Tabletop Gaming at PAX Prime 2012

Reading Time: 15 minutes

Tabletop gaming room at the Red LionTabletop gaming room at the Red Lion

The large tabletop gaming room at the Red Lion.

Although PAX is primarily a videogame expo and the bulk of the exhibit hall is taken up by huge, noisy booths for the latest shooters, there’s a pretty big tabletop component as well, and that’s the part I love. This year’s tabletop gaming felt a little scattered: there wasn’t any central location where you could find all of the board game publishers and vendors, even within a particular exhibit hall. Some of the bigger names were on the big exhibit hall on the fourth floor, some were tucked away in the 6th floor exhibit hall, and several were tucked into the side rooms on the second and third floors. Still others were off-site at the Red Lion, where one enormous room was opened up for tournaments and free play.

Here’s my round-up of the tabletop gaming I experienced at PAX Prime this year. I didn’t make it to everything, but I tried my best to see as much as possible.

Sheraton LobbySheraton Lobby

Pre-PAX gaming in the lobby of the Sheraton.

I knew from last year’s experience that the Sheraton (near the convention center) was where a lot of gamers went on Thursday night before PAX to hang out and play games, and I wasn’t disappointed. While there were a few folks in suits, there for some other event, much of the space in the lobby and bar areas were taken up with people playing games.

gaming in the Sheratongaming in the Sheraton

One of the meeting rooms opened up for gaming in the Sheraton.

This year, however, the Sheraton also opened up a few of their meeting rooms for gamers. (Apparently last year they had some trouble with the fire marshal.) It wasn’t a huge amount of space, but it added about ten large tables for open gaming, and it definitely freed up space in the lobby areas. I sat down and played a few rounds of Metagame, an Apples to Apples clone introduced at the 2010 Game Developer’s Conference. It includes questions like “Which is more tragic?” or “Which tells a better story?” and then provides a huge deck of cards of various videogames, from Pong to Assassin’s Creed to John Madden Football. Players are encouraged to argue and debate over the answers, and it can lead to some interesting discussions about games. As somebody who isn’t familiar with a lot of the more recent videogames, some of it was lost on me, but I still managed to win once.

Red Dragon InnRed Dragon Inn

Red Dragon Inn: a simulated drinking game.

After dinner I found a group sitting down to play Red Dragon Inn, which I’d heard of but hadn’t ever played, and had a blast. Here’s the premise: you’re a group of adventurers just back from a successful quest, pockets full of your hard-earned loot. Now you’re at the tavern, hoping that your other party members get drunk and pass out so you can steal their gold, or else win their gold through gambling (and cheating). Each player gets a deck of cards representing their own character, and you go around the table brawling with each other, forcing others to spend their gold, and generally wreaking havoc until only one player is left standing. It’s a lot of fun (even without real drinks) though the premise and some innuendo make this a teens-and-up game.

If you’re looking for a fun, lightweight party game, Red Dragon Inn is worth checking out. Expansions allow you to play up to twelve people at a time, or introduce more of a real gambling element. And for those who are already familiar with the game and like RPGs, SlugFest Games is running a Kickstarter campaign for a Red Dragon Inn Pathfinder Sourcebook.

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