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.