Board games have always been a part of the various PAX conventions over the years. There has been sections dedicated to Tabletop Freeplay where you can try out games with friends, board game designers demoing their latest prototypes and vendors specializing in tabletop equipment. For this PAX convention, tabletop games fully took the spotlight at the recent (and first ever) PAX Unplugged in the Philadelphia Convention Center.
Spanning three days, PAX Unplugged gathered tons of big name board game companies, indie developers and publishers, stores selling lots of accessories. We haven’t seen many conventions that had aisles full of dice, replacement figure pieces, insanely giant custom gaming tables with embedded speakers (and convenient drink/snack holders) and more.
The freeplay/demo area was also way more massive than at a usual PAX, taking up half the show floor and going until midnight and there were plenty of tournaments and panels to attend as well. One of the coolest side rooms was easily the Classic Cardboard room, where stacks and stacks of nostalgic old school board games were available to play.
Everything from backgammon and checkers to licensed weirdness like James Bond and Home Alone games to the wonderfully weird VHS games of the 80’s like Nightmare (and Nightmare II, which we’ve never seen before) were available to rent out and play with friends. But enough setup, what did we actually get to play? We rolled tons of dice, added up attack points and moved meeples all weekend and here’s some of the games we got to get hands on with:
Flamme Rouge: One of the very first things that caught our eye was a mega-sized version of the critically acclaimed bicycle racing game Flamme Rouge. From Stonghold Games, it’s been out for about a year but this version is unlike anything you could play at home. Taking up at least two tables, the track represented the final leg of a big bicycle race and we each had a “sprinter” and “roller” racer that we had to strategically move in order to draft and try to avoid getting exhausted. Each player picks one card for each of their cyclists and then you move the number of spaces on those cards. If there’s a one space distance between any of the cyclists, they get to draft and move an additional space while cyclists leading packs get hit with exhaustion as they are setting the pace and don’t have a drafting advantage. It’s a really cool idea for a game and really feels like it translates the strategy of professional bicycle racing to cardboard. The normal size version is available on Amazon or Stonghold’s website.
Rambo: The Board Game
Rambo: The Game: Coming from Everything Epic Rambo, one of our guiding beacons, is coming to cardboard with a Kickstarter launching in January 2018. Specifically seeming to be based on First Blood: Rambo Part 2 (although it doesn’t follow the plot directly), the game is a co-op strategy game where players control characters like Rambo, Trautman, Co Bao and more and each game is based around an Operation card that lays out the objective of the game and special conditions that are occurring during the mission (Our mission had an incoming storm that, in 10 turns, would cause the mission to have to be cancelled). Each operation also has a specific setup to the board, which has areas covered in “fog of war” that players uncover when they enter it’s grid and reveal enemies, traps and objectives. Each character gets a specific set of weapons and equipment and “tactics” that can be deployed that give boosts or special actions. There’s also four different stances characters can use each turn, cover mechanics, momentum and a noise/stealth meter. It’s a lot more in depth and tactical than you might have expected going in and it seems like it will satisfy fans of deep, involved strategy games as well as Rambo/action fans.
Dicey Peaks: Calliope Games unleashes the Yeti in their latest, extremely fun game Dicey Peaks. Each player is a mountain climber trying to reach the summit and claim glory first while avoiding running out of oxygen and also the Yeti that stalks the mountain. Each turn, players roll any five dice from three different colored groups. Clear dice are better for climbing, dark blue for resting and light blue for either. You can pick any five you want and there’s strategy based on what action you want to try and do that turn. If you climb, you are looking for pick axe icons and you’ll move however many of those you roll. If you decide to rest, you gain back oxygen for each tent icon you roll but for both options, you can “bust” by rolling either three landslides or three yeti respectively and your turns ends immediately. The mountain is represented by random tiles, some of which have bonuses or hazards and it gets riskier as you move up the mountain and you can also recover less oxygen as you move up, so there’s a constant risk/reward to trying to press on up the mountain to gain the lead or resting but possibly getting passed by other players. It’s a super easy to learn game that’s also a ton of fun and it’s available right now.
Exceed Fighting System & Automata Noir
Exceed Fighting System and Automata Noir: We got to see two of the offerings from Level 99 games. The first is their Penny Arcade themed spin on the base Noir card game, adding characters and theming from PA’s Automata side story. In both Noir and Automata Noir, there is a “Killer” and an “Inspector”, both of whom are trying to uncover the identity of the other by eliminating suspect cards and using the other players moves to gain knowledge and narrow in the search. There are multiple game modes, including some beyond the normal 2 players, and it seems like a quick, fun card game that could be a great break between bigger games or as a warmup for a board game night. Level 99’s other card game we got to check out is their Exceed Figthing System, which translates fighting games like Street Fighter to cards. The game is 2 player, with each player choosing a character, each of whom have a specific deck with special moves and abilities. On a player’s turn, they have a variety of options, from “preparing” and drawing a card to launching an attack. When you attack, your opponent can answer and each move has a Speed number and the highest speed move hits and the player that was hit takes damage. You can attack, retreat and even get behind your opponent, so it does do a great job of replicating a digital fighting game. There’s a number of different sets available right now, most of them featuring characters from the Red Horizon universe.
Alien Entity: Mondo and Project Raygun recently released their take on The Thing but, if you don’t have hours to dedicate or just want that same feel in an easier to grasp format, check out Alien Entity from Braine Games. A hidden identity card game, players are members of a interplanetary research team stranded on a planet and needing to build a satellite array to call for help. Unfortunately, one of them has been replaced by an alien creature that wants to infect them all. Each turn, players draw a card and pass one to another player, with the alien able to send “infection” cards that will secretly turn that person over to their side. If the human team can build all three parts of the satellite or can kill the alien with a gun, they win, otherwise the alien or aliens win. It’s got a cool art style on the cards and it’s fun to try and figure out who you can trust and whether you want to help or hinder your fellow players. It’s available now on Amazon.
Hand of Fate: Ordeals
Hand of Fate: Ordeals: Rule and Make and Defiant Development created a tabletop version of the 2015 video game Hand of Fate. This game, Ordeals, fills in the plot between Hand of Fate and the sequel game Hate of Fate 2, with characters from the games appearing as avatars, enemies and boss monsters. In this game, you play as one of four adventurers looking to play agains Kallas, the current holder of The Game, a powerful instrument that can twist realities. The game can be set up to be a cooperative mode where players will aid each other in combat, defuse traps and share loot or it can be set up to be competitive, where you try to slay monsters as fast as possible to obtain all that sweet exp points and gear for yourself. We got to get a quick rundown of the game by one of the Rule and Make reps:
Super PAC$: Our current political climate is already ridiculous but Super PAC$ takes it to hilarious extremes as you compete with other players to bribe, backstab and manipulate your way to the White House. Each player is a candidate (and caricature of a recent political figure), who each have a special ability, and the goal is to gain the favor of various political groups and special interests who all have different stats, like providing you with a specific amount of cash or giving you a certain amount of all important votes. Throughout the game, there are different elections and they are vital to be able to gain enough victory points to win the whole game, with the presidency being a whopping 15 points if you get it. Depending on your candidate and what you get dealt initially, there seems to be a lot of strategy around which groups you want to go after and how you want to use the groups you already have, each of which has an ability that can be exploited. You also have to make sure you have enough money and if you want gain money or groups each turn. If you aren’t offended by making fun of the American political system, Super PACS is funny and fun and it’s available on their website.
Judge Dredd: Block War
Judge Dredd: Block War: There’s never enough Judge Dredd stuff as far as we’re concerned and Game and A Curry is bringing Mega City One’s main street judge in card form to next year’s Judge Dredd: Block War, which we got to play with designer Herb Ferman. In a cool twist, you don’t actually play as Dredd, instead each of the game’s 2 players control one of the city’s huge Block living quarters (Think Peach Trees from the Dredd movie) and are currently engaged in a war with each other that the Justice Department is trying to stop. Each player is trying to get the other players windows blown up or unusable before theirs are and there’s a stream of judges and vehicles coming through that has a direction they will attack. If the attack is toward you and you have an undefended, open window, it’s gone but you have a variety of cards at your disposal to defend your block and turn the judges’ attention to your opponent. If things go on too long, Judge Death arrives and basically destroys everything in his wake. The game uses actual, classic art from the 2000AD comics and you never know what the deck will throw out at you, so no two games are the same and it’s as brutal as the comics it’s based on.
Shootout/Showdown: Shootout and Showdown are the Western and Samurai themed card games from New Experience Workshop that lets you have quick and easy shootouts and sword duels with friends. Each game has players gathering weapons, titles and familiarity and then, when they think they have a high enough number in each category, they can challenge another player to a shootout and the loser is out. Each turn, you’ll draw a card and discard a card, so the strategy is seeing what other players don’t want and trying to gauge what they might have. The games are built on the same system and can be mixed and matched to have gun wielding samurai or sword swinging cowboys and it’s incredibly easy to learn and play and a great quick hit game for at the bar, waiting in line at a convention or before diving into longer games at board game night. Shooutout and Showdown are both available right now.
Lair: From designer Tam Myaing, who played a round with us during the show, Lair lets you see if you have what it takes to be a second in command to a Bondesque villain as you build out their secret volcano headquarters. Each player chooses a different lieutenant, who has two henchmen under him or her. At the start of a round, each player chooses from a number of options that will give them certain amounts of action points and build points and it also determines the order of play. You need action points to move your henchmen and lieutenant to various rooms and you need build points to build rooms deeper into the volcano. The game has a very cool ant-farm/X-Com style look as you excavate underground and build off the main shaft and most of the rooms have different abilities that you can use to gain points for yourself and hinder the other players. It works as a great entry into the worker placement genre, as it’s not as complicated as other games with a similar mechanic, and the theme is fun and well used as well. Game and a Curry will be publishing it and it will most likely be out sometime next year.
Front Line No Komrades
Front Line No Komrades: Putting you in the thick of battle, Front Line No Komrades has you trying to figure out how to avoid all the incoming weaponry while placing the other players in harms way instead. If you’ve ever played the card game Guillotine, this reminded us a lot of that except now your character is the one on the chopping block possibly and it has the same line manipulation tactics of Guillotine, as you can move characters around, move where the explosion or weapon will hit and dodge out out of the way and there’s also equipment you can use to minimize damage. Each turn, players can play one card after seeing what is incoming for damage but there’s also action cards that can be used at any time to screw over or cancel out players’ actions. It’s a fun party game that lets you screw over your friends and it’s available now from Anvil Eight Games on their website.
Quick And Dirty
Quick and Dirty: From the company of the same name, Quick and Dirty is a cool evolution of the Cards Against Humanity style game, which is getting a little long in the tooth to many players. Quick and Dirty shakes things up by having a category card like “Something That Happens in Vegas” and then a letter card like “M”. The first player to shout out an answer that matches the category and starts with the letter gets the category card and the player with the most category cards wins. There’s a number of variants and expansions along with drinking game rules, because this is definitely a game that probably gets better and better the more drinks you have and it’s available right now.
Wazabi: From Gigamic, Wazabi has been out for a few years but it was the first time we had played it ourselves. Wazabi is a dice game where the object of the game is to get rid of all your dice and each turn, you’ll run your dice and perform actions based on what comes up, like passing a dice to another player, drawing a card or getting Wazabi tokens to play a card from your hand and do special actions. It’s another extremely easy to learn, fun to play, quick party game that’s fun for newbies and experienced players alike and it’s available on Amazon and at game stores near you.
Restoration Games: We talked to the president of Restoration Games, Justin Jacobsen, about how they take classic older games and update and revive them for modern audiences. We were specifically interested in Fireball Island, which is coming back next year, and Justin told us they’ve changed the way the board is setup so it’s not one gigantic piece and that it has an updated storyline that is sort of a sequel to the original but it will still have that core marble rolling element that everyone knows and loves.
AEGIS: Coming from Zephyr Workshop, AEGIS is a strategy game with players controlling a robot army that can combine into bigger and more powerful forms through various combos. There are five different types of robots, all with strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll have to use all of them to take down your opponent and the team aspect is enhanced by the fact that all your bots share a pool of energy. It’s available for preorder and it’s coming out January of next year.
Attack of the Kaiju
Attack of the Kaiju: We got a rundown of Attack of the Kaiju, which features an awesome black and white art style and has each player controlling a giant monster looking to crush buildings and the attacking army and fight your rivals. You get points for destruction and have to manage your monster’s energy in order to move and attack. The game is also flexible as far as how long you want it to last, with the average game lasting probably around an hour.
Kaiju Crush: Speaking of Kaiju, we also got to get a quick rundown of Kaiju Crush, which separates itself from the giant monster genre by having a unique movement system that is sort of chess like in that you have cards with specific motions on them and you can either play one from your hand or swap it for a community card. Your monster is also leaving a trail of destruction and other monsters cannot cross where you’ve already been. Battling each other also involves using cards in your hand for abilities that have a rock/paper/scissors style trumping system and each monster also a 1 time use special ability. Both Attack of the Kaiju and Kaiju Crush seem like solid next steps if you’ve conquered the entry level destruction and Kaiju fighting of King of Toyko/New York.
Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon
Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon: Academy Games is turning this year’s Volition video game Agents of Mayhem into a unique board game that features multi-story, destructible buildings and some cool looking mini-figs representing the Agents and LEGION. Like the game, you’ll choose a team of Agents if you are playing as Mayhem or the squads of LEGION if you want to go bad and then you’ll have objectives like Mayhem wanting to defend a computer terminal in a building while LEGION wants to destroy before their data gets stolen and there’s multiple ways for each side to achieve their objectives. You allocate power cubes to perform special abilities and the missions and cards have the same wacky humor as the game. Keep an eye on Kickstarter, as it’s launching on there soon.
Atari: Centipede: Cardboard Fortress teamed with IDW Games to transform the classic 80’s arcade game Centipede into a tabletop game. It’s for 2-4 players, with 1 or 2 being the “Gnome”, who are trying to destroy the incoming Centipedes and other insect enemies and they have dice they roll to perform actions while the player or players controlling the Centipedes can deploy cards to add mushrooms, change the Centipedes direction or drop other insects like spider onto the board. The game has an awesome art style that captures the cabinet art of the arcade game plus all the components all have a pixel look to them to add to the authenticity. There are more games like Missile Command, Joust and Asteroids arriving next year for more retro goodness.
Countdown: Action Edition
Countdown Action Edition: Dog Might Games has been making high quality, gorgeous gaming accessories like dice holders, component containers, card deck holders and other wood carved items but they have been getting into publishing games themselves and one of their upcoming titles is the 80’s drenched Countdown. Featuring awesome art from Andrew Thompson and designed by Lindsey Rode, Countdown lets you recreate the classic 80’s action scenario of a hostage situation, with one player as the hero and other roleplaying as hostages and villains. The villains can intermingle and pretend to be hostages, so it’s the hero’s job to figure out who is telling the truth and who is bluffing and there’s a bomb card randomly in the deck, so it’s never clear when the game will end. We’re interested just based on the art style and theme alone, so we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it as it develops.
If your favorite part of regular PAX conventions is the tabletop section, definitely mark down next year’s PAX Unplugged as a must do. It’s a great place to meet fellow gamers, stock up on games you’ve had your eye on and try out tons of games in one place. All the designers and companies we met with were all incredibly nice and passionate about their games and every booth had someone available to explain the rules and walk you through how to play. Hopefully Unplugged becomes a regular addition to the PAX lineup and keeps bringing people together at the table to roll some dice, spin some spinners and get those precious victory points.