Gaming Conventioning: My Journey Through PAX East 2013

Part Three: Panels, Panels, Panels

I have such a love/hate relationship with panels at large conventions. On the plus side, there usually are several that have interesting people you want to hear talk about interesting things. On the minus side, so does a thousand other people. It’s not uncommon for a 60-minute panel at PAX to have to show up 60-90 minutes early just to ensure you can get in, making them a pretty hefty time commitment – especially for people who may only be going for one day. There were quite a few panels this year that seemed interesting. Cards Against Humanity, the history of dice, yet another board game renaissance panel, how digital games affect board games, and so on. Inevitably, you have to pick and choose carefully. In the end, I only ended up making one: the Magic: the Gathering panel.

It was here that they announced the fall sets to be called Thoros, Born of the Gods, and Journey into Nyx, with what appears to be a very Greco-Roman theme. They also went into detail some about their plans for the year (DotP 2014, Modern Masters, and confirmation that more Commander stuff will be on the way by the end of 2013.) The bulk of the talk focused around the upcoming Dragon’s Maze set, however. In that, Niv-Mizzet, the genius dragon antagonist, has found a secret pathway throughout the world of Ravnica that links all 10 guilds together. He has claimed it as his own, but things are getting out of hand. Jace Beleren, planeswalker extraordinaire, is trying to keep the peace, but it’s tenuous at best. The 10 guilds will vie for control of the Maze, each of them sending a paragon representative. The set will still focus on the 2-color pairs but is meant to be played with 3 colors in draft. Oh, and Ral Zerek is all but confirmed as the planeswalker of the set. About damn time.

 

Part Four: Going Analog. Welcome to the Board Games Section

Q-Workshop Dice

Ok, now we come to the tabletop section of the convention and what is more applicable to our site here. What was most striking this year was how much better organized the section was. Sure, it sort of stunk that a lot of the vendors and exhibitors were jutting up against the mobile food court, but that was the tradeoff this year for much more table space and foot traffic. And my what foot traffic it had. I don’t know if it was because people felt the video games were more lackluster overall than in previous years and opted to focus on board games, that there were more attendees overall, or just that the new layout allowed for easier access to general gaming, but just wow. There were times when it was hard to find tables to play, which given the size of the area, was pretty impressive.

 

Bring on the Print & Plays!

So, I would have been remiss if I didn’t bring a few print and play prototypes with me to try out. I had been meaning to test a few with friends, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. The three I brought with me were:

Island Siege: Island Siege¬†is a 2-player game that is half worker placement, half skirmish battle. Your objective is to manage to get out all nine of your workers while making sure your opponent can’t do the same. This is done by building forts, reinforcing those forts, building ships, and using those ships to attack your opponent’s forts. It’s that simple. Once we had the rules down, which only seemed complicated because it was almost 11PM at the time, the system was quick, fluid, and pretty easy to grasp. If you’re after a quick colonial naval battle, Island Siege isn’t a bad addition.

Deadwood Studios: Deadwood Studios was originally created by Cheapass games over a decade ago, and it was a hit for them back then. Now they’re looking to do a revamped, revised version with new art and some new rules. Hence their Kickstarter. In Deadwood, players personify actors on bad spaghetti western movies, and you’re either an “extra” looking to make some cash, or an actor looking to get their break in a film. Players spend several rounds roaming around the game’s set filling the spots of various film roles such as “Crazy Prospector” and “Guy Who Gets Shot in Leg”. No actual acting is involved, as the game mechanics revolve principally around a success/fail method for dice rolling, but it’s goofy, silly fun with a decent sized group. In that, it’s sort of hard to not make some acting jokes.

Battle of Wits: We’ve done a shout out to this game before on our twitter account and in a weekly news roundup not long back, but for those who may have missed it: Battle of Wits is a bidding game designed for use in the Princess Bride line of games being produced by Game Salute. In it, players are given a hand full of cards. Each card has a numerical value, and is either a poison card or a wine card. Players use these cards to either bid on the cup they wish to drink from, or add contents to any given one. The game is intended for larger groups to really feel the full strategic effect, but even then the games are not intended to be terribly long or complicated. The hardest part is trying not to make Princess Bride speaches while you’re doing it.

Ok, but enough of those things, what about the actual games I saw and played at PAX??? I know, I’m saving the best bit for last.

Captured at 11:30 PM on Friday. Still lots of gamers.

 

Test-Driving Games

Prototype Shown

Area 1851: We had a chance to try out the prototype of Area 1851, and, to be honest, our reaction was a bit mixed.

It’s an active Kickstarter at the moment, so we wanted to see what it was like. In the game, set in the wild west, there are three factions: the townsfolk, the Indians (sorry, “Survivalists”), and the aliens. Players take hands full of various item components belonging to each of the three factions and assemble different amusing-sounding-but-often-useless items to sell for reputation. Played out over 15 rounds, players will have the option to make items, take special actions, achieve feats of engineering, and so on before passing their entire hand to the next player. Then the round starts all over again.

It’s a simultaneous action game, so once you do some of the upkeep steps, players can take their turns at the same time. And that was sort of where we got lost. Simultaneous action games are fine, but they tend to involve player interaction somehow. Area 1851 felt at times more like we were each independently playing our own games at the same table. Plus, the theme was hard to grasp at times: “So I’m using an alien device to improve a broom why? And why does that help me win?” The mechanics themselves behaved just fine, but there just seemed to be a couple disconnects we had a hard time getting over.

Alien Fortress: Okay, I have to admit, we had not ever played this game before PAX. We had always meant to, but it had just never come up. At first, it took us a little getting in to, as all of the game’s various actions are dictated by rolling d6 dice. Without having a strategy, it can feel very much like a sci-fi version of Yahtzee. Once things got going though, there’s a lot that can happen in the game between acquiring special items, battling over the planet colony territories, and outmaneuvering one another for precious actions on the board. The game really shines with four players (five with the expansion), but it can be played with fewer too and still have it be enjoyable. It’s currently out of print, but luckily it’s been confirmed that the 4th printing of it is due out this fall. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for it, and fans of dice games or intermediate dificulty sci-fi games should do so as well.

Forbidden Desert: Gamewright’s sequel to the incredibly popular (and affordable) Forbidden Island does not disappoint. Sure, the game still provides you with a random tile layout of your location and you still get specialized player abilities, but the rest of the game has a markedly different feel to it.

In this, your group’s airship has crashed in the desert. You need to excavate the tiles to find out where the four repair items are located so you can fix the ship and get out. However, you have to contend with an ever-intensifying¬†storm (Water’s Rise!) as well as making sure you don’t run out of water and die of thirst (like we did). To make matters worse, instead of flooding and removing them, tiles gain sand markers. The more markers a tile has, the harder it becomes to find out or access what’s underneath them. What’s more, the tile locations themselves can move – it is a shifting desert after all. All in all though, this is another fun soon-to-be hit in the making. Between the increase in strategy and creating something thematically similar but mechanically different, you won’t feel like you’re buying Forbidden Island 2. Oh, and did we mention the airship pieces actually assemble the ship?!?

High Heavens: This game, tucked in the Zpocalypse booth, proved to be a pleasant find. Created by Ryan Lesser of Harmonix fame, High Heavens is a strategic 2-player game between a couple pantheons of gods. Every single member of our various parties that tried the game really enjoyed it, so it should be no surprise that we have already announced that High Heavens has earned the Seal of the Republic. Check out that link for more on the game and what it entails!

Island Fortress: Bryan Johnson’s long-awaited game was on display at the Game Salute booth amongst the many other games, as was he on Saturday. Having played it previously, it didn’t factor in to our timetable this time around, but I certainly encouraged a number of folks to give it a try. Hopefully they enjoyed the clever fortress tile-building formula the game offers and will do some pre-ordering. I know I’m looking forward to it. I patiently await my copy at some point in the future like the rest though.

Alas, I had plans to play Pixel Lincoln, as well as PlaidHat’s Mice & Mystics, but time grew short in our stay. We’ll get to them eventually though I’m sure.

When we weren’t playing, eating, checking out the sights, braving the Expo floor, or taking breaks, we often tended to hang out in the Zpocalypse / Game Salute area. Ironically though, none of us played Zpocalypse this time around. (We already have previously, so stay tuned for our thoughts on that soon!) They were advertising their expansion too, so hopefully PAX gave them a boost. I also didn’t get a chance to chat with Jonathan Liu (one of the many things on my PAX to-do list that didn’t happen), but I did get a chance to catch up with Dan Yarrington, CEO of Game Salute, as well as many of the staff members present over the weekend. It appears they have several more games currently in testing, so we’ll certainly be keeping our eyes and ears open for some of those.

 

Saturday gamers. It’s like they never left.

And so ends my PAX East 2013 experience. It was a fantastic several-days-long whirlwind, and while we may be a little sleep-deprived and have some sore feet for a couple days, it was quite a treat to wind out the Winter convention season in New England. It sure has been a busy couple of months with all of them. For now though, it appears we get a nice little reprieve as we await GenCon later this summer. In the meantime, we’ll be continuing our efforts to doing, well, pretty much more of the same actually. Playing games and talking about them. More games await, so bring them on!