The Cardboard Hoard: PAX Unplugged Recap - Sunday; or Kids in a Candy Store
What separates PAX Unplugged from other conventions I attend is that it’s close enough that my wife and kids drive to meet me at the convention for family day on Sunday. When they came last year, I wasn’t sure how much they would enjoy it, but it was a huge hit -- from the hotel stay, to the game demos, to the free swag, to me letting them each choose a game to buy and bring home. So this year they were excited to come, and had no problem getting up early for a quick breakfast at the Reading Terminal Market and getting in the line for the doors opening at 10am. They also found the PAX Cookie Brigade milling around the queue, completing a breakfast that would give pediatric dentists and dietitians nightmares.
While walking into the vendor hall, my kids saw ads for Fireball Island and asked to go see it. We got to the Restoration Games booth just after 10am, and Rob and Lindsay Daviau gave us a quick run through of how it plays. Of course, I’d played it when JR Honeycutt took it on tour during the Kickstarter campaign -- and subsequently backed the game -- but my kids didn’t know that, and I knew this would help make them more excited to see it under the Christmas tree. This backfired when my son said this was the game he wanted to buy at the convention. I stalled him, telling him we didn’t want to carry around such a big game, and we’d come back later to pick it up.
While we were at the booth, we also took a look at Downforce, and did a demo of Dinosaur Tea Party at my daughter’s request. We enjoyed the latter as a family deduction game, as it removes all the ambiguity of Guess Who and allows you to play up to five players. It also features really cute artwork of decked out dinosaurs, which doesn’t hurt.
Our next stop was the CMON booth to check out Wacky Races, as that caught my son’s eye. We were able to immediately sit down for a demo of the racing game, which featured all the characters from the old Hanna Barbera cartoon, including Red Max, the Slag Brothers, and of course, antagonists Dick Dastardly and Muttley. It was quick, chaotic racing fun for up to six players -- with an extra-strength dose of nostalgia. And of course, because it was CMON, it had gorgeous painted minis. I have a sneaking suspicion this one will race itself into my collection next year when it comes out.
We then wandered around the vendor hall, letting the whims of the kids lead us to various booths. We played Spiky Dastards at the Bananagrams booth, which was very similar to Jungle Speed and Nut So Fast, except the items you are grabbing are spiky. Oh, and it came in a spiky conical container. I don't think there was much new or exciting about this one, but it was fine.
We tried spatial puzzle game Katamino from Gigamic, a chunky wooden production with a similar concept as Ubongo. While I could see this being a lot of fun as a solo puzzle activity, like a Sudoku, it was not so much fun as a group activity, which is how we tried it at the demo booth.
After that, at the RnR Games booth we played a round of Cave Paintings, a dry erase drawing game where players simultaneously draw six images each -- holding the pens like cavemen -- and then guess what images the others drew. The simultaneous nature of the game gives it an edge over Pictionary, in my view, and holding the pens funny evens out players artistic advantages, to some degree. We had a good time with this one and picked it up before leaving the booth.
We then demoed Super Kitty Bug Slap, a card game from Steve Jackson Games that was basically a simpler, cuter version of Spot It. While I didn't really like it, my daughter did. It was sold out at the convention, but I found it on Amazon for $5 and gave it to my daughter as a stocking stuffer.
In desperate need of a break from derivative kids games, I stopped for a demo game of Tak at the Cheapass Games booth. I really liked this abstract route-building game -- and the gorgeous wooden components -- and have found myself thinking about the game's nuances a fair bit since my demo play. There is a lot of strategy in this game, considering its simple ruleset. Another interesting thing is the story of its development, as James Ernest designed the game after the imaginary game of Tak the characters played in Patrick Rothfuss’ novel A Wise Man’s Fear. Now if only someone would create a real version of Azad from Iain M. Banks' A Player of Games…
We stopped by the Looney Labs booth and had Kristin Looney teach us Color Wheel, one of the 22 games found in their Pyramid Arcade game box. It was colorful and tactile, and easy to learn. It was also cooperative, but I'd have preferred to play this particular one it solo. I am quite impressed with them getting so many different games in the box, which “range from easy to complex, from mostly-luck to pure skill, and from time-killer to brain-burner,” according to their marketing. I'd definitely like to try more of them out.
The last demo of our day was Drop It at the KOSMOS booth. This game has colorful tangram shapes that get dropped into a vertical board, similar to Plinko or Tetris. There are bonus spots, as well as areas you cannot touch with certain colors and shapes. Since the pieces fall out of your hand, physics plays a role in the game, and what you want to happen is not always what does happen. This gives the game a nice bit of randomness and always seems to keep things close. I really liked this, and my wife loved it so much she asked me to buy it on the spot.
After we left the vendor hall, we played a few more games in the Classic Cardboard room and hit the road. Our modest haul from family day was Downforce for me, Drop It for my wife, and Cave Paintings and Teen Titans Go! Deck-Building Game for the kids.
Overall, it was a whirlwind of a weekend. I didn’t see everyone I wanted to see, or spend as much time with everyone I did see as I wanted, but I am grateful to get to see all the people I did see, and spend the time with them that I did. It was a great experience that has quickly become a tradition for me -- and considering the increase in attendance from the first year to this second year, many others as well.