It was time to flip cards, roll dice, and move meeples. Pax Unplugged 2021 arrived in Philadelphia to host three days of tabletop fun. Held last December 8 – 10th in the Philadelphia Convention Center, Unplugged brought together tabletop vendors, game makers, panelists, and fans, for some analog fun. During the event, we got to check out some new titles, reimagined classics, and a few early builds of upcoming projects. Check out our experience below.
Pax Unplugged Media Mixer
The night before Pax Unplugged officially kicks off, attendees and vendors got to party a bit. We managed to get our badges at the early pickup time and head off for a night of beer and board gaming. The Pax U Media Mixer was hosted by Meeple Gamers and Off Duty Ninjas at the Irish pub Tir Na Nog. The mixer brought in media guests, vendors, and regular attendees to hang out while trying out games.
The event took place in Tir Na Nog’s private room that extended into an office building lobby. It was a very bank-like space that offered different tables of games to try out with representatives to guide people thru the rules. We exchanged drink tickets and grabbed plates of snacks while checking out some of the games that were available to play.
Radlands: Radlands comes from Roxley Games and it’s a dueling card game set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Two players face off and are the leaders of an outpost of survivors, with the goal being to destroy the other player’s camp. Each camp has three buildings that you select at the start of the game and then you play different types of fighters and survivors and use their abilities and other special abilities from cards and your camp buildings to try and damage and then destroy your opponent’s buildings. If you’re familiar with games like Magic, Radlands is somewhat similar with the “summoning” of fighters and water being the main source of “mana”. Each card and ability has a certain cost of water and one of the main actions you can play is to take your camp’s water silo and then use it to gain more water during one of your turns. The game is pretty easy to learn and there’s lots of strategy between using abilities, deploying fighters and setting up your fighters and survivors so that they block incoming attacks. There’s also a cool mechanic where certain events can be played that slowly move into becoming active on a timeline on either side of the game. The game has an awesome art style with vivid neon colors that nails the 80s apocalyptic vibe but also feels like it will please fans of stuff like Borderlands as well. You can buy the Deluxe or Super Deluxe version of the game on the Roxley website.
Bitokū: Full of stunning imagery and gorgeous art, Bitokū comes from DevirGames and it’s a hand management and engine building game that sees players taking on the role of mystical spirits trying to elevate themselves and become the next great spirit of the forest. There is tons of ways to earn points and progress through the game and the strategy is to play your cards and move your pieces at the right time to get the maximum potential and the potential grows as the game progresses and as you put all the pieces in place for your chosen strategy. There are yokai that you can collect and place in certain points, you can move a kodama on a certain path, you can help villagers progress on a path, and much more. The game progresses through the four seasons and each season changes the way you can score points and requires different strategies. It seems daunting at first but it definitely seems like a game where if you put in the time and learn how everything works, it would be immensely satisfying. You can find Bitokū at a game store near you.
The layout this year at Unplugged was more condensed this time. It still offered up plenty of cool things to see and play but was all packed into just one building. The vendor room was about the same size, give or take some booths, and had enough space for people to easily flow between aisles. Once we had our bearings, we took multiple laps around the show floor to see what’s new tabletop world.
Funko Games & Prospero Hall: Funko Games and Prospero Hall, who previously developed games based on beloved geek properties like The Rocketeer, The Goonies and The Warriors are joining forces for a new Jurassic Park game, The Legacy of Isla Nublar. As indicated by the title, the game is a “legacy” style game where you need a dedicated group that will progress through the different adventures and your version of Jurassic Park, and later Jurassic World will be unique from other groups playing the game and the board and characters will change between each session. The game has 12 adventures and you play as iconic characters like Alan Grant, Ian Malcolm, Ellie Sattler, Dr. Henry Wu, Claire Dearing, Owen Grady, and more. You decide where dinosaurs will go and what buildings and facilities to build and be ready to deal with things going bad. The board and components look great so far, with an awesome pulp comic style to everything and the game will launch a Kickstarter in March of this year.
Bacchanal Games: You can put your mixology skills to the test with Bar Fight from Bacchanal Games. A card game for up to 6 players, you are all competing bartenders who are in a competition and looking to impress the judges with their unique cocktails. Each judge has a certain preference, like whiskey or gin, and you have to use the cards in your hand to craft a cocktail that you think will get you the most points. You have to have a base spirit and then you can add mixers and “twists” which are actions that can help you or attack your opponent. The bar you operate out of can also give you special abilities and benefits as well. The game has an extremely fun theme and you might even learn something about crafting drinks and it’s a ton of fun to figure out what to make with what you have in your hand, and sometimes you just have to dump something out there because you don’t have anything. The game had a successful Kickstarter and you can pre-order a copy on BackerKit, with copies expected to start shipping out this month.
Restoration Games: Restoration Games continues to crank out updated versions of iconic board game favorites and Thunder Road: Vendetta. The original Thunder Road came out in 1986 from designer Jim Keifer and designers David Chalker and Brett Myers have kept the main theme of a Mad Max-style road race but added new strategies and mechanics. You have a squad of three cars, a light, medium, and heavy along with an attack helicopter. At the start of each round, you roll a number of dice and then assign each turn to either a vehicle, which allows you to move that many spaces or apply it to one of your actions available, like repairing one of your vehicles or getting a boost. You want to make sure your vehicles are the first to complete all the sections of the race and avoid hazards or a bad bounce from an opponent. Any collisions between vehicles result in a rolling of collision dice, which can send your car careening off the map and get destroyed if you aren’t careful. You can also shoot enemy cars that are ahead of you, with a dice roll determining if you hit or not, and your attack helicopter can be deployed and be used to try and take out enemy vehicles as well. The more players you have, the more fun the game seems like it will be as there can be absolute chaos if there are a bunch of vehicles grouped together and collisions start to happen. The game is still in development but it already seems fun with a great theme and you can go to Restoration Games’ website to sign up for a notification when Thunder Road: Vendetta launches.
Blinks: Blinks was developed by Move38 and it’s a whole electronic game system that utilizes light-up hexagons to play a wide array of different games. Each game has a special hexagon and you place it against the regular pieces to program them for that specific game. This dictates the way the pieces behave and how the game plays. We tried a game Hexenwood, which was an area control game where you are trying to take over areas with your color and whichever player has the most area, wins. There are games that are more action-packed, classic board and dice games, puzzles, and more. It’s extremely impressive to see the variety of games available with this game system and there are tons to choose from with more on the way from the Move38 team or indie devs. The pieces are also just nice to play with and you can feel and see the quality of them. Blinks is available on the Move38 website in different packs and you can even grab their game maker kit if you’re feeling ambitious and want to try to create your own Blinks game.
Hot Banana Games: Celebrating the Chinese tradition of Dim Sum, SteamUp is a game for 2-5 players where you compete to see who can eat the most tasty dishes from the steam baskets laid out on the table. Each player picks a character from the Chinese Zodiac, each one giving you a different ability, and then you spend food tokens to get food out of the baskets. You can only eat from the basket directly in front of you, so you have to rotate the table to get the basket you want in front of you, but the other players can rotate it away as well. You can also pick Fortune cards that can help you gain more points and each round has a “Fate” event that affects everyone at the table. The idea is fun and the components are unique and definitely stood out as we were walking the floor. The game had an extremely successful Kickstarter but you can still pledge and get a copy on the Hot Banana website.
SRG Universe: If you’re a wrestling fan, Supershow the Game is something you definitely need to check out. A deck-building card game, the world of Supershow has tons of different wrestlers with all kinds of different moves that you can mix and match as you build up your collection, allowing you to craft your perfect wrestling competitor. The game supports 2-6 players and the game progresses like a real wrestling match, with the momentum going back and forth between the wrestlers and the opportunity for last-minute saves and epic takedowns. Moves are designated as Lead, Follow Up, and Finisher and you need to play them in that order to attack your opponent. Each wrestler has affinities toward different types of moves and you want to make sure you play moves that will utilize your wrestler’s strengths. You can also use certain types of moves to stop other types of moves, so if your opponent uses a strike, you can try to stop them with a grapple. The game plays fast and it captures the feel of a real pro-wrestling match well and, if you’re a fan, there are tons of add-ons and wrestlers to collect, including a number of real-world wrestlers from various promotions. You can check out the game and see what’s available to buy on the SRG Universe website.
Twin City Games: A quick game between two players, Animals in Espionage finds players recruiting animal secret agents in an attempt to keep their secret identity hidden while trying to figure out who their opponent has. At the start of the game, each player gets one of the animals as their secret identity and one as their spy. They want to collect cards that feature their identity while sending cards with their spy to their opponent. At the start of each round, six cards are laid out and players alternate with deciding how to split them up. Whoever splits up the cards picks second, so the main strategy is to try and see what cards your opponents takes and try to set up the cards so that you get what you want. When all the cards are dealt out, the players gamble on who they think the opponents identity was and if they guess correctly, they’ll get points in addition to points for the amount of cards they were able to get for their identity and how many spies they were able to send over to their opponent. The game is easy to learn and quick and fun to play and it has a fun art style that reminded of us of the old Spy Fox games from Humongous Entertainment. You can get Animals in Espionage from the Twin City Game website.
Block and Key: Coming soon from Inside Up Games, Block and Key is a unique competitive puzzle game with a great-looking, dual-layer board. Each player is trying to complete Key Cards, which shows the games block pieces in a certain configuration. The trick is that the key card has to match what you see from your perspective looking at your side of the board. You place pieces from the community “excavation site” and then place them on the top layer but you have to be careful because while where you place it may not have completed your Key Card, it may have helped one of your opponents from their perspective. The game can play up to 4 players and there’s a solo mode if you can’t gather a group but want to try your hand at completing some puzzles. The game had a successful Kickstarter and you can still pre-order by putting in a late backing at https://app.crowdox.com/projects/insideupgames/block-and-key
Fog of Love: If you’re looking for a unique spin on role-playing, grab your partner or close friend and get into Fog of Love. The game has two players taking on the role of people in a relationship and plays out like a romantic comedy, with different scenarios coming up that offers ups choices for each player to weigh in on. Each player has secret traits and goals and they may want to try and make their decisions to make things lean more toward them, even if that might result in the ultimate resolution of the relationship ending, either amicably or brutally. The game features different scenarios, all of which are divided into categories that range from goofy to serious and each one ties to different personality traits. How each player chooses to play out the scenario effects what points go to what traits and each player secretly wants the traits to either gather positive or negative points. The game offers up lots of opportunity to get into wacky debates and discussions and the game has a gorgeous minimalist art style that is beautiful to look at. The game is available on the Fog of Love website or at retailers like Walmart and Amazon.
Forever Stroked Creative: We were invited to take a tour of the Forever Stoked Creative booth to see a handful of games they are helping to develop and/or publish and promote.
Everyone Else Thinks This Game is Awesome: Coming from authors Zach and Kelly Weinersmith, Everyone Else Thinks This Game is Awesome is a trivia game where you compete with up to 8 players on heavily researched and probably difficult science, technology or just weird trivia questions. If you’ve played Wits and Wagers before, Everyone Else plays similarly where everyone writes down what they think the answer to the question is. Everyone then bets “Grad Students” on themselves and their opponents and whoever gets the correct answer gets points, but everyone who may have bet on that person gets points as well. The points help players work their way up the Ivory Tower and the player highest on the tower after three rounds wins. The game had a successful Kickstarter and should be out soon.
Most Cutest: Easily the simplest and easiest game we played at Pax Unplugged, Most Cutest is based around the idea of cut animals with funny names. Each round, one player puts out three cards with adorable animals on them and the other players simply have to guess which animal that player believes is the cutest. You can play for fun or you can do a sort of tournament where the animal with the most votes stays on and takes on two new contenders to determine which anima is truly the Most Cutest. The photography on the cards is great and the names are creative and fun and can definitely sway the vote, like a baby chick named Gary. There was a limited preview version of Most Cutest available at Pax Unplugged and the full game is coming soon.
Aldarra Reborn: Based on the RPG world created by ArcaneMinis, Aldarra Reborn is a massive strategy game that finds players taking control of different factions to battle over the skies of the rediscovered continent of Aldarra with airships to see who will claim the resources and technology located there. Each faction has different ships and abilities and while there is some strategy similar to games like Twilight Imperium with exploration and discoveries, the main goal of the game is to fight and destroy your opponents and you gain points by winning fights that you initiate. The minis for the game are huge and incredibly detailed and they are ripe for painting and making your own if you are into that kind of thing. The game is going to have a Kickstarter coming in the near future.
Blocko Taco: For fans of Mexican cuisine and dexterity games like Jenga, Blocko Taco has you trying to place your pieces of a giant taco into the shell so that they stay in but your opponents’ pieces fall out. You roll a dice and then have to place that type of piece into the taco shell. The fun/friendship-destroying part is that you can really place pieces in such a way that the next player will have a hard time getting their piece to stay in place. If you place a piece and it and others fall out, then you lose. LH Fruit Company developed the game (along with Most Cutest) and Cmon Games is going to be publishing it worldwide (Cmon is the publisher of huge games like Zombicide and Sheriff of Nottingham).
Final Girl: Coming from Van Ryder Games, Final Girl is a solo horror game that lets you see how you would fare as the titular Final Girl against a deadly killer. There’s a core box that is required but there are a bunch of different sets to choose from in additional “Feature Films”, all of them able to be mixed and matched. You pick your final girl character and the killer and then get your starting hand. You play actions and make your way around the chosen location for your game, trying to avoid the killer and rescue victims while preparing for the final confrontation with the killer. There’s a lot to love about the theme and art style if you’re a horror fan and you’ll definitely recognize who each set is paying homage to as far as the killer and the settings. The game also has a very slick presentation and box design, with really well-designed items like separate sides in each box for the killer and the final girls and detachable maps and killer character sheets that are magnetic. You can check out all the items that are available in the Final Girls series at the Van Ryder website.
Trendy: While checking out the First Look area of PAX Unplugged, where games that have never been in the US before making their debuts, we played a couple of games of Trendy from Japan. Developed by TenDaysGames & TANSAN, Trendy is based on Japanese fashion and supermodels. The game is an easy-to-learn card game where you play different cards with different numbers on them. When that number of cards is played, everyone who played a card with that number gets a point. For example, the cards with 5 on them, if 5 of those cards are played, everyone who played one gets a point for each one they have. You play until the entire deck is used and whoever has the most points wins. As simple as the game is, it does a great job of capturing the trendy mentality, as you definitely get into jumping onto a run of a certain number if a bunch of them start to come out. There’s a bit of strategy involved with the “Out” cards, which makes the number on it uncool and unfashionable and all the cards of that number are wiped out. There seem to be some European variations as well and, while none of the versions are in English. However, it’s so easy to pick up and play that you could probably import any version and not have any issues.
Micro Macro Crime City: Also in the First Look/Free Play area was Micro Macro Crime City, which is less of a typical tabletop game and more of cooperative activity. Featuring an absolutely massive black and white map of a city, the game features different cases that you need to solve by scouring the map and looking for a specific building or area that will fulfill the first step of the case and then moving on to the next, eventually following that specific story across the city and solving it. The level of detail on the map is absurd and you can spend hours just going through it and finding all the little details. The game comes with a small magnifying glass, which helps pick out the specific area you are looking for, and there are multiple cases to solve. You can get the game now on publisher Pegasus Spiele’s website.
The Unpub Room was backed and contained a lot of indie devs trying to get feedback back on their latest builds. This room allows game creators a space to set up their games and run games throughout the day. We didn’t get to stop by as much as we wanted to this time but managed to watch a few rounds of different games being played. The Unpub room is a great melting pot of ideas, QA testing, and creator commentary that shows the careful process of board game crafting.
Classic Cardboard Room
Nestled in one of the last panel rooms on the main floor, Nerd Mall Shop and Tik Tik Board Games hosted the Classic Cardboard room, a panel room filled with fan-favorite tabletop titles. It’s always a blast to dig thru the piles of games and find hidden gems / strange oddities. This time around we picked up two games to try during our time.
Crime Solvers: This mystery party game from 1986 involves solving murder cases with sinister motivates and suspects. A game consists of reading the results of the crime and a series of notes and reports from witnesses and police files. The player will have to formulate the motivation and suspect of the crime, then open up the reveal note to see the truth behind the crime. The game is structured in a way that lets people make up rules on playing the game cooperative or competitive. One method was to hide each clue file around the place to make each other player try and find it, then see if they have enough to solve the case. It looked interesting enough for us to play the game in a small group and see if we had what it took to be a detective in the 80s.
We tried our hands on the Program to Kill, a case that involves a dead programmer that scribbled down an address behind his death. As we started to read out clues and figure out the crime, the game was pretty interesting as a thought experiment. However, some of the clues weren’t exactly descriptive enough to land solid leads. We aren’t sure if it’s from bad editing or by design, since this game was geared to create a conversation.
Mall Madness (2004): To get back to our childhood roots, we played a round of the 2004 edition of Mall Madness. Since the 80s, every generation has gotten a Mall Madness that reflects the era. The 2004 version had all the loud colors and poppy character designs that the early 2000s were known for. The classic shopping spree design still works no matter what decade you play and it’s actually deceptively strategic as you have to decide if you want to try and get to the stores that have sales, even if they might be across the mall, or stick to closer stores, even though you would have to pay full price.
There was also the Classic RPG area right down the hall from the Classic Cardboard area where you could dig in and create characters in classics like D&D but also plenty of RPGs based on movies and TV like TMNT, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Star Wars and…Dallas?
Unplugged brought together a awesome community that lets people connect thru the enjoyment of tabletop fun. We cheered on new teammates or competitors in games of skill and chance. Every roll of the dice or toss of a card can end a game quickly or drive the game into extended play. We met a bunch of interesting people as we tried out stuff, many were looking for other players to join in on a game and we saw old friends that we haven’t seen for a while and got to play some classic games together in person. It was great to be at a big convention again and hopefully, things continue to improve this year so we can get to more events in 2022 and beyond.
Bitten by a radioactive video store rental employee and overcome by Pac-Man fever, Chris seeks new comic books, games, and movies to review.