PAX Unplugged Recap

In 2019, we traveled to Philadelphia for PAX Unplugged, one of the big board gaming conventions, and immediately knew we had to go back.  Within days of returning home, we were already putting together our plans for Unplugged 2020 and gauging our friends’ interest.  Then, thanks to issues big (a global pandemic) and small (a teeny-tiny baby), we had to postpone plans.

Thankfully, in 2022, we returned to PAX Unplugged!

Did it live up to our expectations and memories?  Of course it did!  Now, let us share with you some of what we did and saw:

So Many Games!

Obviously the big draw of PAX Unplugged is the board games, and there is no shortage of games here.  There is a giant freeplay library, a first look section, classic games, new games, upcoming games, and more.

One of Confetti’s favorite activities at any convention is walking the expo floor, and with Unplugged, it’s just a little bit sweeter.  It’s fun seeing so many of our favorites out in the wild, putting on their best, as they hope to find new homes.

More importantly, we love learning about and trying games that are new to us.  It would be impossible for us to name every game we saw and tried, but here is a quick list of some that caught our eye, and we may want to add to our collections in the future:

  • Catch the Moon by Kosmos
  • Connected Clues by Connected Clues/Self-Published
  • Dog Park by Birdwood Games
  • Imagineers by Maple Games
  • Life of a Chameleon by Last Night Games
  • Shovel Knight: Dungeon Duels by Panda Cult Games
  • Spots by CYMK
  • Tether by How to Steam Broccoli
  • That Time You Killed Me by Pandasaurus Games
  • The Table is Lava by R&R Games
  • Werewords by Bezier Games

There is nothing quite like being surrounded by the hobby you love and people who deeply appreciate it as well.  Shout out to all the great vendors and publishers who were at Unplugged this weekend.  

Tournaments

One of my (Chaos’) big’ dreams is to eventually win a tournament at PAX Unplugged.  The Unplugged tournaments tend to be a bit more casual and loosely run, with the focus more on the fun than hardcore competition, but it would still be a cool feather in my cap.  A tournament medal would also make a fantastic souvenir.

This year, I competed in Exploding Kittens, King of Tokyo, Quacks of Quedlinburg, and Sushi Go! tournaments.  I am sad to say that my goal remains a dream.  I won a few games in these tournaments, but I clearly didn’t win enough to earn a medal and championship title.  Alas!  I did come within two points of winning the Quacks tournament though, so my performances weren’t too shabby.    

If I signed up for more tournaments, I might have increased my chances of winning, but it’s always so hard to commit the time.  With so much happening at Unplugged, it can be hard to balance everything I want to do.  I considered Wingspan, Splendor, Smash Up, and other tournaments, but chose not to do them because they overlapped with other events/opportunities.

Oh well.  I guess I might just have to come back to PAX Unplugged again..

Puzzles/Scavenger Hunts

Previously, we had enjoyed a puzzle workshop and spotting a few puzzle games for sale, but this time around, it felt like PAX Unplugged was covered in puzzles.  Along with vendors, there were quite a few challenges, and other experiences to be found as well.

Sadly, we missed the puzzle workshop because it filled up, but we did get to see a panel hosted by some great indie puzzle designers and reviewers.  You can hear more about that in our “Panels” section of this post.

Knight Moves Cafe hosted several puzzle rooms throughout the weekend.  We attempted and conquered their two person room, “Duo’s Dilemma” and their eight person room, “The Codebreakers Delight.”  We beat both earlier in the weekend, but for a brief shining moment, we actually held the record for both rooms.

Knight Moves Cafe also teamed up with Thirsty Dice to host “Puzzle Hunt: Foodies from Outer Space,” a puzzle scavenger hunt.  This experience involved hunting down seven aliens around the convention and solving fifteen different puzzles.  In the end, we discovered the aliens’ favorite foods and answered the final question.  Completing the hunt entered us into a raffle that we didn’t win, but the experience was a lot of fun and the puzzles were well-designed, adding a little something extra to our Unplugged weekend.

The Foodies weren’t the only puzzle hunt around. Czech Games Edition (CGE) hosted a different puzzle scavenger hunt in order to promote their game Starship Captains.  This game involved finding QR codes around the convention and cracking seven puzzles along the way.  Again, our triumph rewarded us with a losing raffle ticket, but the action was our reward.

On the show floor we saw a few puzzle experience vendors such as PostCurious, The Shivers, and Lockedbox Adventures, which had its own puzzle challenge.

While not quite as puzzley, both Kickstarter and Backerkit had their own scavenger hunts running over the weekend.  Each involved collecting stamps in order to earn pins.  Kickstarter’s also earned players question/conversation cards.

Panels

As we previously mentioned, it can be tough to balance everything we wanted to do at PAX Unplugged.  We decided to go a little lighter on the panels this trip, but still found our way into some great ones.

We poked our head into the Gloomhaven panel to learn about the upcoming roleplaying game set in the world of Gloomhaven that Isaac Childres and Cephalofair are producing.  

“Games You Only Play Once: What Puzzles Bring to the Table” assembled a great cast of puzzle game designers and reviewers.  There were representatives from RoomEscapeArtists.com, PostCurious, Cryptogram Puzzle Post, Society of Curiosities, and Trapped Takeout!  They discussed the magic of puzzle experiences, especially the indie-produced ones, but even more interestingly gave their thoughts on the design and implementation of these experiences.  We also got some recommendations on games to try in the future such as “Cantaloop” and “Knetterijs.”

The fine folks from the podcast “This Game is Broken!” put on a great hour of comedy and trivia.  They competed in charades, trivia, a.i. art deciphering, and more.  The audience got to join a team too and leave as winners when all was said and done.

Cardboard courtroom was held by The Shut Up & Sit Down crew.  They used their hilarious banter to help judge the audience’s cardboard confessions and accusations.  Is it wrong for everyone to gang up on the best player?  When is it right to pick on friends?  What do you do with a bad gaming gift?  What do you do when you learn you’ve been playing a game wrong?  Matt, Tom, and Ava definitely had opinions to share.  Also, a friend of mine brought to them the trouble of me too often being the “bad guy” in social deduction games.

There were many other panels we would have loved to join, but unfortunately, we couldn’t do it all.  Stupid trappings of linear time travel.

Swag

We left PAX Unplugged with a lot of stuff, some of it free and some of it purchased.  

We treated ourselves to The Shivers and its expansions and Anomia: Pop CultureFlamecraft’s bread dragon plushie refused to come with us without a complete set of enamel pins, so we totally had to get them all.  Gloomhaven’s mindthief and spellweaver also joined our party in enamel pin form.  We also couldn’t help grabbing a few dice and meeples.

With the holidays coming up, we may have also grabbed a few gifts for friends.  We’d say more about those games and items, but those friends may peek at our blog and we wouldn’t want any spoilers.

Plenty of our swag came to us for free as well.  We received a lot of cool pins and buttons over the weekend.  In exchange for a little time and therapy, a wizard gave me dice and a Frozen music box that plays “Let it Go.”  One table let me have RPG books for Transformers, Power Rangers, and G.I. Joe.  Elsewhere at Unplugged, I won some miniatures for answering simple D&D trivia.  The Gloomhaven booth gifted us with headgear and a bunch of free mystery box miniatures.  Spinning wheels got us stickers.  We got cards for games such as Gembinders and Blow My Mind.

The Real Swag

The real swag was the friends and memories we made along the way.  It’s not possible to capture everything we saw and did at PAX Unplugged, we do want our readers to know we had an excellent time.  The board game community is great.  The designers are fantastic.  The games are fun.  The free (and not so free) stuff are awesome.  We’ll definitely be back again.  If you’re into board games and good times, PAX Unplugged is the place to be!

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