It was also the debut of the complete version of MetaCheckers at a major event. In our previous convention appearances, MetaCheckers had been played on standard tournament chessboards. While players still got a taste of the game, it was unsatisfying to only be able to sell the checkers and dice.
Selling tournament chessboards would be too expensive, and they also didn’t fit well with the MetaCheckers motif. MetaCheckers is not chess or checkers. It is a unique fusion of the games. It deserved its own look. Its own utility. The players I talked to wanted something portable, easy-to-carry and affordable.
Having boards printed and packaged in game boxes would also drive up the cost. But I gave it a try anyway. The result looked good, but I winced at the sticker shock. The boxes and boards could double the price.
At the Hudson Valley Comic Con in May, someone mentioned he usually carried his game pieces in a bandana so he could play anywhere. This prompted me to start experimenting with various cloth versions. With my limited sewing abilities, I made prototypes with iron-on patterns to created a zippered pouch.
Another thought was just to use snaps or cords to tie it all together.
Finally, I just went with the simple bandana approach. I found a company that screenprints custom images on bandanas in bulk. So, I sent them an order.
I got this, and was very pleased:
Yes! Simple, portable and affordable. A unique look that sets the game apart from chess and checkers. This is what MetaCheckers is all about.
Then it was a matter of the packaging. The cloth boards just barely fit inside the bag with the checkers and dice, but it was too tight a fit to make it user-friendly. After some advice and trial-and-error, we came up with a system of wrapping the cloth boards around the checkers bag and holding the whole thing together with a paper band.
So, it came out looking like this:
The response at WBC was very positive. People liked the unique, fun game that was low-cost and came in a Xmas “stocking stuffer” size. Yes, some customers were already looking ahead for holiday presents.
The game is now available on Amazon and local stores in the Elmira area. Now that we have a good format and the game passed its first major audition, we will be expanding to more stores and vendors soon. Keep an eye out for MetaCheckers near you!
Dalton Versak strongly disagreed with the MetaCheckers slogan on the kiosk.
“This is NOT easier than chess,” he said as he struggled with a decision in Heat 2 of the MetaCheckers tournament at the World Boardgaming Championships in Seven Springs, Pa. on July 28.
And yet, Dalton of Philadelphia survived to become the first international champion in MetaCheckers.
In MetaCheckers, checkers move like chess pieces based on a roll of special dice. One die has chess symbols. The other has standard pips to indicate numbers. Roll a king, pawn or knight, and the player can choose any checker to move as a king, pawn or knight. Roll a queen, rook or bishop, and the numbers die dictates how far a piece must move as a queen, rook or bishop. Players use these moves to try to capture the opponent’s king checker.
This sounds simple enough, but as the game develops, players are forced to make some tough choices. Sometimes the best available checker to eliminate an attacking piece is also guarding the king from another direction. So, they have to make a decision. Which attack is more likely to kill the king? Which defense will save it?
On the other hand, since any checker can move according to the roll of the dice, this means even the king checker can move as a knight … or a rook … or even a queen. So, the kings can participate in their own defense, attacks and escape. A player could be down to only the king checker against multiple pieces of the opponent and still win.
This is what happened during Heat 4 for Mark Love, who finished second in the tournament. About his game against Terry Masten of Delaware he says:
“My opponent eliminated ALL of my pieces except for my king. For a moment, I thought how silly it would be for me to prolong the game by trying to run and hide, since he had 5 Easy Pieces. After he took my last other piece, I got a bishop move and moved my king from my right center area of the board to the other side of the board, directly toward his king, with his other pieces all around me. Oddly, none of his pieces could take me out in that position. He got a king roll, and moved a non-king piece to try to get a better shot at me. I got a knight roll, which was exactly what I needed for the win. We were both shocked.”
Mark went on to win second place, losing when Dalton rolled a Rook 5 to capture Mark’s king in the final. At the end, Mark had 4 pieces left, and Dalton had 6.
MetaCheckers was invented in Horseheads, N.Y., by Ed and Jack Bond, who founded DreamGames. This is their first year bringing the game to conventions for sales, demos and tournaments. The players at the World Boardgaming Championships tested the game to its limits.
At other conventions and demos in the Northeast, games typically finished within 10 to 15 minutes. At the WBC, determined players pushed games to 20 minutes or more. And although it had been thought that draws were not possible in MetaCheckers, Dalton and Francois de Bellefeuille of Montreal proved that wrong. In a semi-final game, Dalton and Francois eliminated all pieces except their kings.
While this would make a draw automatic in chess, in MetaCheckers a victory is still possible. However, after 20 moves without a result, the players and GM agreed to declare a draw. Francois then lost to Mark Love and Dalton eliminated Brian Mountford [With a Bishop 5 roll; Brian with only his king at the end] to set up the final. However, the next day other players reported a non-tournament game that came down to just kings but eventually had a winner. That game took 30 minutes to finish. So, even with only kings, victory is possible so long as both players are earnestly trying to capture the opponent’s king. This may require a minor adjustment in the rules or the use of a time limit in future tournaments.
We had a great time and were very happy to see so many turn out to play a new game in its debut season. DreamGames plans to bring MetaCheckers back for future tournaments and hopes WBC members will vote to support it. MetaCheckers can be played with 4 opening layouts and 5 game variations. By next year, we should have 2 or 3 additional games to unveil.
Here’s some of our favorite pics from the tournament:
Jack had to take the SATs this weekend, so the Hudson Valley Comic Con became the first event I worked alone. I also learned how different Comic Cons are from game conventions.
The difference is this: Gamers come to game conventions to play games, but not so much about buying. [Especially at colleges with starving students.] Attendees at Comic Cons don’t come to play games, but are ready to buy.
They both have a value. At game conventions, we may spend hours waiting for players while they go to other events, but when they do sit down, some will play dozens of games and give all sorts of feedback, criticism and ideas. Gamers enjoy complexity and working out the diverse possibilities. At the Comic Con, the visitors seem to be running a stop watch in their heads. They want to know quickly if they should move on before they miss something else because there is so much else to do.
So, it’s a game conventions that you work out any niggling issues with your mechanics or your pitch. It’s at the Comic Con that you find out whether your elevator pitch works. I actually had someone at the Hudson Valley Comic Con walk up and say, “Ok, give me your elevator pitch.”
They say in romantic movies that if she looks back after saying goodbye, she is interested. Convention tables seem to work the same way. People walk by. Some will not give the checkers, boards and dice a second look. But if they look again, I just say the hook, “It’s chess you can play with checkers.”
If that makes them stop, they will most likely listen to the basic rules. After that, about two-thirds will be willing to play a game. It is after the first game that I tell them about the Kangaroo Die, and then if they play with the Kangaroo, they are hooked.
I have been amazed at how popular the Kangaroo has become. I think it has become the feature that sells the game more than any other. Hudson Valley could only give me one table and two chairs, and this forced me to streamline the presentation.
But what I learned was – especially in this crowd – they didn’t need to see all the alternate layouts and special games. Just setting up with a standard chess layout and the Kangaroo Die was enough. Some bought the game before I could finish the first sentence.
I’m very encouraged by all of this, and if I can solve the issue of the game board, I think MetaCheckers can go far. But I want a board that fits the personality of MetaCheckers – unique, clever, simple and affordable. I’ve had some good suggestions recently and am working on prototypes, so hopefully I will have news to share about that soon.
Here’s some pictures from the event. I was very busy the whole time, and I didn’t get a chance to walk around and take in all the sights because I was chained to my table. So, I got a pinhole view of what looked like a very good first event for this group.
Creating MetaCheckers was a bit like taking chess and checkers and smashing them together. We broke both games, but then created something new.
At Mepacon in Scranton this weekend, we broke MetaCheckers again and again, each time creating something new.
After inventing this game, I had eventually realized there was no reason keep to the opening layout for a checkers game, even though that is how it started. Pieces could be set up as if for a chess game, or as if for checkers, but with the pieces offset from each other. Or setup with the pieces already engaged in battle.
With the basic idea of moving checkers like chess pieces, based on the roll of a pair of special dice, we discovered 4 alternate games, which are included in the original Stealth Checkers iOS app.
At UBCON last week, Jack and a player named Eric rotated 2 boards and overlapped them at a corner, creating a double diamond layout. They added an extra numbers die to give the pieces more mobility. Also, the rotated layout forced them to give the pawn 3 options for moving forward, letting it capture on any move.
Jack called the game “Valley” because the pieces must fight their way through the narrow strip that connects the two boards. As I played it at Mepacon, we realized it was very much like the legendary battle of Thermopylae between the Spartans and the Persians. But Thermopylae seems like too long a name. Perhaps “Spartan”?
On Saturday night at Mepacon, Alice Fawcett stopped by and played Rescue the King. Even though I had invented Rescue the King, it was a challenge to play. The kings start on the wrong side of the board and have to fight their way home. But the pawns still go in their original direction, so at first kings and pawns move opposite of each other.
To me, Rescue the King has become like playing MetaCheckers while hanging upside down. A challenge to keep everything straight. But it was after the game, that Alice came up with another alternate game called Spawn.
In her version, you begin the game with only the kings on the board in their standard positions. The board is split into two territories onto which each side can “spawn” a checker where you want. The players decide ahead of time how many checkers total each side can have in total. On each turn, you can either roll the dice to move a checker on the board or spawn a checker onto the board in any position on your side of the board.
As the game progresses, you may find an enemy checker threatening your king. Your king needs help. Can you spawn a checker on top of the enemy and destroy it? We decided you could, but only if you could predict odds or evens on a single roll of the numbers die. Win that roll and you can land on and destroy the threatening piece, lose and you had to land somewhere else that may protect the king.
However, the king would lose the ability to spawn pieces around it if it left its side of the board.
Spawn has a very different feeling to it. More like poker or a duel than standard MetaCheckers.
As we have for the past few conventions, we offered a free set of checkers and dice to whoever won the most games. By the end of Saturday at Mepacon, it seemed that Chris Fairchild of Hazleton Pa. was unreachable with 12 wins. But then Sunday morning, Westley Nottingham and Rene Coles of Watertown in NORTHERN New York showed up and played for several hours, eventually trying out every variation including Rescue the King with the Kangaroo Die!
I had never played Rescue the King with the Kangaroo Die because I figured it would just break the game. But it can work with a stipulation that you cannot use the Kangaroo on your king until after it has been rescued. But Westley discovered that the Princess roll can be devastating to the board as she flies over multiple squares, capturing any enemies below. “A little girl with a chainsaw,” as Jack says. But she has daddy issues, so she still cannot capture the king.
Alice came by Sunday and showed Spawn to Westley, and together they came up with a new variant called Pillars. They used pieces of index cards cut into squares to place immovable pillars on strategic – but fairly balanced – places on the board. No checker can pass through or over the pillars. They would have to go around them. This dampens the power of the Princess and accentuates the value of the Knights.
So, in Pillars, accounting for the terrain has become part of the game.
Our table at Mepacon had become a testing lab for many ideas, some of which also came from a conversation I had with Dan Hundycz of DPH Games. But I’ll hold off on some of those because I need to work out the mechanics first.
But this all led me to another idea. For future conventions, we may offer a Game Design event for kids. I’d be curious to see what variations in boards and gameplay kids will come up for checkers that can move like chess pieces.
Yes, I almost forgot. Westley and Rene each piled up a bunch of wins and had tied at around 11, but then Rene had to leave for another game. Westley went on to tie Chris in wins, and then did play against each other once. Then they went on to play more games against others. In the end, Chris won 16 and Westley 15. A very close contest. Again, the record for most games won in a weekend has been broken.
I look forward to bringing the game closer to Watertown so that Westley and Rene can play again.
Here are some of my favorite pics from the convention.
So, after the demos at UBCON last weekend, I was able to give some more thought to the rules questions we had.
There had been a debate about whether someone who had put the king into Stealth Mode could later on check to see which piece it was. What it comes down to is this:
Yes, you can but you will probably lose any advantage because you are giving away the position to your opponent.
If you do go into Stealth Mode, you better plan on moving your king frequently. Otherwise it will be too easy for your opponent to track the king.
So, if you go into Stealth Mode and don’t move the king, there is no advantage to doing this.
I also played against a gamer last weekend who was not impressed with Stealth Mode because for him it was too easy to keep track of the movement of one piece. However, it seemed to have an advantage for me in other games. I think it comes down to the opponent. If you think your opponent will lose track of the king, then do it. If the opponent will not lose track — or if you think you’re more likely to lose track than your opponent — then don’t.
The other question was whether the Princess could capture the king. The bottom line is: No, she can’t.
The Princess is spoiled. She almost always gets what she wants. So, where the Queen is stopped when she makes a capture, Princess keeps going as far as the dice allows and captures multiple pieces. However, she does not capture the king by flying over it. That gives her too much power to end the game. The point to the kangaroo moves is to add more fun and unexpected outcomes to the game, but not end it quickly.
But at SIMCON in Rochester, a player suggested that maybe the Princess could capture the king, but only by landing on the king directly with the proper number on the dice. It was a worthwhile idea, so I gave it some thought.
But after playing some more at UBCON and with an new experimental layout we tried out, I realized if we allowed that in some situations, it was possible for a Princess to capture the king using a checker that had not even been moved. That gives the move WAY TOO MUCH power.
So, the Princess is spoiled, but she has daddy issues and cannot capture the king in any situation. So, if the dice roll would otherwise allow her to land on the king, the Princess will land one square short of it.
Jill Meyer covered her eyes. A knight could kill her.
Rod Pierce rolled the dice.
Pawn. The room gasped and laughed.
They had each won more games of MetaCheckers in one weekend than any one had before. Tied at 12 games a piece, they faced off against each other in a sudden death game. Jill won a coin toss and chose the format: Standard Chess layout MetaCheckers with the Kangaroo Die. The Kangaroo Die adds six special moves to the game.
Late in the game, Rod had backed Jill’s king into a corner. Move after move, she was forced to calculate the position with the most survivability. Even though Rod had the advantage, in MetaCheckers you never know who will win until the final roll of the dice.
A few moves after Jill was spared from the knight attack, she rolled a 6, which allowed her to bring in the Kangaroo Die.
She rolled Turncoat. This flipped one of Rod’s pieces to her side. A 2-2 parity switched to a 3 on 1 attack and Jill quickly won.
Jill’s win capped a weekend of MetaCheckers at UBCON at the University at Buffalo. For this convention, MetaCheckers was placed in a classroom with a Spanish lesson written on the chalkboard.
We had arrived late on Friday, and I found myself standing in front of rows of desks explaining the origins of MetaCheckers to a group of bored-looking people. This triggered uncomfortable memories of my previous career as a college professor. Not what I wanted.
But within minutes, the chess boards were set up and the organizers set up an extra table. We converted the space from a classroom to a place for fun. Although we were far from the main board game room for the convention, the extra space allowed us to set up 6 boards and demonstrate most of the variations of the game. Plenty of people came looking for us, curious about this combination of chess, checkers and dice.
Jack and another gamer even used the professor’s desk to develop a new variant by overlapping two boards.
I will remember UBCON for the armies of cosplayers and the Cosplay Chess in the courtyard across the street from us, Quidditch, Jack playing Dungeons and Dragons, and the Nerfgun wars that raged through the buildings. Dan Hundycz of DPH Games taught me the value of scouting hallways and corners for Nerfgun fighters.
The Princess is a move listed as one that cannot capture the king. This is because it would give the Princess too much power. With a Princess 6, you could potentially capture 5 enemy checkers. If the king happened to be checker No. 3, that would end the game.
So, the way it is set up on the Stealth Checkers App, if the Princess flies over the king checker, it will capture all of the checkers except the king. Also, it is not allowed to land on the king, even if the dice roll would otherwise have it land on the king.
But this weekend, one of the players suggested that the Princess should be able to capture the king if the dice roll has her landing on the king, but not just from passing over it.
This is an interesting idea. When we update the paid version of the App, we might make that change. But I want to know what other people think.
So, here are a couple of polls. Please let me know what you think.
The front-and-center location gave us a great view of these international flags, representing the nationalities of students studying at U of R. I can now recognize Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil and Brunei.
MetaCheckers doesn’t compete with popular games that take hours to play, such as with Magic: The Gathering. But it’s a fast, fun game that game fans can play while waiting for the big games to begin. So, our busy time is in the gaps between the other games.
So, our downtime is when the other games are in full swing. SIMCON gave us a good table at the Hirst Lounge in the Commons building. We were front-and-center, which meant any passersby’s who were curious about SIMCON often asked me and Jack what was going on. This gave us an easy way to pitch the game.
“It’s chess you can play with checkers,” has become our hook. When someone gives our setup of boards a second look and we say those words, we usually get the chance to explain the rules and get them to play.
SIMCON staff and visitors showed an excited curiosity in the game, and as we explained all the variations the interest got deeper. The different layouts, the additional games, and a lot of genuine surprise at the Kangaroo Die, which has become a favorite.
SIMCON was the first convention to play Rescue The King. This is the variant where the kings start on the wrong sides of the board and must fight their way back to their home row before the opposing king can be captured. In another first, Jack and Tallis Moore played Rescue The King with the Kangaroo Die.
Anyone who plays gets into a drawing for a free game. We also created a Leaderboard to keep track of winners. Whoever wins the most games for the weekend gets a free game too. This time, we had a tie and gave free games to Tallis Moore and Daniel Stegink. River Burgess won the free game in the drawing.