PAX Prime 2011 Through a Boardgamer’s Eyes (GeekDad Weekly Rewind)

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This past weekend, several of the GeekDad contingent traveled to Seattle for PAX Prime 2011, a weekend of videogames, tabletop games, geeky panels, and celebrity sightings. Here’s a quick run-down of my weekend, with plenty of visual aids.

EscalatorsEscalators

The crowds waiting to enter PAX on Friday morning.

I’ll tell you right up front that I’m much more of a tabletop gamer (board games, card games, and so on) than a video gamer, so I focused mostly on what’s on the periphery at PAX. The video games and PC games get top billing, but that means that the tabletop folks have a little more time to chat, which is great for me. This post will give you my brief impressions of things I saw and played this weekend, with more in-depth reviews to come!

Thursday evening Dave Banks and I met up in the hotel lobby and played a few games to kick off the weekend: Battleship Galaxies, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, and Catacombs. I would have loved to play more, but we both needed to get some sleep in preparation for the weekend.

My first stop on Friday was with Ray Wehrs of Calliope Games. I’d heard about their upcoming game Ugh! from John Kovalic, who did the artwork, so I knew it was something I wanted to check out. Wehrs told me a little bit more about the history of Calliope Games and where they’re coming from. They have a cool story and are definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a boardgamer who has kids. So far they’ve just got four games in their line-up, but they are all kid-friendly and non-gamer-friendly, while still offering something for people who really like games.

Ugh from Calliope GamesUgh from Calliope Games

Ugh from Calliope Games (artwork by John Kovalic!)

Dave Banks and I sat down to try Ugh! and were both impressed. Here’s the basic gist: you’re collecting sets of three: a caveman, a pet, and a house (the orange, purple, and green cards). Your score for each set is the product of the three numbers, so getting higher numbers can increase your score significantly. However, until you lock in a set, you’re in danger of losing it to other players or to various “Ugh” cards that turn up in the deck. It’s a press-your-luck game with hilarious drawings by Kovalic and simple enough mechanics that you could teach it to younger kids, even if they can’t do the multiplication themselves.

Tsuro from Calliope GamesTsuro from Calliope Games

Tsuro from Calliope Games

Next up was Tsuro. This has actually been around for a while (I know because I’ve had it on my “maybe” list), but now it’s being distributed by Calliope Games. It’s a little bit like Carcassonne with just roads. Each edge has two paths leading to it, and your goal is to play tiles so that you stay on the board the longest. Everyone chooses a starting space on the edge of the board, and then you play a tile to extend your path. You must move along the path until the end — if you’re off the board, you’re out of the game. It’s a gorgeous looking game with very simple rules and a very zen-like feel to it, and you can play up to 8 players. (For the curious, this is one of the two games Curtis Silver beat us at.)

Got 'Em! from Calliope GamesGot 'Em! from Calliope Games

Got 'Em! from Calliope Games

Last on Calliope’s list for PAX was Got ‘Em!, a game about boxing in your opponents. Players start near the center (on the white dots) and then everyone gets a few cards. On your turn, you play a card, which allows you to place a wall on a specific colored square, and then move from one to three spaces. Some cards let you play a wall on any color square, some allow you to remove walls, and some even allow you to walk through walls. If you get boxed in, you’re eliminated. The reverse side of the board doesn’t have any colors, and it’s a more pure strategy game: play a wall, move a space. It’s a pretty simple idea, but Dave and I both enjoyed this one, too.

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