PAX East 2013: The Tabletop

tabletop

There was a buzz on the show floor at this year’s PAX East; one that I don’t think many saw coming a few years ago. At a convention full of spectacle and the marvel of advancing technology, analog gaming held its own. Each morning I would sit near the entrance drinking a coffee and watch the crowds enter the convention center. I would constantly hear people making attack plans for the day, mentioning a need to check out the tabletop section.

show floorWalking the main floor there are glimpses at the forefathers of modern tabletop gaming. Mayfair games had a booth with their many versions of Catan for sale. Wizards of the Coast highlighted their newest version of the digital version of Magic the Gathering. Next to the collectible card game juggernaut was a booth devoted to Asmodee’s Ascension, a deck building game that many former collectable card game player have turned to in hopes of getting away from the constant money drain associated with CCGs. A handful of other tabletop related booths peppered the main hall but for those that crave the fresh smell of cardboard this wasn’t the place to be.

For most of the show, I spent my time in the hall dedicated to tabletop games positioned just beyond the main. There was an area where people could sign out board games and a sea of crowded tables designated for play. They utilized Twitter hashtags to help match players and instructors for those new to a particular game. It was a great idea that resulted in these tables being packed every evening.

There were several vendors there representing their stores, offering countless games for sale. This area was noticeably quieter but not because of a lack of crowds. The carnival aspect of the main floor was not present here. There were no PR representatives on megaphones shouting about a free t-shirt giveaway. There was no giant mechs spewing smoke or 70-inch TVs echoing the sound off machine gun fire. There was a hum of laughter, conversation, and the rattling of hands full of dice.

Many publishers were present at the show demonstrating their games. There were a lot of games being highlighted by these companies but with the great popularity of tabletop gaming at PAX, it was hard to always find availability. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with five games that I feel are worth keeping an eye on.

forbidden desert

Gamewright was showing off the successor to Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert. Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game for 1-to-4 players. Players take different roles on a team that has crashed their airship in the desert. They must search out parts to rebuild their ship while battling the game controlled sand that will bury portions of the modular game board. Players must also be aware of the sun and make sure they have water when the heat gets overbearing. We lost in a matter of minutes but had a good time. This has a similar feel to Forbidden Island while adding a few new bits of complexity. For co-op board gamers, this looks like a great middle step between going from the very basic Forbidden Island to something more complex, such as Pandemic. Look for this one to reach store shelves by July of this year.

Sentinels

Next, I got my hands on a game that I had been aware of for a long time but never had the opportunity to try it out. Greater Than Games had a booth devoted to showcasing Sentinels of the Multiverse. Sentinels is a cooperative card game with a superhero theme. This game was released in 2011 after a very successful Kickstarter campaign. They were showcasing the game’s 3rd expansion which was released publicly earlier this month. In the game, players take pre-constructed decks of superheros who may remind you of the heroes you grew up reading about in comic books. Together you will tackle a supervillain and his minions. The moment we successfully defeated the villain I was ready to pick a new hero and go again. I ended up buying the base game and can’t wait to put more time into it.

high heavens

I also sat down with Ryan Lesser, of Guitar Hero and Rock Band fame, to demo his board game which just launched on Kickstarter the day before PAX. His game, High Heavens, is a two player game which pits Greek gods versus Norse gods in a battle to destroy each other. The game is played with two unique decks of cards each made up of gods and actions. When you play a god from your hand, their piece gets placed on the board on top a stack of chips representing their health. Actions can modify this stack to add power and armor. From here, the game has a hex-based war feel where you move, attack, and use special powers which fall in line with each gods’ mythos. Rules are extremely straightforward but allow for unique strategy. This game should appeal to anyone who has enjoyed any time playing games like Hero Academy on their mobile phone. I feel this one is worth paying attention to.

city of remnants

For the first day of PAX, I hovered around Plaid Hat Games booth, hoping to get a shot at City of Remnants. I wasn’t able to find an opening till I showed up first thing in the morning of the second day. There, Isaac Vega, the game’s designer, showed off his first published game. The game centers around 4 rival gangs in a prison world. They are fighting amongst themselves to control areas while building up their empire by constructing buildings. Also, each round there will be new gang members players can recruit and special equipment to purchase in a black market. This all adds a slight deck building mechanic which is unique to this style of game. At the end of each round, non-playable police will appear in the city which will need to be fought or bribed. I was very impressed with this game and it make me even more excited for Isaac’s next project: the Bioshock board game. City of Remnants should be showing up in your local game store in the next month.

zpocalypse

The last game I sat down with was from another first time developer. Zpocalypse is Jeff Gracia’s answer to what he found lacking in other zombie games. What sets Zpocalypse out from the pack is it isn’t just a zombie slaughter-fest. Players are scavenging and protecting their bunker from the hordes of undead. New tiles are added to the game board as players explore adding new opportunities for victory points but also adding more zombies who wish to infiltrate your base. Gameplay was immersive and had engaging player choices. There is a simple yet rewarding leveling mechanic that caught my attention. Zpocalypse was released this week which coincides with Jeff’s new kickstarter which included several new add-ons to the game. Jeff and I spoke about his experiences releasing the game and the use of Kickstarter. Look for that interview later this week.

It was great to see so many first time developers get their ideas on to the table this year. The barrier to entry for publishing your own game is shrinking every year. This year’s PAX has really increased my anticipation for what is to come this year in tabletop gaming. Now all I need to do is shake this case of the PAX Pox so I can get these new games to my table.

About John Wells

John Wells is a staff writer for Splitkick.
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