Gaming Conventioning: My Journey Through PAX East 2013

Welcome to my recitation and regurgitation of the past weekend that was PAX East 2013. It is, as usual, the pinnacle of New England conventions for the first half of the year as we welcome Spring. Or at least what are technically the Spring months. What follows is a substantial recap over the few days I was there, from the Expo hall to the tabletop area. I’ve tried to segment it up a bit, that way you can jump to the parts that interest you.


Part One: Thoughts from the Main Expo Hall

(If you’re looking solely for the tabletop area materials, feel free to skip to the next page.)

The Expo Hall is what you often see the pictures of when you look at PAX online. It’s the main component of the convention where all of the major (and minor) booths are set up to display their video games of the year. There’s certainly a lot to see, and it’s difficult to catch it all. Mind you, that’s without being surrounded by a few thousand other people all trying to do the same. There are times where it’s difficult to move due to the volume of people, and waiting lines for the more popular games stretch all over the place. So, I didn’t spend my weekend here solely. These are the places of note that I checked out though, in no particular order:


Privateer Press: This was the first place I visited. I was happy to see that these folks had a section on the Expo floor, giving non-video game materials a chance. They were showing off a new edition of Bodgers, and they were particularly proud of their epic not-so-very mini, Archangel (from the Hordes miniatures series) going on sale soon. Their finished version sure was pretty, but I was most excited to see them demoing Level 7. I got some information about the Level 7 expansion called Lockdown, where you play as a group of people who weren’t as lucky making it out as the first group, and a subsequent sequel to Level 7 in the fall called Omega Protocol. In that one, you play as a team of soldiers sent back in to the facility to clean out the aliens, and you get to use – wait for it – minis. They both sound interesting, and I’ll update when I know more later on.

Mayfair Games: See Privateer Press on why I enjoy seeing them in the Expo floor. Granted, they do have a little bit more of a digital presence, but traditional board games are still their expertise. It was a bit of a pity that they didn’t have more tables to demo with, especially since they had a copy of Catan: Explorers and Pirates on display. (That’s something they plan on fixing for next year.)  Explorers and Pirates shapes up to be the first massive change to how Catan behaves as a game in a while, rather than simple expansions or variant options. Luckily we won’t have to wait long!

Stone Blade Entertainment: Formerly Gary Games, the creators of Ascension also had a booth on the Expo floor, segmented between their two product showcases. On one side was the next expansion for the physical card game Ascension, Rise of Vigil. On the other was the unveiling and promotion of their new digital trading card game SolForge. Originally Kickstarted, SolForge looks to create a card game that is solely online and be available across multiple platforms. That’s half of it’s selling point. So, fellow Android users rejoice if you choose to get involved with SolForge. The other half that was neat is that some of the cards themselves can actually upgrade to different levels, a concept hard to replicate in the physical card game realm.

Speaking of leveling up, Rise of Vigil’s new mechanic does something not seen in Ascension before: the ability to “charge” a card. The more that is invested into certain cards, the more potent they become. The concept is sound, and the game played well, though we were a little disappointed on the presentation. A couple of our party had mixed feelings by some of the presenters, who tended to tout up the game by trash talking similar games in their field such as Dominion or Magic. It just didn’t feel like a positive sales pitch.

The other thing? Why are you charging people for new promo cards? This does not compute.

Blizzard: I happened to be at their booth during their unveiling of their newest project, now known as Hearthstone. Originally touted as “something they’ve never done before”, the Blizzard reps told me they were aware that the population took that to mean a new IP and not something in their Warcraft / Starcraft / Diablo lines. They just didn’t correct the rumor mill. Now I can see why. The above link will show you more, including their open beta signups. Hearthstone, in a nutshell, is a “free-to-play” digital trading card game. In the same way Magic Online is free. That is, it doesn’t cost you a monthly fee or a sign-up fee, and you get a handful of stock decks. But if you want to make additions to them via packs or drafting (what they call The Forge), it’ll cost you money. Granted, it doesn’t look bad graphics-wise, but with World of Warcraft and their paper-based Warcraft trading card game through Cryptozoic, it just seems a bit unnecessary.

Also, I do not understand why they were pushing Diablo 3 as their other game on display besides Hearthstone. Heart of the Swarm came out less than a month ago, and there wasn’t a Starcraft reference anywhere. At least people play Starcraft.

Geek Chic: I’m glad they’re back again this year, but it’s so bittersweet. On the one hand, geek furniture, yes please. On the other, I don’t have the space or the money for some of their great furniture. Like the Hoplite.

Ubisoft: This had to have been one of the great finds for me personally. I was drawn to the sign regarding an expansion for Heroes of Might and Magic VI, only to be even more pleasantly surprised to see the game right next to it: Might and Magic X: Legacy. M&M 4+5, aka The World of Xeen, is still one of my favorite computer games to date. I have been a lifelong M&M series fan since M&M 3, even through some of the later ones that proved to not be as exciting. Might and Magic 10’s tagline is “Old School, New Rules”, and after playing it for a bit and talking with one of the game developers, the line is accurate. Much of the game’s main console and general flow feels like a throwback to the older games, with graphics more in line with the newer ones. From what I saw, it won’t win any cinematic awards for graphics, but they were still pretty decent. Just tell me when it comes out and I’m there.

Square Enix: There’s a new Final Fantasy coming out. Surprise!

Wizards of the Coast: I had an interview with them to go over their newest computer iteration, Duels of the Planeswalker 2014. This time it’s all about Chandra and her quest for revenge. The game is similar to the other DotP games of years past with some new puzzles, new challenges, and, thankfully, a whole new tutorial mode for new players to learn. This has always been the game’s best selling point: teaching people who don’t have access to adequate Magic teachers to learn the game. The booth itself was a hit as well, with an X-Box Kinect hooked up for attendees to hurl fireballs, and a scavenger hunt around the Expo floor that rewards you with a pair of Chandra’s goggles. Alone they look very steampunk in nature, and they very well could have been the sleeper hit of the entire convention. Everyone wanted them.

Riot / League of Legends: I’m going to confess, I don’t play League or DOTA, not anymore. I have nothing against the games, but it’s partly that I don’t have the time and partly that I don’t want to deal with the now-infamous vitriolic atmosphere they embody. What I do like though is that they put Riot, arguably in the top three booths by square footage and highest by volume, in a corner of the floor that could better accommodate the fervor it brings. I chatted with a couple of the folks in the middle of their booth Friday morning before things opened up, but that was the last time I set foot there for the rest of the weekend. They are continually drawing in large crowds, which is great. I’m just glad at least they didn’t bottleneck up the floor because of that fact.

Popcap Games: I got to speak with them during the media hour as they were setting up, and I felt a little bad. Contrary to popular thought, this was their first year with a major booth. And it looked great, complete with a carnival-style high-striker and bright colors. They also had a team member dressed as life-sized zombie for the zombie kissing booth. Why, then, did I feel a little bad? For one, the game they wanted to have ready for PAX wasn’t ready yet, leaving them with no new material. So they loaded up a cart with free plushy giveaway items that you could take at will. They seemed to downplay the idea they would run out of freebies if one could just come take what they wanted, and they didn’t think people would actually kiss the zombie-costumed person at the booth. I heard that latter claim was broken pretty quickly. (Never underestimate zombie love?) All in all though they were a fun group. Plus, walnut hats!


Part Two: The Expo Hall Indie Showcase

SmashMuck Champions: Developed by KizStudios, SmashMuck is a new League of Legends / DOTA style game clone. The tone is markedly lighter and more cartoon-y than LOL, but that is probably a selling point. They’re also an open development group, so they are very open to player input and are quite entertaining to talk to about their product. Currently still in beta, if you’re looking elsewhere for your arena-style fix, you may want to consider this.

City of Steam: One thing that I particularly enjoyed about PAX this year was that compared to the previous two, MMOs took up a much smaller chunk of games on display. Bethesda’s pretty Elder Scrolls Online aside, they didn’t take up the lion’s share of things, and those that were there were boasting free-to-play versions. One was Neverwinter Online, and the other was City of Steam by Reality Squared Games. It’s a browser-based game touted as “an RPG with MMO characteristics”,  set in – if the name didn’t give it away already – a steampunk world. That is, you can meet up with other players and go dungeon crawling in all of the normal trappings of a standard MMO, but if you prefer to just wander around solo, the game is fully capable of supporting that as well. If you dig the industrial fantasy genre, give it a look. Speaking of which:

Windforge: At first glance, Windforge appears to be a steampunk/airship Minecraft clone. However, that’s just because Minecraft is the go-to response for any sandbox-style building game these days. Windforge is a 2D side-scrolling building game that is actually much more like Terraria: a game of building, sure, but also with elements of combat, adventuring, and RPGs. If you dig world building games, but are sort of Creeper-ed out, check out Windforge (or at least Terraria).

ARTEMIS: Have you ever wanted to be part of your own starship bridge crew with a group of friends? Well, now you can. Artemis is a very unique game in contemporary gaming. Billed as a simulator game, it’s essentially one part LAN party, one part LARP, for sci-fi fans. The game is run by a central workstation computer that displays the current situation of the ship, and a number of other connected machines connect in to it. Each player operates a different section of the bridge controls, such as engineering, communications, or weapons. And one player operates as the captain, forgoing an actual computer station in order to coordinate everyone’s actions. Are you a Kirk, Picard, or Sisko? Here’s one way to find out.

Neocolonialism: Sold to us as a “subversive educational game”, Subaltern Games’s Neocolonialism is a game in development. The premise? Abuse capitalism, buy votes in countries, make money. Then stash that money in a Swiss Bank Account. Have the most money at the end of the game to win. Designed as a 3-6 player video game, Neocolonialism has a distinct board game feel to it, and was partly what drew our attention to it. It’s a biting indictment of capitalism taken to logical extremes, and the satirical tone of it belies that fact. Still in alpha form, we’re really curious to see what the beta holds for it.

Continue Onward!