A guest post from JR Honeycutt, who is one of the busiest folks in the game industry today. He’s probably designing a game, hosting a podcast, running a charity, rocking the community at Level 99 games right now as we speak. And he graciously took the extra time to share with the League this except from his experience at Metatopia 2014.

Metatopia in Morristown, NJ is an annual convention for game designers and playtesters. The Dexcon team, headed by Vinny Salzillo, Avie Wing, and Darren Watts, runs a four-convention cycle every year. Metatopia is the smallest of the shows (about 300 attendees), and is specifically for RPG, board game, card game, and LARP designers to test new ideas with motivated play testers.


It was my first show as a game designer, and the first time I’ve demoed one of my own games outside my local game group. I brought Phillip Jenne and Cody Lewis from my design team, Waitress Games, and we spent the entire weekend designing new games, showing and refining our in-progress games, and providing feedback on other designer’s games. It was three straight days of work, and worth every second.

Metatopia was a fantastic show, one that’s now in my rotation as “must attend” in 2015. Here’s why:


I’ve been a part of plenty of playtests of games, and I thought I knew what to expect. Not to be negative, but I was afraid I’d have a table full of people who harped on one tangential aspect of my game, provided a ton of middling feedback, and ultimately left me wishing I’d just fishbowled for a couple hours instead.

Much to my delight, the reality was quite the opposite! The playtesters at Metatopia were a nice mix of other game designers and competitive game players from all walks of life. The most “iffy” table I had was a group of self-proclaimed cooperative players who only cared really cared about theme. They’d signed up for our storytelling cooperative game, but at the last moment we switched the bill to test a game we’d designed over the weekend. The table was absolutely wonderful, understood what we were doing, and played our medium-depth auction/tableu-building game instead. They were enthusiastic and gave great feedback, including perspective on aligning mechanics and theme I never would have gotten from heavy euro players.

I heard similar feedback from other designers as well, and every time walked through the hotel lobby or bar I could see groups of 2-3 folks deep in discussion about their games. It was beautiful to see so many folks sharing feedback openly and honestly, and to see games become markedly better from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon.


Mike Fitzgerald, Curt Covert, and Jason Morningstar were the “biggest name” designers at the convention that I spoke with, but the talent at Metatopia was phenomenal across the board. I spent all my time in the board game room, so I can’t speak to RPGs or LARPs, but the quality of design was very high. I played worker placement games, tactical card games, trick-taking games, and more, and each was interesting.

Perhaps it’s best to simply say that each time I sat down to try a game, I was rewarded with a great experience and a new friend. I offered significant feedback for a few that was taken well, and that’s an amazing feeling. In many cases, a deep conversation with other designers led to both our games being better. These kinds of conversations just don’t happen at larger shows like Gen Con and Essen. Just getting to walk to dinner while talking deeply about the merits of an extra draw phase in between rounds for players, and what it does to the economy of my game, was rewarding in its own right.

I made as many friends at Metatopia as I did at Gen Con or Essen, and I felt a deep connection to the tabletop community. It’s the first time I’ve ever shared my designs with others outside my game group. I was treated like a contributing member of the hobby – not just as a writer/podcaster/event organizer, but as a serious member of the design community. That was humbling, and incredibly motivating.


I wear a lot of hats in the gaming world, as I’m a YouTube show host, game reviewer, playtester, designer, producer, lead volunteer for Envoy, founder of Nerd Night, and community manager for Level 99 Games. It’s typically a bit of a bear to balance all these things when at a single event, but for Metatopia I let most things sit on the sidelines for the weekend while I focused on design and giving great feedback.

Still, I was proud to host a Nerd Night party Thursday Night for The Hero’s Journey, a New Jersey-based children’s charity that uses gaming to improve the lives of kids. I sat in on three panels about podcasting and community building, and was told that they were helpful to the audience. I spoke about my YouTube show, gave advice on how to better run a Kickstarter campaign, and ran playtests for a friend’s game that’s being produced because I made the connection to a great game company. I even slipped in a showing of Noir by Level 99 Games, to make sure I was a dutiful employee!

I try to add to this wonderful hobby of ours in every way I can, either by talking about games, teaching them to others, designing them, or giving folks a safe place to play them. Metatopia let me do all those things, and with some of the best people in our industry.

As Cody and I were heading to Newark Airport Sunday, he told me that


I couldn’t agree more. Special thanks to Mike Fitzgerald, Kevin Chang, Andy Federspiel, Chris Zinsli, Curt Covert, Doug Levandowsky, Stephen Buonocore, and Matt O’Malley for fantastic design conversations! <3 — Link to Andy’s Federspiel’s write-up of Metatopia at Knapsack Games