Game Day: Pax Unplugged

My son and I spent the day at PAX Unplugged. Held at the Philadelphia Convention Center from Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2018, PAX Unplugged in a three-day event dedicated to offline games: card games, board games, role-playing games, their various iterations.

We took advantage of PAX’s Kids Day and based on the number of children I saw at the convention, plenty of other folks did as well. PAX Unplugged is huge; although only in its second year my friend told me it’s already grown considerably, and there were easily thousands of people there. While far smaller than GenCon’s exhibit hall, it was still respectable with lots of big-name companies like Fantasy Flight Games, WizKids, Paizo, and many more. Unlike other conventions, Unplugged doesn’t have a lot of scheduled games — it has organized play for Dungeons & Dragons as well as a variety of board and card game tournaments — but pickup games are strongly encouraged. There’s an entire hall, adjacent to the exhibit area, given over to ad hoc games as well as a playtest area for games fresh out of Essen.

I wasn’t quite feeling the ad hoc games so I spent my time in the exhibit hall. I spent at least two hours walking it, and I wish I’d had another day to go back and demo a bunch of the games that folks were selling. The best part of the exhibit hall was The Oatmeal’s giant cat machine. Staffed by humans, people would walk up to the “device” and press buttons to order games (Exploding Kittens and its expansions, You’ve Got Crabs, etc.) special products like pins, and a $1 “mystery” option. The mystery option’s what kept people coming back as the “machine” spit out such wonders as bubbles, eggplants, toilet paper, plungers, and back scrubbers. My son got a balloon animal; his friend got a banana labeled “cat food”. It was good goofy fun, and the kids loved it.

Speaking of the kids, they got in the most game time. NeutronLad and his best friend played in two Exploding Kittens (Amazon) tournaments as well as a Pokemon tournament. NeutronLad and I hoped to get in some Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League as well, but the day was getting long and we decided to head home.

It wouldn’t be a convention without a few game purchases. NeutronLad picked up a set of blue glow-in-the-dark dice. Inspired by my gaming group’s upcoming Blackmoor campaign, I got a set of black-and-white dice. I also finally broke down and bought Fiasco, Bully Pulpit Games’ no prep, GM-less game of great plans gone horribly wrong. It’s a game I’ve been eyeing ever since I played a Dresden Files-inspired variant at MEPACon a few years back and this seemed like a great time to get it. I was also hoping to pick up The Fall of Delta Green by Pelgrane Press, but alas they’d sold out by the time I got to their booth.

As for Pax Unplugged itself, I’m excited that there’s such a large — and growing — role-playing, board, and card game convention in my area. The exhibit hall alone is worth visiting, but I’d definitely like to get in more actual gaming next year, perhaps killing two birds by meeting up with some other RPG bloggers at the con. I’d also like to go into the convention with a better idea of what games I’d like to try out.

The non-Dungeons & Dragons RPGs that I’m most interested in right now (Star Trek Adventures, Tales from the Loop, Savage Worlds) weren’t well represented (or at least, I didn’t find them), but there were tons and tons of board games. So many in fact that it was overwhelming; next year I’d like to spend some time on Board Game Geek and come in with a bit more of a game plan.

Overall, PAX Unplugged was a worthwhile adventure. NeutronLad enjoyed it, and I can easily see us returning again next year. Here’s to hoping that they have another one … and it stays in Philadelphia.

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A view of the open gaming area of PAX Unplugged. Credit: Ken Newquist

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