New York Comic Con 2023 for Educators

New York Comic Con, organized by ReedPop at the Javits Center, has been an annual city staple since 2006. Come October, the eclectic parade of over 200,000 con attendees can be seen marching west down 34th Street in their various cosplays. This sight has become a familiar one for locals, akin to the changing of the leaves, signaling that special time of the year. Most have planned this pilgrimage since March, having virtually queued to buy tickets, downloaded the app, reserved Main Stage seats, planned out their panels, and earmarked all their favorite artists/authors/actors they plan to visit. The excitement builds all summer, and the anticipation begins to feel almost like Christmas, and I’m getting the best nerdy gift a girl can ask for. 

NYCC is a hodgepodge of pop culture, encompassing various topics and media to engage fans of all types. They typically focus on upcoming movies and TV shows for their more significant events and panels. However, this year, due to the Writers and Actors strike, they had to come up with new ways to fill their time slots and keep con attendees entertained. Interestingly, most of the available space within this coveted venue quickly filled with educational content. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense as there have been several science-inspired panels in the past that were very popular. My favorite group of educational panels this year was hosted by Lit-X, “An educational cohort working to help educators teach with all forms of literacy for the 21st Century: music, film, games, comics, etc.

The Lit-X educational cohort hosted seven panels on Friday, Oct 13th, covering topics from navigating Comic Con as an educator to integrating improv into the classroom. These panels provided valuable insights and practical takeaways. One panel distributed lesson plan booklets along with a fully illustrated curriculum guide on creating an LGBTQ+ inclusive classroom, totaling over 50 pages of content. Another encouraged everyone to push their chairs back and participate in one of their favorite classroom trust building games. The speakers shared their success stories as well as some failures in using games in their classroom. Some of their expert tips included giving students a choice to participate after ensuring they understand the core rules, providing real stakes, and, of course, ensuring that everyone, including the teacher, has fun.

While more panels leaned toward educators, many panels and free activities were geared toward creators and makers. This included, but wasn’t limited to, building a Devil Dinosaur robot, crafting your own fantasy-style map, and experimenting with the different tools in the Ryobi One maker space. One of my favorite free activities was the Paint-and-Take Arena in the Gaming Zone. Once a day, you were allowed to pick an officially licensed Dungeons & Dragons mini figurine and then sit down to paint it using the supplies provided. This was a great way to get creative and destress after walking the main floor for hours.

The Gaming Zone, sponsored by MetaZoo, was located past the Main Stage on the lower level (don’t miss it!). Happy gamers occupied nearly every table this year, trying out new games or replaying their old favorites with new people. The TCG tournaments were plentiful, the Mahjong was competitive, and a friendly volunteer was always nearby to teach you how to play anything you happen to see. The Board Game Library held dozens of games, some still in their plastic wrapping, waiting to be played for the first time. 

While I was searching the for interesting content in the Gaming Zone for a class project, I spotted an elaborate looking card and dice game being enthusiastically played and observed by a small crowd. Just when I lined up my camera to get the shot, there was a flurry of movement, and someone pulled an opened laptop into the frame, revealing the name of the game and its creator, Chris Yola. I quickly introduced myself as a game design student working on an assignment and asked if he would be interested in answering a few questions about his game and tabling experience at Comic Con. He agreed. Read below for an in-depth look of a grassroots game development process, from conception to exhibiting.

School – Degree: CUNY Hunter College – Medical Lab Sciences

Job: Senior Field Service Engineer/Application Scientist for Medical Devices

Game: Battle for Justice, Card Game

How did you come up with the idea for this game?

Chris Yola: I sustained an injury in September 2021, where I cut both my shins to the bone in a freak accident in a boxing gym. I was bed-bound for a few weeks and I saw a recommendation for game design on YouTube. Then, a friend asked for my perspective on card gameplay for his own game, as I was previously an accomplished card game player in high school. I took it as a challenge to create a game that addresses the issues with card games. In boxing, we often set traps or do very minor movements to set up a counter strike. I wanted to create a game where even doing nothing, or a very minor play, was a substantial move.

Too often in games, how you draw from the deck you are playing is the major factor for victory. I envisioned a game where how you play your cards in a sequence that you set up is vital. Most games have a rinse-and-repeat cycle of play this turn 4 or 8; if you don’t, you are far behind. But why must it be played in that turn? 

What impact do you want your game to have on people?

Chris Yola: I have been told that my game feels like a game of chess, and the players feel so rewarded for the plays they discover that led to victory. My game’s positional-based gameplay, alongside a resource system that players must effectively manage, provides players with an experience that makes them truly think of all aspects of the game, from the current situation, the future state of the game, and why my opponent played it a certain way. Challenging players to think differently translates well in other aspects of life where they can attack problems in various ways.

I believe tabletop games have a tremendous advantage over video games because they naturally create a community. As a former card game player, I met many friends who helped sculpt my life for the better. This pushed me to create a physical card game because I know if my game creates a community, the player base will form long-lasting friendships.

Covid showed us the need for community. If I can create a game that gets people to seek groups to play, especially in the game stores, I’ll be ecstatic. I am also Latino, and as I meet gamers, designers, and others throughout this game design journey, I’ve noticed there aren’t a lot of Latino game designers. I want to show that you can become a game designer, if you constantly push yourself. 

What made you decide to bring your game to Comic-Con? 

Chris Yola: I brought my game to NYCC due to an old friend from Yugioh days, being an organizer of the board game and card game section at Comic-Con. He offered to help me in my journey to self-publish my game and provided me the space at Comic-Con to demo my game. In order for me to build the community I seek for my game, I have to display my project at events that are not purely for games, like Comic Con. It is easy to demo or develop fans at a card game convention, but if I can learn how to demo or build a brand at places that are not purely my target audience, it will help me. I also want people to meet me. I am quite passionate about my project, and if people can see that passion, there will be credibility for my game once it is ready to be released. I’d like to release it in mid-2025. 

What was the experience like?

Chris Yola: You need thick skin when demoing. I don’t have the signage or some incredibly breathtaking prototype. But what I do have is a well-polished game that I know captivates audiences once they sit down. With big conventions like Comic Con, my prototype is not something most people intended to do as part of their convention experience. Why demo this unpublished game when other companies have products for sale and have spent hundreds of thousands/millions into attending this event? I understand there will be periods of 0 interest. Still, I keep up the optimism by casually asking convention attendees who pass by if they like to demo my game while offering snacks as a prize for taking the time. 

Can anyone show up to Comic Con and demo their game?

Chris Yola: Yes and no; it depends on what you have on your table. The etiquette for Comic Con and other gaming conventions like Gencon does permit you to demo as long as it does not negatively affect vendors and other attendees. For example, I wouldn’t advise someone to set up a shop with banners, huge signs displaying QR codes to their company site, or attempt to sell items. Vendors typically pay $600 to $3K for a small table, which involves an application process that can be denied. Conventions and most organizers do want to encourage growth in the gaming industry, so they do welcome designers to demo their games as long as they are respectful of the environment.

Advice for game makers?

Chris Yola: Only demo to friends and family to test out an idea and get rid of any unbalanced aspects of the game. Then, immediately take it to game designers through game design meetups either locally or unpublished game conventions like Unpub. You will hear a lot of bad things about your game but try to find solutions to players’ criticism and try to converge several different critiques to global issues. Many game designers quit at this stage because the critiques are taken personally, or they fail to believe in their project. If you pass this stage and have refined your game several times, it is time to demo to non-game designers like conventions. Be proud of your game. Often, I see game designers being too modest or not confident. How can you sell your idea to players if you can’t sell it to yourself? 

GameologyGirl is a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University in the Design and Development of Digital Games program. Her interests include game development research with a strong focus on educational-centered gaming experiences.