Last year, ReedPop, the company behind New York Comic Con and Pax, took a very different leap last year. Recognizing the growing number of analog games, ReedPop launched Pax Unplugged in Philadelphia. While not the first ever analog and tabletop gaming convention, it is the first within the PAX convention lineup. Last year’s PAX Unplugged was a solid first success, showing a solid array of breakthrough tabletop and board games. Seeing the success of this, ReedPop recommitted to Pax Unplugged in 2018, with a bigger dealers room, special guests, and a loaded panel schedule. After perusing this year’s PAX Unplugged, it is clear that convention is here to stay, and the city of Philadelphia welcomes it all.
PAX Unplugged took palace at the Philadelphia convention center, an hour and change drive between New York City and Delaware. Compared to last year, the expo hall took over the entire space and the panels expanded to other section of the center. Many major parties, from Games Workshop to Wizards of the Coast, were presenting their latest games.
The expo hall was much grander than before. A multitude of tabletop games were on display, from Rambo: The Board Game to Dice Throne. Various booths populated entire rows of the expo hall, showcasing an amazing array of games. From card battling games to dice rolling RPG’s, to licensed titles based on existing properties, there was no shortage of wonderful sights to see with tabletop games. There were even games based on franchises such as Fantastic Beasts, Robotech, and Big Trouble in Little China. Among my personal favorites included Warhammer Age of Sigmar Champions and Star Realm, which were games that combined mobile phone applications and real-world card battling. Seeing this variety was incredible and at times overwhelming. I respect boardgames and tabletop games for forging the bedrock principles of modern gaming.
One of the more unique aspects of PAX Unplugged was the duration of its expo hall. While the exhibitors’ area would shut down, a freeplay section would remain open well into the night. This room would be filled with players looking for that late-night session of Warhammer or Game of Thrones Catan, giving attendees a fantastic way to meet and socialize in a friendly environment.
PAX Unplugged also had a loaded panel list that included a diverse array of topics and panelists. Unique to PAX Unplugged were various introductions to popular tabletop RPG’s. Panels for KeyForge, Hail of Fire, Star Wars RPGs, and various others were present. Even the makers of Cyanide and Happiness: Joking Hazard, had an entire panel dedicated to the art of fart jokes in “ The Business of Butt Jokes.” The panel explored the construction and execution of jokes themed to flatulence.
Just as important were panels exploring cultural relevancy in the tabletop space. Panels such as “Executive Women in Tabletop” and “Hand Her A Sword: Instilling Confidence in Girls.” I personally attended two panels that dealt with improving the tabletop space: “Latinx in Tabletop: Our Seat at the Table” and “Historical and Visual Transgender Representation in RPG’s.” Both of the aforementioned panels highlighted the importance, benefits, and cultural significance of creating a better, safer, and more represented tabletop space.
While at PAX Unplugged, I was reminded that as a die-hard video gamer, it is immeasurably important to remember where things began, and in many cases, tabletop RPGS and board games were the principles to creating modern video games. Creators, designers, engineers, and writers all had to create a unique world not in a digital space but in a real-life space. These games, their lore, and illustration have to be given substance and form. Entire rules had to be written out and the board had to be developed. Looking back on it, video games owe a lot to board games and tabletop games.
Only a few years ago, it was wildly believed that the popularity of video games would greatly overwhelm and reduce the presence of tabletop games. On the contrary, with the rise of video games, board games have risen in popularity as well. PAX Unplugged proved the existences of tabletop and baord games is till thriving and powerful. Many thousands of people crowded the halls. It felt great to be among such a unique and important part of the gaming space. PAX Unplugged is quickly becoming the finest anlog-focused gaming convention on the East Coast, and in this game, everyone wins.