My PAX East 2010 Adventures

The Penny-Arcade Expo is known as the largest consumer video game convention, but board games have a big presence there too. Wizards of the Coast, Steve Jackson Games, Z-Man, Days of Wonder, and more had awesome booths. There were several rooms packed with gamers, and I even got to see D&D being played on the Microsoft Surface. I got the impression that many video gamers were getting their first taste of a larger analogue world. If that’s true, then we may someday find ourselves in a world without video and board gamers. We’d all just be gamers.

That would require quite the revolution, and Steve Jackson Games heard that you wanted one. They offered my companion, Jon, and I an opportunity to demo the latest expansion to Revolution, but we shamefully declined. We had just erupted from the queue room, coming upon the SJG booth by happenstance as we tried to avoid the first crowds. Since we had just arrived, we asked the rep some questions about it and promised we would return later. He gave us a nice overview of the game and definitely peaked our interest. Unfortunately, the table was packed whenever we passed, so we missed our opportunity. I saw enough of the game to know I need to make the time to play it, so expect a full review soon.

When we saw the same rep demoing two of their upcoming dice games, we didn’t make the same mistake again. The table attracted an interesting crowd as he poured Cthulhu Dice out of its can. Chthulhu dice was very similar to LCR, but it allows you to target opponents with each roll, which adds more strategy to the proceedings. Another difference between Cthulhu Dice and LCR? While LCR has an underground reputation as a drinking game, our SJ Games rep told us flat out that Cthulhu Dice was a great drinking game. Sell to your strengths, right?

Zombie Dice was even more fun. I preferred it because chance was even less of a factor. It focused on managing risk, and wishing for a good roll was less important than knowing when to stop your hot streak. As a zombie, your goal is to eat as many brains as you can before the humans shoot you three times. The dice come in three colors, which represent varying odds for success, and there are several dice in the cup. Three dice are rolled each time, and thanks to the coloring system, you can easily estimate you chances of success. Zombie Dice will be out in June with an MSRP of 13.13, but Cthulhu dice will be available in May if you’re eager for that. I could have picked up both at game this weekend, but they had sold out in the first few hours.

Lots of people gathered to watch the Surface in action.

Wizards of the Coast came to PAX out in full force. There were Magic events and displays in several areas of the exhibition center, and they had a big booth right next to Microsoft. Not only were they demoing the M: TG card game to new players, they lured the less technophobic with multiple displays of the Duel of the Planeswalkers game for Xbox Live Arcade. There were several tournaments happening as well. But the coolest thing they had going was their photo op with a tentacled sea beast. I don’t play Magic, so I forget what it was called, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters it that it had us in its clutches!

Jon doing battle with the sea beast.

On the Dungeons and Dragons front, WOTC set up a life-size grid map for live action 4e. It was a really clever way to demo the basic rules of 4e, and it drew huge crowds to their booth. There were several small rooms where you could play D&D, and in one of these rooms, we stumble upon a demo of the Microsoft Surface running D&D. This thing is so amazing — imagine an iPad touch the size of your game table. There are several videos for D&D on the Surface online already, but this is the most advanced version of the software I’ve seen yet. Each player had a colored disc they would place on the table, and it would center stats, power selection, etc there. The Surface even recognized where your miniatures were.  I’d like to see more demos for the Surface outside of gaming because there are amazing possibilities for touch screen technology on such a large scale.

Move, Minor, Standard

Feel her barbarian rage!

For more Ludditic gamers in need of a good gaming table, look no further than Geek Chic. These tables have been spotted online often in the past year or so, but PAX is the first time I’ve seen one up close. If anyone was concerned that there price tag is too high, rest assured that they are made of some high quality wood. These tables are classy. I had seen the Emissary, Spartan, and Sultan tables featured on the web, but I also got a look at their DM caddy and a coffee table. While I can only dream of owning the Sultan, I’m going to have to acquire their coffee table someday. I always thought playing games on the floor was fun as a kid, and seeing Arkham Horror spread across the table made me envision years of quality gaming surfaces in my future.

Who needs coffee table books with a coffee table like this?

Jon and I made our way to the Z-Man Games booth, and found ourselves within an onslaught of direct from the manufacturer bargains. I almost picked up Tales of the Arabian Nights on the cheap, but instead I opted for Pocket Battles: Celts vs Romans. I tried to extract some news from the rep, but I didn’t have much success. I asked him if we would see any expansions or sequels to Campaign Manager 2008, but he didn’t fill me with hope. He said they have no plans for a sequel, and I got an outright no when I asked about an expansion. At the very least, I gave them a good idea as I pitched my fantasies of an election themed LCG.

The biggest example of how alive board games were at PAX, is that it took us ten hours before we could find a table to play the games I brought and bought. Every table was filled with people playing Small World (I think this might have been the biggest game there), Settlers, Pandemic, and even Dungeons and Dragons Clue. When people couldn’t find a table to play at, they made a spot on the floor. Despite PAX being a place for video games to gather, it’s wonderful to know there is a great crossover between low tech and high tech. In his keynote speech, Will Wheaton said that for gamers, PAX is home. I had an amazing time in my one day of attendance, and I couldn’t agree with him more. Every one should make an attempt to attend next year (GET YOUR TICKETS EARLY!), and don’t forget your dice and joysticks.

Will Wheaton playing Combat on the 2600. It drew a large crowd.

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