The Ol’ PAX Sidestep: A PAX East 2016 Recap

Spring in New England is typically a joyous time. It’s a time when the trees start budding, the birds migrate home, and the seemingly endless grey skies of winter are pierced by what we remember is called sunlight, raining down upon the land so that may we once again see our dilapidated yards and pockmarked roads. Yes, Spring is that magical time of year in these parts where we stop complaining about it being too cold for a month or so before the warm weather rolls in and we start complaining about it being too hot.

Ayep, it's spring alright.

Ayep, it’s spring alright

To combat the short days and cold nights, it’s no surprise that most of the game conventions in the Northeast tend to take place in the fall and winter months. It’s a bittersweet thought really, for much like the harvest does to the farmer, so too does our convention season signal that Winter Is Coming. We may have games to sustain us through that time, but even the most stalwart Yankees among us look forward to experience the warm light of day by the time April rolls around.

Which, of course, is why we reward ourselves at the end of it all with the crescendo finale known as PAX East. Which is a little strange if you think about it: we celebrate the fact that the outdoors is once again palatable by piling tens of thousands of geeks inside together. Very strange indeed. But until they decide to relocate it to Boston Common, that’s what we have to work with.

PAX is by far the largest gaming convention in the Northeast, video or otherwise. So it’s always bound to generate excitement around these parts, even from those who attended last year and left feeling that it was rather lackluster – ourselves included. It’s hard not to get swept up in the fervor each time through, as if we gamers willingly undergo a selective amnesia of the last time around. From AAA game titles, to nerdy concerts and panels, to a parade of cosplay, PAX is a vernal siren song for gamers of all stripes that’s simply hard to ignore.

Well, that is unless you’re broke, from out of town, have a job where you don’t sit at a desk, or have aversion to large crowds. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Oh ye lucky few...thousand

Oh ye lucky few…thousand

Reception-wise, PAX East 2016 had two distinct advantages approaching showtime over last year. First, you could actually see the ground this time around, unlike last year where the Ice King decided to vacation in Boston for 3 months. Lines to get inside the convention are inevitable, especially earlier in the day, but at least the weather cooperated. Turns out that was for the best since people were outside far longer than they needed to be this time, thanks to extra security. Secondly, and ultimately far more pertinent, is that PAX East 2015 was in retrospect pretty mediocre for such a grand event. From a tabletop coverage standpoint, we left mostly content regarding the many board game things we got to experience, but the overall convention, including the marquee component – the video game expo floor – was average at best. From that perspective, 2016’s performance could only be seen as improvement. At least in theory.

Thankfully, based on that criteria, I’m happy to report that it actually accomplished its goal of being a better convention than the one preceding it, albeit one that still came across as uneven. In normal Giant Convention Of Many Things fashion, people came to the convention for a wide variety of interests, from hardcore video gamers to tabletop enthusiasts, to your general fans of all things geek chic. While we were there almost exclusively for the tabletop section, and that’s largely what we’re recapping here today, the general vibe we got from people overall was that PAX East 2016 definitely ticked up its quality in some areas while largely stayed the same in others. Final report card says: Making Progress But Still Needs Improvement.

So let’s dive in. We certainly have a number of positive aspects to highlight, and we’re eager to get to it. What stood out at PAX East 2016? Why I’m so glad you asked.

Next: My Top Experiences of PAX East 2015 (And Five Things I Didn’t Like)