Ben Kuchera

The Metagame demands an incredible amount of gaming knowledge, but the payoff is worthwhile

The Metagame demands an incredible amount of gaming knowledge, but the payoff is worthwhile

I played the Metagame for over a week after purchasing a deck at the Game Developers Conference. This is not a welcoming game for anyone who is only a casual fan of video games, as you need a deep and extensive grasp of gaming culture to play. The list of games in the deck dips into every genre, every time period, and every platform. I expected to see cards for games like Ico and StarCraft, but Cow Clicker is going to throw some people. Do you know enough about Adventure, Burnout, and Spelunky to argue their merits and failures against each other? To succeed at Metagame you need to be omnivorous when it comes to your gaming habits, and you need to be able to remember damn near everything you’ve ever played.

The game comes with a large number of cards for different video games, and a smaller number of comparison cards. There are a number of variants you can try with the gameplay, and keep in mind that some of them require a judge to decide who wins. “Duel” may be the simplest way to play, with a judge picking a comparison card and each player selecting a content card to argue. The comparison card may ask which game should be required in school, or which game tells a better story. The question may be about which game is more “visually beautiful.” Each player argues that their game is the one that tells a better stories, or features stronger aesthetics. The judge then selects the winner. This is a game that rewards both persuasiveness and cleverness. 

The different game types may take more or less time to play, but you’re always comparing what may be wildly different games and discussing why your selection is the best. You might find yourself arguing that Scribblenauts is a more tragic game that VVVVVV, or that Sonic the Hedgehog is sexier than Counter-Strike. The number of games and the selection of comparison cards are both impressive, and you can also buy an expansion if you exhaust the possibilities for discussion in the starter deck.

The Metagame may be aimed at the hyper-vigilant video game fan, but there is something special that happens when you’re forced to explore what makes certain games better or worse than others. When you are comparing two very different games and asked to think about one aspect of both that you may not have considered before, you really have to think about what each game is trying to do and how well it’s designed. During one game the comparison card asked which game had the more satisfying core mechanic, and the two games being considered were Pole Position and Diablo. Both games, if played correctly, propel you forward. Both games dole out a near-constant reward for simply continuing to play. Which is more satisfying? There are plenty of interesting ways to approach that debate.

The $20 base set gets you 100 game cards and 50 comparison cards, and the $12 expansion set gets you 30 more game cards and 15 more comparison cards. The cards feature beautiful art work, as well as basic information about each game. There is nothing casual about the Metagame, but the cards do ask you to explore the games you’ve been playing throughout your life and think about them in different ways. The Metagame takes the sort of arguments about music you’d find in High Fidelity-style record stores and changes the topic to games and then gamifies the result. Yes, you may be in danger of falling into your own bellybutton due to the huge amount of navel-gazing taking place, but I also guarantee that you’ll learn something about the games you play.