PAX East 2022 – The Board Games Post

A look at the board games I played at PAX East, 2022.

While PAX East doesn’t focus on board games in the same way as Gen Con, or PAX Unplugged, they’re still there! Despite having a smaller presence, PAX East’s tabletop sections stays open late into the evening. So let’s go over the fun board games I played at PAX East.

Disclaimer: This list is no particular order, but I have listed bigger/released games closer to the bottom of the list. I played Dominion. It was fun. But it’s been out for 10 years, it doesn’t need top billing.

So let’s get right into it. Drum roll please!

1. I ripped this image straight from the Space Lion site, and 2. Pretty sure this is a concept box, even if the art is somewhat finalized.

First up, we have Space Lion! It’s an asymmetric bluffing/placement game. At the show, I only played the demo which used a single army. The full game is supposed to include four armies, if I remember correctly? The general gist is that you have a hand of cards, which are your units. Each round, you and your opponents place cards face down at various locations, and after placement is finished, you flip them up. Whoever has the highest unit value wins that battle, and the goal is to destroy the opponent’s base. While this sounds simple, I’ve completely skipped unit abilities, exhausting units, and the fact that each army is supposed to play differently.

Unfortunately, the game isn’t actually out yet. There was a Gamefound campaign running, but it was canceled. Still, if you’re interested in the game, there’s hope! The creators announced they were taking the lessons they learned from the first campaign and planning to try another at some point. If that all sounds interesting, you can sign up for their mailing list here. I hope it succeeds, as it was one of my favorite games from the show.

Another unpublished game is Small Time Crooks. I found this one in the Unpub hall. If you’re not familiar with Unpub, it’s a small area where you can play test board games in various states of development. The games can vary quite highly in their levels of completeness. You’ll find folks looking for publishers sitting next to a first prototype of a hand made deck of cards.

Small Time Crooks though! It’s a hyper-lite GM-less RPG? The mechanics are pretty straight forward. You have a character, and you have a randomly generated target to rob. The target consists of a series of random rooms. Each room contains a skill check, which you make via dice rolls.

I’m honestly not sure how well it would work with multiple players, but the demo was neat. I think it’s worth keeping an eye on. And if you want to do that, here’s the link to their website. My notes say that they’re planning a Kickstarter at some point in 2022? Weirdly enough I could never find who is actually making the game.

Update: You can also find them here, on Twitter! Thanks to the Unpub hall for pointing this out for me.

Leaving the indie and unpub space, let’s head over to a game that had its own massive booth.

Calling Dice Throne an incredibly polished “Push-Your-Luck” dice brawler is underselling it a bit, but it feels fairly accurate. I only played a single 1v1 game, but it worked like this: each player picks out a character to play. The character determines the starting health, energy, hand size, and most importantly, your attacks. Each attack consists of a matched pattern of dice rolls. On your turn, you have three sets of rolls. After each roll, you can choose which dice you want to reroll, and which to keep. The end result is that you’re generally trying to roll specific patterns to inflict damage, while using your own abilities to keep yourself alive. You can also use your hand of cards to modify dice rolls, and upgrade your abilities.

It’s very polished, and the two characters I saw seemed pretty different. I didn’t rush over to buy a copy afterwards, but I’d play it again. Also, the game box is massive, and I’m not sure I have space for it. Like, much bigger than other board games.

Of games I played though, the last one is one I owned: Dominion.

A deckbuilder like Tanto Cuore, Dominion is over 10 years old and is the OG of OG deckbuilders. There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been written about, but let me summarize it anyway. Each player starts with a deck of cards, and a shared market. The market consists of 10 of 21 non-starter cards, and also a few more. Your goal is to spend the currency you get from you hand to buy cards from the market and add them to your deck, and improve your deck’s efficiency, so you can buy victory point cards. But as victory point cards only give VP at the end of the game, you want to avoid buying them until you have to.

Overall, it’s a very solid game, and playing it with someone who hadn’t played before gave me a solid appreciation for how well it’s held up all these years later. It also gave me a sense of nostalgia for a time 10 years ago. Y’know, back when you could just go places, the world wasn’t falling apart, and my parents weren’t divorced!

How time flies.

In any case, that’s what I played at PAX. This was only a microscopic sample of what was available, but as I tend to focus on video games while at East, it’s all I have to write about today.

Oh, and I also played lot of MTG, but that might just end up being its own post.

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 3

I can’t think of anything clever to put here. PAX was fun.

It’s day 3. One of the things I enjoy about PAX (and conventions in general) is the chance to do things I might otherwise not. Sometimes this takes the form of playing games in genres I’m not as interested in. Sometimes it takes the form of doing something completely unrelated.

In this case, it’s the second one: painting miniatures. After trying to line up at the free painting zone, realizing how slow the line was, and leaving yesterday, I showed up earlier today. While waiting in line, I ended up chatting with a dude and his boyfriend, and asked him to play a game of Knights of the Hound Table with me. Despite being the person teaching, I got absolutely demolished before the floor even opened. After thanking him for playing, I headed over to the free painting zone, picked out a Space Marine, and sat down.

This isn’t a painting blog, so I won’t be going in depth on this. The short version is that: 1. Unsurprisingly, since I haven’t done this in years, I’m not currently very good at painting. 2. Despite that it was very relaxing. 3. The lady sitting next to me was very good at painting, gave me a bunch of helpful tips, and also finished in about half the time, with her Space Marine looking twice as good.

After this, I ended up browsing the show floor for a bit. My partner who came to the show with me had played in a game of Kids on Brooms the previous day, and really enjoyed it. I picked up a copy of that, and also a copy of Cats of Cthulhu. Then, after talking myself out of purchasing too much other stuff, I wandered back over to the Unpub Hall.

In the Unpub Hall, I found Privateer. It’s a drone piloting tactics game, and I really enjoyed it. It also had my favorite components of anything at in the Unpub hall. While I didn’t play a full game, I was really enjoying what I saw, and I’m going to keep an eye on this one. It’s made by TimeSpacePlace, and they told me they’re planning to have a tabletop simulator version of the game up at some point in the next year.

The last game of the day I played was a demo of Skytear. It’s a MOBA inspired miniatures board game, and while I didn’t quite mesh with it, it does have one really cool thing I want to quickly talk about: how it handles the concept of creep waves. (This next part is going to be a bit inside baseball for folks who don’t play MOBAs, so apologies in advance.)

Because Skytear is a miniatures game, the default assumption would be that creeps would be their own set of miniatures that spawn at the Ancient/Nexus, and then walk out into lane. This would require a lot of miniatures, effort, and extra movement. Skytear doesn’t do that. Instead, it has a “Capture Point.” It’s a little token that indicates where the creep wave currently is, and at the end of each set of rounds, it gets moved toward one of the towers, based on a variety of factors that simulate who’s applying more pressure to the wave. Then, new sets of creeps spawn in on this marker. It’s an incredible implementation of the system, and I really like it.

And that ended up being the last demo of the day. I wandered the show floor, grabbed some presents for friends, and headed back to the hotel. I really enjoyed PAX Unplugged. It was my first in-person convention since the start of lockdown, and I really appreciate the fact that everyone attending seemed committed to wearing masks, and following the safety rules. While we’ll most likely want to wait a few weeks to see how things turned out, I hope that this means that life can return, at least a bit, to normal.

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 2

In which our narrator sleeps in, and then goes to the Unpub hall.

Day 2! AKA Saturday. This was my lightest day of the show. Not because the show floor was any lighter, but more because I was up past midnight the night before playing some two-headed giant sealed Magic: The Gathering with friend and occasional Gametrodon contributor, Max Seidman of Resonym. Of course, he got up the very next day, and went to work his booth and demo games for the remainder of the day… so… hmm.

I might just be weak.

By the time I got to the convention center after making the arduous trek all the way across the skybridge, I’d decided to spend a majority of the day at the Unpub hall. For anyone reading this post who hasn’t heard of Unpub, it’s a room where folks show off their unpublished board games and game demos. Polish levels range from “The Kickstarter is next week” to “I have never shown this to anyone I’m not related to.”

The first game I played was Arachno-Bump/Bounce, a fairly simple board game that according to its designer is targeted at families. It falls heavily into the second category of the above of being very new to playtesting. (That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a literal assessment.) In this game, you’re all spiders on a big web trying to capture as many flies as possible by moving around, and prevent your opponents by bumping them. I’d say that right now it has some problems, but honestly, what prototype doesn’t? Hopefully a few days of exposure to the general population of con goers will let the dev collect some good feedback and understand that players are ruthless fucks information. (To be less metaphorical and prosaic: right now, it’s very difficult to score points, the game heavily rewards aggression, and it also has room for accessibility improvements. But again, THIS IS A PROTOTYPE. These are all things that can be fixed.)

Next up was Territory CG, an LCG. I managed to scrape out a win here, either because the dev I was playing against was going easy on me, or because I top-decked a massive one-copy-allowed-per-deck dragon right as I needed it. But regardless, I was victorious! This game was unlike Arachno-Bounce in a number of ways. For starters, they have a website! And estimated prices! And they already have a playable version of the game on Tabletop Simulator! I might try to rope a few more friends into playing this with me. One round is really not enough to get a good sense of an LCG, but I applaud the effort, and the also the part where I don’t have to sell my kidneys in order to afford a card game.

This brings us to the last game of the day: Wingspan! It’s not an Unpub hall game. It’s actually been out for a while. It’s won fancy awards with German titles, and it’s rank 22 on Board Game Geek at time of writing. Wait, you find yourself thinking. Is he just using awards and other secondary features of the game to get out of having to actually describe the mechanics and gameplay? Is he not going to touch on the game’s themes, engine building mechanics, and other aspects?

Yes. That is exactly what I’m doing. Also, I got kicked out of the convention hall before I could finish. Because it was midnight.

Return tomorrow for DAY 3!

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 1

Like regular PAX, but in the dark.

Each day for the next 3 days, I’ll be recapping my PAX Unplugged experience.

I’m writing this while chilling in my hotel room on Saturday. I’m also writing it on my phone, so I’m gonna blame that for any problems or text issues, as opposed to my own ability.

Ed Note: Now I’m editing it on my computer post con, so uh, that excuse doesn’t work anymore.

Friday started off with a bit of a struggle to get into the building, but once I was in, lines were quick and easy. PAX Unplugged is enforcing masks and a vaccine check this year, so you have to get a little black wristband to enter. I haven’t seen any issues or folks being jerks about masks, so hopefully this signals some sort of path forward for big conventions. Realistically, we’ll want to wait a few weeks to make sure a NYCC doesn’t happen here.

Okay, so games. I started off by playing Robot Quest Arena by Wise Wizard. It’s a neat 2-4 player arena combat deck builder. It’s not out just yet, and while a few of the interactions were a bit hard to remember, I enjoyed it. Trying to edit links on Mobile sucks, so here’s the Kickstarter page. The short version is that you build up your deck while also moving a little robot around on a grid, and scoring victory points primarily by damaging and knocking out other bots. One big thing I enjoyed is that the game doesn’t ever eliminate players. Instead, when you get knocked out, you just come back in right at the start of your next turn. It’s nice to see a combat game without elimination, but where getting hit and knocked out still feels meaningful.

Next up was Knights of the Hound Table, by We Ride Games. This game is also a deck builder, but with a very different vibe. Instead of battling robots on a grid, you’re leading an army of dogs to battle. I was interested enough after the demo I played at their booth that We Ride Games loaned me a test copy of the game that I need to remember to return to them tomorrow, hopefully after playing it tonight.

Ed Note: While said night game never happened, I did end up playing it, and getting a copy. There will likely be a full review at some point in the near future.

My last two games were right next to each other, but we’ll go through them one by one. First was Valiant Wars. It’s a head to head push your luck deck builder. (Yeah, there are a lot of deck builders this year.) The oversimplified description of it is that you flip cards out at the same time as your opponent until you either choose to hold and use the cards you’ve currently drawn to buy units, or bust by flipping up two of a card called a Dark Omen. It’s interesting, but I didn’t get a chance to play the full game, so I don’t have an opinion on it quite yet. While it’s already out, I’m linking to the Kickstarter page, mostly just to match the other games I’ve linked to.

Finally, the last game of the day was Iconoclash. It’s by Quinn Washburn, the same fellow who made Valiant Wars, and it’s a Smash Bros style board game. While I played a full round, I feel like I’d really need to play a few more to figure out how I feel about the game. I believe the version I played is a prototype of something headed to production shortly. Frankly, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.

As far as I can remember, that wrapped up all of Day 1 of PAX Unplugged. Did I do other things? Yes, but they weren’t game related. And as much as I’d love to write some sort of love poem to the food of Reading Terminal right next to the convention center, I’m not sure that really meshes with the tone of this blog.

Day 2 approaches! Tomorrow.

MicroMacro: Crime City

Zootopia with a more realistic police presence.

If Where’s Waldo, Richard Scarry’s Busytown, and Frank Miller’s Sin City had a threesome, the end result would be Crime City. That pretty much sums up MicroMacro. I like it.

“But that doesn’t actually explain anything about the game.” You say. And you’re right! But it does give me a great chance to act like I’ve actually read Sin City, and seem more cultured then I am. (I haven’t.)

So let’s have Mr. Cat explain the game for us instead. I’m sure he can help us with-

Oh dear. I guess I’ll have to do it instead.

Poor Mr. Cat. He’s yet another victim of Crime City, a lawless wasteland of blackmail, assassinations, and robbery.

MicroMacro is a hidden object/character game. Much like Where’s Waldo, you’re looking for small details in a crowd of faces and scenery, and like Busytown, it takes place across a adorable town of cute animal people. Unlike Busytown however, the city has the general tone of hardened noir. It’s filled with call girls, gun stores, fetish clubs, corrupt politicians and open air farmers markets.

This massive map makes up the titular crime city. You “play” the game by picking out case, and then going through the challenges each case offers. For example, in the case of Mr. Cat, the first step is to find the unfortunate victim. Cases are rated by how difficult they are to solve, and made up of steps. Almost all steps asks you to say “where” on the map a specific event in question occurred. The whole map has a grid system on it, so the location of an event can be referred to as A5, somewhat like battleship. (There are some exceptions to this, but I’ll cover them in gripes, because they’re related.)

As you advance through each step in the case, you’ll get more information about the crime, the perpetrator, and the motive. Requests can involve being asked to find murder weapons, trace the route taken through the city by someone involved, and occasionally trying to locate the corpse of the unfortunate individual.

Generally speaking, MicroMacro feels pretty fair as far as these things go. In the three cases I played through, there were no instances of adventure game logic or complete bullshit in play. There was one moment of some things being very cleverly hidden, but not unfairly.

With that said, I do have two gripes with the game. One is fairly minor, and it’s the fact that the game has somewhat limited replayability. This isn’t super surprising. It’s like complaining that Waldo doesn’t rehide himself each time you open the book. I think this concern might be a bit alleviated by the fact that once you finish all the cases, there are actually a few small bonus cases that aren’t included. You can find a few of them here on the game’s website, and get another one by signing up for their email list.

The bigger gripe is that the game has no good way to check your answers to a given question, without seeing the actual answer. This can be a bit frustrating, because if your group makes a guess, whoever checks the answer effectively doesn’t get to play for the rest of that request. There are also a few rare situations where the answer isn’t a battleship style grid reference, but a chain of events you’re expected to list off.

These are minor though. I like MicroMacro. I think you could probably even play the game on your own if you really wanted too, but it would be less fun than doing it with friends gathered around a big table. If this made you curious, you can find a demo of the game here, and you can likely find the game itself at your friendly local game store.