TopatoCon 2015 Post-Show

IMG_20150926_113949728Hey 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.

IMG_20150926_160956742So 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.

IMG_20150926_125622317Sawbones: 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.

IMG_20150926_140649403Special 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.

IMG_20150926_120824768Also 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?

IMG_20150927_203653779Speaking 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.

IMG_20150927_203640470James 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.

IMG_20150927_204122900After 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.

Look at these titans of design!

Look at these titans of design! “Magic” you can hear that guy with his hands out saying. “We’re making… Magic!”

We've invented a game we call... Poker!

“We’ve invented a game we call… Poker!”

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.

IMG_20150927_203822012We 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!

IMG_20150927_203710102Aaron Wood was there, with his posters which all sensible people will want to install in a prominent location in their abode. We have the Mercury travel poster because it’s the best.

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:

We had the pleasure of watching brilliant artist Maki Naro create a unique Totoro for us! He is, after all, The Best At Drawing Totoro.

We had the pleasure of watching brilliant artist Maki Naro create a unique Totoro for us! He is, after all, The Best At Drawing Totoro. It was amazing watching him just… know where to put things in order to make it work. Obviously, that’s kind of the experience of watching a lot of artwork get produced, but he made it look so effortless! Plus, check out that awesome shading work.

Some extremely cute doggie stickers made by Amanda Scurti, which James got because he loves doggies.

Some extremely cute doggie stickers made by Amanda Scurti, which James got because he loves doggies. Amanda seems pretty neat and her webcomic “Hey, Jana J!” looks interesting!

We regret not getting more from David Malki. Not only is almost everything he produces extremely funny, he's a kindly person.

We regret not getting more from David Malki. Not only is almost everything he produces extremely funny, he’s a kindly person. We saw him speak with a fan at length about how and why successful collaboration works, and it was really enlightening.

IMG_20150927_203318833

Karla Pacheo – notable creator of hard-boiled noir murder mystery/children’s book Inspector Pancakes – created a machine that spits out magnets with horrible phrases written on them. In a display of what we can only assume was open malice, she offered each volunteer who was cleaning up trash post-exhibit a go on the machine. This is what James got. It is on the refrigerator now, despite everything.

Notable local Hazel Newlevant created this really neat anthology and we finally got our hands on it! Yay!

Notable local Hazel Newlevant created this really neat anthology and we finally got our hands on it! Yay! We got it from Sarah Winifred Searle’s table, and she was super nice and signed it. She even pointed out which of the people in the hall had pieces in the anthology!

James got this from Sara McHenry, @yellowcardigan. Even though, as we previously established, James likes doggies best. These are top-quality cat comics.

James got this from Sara McHenry, @yellowcardigan. Even though, as we previously established, James likes doggies best. These are top-quality cat comics. Sara was really nice to talk to! She also had an awesome walky-talky.

Travelogue is such a good comic. It's pleasant in a way that's difficult to describe. We know this because James spent a few halting minutes trying to describe what he found so nice about the comic to the extremely kind creator, and he had a lot of trouble. Suffice to say it is great and the creator is really nice.

Travelogue is such a good comic. It’s pleasant in a way that’s difficult to describe. We know this because James spent a few halting minutes trying to describe what he found so nice about the comic to the extremely kind creator, and he had a lot of trouble. Suffice to say it is great and the creator is really nice.

We're really big fans of the interesting near-future/slightly-less-near-future comic Oh Human Star. Creator Blue Delliquanti is super nice to speak with, and James got a super cool print. Look at that! Neat.

We’re really big fans of the interesting near-future/slightly-less-near-future comic Oh Human Star. Creator Blue Delliquanti is super nice to speak with, and James got a super cool print. Look at that! Neat.

Anthony Clark makes wonderful, extremely funny comics at Nedroid.com. We have our trusty gigantic Beatato plush and it is not even a joke to say it is the best. He also does a lot of work as a colorist and does the comic Back with KC Green. He's a nice person, also!

Anthony Clark makes wonderful, extremely funny comics at Nedroid.com. We have our trusty gigantic Beatato plush and it is not even a joke to say it is the best. He also does a lot of work as a colorist and does the comic Back with KC Green. He’s a nice person, also! Got to speak with him for a bit and well basically it boils down to: give this nice person who makes funny comics some money so that he can stay indoors. He can’t make comics unless he’s indoors.

This is just beautiful work from kindly Floridian M. Dean. All the way from Florida! How about that. Look at that art! It's beautiful. All of the art on the table was beautiful, plus M. was super nice to speak to for a bit.

This is just beautiful work from kindly Floridian M. Dean. All the way from Florida! How about that. Look at that art! It’s beautiful. All of the art on the table was beautiful, plus M. was super nice to speak to for a bit.

James got this from Allison Bannister because he likes dinos doing incongruous things.

James got this from Allison Bannister because he likes dinos doing incongruous things.

James is also weirdly into Cyclops. So, you know.

James is also weirdly into Cyclops. So, you know.

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”.

IMG_20150926_202124567After 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.

IMG_20150926_203451096The next day, we did some more demoing, and we checked in on some of the PVGD TopatoJAM work that had been done! Some interesting stuff came out of it.

A game about falling out of an airplane and killing aliens.

A game about falling out of an airplane and killing aliens.

A dungeon adventure with a map randomly generated by a deck of playing cards!

A dungeon adventure with a map randomly generated by a deck of playing cards!

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!

IMG_20150927_114843616We 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.

Here's a horrible picture to prove it!

Here’s a horrible picture to prove it! Look at all those interesting head silhouettes!

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!

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