I came back from PAX Unplugged two weeks ago, and I already can’t remember anything.
That’s not strictly true. I remember plenty. I don’t remember much that’s going to be of particular interest to you. With Justin absent—apparently conventions in Indianapolis, Essen, and Cannes are enough, genug, assez for him—and Will and Brock new to the convention scene, I was suddenly the old hand. It was my job to treat publishers with weaponized familiarity, treating them like old friends until they remembered that we’ve met before.
Capstone Games had Match of the Century—two plays deep, so far it’s great—and couldn’t keep Wandering Towers in stock. Not only that, they brought back the famed D20 of 2021. At my first PAXU, Capstone had a D20 at their booth. Pay $20, roll the die. You were guaranteed a board game, thought the range of options depended on your result. That first year, I rolled a 12, and walked away with a copy of Curious Cargo. The die, to my vocal chagrin, didn’t make an appearance at last year’s convention, but the external pressure seems to have been sufficient. I was holding out hope for a $20 copy of Clinic, but that wasn’t in the…cards? I rolled a 3, and walked away with a consolation copy of Aleph Null. I hope to meet the die again next year.
The Allplay booth is usually well-attended, but this year it was outright bustling. Not only did they have Sail, which would have been enough, but the four new trick-taking games from their recent crowdfunding project were unexpectedly in stock, and flew off the shelves. When I picked up my review copy of Sail at about 5:30 on the Sunday, I noted my surprise that there were any left.
“We came with about 800 copies.”
There were, it bears noting, three or four copies left at that point. By the end of the day, Allplay had even sold the demo copies off the tables.
Ravensburger had their new release, Mycelium, a charming and approachable deck-builder, Lorcana, which had a healthy line all the livelong weekend, and—at last!—the new printing of Puerto Rico 1897. I applaud Ravensburger for taking full ownership of the issues with the game after its initial release earlier this year, and taking exceptional measures to correct them.
Fantasy Flight had a corral set up for demos of Star Wars Unlimited, the upcoming TCG, but I’ll let Will say more about that.
The big publishers are all well and good, but they’re not why I go to PAXU. I head to Philadelphia for the smaller booths, for the games that you won’t find in your local shop, or at the larger conventions. On the whole, I was let down by the smaller offerings this year, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t find some great stuff.
Varia, a card game similar toin the same general vein as Magic: The Gathering, uses a fascinating dice-based combat system. Every deck is an individual character, each of which encourages a different style of play. While I still need to spend some time with the system, my demo of Varia left me extremely impressed.
The Society for Creative Anachronism was back, albeit in significantly greater numbers than last year. The booth for 2022 was more or less a solo affair, with SCA stalwart Dayna Tarabar setting out her suit of armor—oh yes—and a few antiquarian board games, like 9 mens morris and Fox and Geese. This year, she brought backup. The booth was regularly peopled by a team of SCAdians, and Saturday featured regular heavy combat showcases.
Oh, and, as a final note, crokinole remains more or less undefeated as a great way to make new friends late at night during a convention. What a wonderful game that is.
This was both my and my husband’s first trip to a larger gaming convention. We’ve hit up a bunch of the local smaller conventions like TantrumCon, PlaythroughGC, and Whose Turn Is It Anyway?, but PAX Unplugged was much larger, and my first step into that convention hall was, admittedly, overwhelming. One of my first stops was chatting with the folks over at Monster Fight Club about Cyberpunk Red: Combat Zone. My husband and I have recently made the (poor) life decision to get really into a miniatures game, which you can read about in my review of Marvel Crisis Protocol. I’ve heard murmurs that this new game, set in Night City, was making waves. We had a quick demo of the system, and I was absolutely hooked. The game is completely out of stock everywhere in the United States right now, but with a restock coming in early 2024, it’s high on my list of things to watch out for.
Passing through the hall, I gasped when I saw a massive pile of Heat: Pedal to the Metal at a couple of the vendor booths. I made a mental note to stop by later and snag a copy when I wasn’t running like a madman between meetings. Spoiler alert: it was completely sold out within a couple of hours. My shelf is still barren, yearning for a copy of that game.
We took a tour of Forever Stoked Creative’s “MEGABOOTH” and got a quick look at their most recent releases. They had a whole host of creative, hilarious party games to check out, though the one that really caught my eye was Trash Talk, a game where you try mind-meld with your team to match words to literal pieces of trash (included in the box). There’s even a Bring Your Own Trash (BYOT?) variant where you can add your own objects to the game to spice up gameplay. Can’t wait to do a full review of that one.
I saw so many games at the convention that I’ll be reviewing in the coming weeks and months. I met so many smaller publishers and game designers; talking about their work and seeing the passion for their games really made me feel connected to the larger gaming world. Speaking of which, I’m excited to gather a group of eight beer-loving gaming friends around the table to put Heroes of Barcadia through its paces. The folks at Rollacrit are a good hang, and I can see that energy translating well to the board game. It comes with character-specific pint glasses that track your HP (see: how full of beer your glass is!) What’s not to love about that?
But the game of the convention, for me at least, was the upcoming CCG from Fantasy Flight Games: Star Wars: Unlimited. Earlier this year, I bought into Lorcana after a decade-long hiatus from collectible card games and have been disappointed by its stumbles into the market. With the product nearly impossible to find, it really killed the energy for the game locally, and interest seems to have died out. But from chatting with the folks at FFG, it’s clear they paid extremely close attention to what happened with Lorcana and are taking active steps to ensure that doesn’t happen with Unlimited. The gameplay was fun, the characters are iconic, and the dual-zone battlefield (space and ground) opens up some interesting design space. I’ll be watching this one for its full release, and we’ll do coverage here at Meeple Mountain.
So, what did we think of our first bigger convention? It was a lot. That’s not a bad thing! I had a blast. I’m not much for large crowds, so the amount of people here was staggering. There was a moment Friday evening when I was sitting in the Free Play area with Brock and another friend of ours trying to read the rulebook for Barrage, and it was the first moment in my life that I was acutely aware of the sensation of sensory overload. I quietly put it back in the box and said I’d return for it later. Unfortunately, it was checked out of the free play library for the remainder of the convention, so “successfully play a full game of Barrage” remains unchecked on my Board Game Bingo sheet.
According to conversations I had with regular attendees, this year saw a gigantic spike in attendance over last year, and there may not have been enough space to accommodate the larger crowd. Grabbing a table in the First Look or Free Play was nigh impossible, so we often walked back to our hotel to play games in the lobby. Still, the electric energy of the convention and the wonderful people I met at the booths (shoutout to the Arcane Wonders team) are calling me back next year. Only this time, hopefully, it’ll be in a slightly bigger space, and I’ll come prepared with Xanax.