I know it’s time for PAX Unplugged because my belly is full of turkey and Christmas decorations are going up all over the place. This year Andrew, Justin, and I headed to Philadelphia for PAX Unplugged 2022 (PAXU) to see what Santa planned on bringing good little gamers all over the United States.
Did we have as much fun as last year? Keep reading to find out.
It’s always tough for me to get away to a convention, in fact PAXU has been the sole event each year that I’ve attended since 2018, and I always look forward to it. Philadelphia is a great city, with excellent food and loads of culture and history. Too bad I’m only focused on a roughly 10 square block area of downtown, but that’s what I’m there for after all, right?
I always try to arrive the night before the event starts so that I can try to mingle with other board game media outlets…there’s always at least one or two mixers, but this year there wasn’t anything. Since I mostly attend PAXU in order to network with publishers and media, that was disappointing.
Friday started off great and was the main day where I scheduled meetings ahead of time. The past two years I’ve had so many meetings that it was hard to just take time to walk around and really look. This year I wanted spontaneity to be my buzzword; giving me a chance to meet people without much plan.
I got the chance to spend time with Danni Loe from Hachette Boardgames. She demoed several titles for us including Vaalbara (the title that Andrew couldn’t remember). It’s a clever card game with great artwork and some interesting gameplay. I also got my first look at Tribes of the Wind, a title announced earlier in the year at Essen Spiel. What a great looking title with lush artwork from Vincent Dutrait. That’s definitely one to keep your eyes out for.
Finally we got a sneak peek at an upcoming game called Sky Team. The version we saw was still in prototype form, but had some good bones to it. It’s a 2 player coop dice game from Le Scorpion Masque about making an emergency landing in an airplane. It wasn’t much to look at yet, but those folks make great games and I’m excited to try out the finished version when it comes out next year. (Justin had the chance to play a full game of Sky Team at SPIEL ‘22 and he might be more excited than I am.)
The next meeting we had was with Bree at the Lucky Duck booth where she demoed Nimalia. It’s a nifty looking small box card game which seems to play a bit like a cross between Kingdomino and Isle of Skye, both of which I love. She also showed us My Shelfie, an upcoming puzzly game from Phil Walker-Harding and Matthew Dunstan.
Other highlights include getting to play next year’s release Nature from NorthStar Games’s founder Dominic Crapuchettes (and the designer of the game) and Ross Connell (@moregamespls). It’s a reimagining of the successful Evolution line and will be their flagship title. It features a much more streamlined experience with fewer moments of “take that” type gameplay and a greater emphasis on allowing all of the various expansion modules to work more seamlessly. It was great fun and many laughs and groans were had around the table.
One of my goals this year was to get a chance to preview Point City, the sequel to the hit card game Point Salad from the Flatout Games crew, and I’m excited to say that this one looks really good. It’s going to be a bit more in depth than Point Salad, but it feels like a logical extension. It will have the same double sided cards: resources on one side and scoring goals on the other, but features an engine building component, a la Splendor. I can’t recall if this one is going to Kickstarter or not, but regardless, if you loved the first one, this is definitely one to keep your eyes on.
We also had great conversations with Emma Recher from Japanime Games, Court Sakmar from KOSMOS, Robert Geistlinger from Arcane Wonders, the team from Lone Shark Games (Lords of Vegas: Americana is on Kickstarter right now), and ended the event on Sat night with a media event hosted by Maestro Media, publishers of The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls card game, and several others.
Games-wise, I was excited to pick up my copy of Bug Council of Backyardia, a Japanese inspired trick-taking game with a very interesting mancala board to go along with the deck of bug cards. Keep an eye out for a review in the near future!
PAX Unplugged (PAXU) 2022 marks the first time I have attended a convention for its duration. By the end, my feet were fried. They’re still fried, five days later. I’m not in the practice of carrying a pedometer, but I can only assume that the numbers I clocked during those three days were beefy.
The team at Tabletop Tycoon had the largest booth, prominently featuring an Evertree which served as a convenient point of geographic reference. The publisher’s big ‘drop’ this year was the freshly announced My Lil Everdell, which was out on the floor and available to demo. From my one play, the designers did a great job streamlining Everdell into a family affair. I also walked away with a review copy of the newly released Nemo’s War: Ultimate Edition, which I am looking forward to cracking open over Christmas.
Hachette has an exciting lineup of games they’ll be announcing over the next few months. I’m particularly excited about one title in which players build tableaus by playing ranked number cards from their identical starting hands. I don’t mean to be coy about what it was called—I’ve genuinely forgotten. That’s just as well. I’m not sure I would be allowed to tell you more about it if I could.
I’ve never played Evolution or Oceans, but co-designer Dominic Crapuchettes sat us down at the North Star Games booth for a demo of his next system. It was mechanically simple, but satisfying enough that I was still thinking about it the next morning. That was my first time playing an in-person game while still in true demo form. I don’t mean a nicely produced, slightly unfinished product. We’re talking print and play cards in sleeves with Magic cards as backing. The way that presentation lays the math and the systems out bare for you to see is really fascinating.
As ever, my favorite discoveries were away from the main booths. The Society for Creative Anachronism had a table with three medieval games set out, including Nine Men’s Morris, Fox and Geese, and Alquerques. I challenged Dayna, who was manning the booth both times I stopped by, to a game of Fox and Geese, and was soundly trounced. Attendees were encouraged to take free paper playmats and little goodie bags of tokens home with them. Dayna was even so kind as to give me a hand-made wooden game board for the after school program where I work.
I had a great conversation with the team at Big Cat Games, a west coast-based importer that brings smaller Japanese titles to the U.S. I was thrilled to speak with them; I find a lot to love in many of the Japanese designs that make it to the U.S., particularly the trick-taking games. I also spoke to some members of Riichi Nomi NYC, a Mahjong group from Brooklyn who were running instructional lessons and had brought at least one automatic Mahjong table with them. If you’ve never had the chance to play with one of those tables, I recommend it. They’re silly and they’re wonderful. I hadn’t sat at one in about ten years, and it was good to be back.
Finally, my game discovery of the convention was, without question, Buy the Vote, from Coozies Games. I sat down at the booth early on Sunday to play a demo, thinking it would be nice to sit. Little did I know. The game is quick, the rules are simple, the bidding is satisfying and strategic. It was the first game I showed my roommates when I got back to New York, and I can’t say enough good things about it.
This was my fifth convention of the year, so I was only able to take part in about a day and a half of PAXU. And that was plenty. I had the chance to make the rounds, shake some hands, and play a few games for the first time at a con in months!
My networking highlights were many; if anything, PAXU was a solid validation of the impression Meeple Mountain has made on the gaming community this year. I had a couple dozen five-minute conversations with publishers and designers I met this year. Beneeta Kaur ran an event with Maestro Media Saturday night where our team had the chance to connect with manufacturers, publishers, GAMA board members, marketing professionals and content creators.
That network grew a little more during my meeting with Mighty Boards CEO David Chircop. David is a whirlwind of a personality. The designer of Hamlet is also the CEO of their small company. We had a fantastic conversation about what it takes to make the brain shift between the creative needs of his own games, to the business needs around getting the upcoming crowdfunding campaign for Fateforge: Chronicles of Kaan ready to go. (Don’t worry: a Publisher Profile on Mighty Boards will arrive next year!)
My only other meeting was with the Chief Dice Officer of Metallic Dice Games, Neal Hoffman. I was already a fan of MDG’s products, and that only increased during our conversation. I’m not an RPG guy, but I see now why some people pay $50 for a set of 12-sided dice that have a liquid core and rounded edges. These dice are unbelievable! Neal is also working on more ways to partner with other publishers; it is so intriguing to me that board games seem to have a deluxe version of almost every component except for dice. Expect to see more pictures of MDG products in some of my reviews soon.
I also had the chance to demo two games. The first was Crossbows & Catapults from Restoration Games. This reboot of the 1983 classic has been on my radar since I first met Justin Jacobson at Gen Con 2021. My brother and I played “C&C” all the time on our kitchen floor when we were kids.
During my demo with Suzanne Sheldon, Restoration’s “Master of Fireworks” (sweet title, right?), I shot caroms from my catapult at the opposing castle while she responded in kind. As someone who obsessed over the original game, I think Restoration has nailed it with Crossbows & Catapults. The toys are no longer rubber-banded machines of destruction—crossbows require only a pinch to squeeze a carom towards their targets, and the catapults are spring-loaded now, with a dial that gives players even more control over their shots.
This is an instant back for me when the crowdfunding campaign launches in January 2023, and it’s great to see that there will be tiers that include a reasonably-priced retail version and a blinged-out deluxe edition for people like me.
I also sat for a demo of Andromeda’s Edge, coming to crowdfunding soon. This is a reskin of Luke Laurie’s Dwellings of Eldervale. Andromeda’s Edge uses many of the same elements I loved about Dwellings, but in a sci-fi setting. I like sci-fi, so consider me curious. I’m not sure someone who already owns Dwellings would need to own this newer version, unless the theme speaks to you. I will be backing this one because I don’t want to miss out!
This will be my final PAXU. it’s a fun event, but the budget only allows for so much travel each year. Between GAMA Expo, Gen Con, and SPIEL, I think I have found my convention rotation so I’m glad I got one more run in Philly with the gang this year!
While PAX Unplugged is always a fun time, the team had an inconsistent time at this year’s event. Problems with entry (for all attendees), and those of us with media badges specifically gave a bit of a sour note to the proceedings. There were genuinely fun experiences, and I think there always will be, but PAX seems to want to focus primarily on the attendee’s open play experience, seemingly to the detriment of the vendors. We talked to several unnamed publishers who expressed frustration at the unexpected downturn in sales. But because PAX Unplugged (and convention runner ReedPop) don’t publish ticket counts it’s gotta be hard for publishers to plan for material. Do you bring an extra palette of games hoping you sell them, at the risk of having to pay cartage and shipping back to your warehouse when they don’t sell? Board game publishing already runs on thin margins, so publishers might have to make really tough decisions.
But PAX Unplugged is still a great event to attend, and one that at least some of us will come to next year.
Good write-ups on the games you were able to play and what you are excited for in upcoming games. I also got to check out Point City and am super pumped for the game. The Flatout rep I spoke with stated that it was going to crowdfunding early in 2023 but would be available later in the year from them and AEG. My friends were also really big on Everdell this year and are probably going to pick it up after playing it.
I have to disagree with your assessment for entry. My friends and I had all been made aware beforehand via emails from PAX/Reedpop and the PAX app, that entry was on Broad Street to receive the wristband. There were multiple Enforcers along the route directing people as well, and once inside the Enforcers were directing attendees where to line-up for security and vaccination checks for the wristband. That whole process maybe took 10-15 minutes. I didn’t hear any other attendees complaining about entry. Entry was quicker and easy on subsequent days at that entrance and the other sign marked entry points. Could those signs have been a little bit bigger and more frequent, yeah probably.
One critique the article had of PAXU was about the focus of the convention. PAX conventions are focused on the players and playing games and that is the main goal of all of the PAX’s. It is not focused on being a trade showcase convention. Certainly, you need to have plenty of games for people to play, demo, and purchase, but at PAXU the Freeplay/First Look area is just as large as the Exhibit Hall so people can play games. Publishers and media may not find the experience to be what their expectations are in comparison to other board game conventions. Those expectations could be adjusted though in relation to PAX’s stated objective of being for the players.
Publishers being frustrated by lower sales is understandable but that can’t be viewed in a vacuum or as a fault of the convention. The cost for games is higher these past two years due to the numerous factors we all know people are currently facing, but of course consumers don’t have as much disposable income either due to those same factors. That naturally is going to impact sales.