly put this together.
All in all, TopatoCon was real fun. We hope it was worthwhile for the creators who attended, because really that’s the point of conventions. To put you in direct contact with people whose creative work you’d like to support. It was certainly a very fun time for us, and we really cannot wait for next year!