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The Gauntlet: Moxtropolis — Behind the Scenes with Lyla Ross

As the second week of summer semester at DigiPen Institute of Technology comes to a close, four faculty members from the Department of Game Design and Production are gearing up for a board game/fundraising tournament this weekend to benefit the local aid organization Hopelink. The competition is called The Gauntlet: Moxtropolis, and is being put on by ENGAGE, the community outreach program for Card Kingdom, Inc.

Card Kingdom has a lengthy history on the web, but its first storefront (called Berserk Games) opened in the Seattle University District neighborhood in 2004 before moving to Greenwood in 2006 and then Ballard in 2011 (when it was renamed to match its online presence). In addition to its huge supply of new and used Magic: The Gathering cards, one of Card Kingdom’s claims to fame in Ballard was its adjoined dining and drinking establishment, Café Mox. Here, patrons could sit at lacquered wooden tables surrounded by Art Nouveau furnishings and play purchased or rented board games while eating meals and sipping beers.

Shortly after the Card Kingdom storefront moved to Ballard, Lyla Ross (whose husband is one of the store’s founding owners) saw an opportunity for community engagement. To foster an environment for giving back to the local community, Ross set up the volunteer-based charitable branch of the store, aptly named ENGAGE.

In May of 2014, ENGAGE hosted one of its largest charity events up to that point, called The Gauntlet: A Call to ENGAGE. Here was the idea: Get small teams from organizations around the area to raise funds for the Seattle-based charity Child’s Play, then have all the teams compete in a board game tournament for honor and glory at the end of the fundraising cycle. Teams that raised more money got special advantages during the tournament, increasing their odds of progressing to the final rounds.

The event was a huge success. Ross admits she and her team were not prepared for the overwhelming response.

“[Last year], our hope was to raise $4,000,” Ross says, “and we were like, ‘Oh, let’s stretch it to $5,000.’” When the group raised about $26,000 in eight weeks, Ross and her team realized that they could dream up something even bigger and better for the next event, and they began planning the sequel to The Gauntlet as soon as the first one was over.

The event poster for The Gauntlet: Moxtropolis, which sports an Art Deco theme based on the 1927 film Metropolis.ENGAGE coordinators were plenty busy with other projects in the meantime, hosting other charity events throughout the year in addition to their regular jobs working at Card Kingdom. The November after The Gauntlet: A Call to ENGAGE, Card Kingdom extended its reach in the Seattle area by opening Mox Boarding House in Bellevue, WA. Sporting four times the square footage of the original Card Kingdom, this venue draws frequent crowds of board, card, and roleplaying game players from King County’s eastside.

It is in the tournament space of Mox Boarding House where ENGAGE will be hosting The Gauntlet: Moxtropolis, the second annual competition in the series.

"...we’re asking true gamers to be at this competition, so they want to know that they had to train and learn a lot and that they’ll be challenged."

“One of the biggest constraints that we had last year was the physical space,” says Ross, the Program Manager for ENGAGE. The original Card Kingdom store in Ballard continued to operate its storefront during the all-day Gauntlet event, and while the tournament space could hold up to about 75 people, “it did make it tough to fire off multiple events in a smaller space.”

Now, with the competition moving to Mox Boarding House in Bellevue, teams and visitors will have nearly four times the room — a good thing, considering that twice as many teams will be duking it out for the honor of first place. Last year, only 10 teams participated in the challenge, meaning this year’s event of 20 teams of four will be double the size and have double the energy.

Last year, Ross says, she and the rest of the ENGAGE crew had their hands full just trying to have an event up and running. They expected the event to be a light-hearted affair, but Ross was surprised at the response: “When we saw that even for the very light-hearted games it was dead-silent and people were very serious about it, we were like, ‘Okay, we need to up the intensity of the games for next year.’”

Since then, the ENGAGE team has used the full year between the last Gauntlet tournament and this one to prepare for a more intense showdown, including revamping some of the tournament’s mechanics and even establishing a theme for the upcoming event based on the classic 1927 sci-fi film Metropolis.

“We decided to make it really feel like a competition,” Ross says. “Not just with the fundraising piece, but also the gaming aspect. You know, we’re asking true gamers to be at this competition, so they want to know that they had to train and learn a lot and that they’ll be challenged.”

Kemet, one of the games to be played at The Gauntlet: Moxtropolis.

Kemet, one of the games teams will be playing against one another at The Gauntlet: Moxtropolis.

The biggest change from last year to this year, Ross says, is that teams will be playing as teams, rather than individuals who separate and play different games throughout the event. Even when team members do break off from one another to compete against individuals from other teams, the event will retain an air of camaraderie because all the contestants will be playing the same games at the same time.

“Another very big change is that we chose much heavier strategy games this year,” Ross says. “Much more complicated, more ‘gamer’s games,’ if you will.”

“If we were done today, I would be super happy. We’ve already surpassed what I’d hoped.”

The money raised for this year’s fundraiser-meets-all-day-game-tournament will be donated to Hopelink. So far, this year’s fundraising effort has been a huge success for ENGAGE and, by extension, Hopelink, who will be using the collected funds to aid in their efforts to help homeless and disadvantaged families around King County. ENGAGE has raised over $65,000 — more than double their original goal of $30,000 — since fundraising began on March 31.

“If we were done today, I would be super happy,” Ross says. “We’ve already surpassed what I’d hoped.”

When all’s said and done, Ross is glad to have ENGAGE put on an event that will benefit thousands of homeless and low-income families around the Seattle area by donating to Hopelink. “We’re connecting gamers with a cause that is really in their backyard,” says Ross, “and I feel happy knowing that they get to do what they love and give back directly to their community.”

“The overall feeling of what this event can do is amazing to me,” Ross says.

The event is scheduled to start at 10:00 a.m. this Saturday, and will run all day as teams compete in games such as Space Cadets: Dice Duel, Kemet, and Cosmic Encounters. Spectators will get to take part in other events while the tournament runs, including a raffle with prizes such as an official Portal Gun signed by the Valve team. Donors may contribute to The Gauntlet up until the midnight after the tournament.

There are only a few days left to donate to a team of your choice on The Gauntlet: Moxtropolis’s donation page. Your donation to Team DigiPen will make a huge difference for homeless and low-income families in the local community and help DigiPen’s faculty members make it to the final rounds of the competition on Saturday, May 16. Make sure to stop by Mox Boarding House if you’re in the area and cheer on DigiPen’s hard-working professors and lecturers!