The dust is settling after another PAX East, and this time there is just too much PAX goodness to pack into one episode, so we have a special post just for the con.
People have asked whether after the pandemic, is PAX back to it’s former glory? After the unfortunately necessary move to make 2021 online only, and with a smaller (but still awesome) showing in 2022, it’s a question lingering in the pandemic/endemic world. PAX East 2023 was vax-optional, mask-required. There’s still more space to move in the expo hall, but the vibe is still there, and all the things that I love about PAX are alive and well while the venue does their part to keep us that way.
Big title on the horizon
Nintendo showed up with some impressive displays right at the door. Breath of the Wild 2: Tears of the Kingdom is right on the horizon, and Nintendo is not going to let you forget it. Right at the main entrance was a queue to grab Zelda swag, and snag a pic with a statue of link. I was happy to grab a link pin and a couple of cool photos.
That said, were there demos? Yeah… no. Kind of a surprise that with all the hype, we still have yet to play the game. But, built on the same architecture as Breath of the Wild, it’s likely we have a good idea of the experience. Anyway, the big names aren’t really what I’m there to see. I could wait hours in line to play a big title, but I’d rather get a chance to see what’s going on with indie developers and small studios who otherwise might not make it on to my radar.
My kind of companionship
I headed over to the Finji booth early this year. Last year I got a taste of TUNIC and snagged it the second it dropped for the Switch. Not for a second did it disappoint. I knew I had to take a closer look at Finji’s offerings this year.
This time I came away with Overland. Set in a post-apocalyptic United States, the aliens are here and you’re making your way in a survival, turn based strategy game. You can pick up limited items, fuel up your car, make friends, make enemies, and – this was the draw for me – add dogs to your party. Once you play a few rounds and restart the game you even have the option of doing an all dog party! Yes, you are still driving cross country. And when society has crumbled, no one is going to pull over three dogs in a Chevy.
Each level has enough suspense to keep things interesting without pushing my stress buttons, while the turn-based strategy of avoiding strange alien creatures (or sometimes whacking them to death) is challenging, interesting, and fun.
Concepts in progress
One of the things I love about PAX is the smaller booths with devs sharing their latest creations in the works. One thing that I’m really attracted to is big ideas, and its wonderful to see how unconventional concepts work their way into smaller titles.
Hyde’s Haunt and Seek is the first thing that comes to mind. This is a novel, team-based party game. It’s set in a haunted mansion that feels like it was pulled out of Disney’s theme park ride. One player plays a Seeker, a paranormal investigator armed with a trusty flashlight. This isn’t just any flashlight though, it has the ability to reveal and capture ghosts! Speaking of ghosts, the rest of the players are the spooky specters who can possess furniture, levitate objects, and make things go bump in the night. It’s a novel experience where the Seeker plays from a first-person perspective, and the specters get a top-down view to better stay out of the Seeker’s light.
The game is divided up into three rounds. First, the ghosts hide an object of significance in the house. If the Seeker finds it, it’s bad news for the ghost’s power. Second, the Seeker is on the hunt for the ghosts, and if they get caught in the Seeker’s flashlight for too long, they despawn and make it easier for the seeker to follow their footsteps to their valued possession. Ghosts respawn and continue their attempts to scare the living daylights out of the Seeker. No really, that’s a mechanic in the game. Scare the Seeker and they drop “living daylights.” The ghosts collect it to increase their power level to possibly tip the balance in the third round.
In the last round, the ghosts possess furniture and move it to special locations to complete “the ritual.” Complete the ritual, then the ghosts win. This round is different because ghosts don’t respawn. If all the ghosts get caught, then the Seeker wins. But this is a lot harder if the ghosts have managed to collect enough living daylights to max out their Team Spirit (yes, that is what it’s called), then they unleash a big-bad on the Seeker. While it’s not impossible to win with a scary clown after you, it’s certainly a lot harder.
This year my wife and I sat down to play My Lil’ Everdell, published Tabletop Tycoon. This is, as the name implies, a slimmed-down version of Everdell. Despite the “my lil” in the title, this is not just for kids. This is a fun worker placement, resource management game.
You have three workers, and you place them at stations to gather resources. Those resources are used to buy cards with either one-time, ongoing, or triggered effects. Also, each card has two sets of icons on it. Collect combinations of those icons and you gain victory points. For example, get five of a kind, and you get a parade (worth victory points). Get one of each kind, you get a parade. The parades favor the quickest players, as each remaining parade of its kind is worth fewer points.
Why pick up a game that starts with “My Lil’?” Because that’s a niche I need at the moment. I have Agricola on the shelf if I want resource management and worker placement. What I don’t have is a predictable 30-40 minute game of that mechanic. Some game nights can’t go as late as others, and when it game to make the choice between Everdell and the My Lil’ Everdell, this was a solid call. Also, I have a lot of friends who prefer an easier entry into my game shelf.
Plus, with a strong theme and gorgeous art, there was no way to go wrong.
One of the things I love about PAX is getting to meet great people who have the same passion for tabletop and video gaming as I do. I wanted to give a shoutout to some really great folks I ran into at the show. Of course there were countless cosplayers who were a joy to talk to about their creations and other fellow geeks in line for panels. But a couple people really stood out this year.
First, Lady DM, who is a Boston area local, had some incredibly gorgeous wares. Hand-made resin dice crafted by her husband Evan, while she manages and markets. You all know that I’m a sucker for all things dice, and this was just a great couple to chat with. They’re more than happy to share tips and tricks of the dice making trade to the uninitiated. They even tipped me off to a dice-making class coming up here in the Boston area.
8BitLegit is a small creator who clearly played the same games I did when I was young. The fact that he said Wizards & Warriors was one of his favorites took me back to hours upon hours with that fantasy adventure. I first ran into him several years ago when Trophy was about to Kickstart. This year, he’s showing off Battle Kid. It’s a fast-paced jumpin’ and shootin’ love letter to Mega Man. It’s built with dedication and affection to not just look like a retro game, but also to actually fit on an 8-bit cart. When released, you can buy this physically and play this on your NES (or retro game deck).
Community and cosplay
I always love the time I get to spend with my fellow PAXstronauts. While you’re only in each others lives sometimes for a matter of hours, these moments make lasting impressions. This year I took the leap from just having “line friends” to getting in on the Pinny Arcade pin trading community. Each show they have sets of pins exclusive to that show. Each show pack probably has a few you’ll want to keep and a few you’ll want to part with. There are trading stations where staff are always happy to give you a one-to-one trade for anything you bring to the table. You can also find community trade rooms where you can swap for your favorites from years gone by to snag the one that slipped through your fingers. This being the second time I’d ever even bought a Pinny Arcade pin, I learned a lot from a wise, learned pin master. I’d seen him over the years walking the show with a trench coat covered in Pinny pins. I was thrilled to find out how kind he was to newcomers, explaining the ins and outs of getting started.
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