The Cardboard Hoard: PAX Unplugged Recap - Saturday; or Where Does the Time Go?
Despite my late night, I awoke early and was showered, dressed, caffeinated, in the convention center, and through security by 9:30am. I met up with Jake Bock of the Draft Mechanic podcast and sat in on his meeting with AEG, where they showed off Scorpius Freighter and Tiny Towns. I had the opportunity to play both of these later in the day, so I’ll withhold commentary on them for the moment. Before the hall opened, I also got to check out an early copy of abstract tree-placement game Bosk, shown to me by Floodgate’s Gates Dowd.
I did not stick around the vendor hall for the 10am rush, however, as we’d planned an informal meetup of the various Punchboard Media members that were attending PAX Unplugged. Kimberly Revia of The Cubist reserved a table for us in the open play area, and Jake and I joined her and played Impact: Battle of the Elements, the game formerly known as Strike, while we waited for others to arrive. It’s good for mindless entertainment while waiting, I’ll give it that. But not much else. Others started filtering in, and I chatted with Ken Grazier of Geek-Craft and Josh Acosta of WDYPTW for a minute. Then I taught Gorus Maximus to Theo the Geeky Gaymer Guy, and Marti and Sarah from Open Seat Gaming. Of course, as I do every time any of us get together, I forgot to get a group photo. Argh.
Marti and Sarah then left for a meeting, and Theo was kind enough to teach me how to play my copy of Akrotiri. I’d bought it recently on a clearance sale based on a lot of positive word-of-mouth, but still hadn’t learned to play it, but I threw it in my bag thinking someone who knew how to play could teach me at PAX Unplugged, and Theo -- who said he was a big fan of the game -- was happy to oblige. After learning it, I understand the hype. It’s a great two-player game that mixes tile laying, route building, pick-up and deliver, and pattern building, and plays in well under an hour.
It was just after noon at this point, and I had a meeting set up with KOSMOS. Theo headed over to their booth with me, and their marketing coordinator Tom showed us the new Imhotep expansion, Imhotep: A New Dynasty, which adds a lot of modular variability to the game without adding any bloat or much complexity -- which is exactly how I like seeing expansions handled, especially for gateway and family games.
KOSMOS was not highlighting their line of EXIT: The Game escape room boxes at PAX Unplugged, as they said they were focusing on family titles. But being the fan I am of escape room style games, I asked all about them anyway, and learned a few interesting tidbits. First off, Inka and Marcus Brand have added co-designers to the more recent entries in the series -- starting with The Mysterious Museum and The Sinister Mansion -- in order to keep the ideas flowing for many more future titles. The more exciting news, however, is that the next title coming, which is out in Europe as EXIT: Das Spiel – Die Katakomben des Grauens, will feature two parts, with each part being its own separate challenge. I can’t wait for a double size EXIT to dig into. Further down the line, they are also working on an EXIT aimed at children. Since my daughter likes to help me when I play these games, I am very much looking forward to seeing how they pull that off.
That wrapped up my meeting with KOSMOS, but I wound up back at their booth again on Sunday, as one of their games wound up being a huge hit with my family of the various games they demoed on family day.
On my way out of the vendor hall, I saw the Roxley booth, where they were demoing season two of Dice Throne. As a backer of the campaign who was about to get the game, I was interested. Once I got over the size of the box it game in, I observed a bit of a demo, and asked some questions. I always find it useful to learn the game from someone who knows it, rather than a rulebook, if possible, so this was a perfect opportunity -- even if the game is just a very slick and shiny Battle Yahtzee with card-text effects.
I then met up with Daryl Andrews and demoed Imagineers in the Unpub room. The game caught my interest when Daryl released the roadmap for Maple Games earlier in the year. I’ve been looking for a great theme park game for a long time, and Unfair, Arcadia, and Steam Park have all fallen a bit flat for various reasons. Imagineers, however, seems to be exactly what I am looking for -- family weight, quick turns, ride and park building, with an interesting mancala element to how the guests move around the park. My only regret is that, in all the craziness of the weekend, I didn’t back the game while it was still on Kickstarter -- it had hit the 48-hour window while the convention was going on -- so I’ll have to pick it up in retail later.
Not wanting to leave the convention center and have to deal with security again -- especially as it was Saturday and considerably more crowded -- I grabbed some chicken fingers from the food court for a quick lunch. The biggest compliment I can give them is to say they were edible, and even that is stretching things a bit. Also, they were out of fries, so they gave me extra chicken fingers. Needless to say, I did not finish all of them. But enough about the subpar food court, let’s get back to talking about games.
Hands down, the best game I played on Saturday was when I returned to the AEG booth and demoed Tiny Towns. I say “demoed,” but I played a full game, which took about twenty minutes with three players. It is a perfect little spatial puzzle of a town-building game, with variable buildings that are shaped differently, require different resources, and score differently. This game just ticks off a lot of boxes for me, and I cannot wait for it to come out in April.
I then met up with my local friends Matt and Rob, and we sat down and learned Scorpius Freighter out of the box. Learning brand new games, from reading the rules, at a loud, busy convention, is not my favorite thing to do. But this one was simple enough to learn and play, although I think a lot of the game’s nuance was lost, as we were just grasping at the basic mechanisms and ignoring a lot of the text-heavy tiles and special abilities. The neat part of the game are the three rondels, which allows you a lot of control over your actions, and allows you to set them up in suboptimal ways for your opponents. One let down for me, though, was that the space smuggling theme did not really come through -- but I do want to give this another shot now that I know how to play before I knock it too much.
At this point, my wife and kids were getting close to Philadelphia, and I wanted to meet them at the hotel. I met Zach and Rose on the way, and they sat at the hotel bar with me and taught me TAGS. I had mixed up the game’s title in my head, and thought I was about to learn the polyomino roll-and-write Tag City, so I was very confused at first. However, once that misunderstanding was cleared up, I enjoyed this real-time word association game that reminded me a bit of a gamer’s Scattergories.
After my wife and kids got settled in the hotel room, we went to dinner. We let the kids pick, and they chose the Hard Rock Cafe, so I ate a second consecutive underwhelming meal in a city known for its culinary delights -- the things you do for your kids, right?
Afterward, we wandered back to the convention center and wandered around a bit. The open gaming area was packed wall-to-wall and the volume level was intense, so we didn’t linger there. Instead, we ducked down the hallway into the Classic Cardboard room, where we met up with Kimberly and her kids, and our daughters played Electronic Mall Madness together. We then finished the night up with a family game of Topple, a game I remember owning and playing a lot as a kid. At this point, we were all fading, and headed back to the hotel for the night.