The second annual PAX Unplugged convention returned to Philadelphia this past weekend much like a sophomore returning to high school – high on the success of their first year and working hard to establish themselves in the pecking order. While they are continuing to work to make the convention experience as accessible and enjoyable for all, they weathered the growing pains that all conventions suffer as they expand their offerings and reach. I would say that PAX Unplugged 2018 can most certainly be categorized as a success.
PAX Year 2
The most noticeable difference in this year’s offering is the orientation and distribution of space in the Expo Hall. Having moved the show stage and the TCG tournaments into other areas, the Expo Hall was dedicated solely to exhibitor space and tables for board gaming. The number of vendors was practically doubled, with companies like AEG, Renegade, and Ares staking out large footprints for their exhibition space. Along with the big publishers, there were plenty of independent producers and designers, a bevy of gaming table vendors, and more dice than you can shake your fist at. In short, there was no shortage of opportunities to walk away with whatever games, gear, and swag you were interested in.
According to reports and discussions with PAX attendees, the general feeling was that the free-play space was reduced to make room for the dealer space. This was not readily apparent, only coming out when table space became extremely limited as gamers drifted from the dealer section to the tables to play games either from the library, from their own purchases, or from the First Look section. (A PAX organizer informed us that the gaming space actually increased in seats by 50% this year. – Ed.)
The First Look area of games provides copies of titles at the bleeding edge of release, either from Essen or on the verge of Kickstarter fulfillment. It remains my must-do at PAX, giving me and my group the opportunity to try the newest titles out before they are available at retail to judge whether they are right for us. Most of the games we played while at PAX were played here. Having dedicated PAX volunteers (the not-so-aptly-named Enforcers) nearby to help teach the games are also a huge help.
What PAX does best is recruit Enforcers that (most of the time) go out of their way to ensure that you are having the best convention experience you can. Whether helping out with teaching games, directing traffic and holding doors, or just simply entertaining you while waiting on line, PAX Enforcers and their positive attitudes really make the convention experience that much more enjoyable. A quick shout-out to Tristan The Marine, an Enforcer who we had a great time meeting last year, remembered us and stopped by to say hello this year as he passed by our table. I cannot say enough good things about the PAX volunteers, and they should be the model for all other conventions.
One of the core ideals of PAX is equity for all in their convention experience, most notable in the fact that in order to get into any experience, you have to simply have the will to stand on line. While this has caused some consternation among attendees (most notably RPG players, but I cannot speak to specifics, only what I have read), as an attendee who wants to show up and play board games, I have no problems waiting on line and getting into games. I think it requires a bit of an adjustment from the Gen Con mentality of ticketed events and set schedules. As scheduled as I like to live my life, I enjoy the idea of having a clear slate of time that I can fill in however I like.
The Final Word: Is PAX For You?
For me, the fact that PAX is in Philadelphia and an easy drive from my house makes it a no-brainer that I will most likely continue to attend. PAX Unplugged appears to be positioning itself as an alternative to some of the more established midsized tabletop conventions, but not quite ready to step up to the level of a Gen Con or an Origins. This, to me, is a great spot to solidify themselves in. They do a great job providing opportunities to gamers of all ages and interests – both a new entrant and a veteran of the hobby should both end up with fulfilling experiences attending PAX Unplugged. While I am a diehard annual Gen Con attendee, I think that PAX Unplugged gives a different experience, one that I welcome and recommend that you consider checking out.
Stay tuned in the coming days as I’ll dive back into the PAX Unplugged experience as I talk about the games we played at the show.