Last weekend was PAX Prime. I was barely recovered from Gen Con but there were a panel to do, swag to collect and give away, and games to be played! It was a fun weekend, but between the two trips it’ll take me a while to sort out all the things I saw and played—there’s a lot I’d like to revisit later on. For now, here’s a speed run through my weekend in photos.
I arrived at the convention center Thursday evening to pick up my badge and meet a few of our fantastic prize donors, and caught a glimpse of the exhibit hall in its pre-ready state. Most of my contacts had gone home for the evening already. I drove out to Chuck “Lucky Radish” Gamble’s house and met his family—we played a round of Emperor’s New Clothes and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and then called it a night.
Friday morning: first things first. As soon as the exhibit hall opened, I went around to meet up with some folks to collect giveaway swag for our panel. But then we had a chance to sit and play a bit.
One of our first stops was the Paizo area. I was with fellow GeekDad Erik Wecks, his daughter, and my friend (and host) Chuck Gamble. I’d played a demo of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game at Gen Con and I wanted them to try it out. Sadly, my review copy was just arriving at my house on Friday … while I was in Seattle. So we played the demo version and won, despite a nasty run-in with Explosive Runes. We collected goblin masks and continued on our way, vision somewhat obscured but adorably creepy.
I happened to walk by Giant Tsuro just as a game was starting, and managed to join in. The board is large enough that you become the pawns, laying down the path tiles and walking around on the board. It’s actually a bit harder this way, because you can’t see the entire board at a glance. I played a five-player game and managed to stay alive until the last round—but then I ran out of places to go. Fun fact: of our top five scavenger hunt winners, three of them picked Tsuro in their prize selections.
Okay, I haven’t actually sat down and played Golem Arcana, but I saw it at Gen Con and took a closer look at PAX. It’s a set of (large) miniatures, using a digital stylus that can read the figures and the board and send the info to your smartphone or tablet. You still get to move physical pieces around, but then the software does all the record keeping and tedious bits. It’ll be on Kickstarter sometime soon—I’m guessing it won’t be cheap, but it looks like a fascinating blend of digital and analog.
Over the weekend I did get a few more opportunities to get out my prototype of Emperor’s New Clothes, and I had a great time showing people how to play and talking about the concept. I also played a few rounds of the mini-game The Boy Who Cried Wolf, which involves trying to trick the other people into coming to rescue you. Some of us were much better at bluffing than others, and a lot of sheep traded hands.
Day Two: Since Chuck’s daughters weren’t attending PAX with him, we played a few games at his house, including a round of Maximum Throwdown. It’s a delightfully ridiculous game where you throw cards onto the table, trying to land on other cards and cover up their icons. I had an advantage, having played a few times before, but Chuck picked up a copy over the weekend so I expect my next match to be more of a competition.
We met up with the other Geek Parenting panelists outside the Serpent Theatre in the Sheraton to unload the rest of the prizes—I had one more stop to make on Saturday morning but then all the swag was acquired. Hooray! The PAX Enforcers were a huge help getting things stored and moved around from room to room. After debriefing, we broke for about an hour until the panel.
Over in the Uncle’s Games room, Chuck and I tried out a demo copy of Roll for It! from Calliope Games. It’s a fun little press-your-luck dice game that should be out soon. I had a chance to try an early version at PAX last year, and again at Gen Con with the designer Chris Leder. I had an early lead, but then Chuck scored a 15-pointer and took the win.
We also got in a game or three of Ghost Blitz, a fabulous visual perception game that your kids will beat you at. Seriously: if you want to keep your brain limber, play a few rounds of Ghost Blitz. It’s like competitive Lumosity.
As I mentioned already, we had a lot of prizes to give away. Before the panel started, we went through the room and put a Skylanders figurine, a Geek Out! sampler, and a Joystick-it on all of the seats in the center of the room and some of the sides. The Enforcers helped us unpack all the other boxes and get prizes laid out.
We had a good turnout for our panel. This year we included some of our kids on the panel, and they were a big hit. GeekMom Kelly Knox already wrote about some of the conversation about bullying, and Erik Wecks wrote up a little more about the panel as well. Kids will probably be a part of the panel in the future—or maybe they’ll start running their own panel.
It’s always fun to hang around and chat with people after the panel. This year I ran into some folks from Geeta Games: Steve & Jessica Hoogendyk and Daran Chapman. Geeta Games has been working on a kid-friendly point-and-click adventure called Lilly Looking Through, which funded on Kickstarter last summer. I’ve been enjoying watching the progress on the game, and it was great to meet them in person. Lilly Looking Through was recently greenlit on Steam, and the demo is available now.
Most of the tabletop gaming seemed to be on the second floor rooms this year, with only a few publishers and game store booths in the exhibit hall, but I tried to stop by all of them during the weekend. I happened to catch Mike Selinker and Gaby Weidling signing copies of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, next to an impressive tower of game boxes. I tried getting one of the boxes on the bottom row, but they wouldn’t let me.
The PAX 10 booth features the ten best indie games chosen by a panel of experts, and I wandered over to check it out. One of my recent favorites was there: Badland. It’s a side-scrolling adventure that has a crazy multiplayer mode, and I’ve sunk hours into it. It’s a gorgeous game, and I chatted with Joonas Turner, the sound designer for the game.
The lines to play many of the PAX 10 were pretty long, but I was also pretty intrigued by Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, a two-player cooperative game in which you run around manning the stations in a round spaceship, trying to fly, shoot, and direct the shields while enemies pour in from all sides.
This fascinating volume is the Shadowrun: Brony Edition handbook. It was apparently an in-joke at Catalyst Game Labs that got a little out of hand. Only 15 of these exist—it’s actually just the Shadowrun rulebook with a custom cover, but what a cover! Catalyst was taking email addresses during the show for a random drawing for one person to win a copy. I haven’t seen any emails, so I guess I’m not the big winner.
Erik Wecks and I have been developing a game based on Watership Down off and on for a while now, and after Gen Con I was inspired to do an overhaul. I’d just had time to jot down some notes and brought the prototype with me to try it out. As it turns out, it didn’t really work: it was brutal and rabbits were dying left and right. So: realistic and thematic, but probably not so great as a board game. Back to the drawing board!
I spent a lot of time over the weekend in the Go To Games room, where several game publishers were running demos of their games including Looney Labs, Cheapass Games, and Vainglorious Games. Among other things, we played Castaways, a new game from Passport Game Studios. It’s a semi-cooperative game about being stranded on a deserted island … a bit like Robinson Crusoe, which I played at Gen Con. One big difference, though, was the semi-cooperative nature, which made it feel like an episode of Survivor. Sure, I’ll give you this food because you’re starving, but only after you promise to help me build the shelter tomorrow. We didn’t quite finish the game this time because it became clear we were all going to die well before the end, but next time we play we’ll have a better strategy.
SpyParty is a fascinating psychological shooting game that Andy Robertson wrote about last year. It’s currently in beta, for two players (one at each screen). One person is the spy and must accomplish a few tasks within a set amount of time: plant a bug on the ambassador, swap out a statue, get a microfiche out of a book. The other is the sniper, moving around and looking through the window in the hopes of figuring out which player is the spy. The game ends when a shot is fired, time runs out, or a short time after the spy completes all of the missions. I only played this twice (once in each role) but I’m definitely interested in trying some more. Right now you can pay $15 to get in on the open beta; I’m considering it.
There were more than a few giant robots on the floor this year: Bethesda had this one for Woflenstein and Respawn Entertainment had a big Titanfall mech, too. But this one caught my eye as I walked past, not just for its size but also because of the giant googly eye somebody had added. Although we did have Vandaleyes on our photo scavenger hunt, this is the only one I spotted this weekend.
Another section I visited was the Indie Megabooth: a collection of indie game developers all in one area, often with games that are still in development. Since I don’t have any of the new consoles I skip the majority of the videogames in the exhibit hall, but it’s fun to see the crazy things that people come up with when they’re not tied to huge make-it-or-break-it budgets. For instance, Mushroom 11 by Itay Keren (pictured above) has you controlling this big green mass. You swipe around, which erases portions of the mushroom, forcing it to grow out in other places, and that’s how you move. But there are insanely difficult puzzles along the way. It was fascinating—unfortunately, not available yet, but watch for it.
Another game I enjoyed in the Indie Megabooth was Life Goes On, a side-scrolling puzzler in which death is inevitable—and, in fact, necessary. I also spent a little time chatting with Laila Shabir from LearnDistrict, which is currently running a Kickstarter for Penguemic: Word Domination, a game that teaches vocabulary through a funny animated game. There were simply too many things to list them all, and I only played a handful though I walked through and watched many of them.
Of course, PAX wouldn’t be complete without an attempt to get the best time at Pajaggle. Chuck, Erik, and Lily were all new to it, so they gave it a shot—or a few. You could win a clear Pajaggle piece if you finished the board in under three minutes. I gave it a couple tries, but came away with four minutes each time.
I’d missed playing the demo of Shadowrun: Crossfire at Gen Con so I made sure to track it down this time. It’s a cooperative deck-building game based on the Shadowrun RPG, and I was very curious how it compared to the Pathfinder game, another co-op card game based on an RPG. It turns out they’re quite different—almost totally different game mechanics. The main thing in common is that your character’s stats increase as you play, and you retain a character as you progress through missions or quests. Crossfire isn’t out yet, but I’m looking forward to digging into it when it’s released.
When Erik and Chuck were waiting for an opening to play the Pathfinder RPG, we grabbed a free spot in the hallway and played a round of Light Speed, an old Cheapass Games title that’s still one of my favorites. It’s a fast-paced game with spaceships and lasers, and I have a cheap laser level that I use to see who got shot down. It’s one of the first real-time games I’d played (where you don’t take turns playing) and still one of the best. You can get a free PDF or buy the cards from Drive Thru Cards.
While they went to play Pathfinder, I met a couple and played Aquarius, and then while we were chatting about games I mentioned Shadowrift, which I’d brought and played the day before. It’s one of my favorite deck-building games, and I figured if I’d been hauling it around in my bag at PAX I better play it a few times to make it worth it. We had an epic battle against the Storm Lords, but finally succumbed to the Nevyrros.
By Monday morning my voice was shot, but I was only staying for half the day and then heading home. I said my goodbyes to Chuck, who said that I should be fine as long as I wasn’t playing Spaceteam. Well, whaddya know—a Spaceteam Tournament! I had to pass.
Instead, I finally sat down for a game of Fortune & Glory. This is one that was introduced at PAX a couple years ago. Although there are character cards like Last Night on Earth, the game mechanic is a bit different—some roll and move, and some press-your-luck. The game is all about collecting treasure, battling the bad guys, and cliffhangers. This year Flying Frog introduced two expansions: Treasure Hunters and Rise of the Crimson Hand, and the demos included both expansions. It’s one that I haven’t played much yet, but after trying it last weekend I’m excited to give it another go.
I finally got to sit down and try a game of Veritas from Cheapass Games (though James Ernest had already left for the weekend). It’s a game in which the players are all versions of the Truth, trying to survive the Dark Ages by being copied down in monasteries and traveling to neighboring monasteries. But watch out: on every turn, a monastery burns down, which could scatter those copies of you elsewhere. It’s a great little area control game, and half the fun is in making “suggestions” during other people’s turns.
Then it was time to leave—but not before one more attempt at claiming that clear Pajaggle piece. Okay, two attempts. I finally scored under three minutes (2:44!) and got the piece.
Overall, it felt like there was a smaller tabletop presence this year, particularly in the exhibit halls. As somebody who’s more interested in board games than video games, it means I spent more time in the open play areas than walking the floor. But I still had a good weekend. Like I said about Gen Con, some of my favorite parts were all the conversations I had with people in between games, and that was true for PAX as well.