Analog gaming returned to Philadelphia in Penny Arcade’s tabletop games theme event, Pax Unplugged. For its sophomore show, Pax Unplugged was held on November 30th to December 2nd in the Philadelphia Convention Center, gathering vendors, game makers and fans of all types of tabletop entertainment to the city of brotherly love. Casual players and serious competitors were in attendance, sharing their love of roll dice, moving pieces and having a good time without using a monitor for a while. During the three days, we got to check out some new games, classic hits, early prototypes and talked with some great creators and interesting attendees.
The layout of this year’s show stayed consist from the previous year; there’s a vendor hall, a free play area, a tournament selection, and specialty rooms dedicated to highlighting one particular feature. Attends are free to wander from hall to hall, try out a game and move along. The more serious tabletop players would be waiting in the bottom floor, registration for a slot in a tournament to win prizes in hourly competitions. It was fun to see the different levels of skill and passion at this event, and the environment encouraged attendees to participate whenever they can. With lots of games on display and interesting people to meet, it wasn’t hard to spend hours running around this place.
Show Floor Highlights
Forming the aisles in the vendor area, indie game studios, brand-name companies, and craft sellers were there to showcase amazing products. Vendors that were selling new accessories showed the newest trends in dice, chairs and game tables for gamers looking for more flair in their games. It’s not hard to see the appeal of collecting miniatures, paint sets and playsets to create fun worlds of adventure that only tabletop gaming can bring. But if someone is looking to make those kinds of investments, then looking in these places is a perfect way to learn about the best quality stuff. Game studios and publishers were demoing the latest versions of kickstarted projects or the final built of an anticipated fan favor. Exploring through the collection of games can lead to discovering more games and it’s always exciting to find that new game that will become your favorite. Chatting with the helpful staff gives future insight into the development of the game, the history of the companies and what future projects are lined up.
Thames & Kosmos
At the Thames and & Kosmos booth I checked out Drop It, a competitive puzzle game that has players taking turns stacking different color shapes to see who can earn the highest score. It’s a fun game that reminds me of a mixture of a match 3 game meets Tetris, and the game is easy to understand for all skill levels. Drop It has a simple set up with colorful pieces and the game builds large excitement once the pieces begin to stack higher and the scores can dramatically change if an opponent starts to block off entry points.
We checked out the latest update to the Exceed Fighting System, a 2 player fighting card game. This updated brings in official Street Fighter characters and their respective moves. These famous characters can duke it out with carefully planned attacks or defensives, each decided by the draw of cards. Players have to gather action points and move the fighters in ideal positions to deal out damage and avoid being in an opponent’s range of attack also. We had played the original game last year and felt that Street Fighter characters would perfectly fit with the game.
The Wild East Game Company
The Wild East Game Company, a publisher known for their unique attire and fun attitude were showcasing two demos at their booth. The first game was Curse of the Farmer’s Wife, an expansion pack to the Pie Rats of the Carob Bean Farm, a game about a forming a crew of pirate rats and try to steal a pie from a farmer. The game has players command a Pirate Captain and gather crew members and charisma points in order to be strong enough to steal away pies. The player that has stolen the most pies wins. Curse of the Farmer’s Wife to add more characters and poison trap cards to hinder the opponent player’s actions, leading to extra precautions before attempting to steal crew or pies.
The second game was Slap Down, a fast pace, a physically interactive card game that has players trying to quickly slap corresponding cards to complete a set. The most complete sets a player collects wins the game. This game is a much simplified Egyptian Ratscrew and is appeals to the twitchy gamer eager to let the hands do the thinking. It’s a fun game with friends and relies on fast reflexes and quicker thinking, leading to intense slap matches.
Lynnvander Studio has been transforming movies, shows, and video games into creative board games. At their booth, I got to talk with Lynnvander Studio founder Thomas M. Gofton and learn about a few of their projects. With only a small group of game creators, Thomas oversees the game development, media projects, and a few geeky theme specialty stores. Since 2005, Lynnvander Studio has been building a solid line of titles that have generated a lot of positive feedback that has allowed them to partner up with multiple platforms.
As a big 90’s anime fan, I was eager to hear about their development on the Cowboy Bebop game, Cowboy Bebop Boardgame Boogie. Players will take control of one of the four Bebop bounty hunters, and search through the five planets locate and capture their targets. But all this is not possible without having enough food and fuel to survive the adventure! Each Bebop character will have their own side objectives while cooperatively supporting the other players. Each bounty collected helps the team and moves the players closer to complete the game. In partnership with Jasco Games, Cowboy Bebop Boardgame Boogie features a lot of key aspects from the anime. The use of the iconic characters and locations makes playing the game feel like an episode of the anime. The crew of the Bebop struggled to gather money and resources, often problems with finding food. Bounty hunting was how they earned most of their money, but had to deal with personal demons on the side. This looks to be a great game for anime and gamers alike and will be released January 4th, 2019.
Lynnvander Studio returns to the world of Amry of Darkness in a cooperative game that mixes tower defense with turn-based RPG elements in Amry of Darkness: The Board Game. Up to four players will take part in defending King Arthur’s castle keep from the Evil Ash’s army of Deadites. Players will have a limited time to build up defenses along the castle, then survive waves of enemies until they can open the necronomicon and eliminate the forces of the undead. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a playable copy to try, I wanted to see the prototype of the miniatures. But Gofton promised that everything about this game caters to the fans. The game is in early development and is scheduled for a release date in 2019.
Ken Franklin wanted to know if I had what it takes to steal from a mob boss, and with his attire, I knew I could it in style. At the Calliope Games booth, I met retired physician and game designer Ken Franklin and his game, The Mansky Caper. The game has 2 to 6 players stealing into Al Mansky’s mansion, a mob boss with lots of hidden loot stored all around. Mansky is out of town and a crew of thieves break in and take as many valuables as they can carry to their getaway car. However, Manksy’s has rigged his mansion to set off explosive traps to protect his safes. With so much money to be made here, the crew themselves can get a little greedy. Not looking to split the whole take, every player can stash away loot from the group and use it to pay off other players to help out with traps. The game is both cooperative and competitive, as the whole crew will be exploring and taking rewards, but also suffer some the same punishments if everything goes wrong. The original prototype of the game wasn’t based on 1920’s mobsters, but it all the elements lead to the fast-talking, fast-moving criminals of the 1920s. Ken Franklin had worked on previous titles from Calliope Games, and this is one of his first lead games that he had designed.
If the games at Killjoy don’t grab your attention, the mock hotbox car definite should have. The game designers at the Killjoy booth laid out their games next to a real car with a fog machine, which was a display for one of their games, Stoner Parking Lot. While at the booth, we got to try out Emma Larkin’s …and then we died, a cooperative game that uses spooky word fragment to create a sinister tale. It’s an interesting game that relies on the player’s imagination and how well they can improvise The game is a bit like Boggle and Scrabble, in which letters and words can determine the flow of the game. Players will lay their cards and try to find a complete word, or make up a completely non-sense wording and give it meaning within the story. It’s certainly a game about social interaction, and it’s something that stands out for a mature board game night.
With games being a universal entertainment, Japananime Games is looking to bring exciting Japanese games to the other markets. With translated text and high-quality artwork, Japananime Games gives game designers to global reach for gamers around the world to experience their stories. I talked to Japananime Games’ president Eric Price to learn about his experience in the board game industry and his partnerships with Japanese game designers.
Price travels to Japan several times a year to discover popular trends and meet with rising game developers that are looking to make a name for themselves. Eric and his team work to import and translate the best games that would engage a wide variety of players. From fast-paced card games, tactical RPGs and imaginative drawing games, these games are heavily influenced by anime, manga and Japanese culture.
At the Alderac Entertainment Group, I got to try out two games that let me play as experience what life would be as a cat lady and deal with the stress of being a city planner
Owning one cat can be a difficult job, but having multiple cats is a fun mess that some people love to take on. In Cat Lady, players will compete to collect cats and resources, and earn points to determine who is the best at loving their cats. Each player will need to find toys, catnip, costumes and food to keep their cats happy to earn the most points. Cats that don’t mee their requires don’t score any points at the end, and wasted food will reduce the score. Cat lady is a fun game for people that either own or know someone that likes to take care of their games, and the game uses some degree of tactics and chance to win.
Start a town from the ground up in Tiny Towns, a competitive building game that has players try to create the most efficient living spaces. With players taking turns, one player will act as a master builder, selecting one type of resources that everyone will have to place on their own individual board. When enough resources have been collected and arranged, it will create a type of building. Buildings and structures will earn points by fulfilling their own requirements like needing wells for every cottage, or a set of buildings aligned in a row. When each player is unable to place any more resources or create any more buildings, the builds are tallied up and a winner is determined.
Inside Up Games
Swords and sandals were flying at Inside Up Games booth when we played Gorus Maximus, a gladiator theme cardgame. This spin on the trick-taking genre has gladiators trying to claim kills in the arena filled with vicious fighters and crazed beasts. Players have a hand of ten cards, each with different units and strengths that will be challenged to opposing units. The card with the highest value in a round will win, and the player collects the played cards. At the end of the round, scores are tallied up by how many favor points are earned and a winner is declared.
Game creator Conor McGoey developed this game with his wife after playtesting a prototype trick-taking and added the gladiator theme for his love of action moves. His dedication to the game really shines through when he dressed the part of a gladiator and demo the game in full costume.
Along one of the walls was a selection showing giant versions of games that have bigger play pieces and require a bit of floor space to play. These larger games weren’t for sale, but it built interest for the regular sized versions that could be purchased for regular tabletop play at their respective booths. It’s a fun way to generate attention and get the buzz around the convention. It’s definitely something more physical to play and lots of people were able to join into games without a problem.
The Unpublished Games Network
Showcasing games in every stage of development, the Unpub room let attendees playtest multiple indie projects and give feedback to the game designers. Every few hours, new games would be rotated in, and every game designer is eager to get a fresh perspective on their work. This one is a great experience to see the beginning of early designs become fully fleshed out games that have community involvement in the process.
I playtested or watched a few games that were at different phases. Some had placeholder models and used printer paper taped together to create a board. Some had time to use a 3D printer to create miniatures, and written lore to set up the game. A few games were 90% complete and were waiting for a few steps until they can launch.
Classic Cardboard Games
Sponsored by the Tik Tik Board Games, the Classic Cardboard Games room contained some classic hits and forgotten gems from every era of board games. This room brings up nostalgic memories of childhood, where every popular tv show or movie got a game based on it. That trend has died down a bit for modern media, but companies were very eager to realize some type of game, regardless of quality.
Looking back at some of these games now, its hard to see how the game would flow as the wording on the back of the boxes were filled with vague details and required a couple of read-throughs with the instruction manual. Some designs were remodeled version of past games, relying on brand power over fun gameplay. Some did try to be innovated but were a little complex for novice players.
On Saturday, there was a tournament held for gamers to play through a series of classic games and the winner would get a trophy made out of old board game pieces. The room was packed with people playing all sorts of games that would eventually have one player winning them all.
Pax Unplugged offered lots of opportunities to explore different types of games with a great community. We got to chat with creative minds about their work and the inspirations that lead to such fun games. Most games we had tried were very approaching, with only a small amount of time and practice to understand the rules. There were lots of lively people to join pick up games with and have engaging conversations. For most of the games, it didn’t matter who won or lost, but for everyone to have a good time. Unless it was a ranked tournament game, and the prize was being the best of course. Pax Unplugged is a fun convention that adds some healthy dosage of variety between pop culture and video game events that we attend. The atmosphere and the games we play are very relaxing and the slower pace allows us to soak more of the social aspects. Tabletop games are like 70% gameplay and 30% socially interacting with players as the visuals aren’t as intense like the digital media. Board game fans, tabletop masters and people looking for more simulating challenges should definitely experience the growing community at Pax Unplugged. So grab some friends, form a party and prepare for next year’s show in 2019!