Anyone on the east coast, interested in board gaming, should be taking the weekend after Thanksgiving off and heading to Philadelphia. I’ve been to various conventions over the years, but none packed the good bit of camaraderie, enthusiasm, or general love of what was happening on the floor, outside of maybe the early Blizzcons.
While PAX Unplugged may not be GenCon in size, the Philadelphia Convention Center is mammoth. They were able to have dedicated areas to the show floor, free play gaming, card gaming, tournaments, indie games, and various other smaller iterations of gaming wonderfulness. All of this on top of panels and live-play sessions in the three theaters. On top of this optimization of space, using the entire convention center, PAX also seems to find the best folks available as “Enforcers,” which are their volunteers around the site. They all have an amazing attitude and are fully willing to find a way to facilitate whatever you’re looking to do around the convention. This was my first time attending, and as such, I know there are many things I could improve upon in subsequent visits.
That said, even as a novice, the experience was great. PAX has a very consistent layout and publishes a grid map to be able to navigate to any booths that you want to peruse. The mix between play-testing, demos and developers talking to you was solid. We were able to “Shut Up and Sit Down” at about any time we wanted, including at their live podcast, which was amazing fun. I was the only person in our group of five that knew of them, convinced them to go, and now, the entirety are subscribed to the podcast. Needless to say, that was a success.
Similarly, we attended The Dice Tower panel. It was a top five of games that needed an expansion. It was a very enjoyable time and I’m glad they were there. The feel from The Dice Tower panel, compared to Matt and Quinns was extremely dichotomous. The differences between the panelists in style and comfort seemed quite stark. Later in the convention, you were able to talk to any of the guys, since they were just chilling around the booth. The transparency of the team after the fact was great though. Tom Vasel was playing games during open play, literally at the end of our table.
Beyond that, I was able to play a good number of games which I wouldn’t have thought of, prior to the start of the convention. Firstly, Spirit Island hooked me. It felt like an inverse Pandemic. You are saving the island from the invaders. You’re racing against the humans colonizing and taking over the natural state you hold dear. It’s the opposite of everything that you are initially thinking of. The game plays extremely well and is balanced in much the same manner as the original Pandemic is. The person from Greater Than Games that demoed the match was absolutely outstanding. I almost snap-bought it, were it not for the current legacy campaign that we’re entrenched in.
Throughout the next few days, we were able to hit all sorts of games, from top to bottom. Of all the developers hit, Roxley Games definitively won our group’s praise. The demo of Steampunk Rally ended up in all of us buying a copy. It was a relatively heady, yet cheeky take on steampunk racing. The game requires a bit of forethought in the drafting process and makes what seems to be a fairly straight forward play, something that needs to be considered through and through.
These are the same developers that have brought Brass: Lancashire and Brass: Birmingham to the table. Another that I was really, really close to picking up, I knew in the group we wouldn’t have the long scale time requisite to pull the trigger. At the same time, they also dropped Dice Throne: Season Two, which, along with Season One, kept my compatriots occupied and really entertained for quite some time.
Personally, I went through the convention as a bit of a mercenary. I didn’t have allegiances to anything in particular. I was able to find some really intriguing options, be it miniature painting or gaming in general. There were a bunch of vendors for anything from Magic: The Gathering, to Games Workshops, pushing their paints.
Overall, it was a gaming convention not to be missed, and moving forward, I definitely won’t be missing it. It’s officially on the annual calendar for the Haller Family. I hope anyone who is reading this will join us.