Looking Back at PAX East 2013

So PAX East happened this past weekend. I wasn't around as much as I could have been, but I decided that discretion was the better part of health this year. I've been sick off and on since Christmas, and the latest cough/sinus thing has been with me for the past 4 weeks. I think it's finally clearing up, but I didn't want to push my luck by staying at PAX until all hours.

Abbreviated though my pilgrimage was, PAX never ceases to amaze me. The amount of things to see, panels to hear and participate in, and people to talk with creates an embarrassment of creative riches and collaboration opportunities for game players and game industry folk alike. For those who have never been, I made a few crappy cell phone vids to give you an idea of the scope. You can go see all three videos on YouTube, but I've embedded the top-of-the-escalator view of the Tabletop Area below because in my mind it's the most impressive: thousands of gamers in a single hall talking and playing tabletop games for 15 hours straight. In the words of Rob Donoghue, "This is not a fringe. This is a THING."

PAX East's Tabletop Area is the largest high school cafeteria you can think of, crammed with people playing games and a pile of retailers to buy from. The game library is impressive, if slow to use. I heard 30 minute wait times to sign out a game were common at peak times, and almost the entire con is one big peak time. For me it's about the tables: a blank canvas on which to paint the world of your chosen game.

"But Wombat," you ask, "what did you do at PAX East other than gawk at the Tabletop Area?" I'm glad you asked.

Thanks to crap traffic on the Pike, I ended up arriving around 11, about an hour later than I expected to. I parked in the Overflow Lot down by the drydock, and half-walked, half-shuttled up to the hall. I had a bag of food for the hotel room that I bummed a key to deliver even though I wasn't staying the night this year. I needed dice to choose which of the many bathrooms in the suite to use. I also got a picture of the BCEC from the Commodore Suite high atop the Seaport Hotel. Swanky.

PAX East lies within. Do you dare enter?
(Correct answer: YES.)
I headed back, bumped elbows with Storm of Paul & Storm, walked the expo hall (overwhelming!), and hung out in the Tabletop Area for a bit. Pro Tip: Plenty of tables are empty on Friday during the day while people are still at work, so stake your claim on a table early. I limited myself to playing a demo of Dino Dice at the Steve Jackson booth since I wanted to hit the 2 PM panel on the Future of RPGs (guaranteed wrongness: 90%). The Tabletop Theatre line was declared full about a half hour before seating happened, but I hung out and sleazed into one of the seats left over after the crowd settled. An excellent panel was heard by all, challenging the idea that basements and caffeinated sparkling beverages and threatening the PCs' lives are somehow integral to the "true" RPG experience.

We had our Worldbuilding 101 panel immediately afterward at 3:30 PM. It was "full" a half hour before, but we ended up with space for 5 more. We had a great time with a very responsive and appreciative audience, and we fielded a few questions. We also had it filmed by professional videographers with actual borrowed video industry high-end equipment (thank you Natalya!), so stay tuned for the edited video as it becomes available. I can't wait to see it myself.

After the panel we talked with panel attendees, then dispersed. I wandered through the expo hall again, and ended up picking up some PAX Merch. I found Dan in the Jamspace to return the room key. (Note to self: Spend time in Jamspace next year - that freestyler kicked ass rolling costumes and props into his rhymes.) I was tired, so I left and ended up getting home around 7.

The Saturday morning commute held no slowdowns at all, and it delivered me around 10:45 because I started out later. Overflow parking became my friend, and the shuttle bus service didn't have me waiting at all on either end. Win!

I walked the hall briefly and stared at dice (the Chessex booth is the penny candy store for tabletop gamers), saw that the merch booth still had scarves, decided to take the aforementioned crappy cell phone vids, and wandered into the Tabletop Area, my default destination at PAX. I hooked up with both circles of friends, one group sitting down for a demo of the X-Wing mini game on the table directly next to the other group fighting through a game of Zombie Fluxx. Odd how convergence happens. I took over for a round or two at the end of the Zombie Fluxx game, and then we wandered over to the Tabletop Theatre for our Tabletop System Wars panel.

I prefaced the panel with a brief talk about the usenet newsgroup wpi.flame and the ritualization of flame wars in a safe space so nobody's feelings got hurt, which set the tone for the good-natured intra-panel disprespect which followed. After a rousing chorus of, "You're wrong, the correct system to use is..." from every panelist, we gave away Bob's bags of gaming loot that he was contractually obligated to part with if he wanted to remain married. Everyone who stuck around got something, I think. If you didn't, let me know or poke a head into the chat and we'll rectify that situation. And yes, I'll post the video of this panel as it's available.

We wandered back into the Tabletop Area, and Brent convinced Daniel Solis to demo a few of his card games for us.

Belle of the Ball has come a long way in the past year.
Suspense (I think?) is an evil little game with a 13-card deck which plays in about 2 minutes and breaks your head along the way. Part logic puzzle, part playing to achieve an unknown victory condition, it packs a lot of analysis-paralysis angst into a tiny deck. Belle of the Ball has become a complex game of matching guests and using Belles to change the game, and it'll take a few times through for me to really feel some of the subtler strategies for the Belles. The good news is it'll be Kickstarted in August, so stay tuned for that.

My mother calls me around quarter of seven, just about halfway through the game of Belle, about an hour after she should have delivered my daughter back home. If you've ever tried taking a call during PAX, you'll know that tens of thousands of smartphone users tend to stress the cell network a bit, and the roar of the hall doesn't make phone communication exactly easy. Suffice to say that monkey wrenches were introduced and I had to leave slightly before I wanted to.


I'll see you next year, PAX East.


  1. It was nice to meet you and thanks for the videos!

    1. Great to put a face to your online presence! Stay tuned for the panel vids...