PAX West is most closely associated with video games ranging from indie to AAA. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see if there was any tabletop representation (given that PAX Unplugged is their official branch for this) and to my surprise, there was quite a bit! If you’ve never been to PAX West, find that it’s easier to get to than Unplugged, or want a feel of what it may be like in the odd times that we live in, keep reading on.
Most of the tabletop publishers and vendors were pushed to the very top sixth floor of the Seattle Convention Center with the exception of Dire Wolf Digital which had an impressive presence on the bridge between the two main video game expo halls. At the top of the summit I found:
Fog of Love: Love on Lockdown (Expansion), published by Floodgate Gates, brings the base Fog of Love game to the next level through the introduction of the very familiar scenario of being locked inside together for months on end with nothing to do. I’ll be reviewing this expansion soon so that and my positive recommendation is all I will leave you with for now.
Kites, published by Floodgate Games, is a real-time cooperative game where everyone is trying to keep their kites in the air. Sand timers represent the kites in this game and players play cards that match them, ideally such that more time is bought in the sky.
Both Windmill: Cute Secrets (2022) and Windmill: Cozy Stories (2020) were seen on the show floor, and published by Crowd Games. This series is a storytelling party game, where the objective of the game is to tap into ideally only one of the other players’ minds. If too many players understand what is going on, then there are fewer points to be had. However, if none of the players know which card is correct, then points are lost!
Enigma: Beyond Code is a bluffing and deduction game set in the World War II era, published by Crowd Games. Your mission is to break the Enigma code as soon as possible but each character may be assigned a different, secret mission from this.
Storybook Brawl is a collaboration between tabletop company Dara Studios and video game company Good Luck Games to bring their free digital card game to analog. Players pick a hero from familiar fairy tales which comes with its own deck of cards, and brawlers from that deck are chosen to enter into a tournament. Rewards are then distributed to victors of the brawl and the next chapter continues based on the winner. There is currently no confirmed date on when this comes to Kickstarter but folks can sign up on their site to get updates, or play the digital game now to get a feel of gameplay.
BATSU! The Punishment Card Game is a party card game that was successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2021, by Giant Fox Studios. It is based on an actual live Japanese show and the premise is that comedy is the only thing that can stop evil from being released into the world. Challenge cards require the players to perform in a certain way, and the audience can also suggest modifications to the challenge. The least funny player according to the current judge will be punished in a silly way. Folks interested in the game can purchase it on their dedicated site.
Japanime Games had a sizable presence both from a demo space and a sales perspective, with Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade looking like the game that piqued the most interest from passersby. That is likely due to nostalgia but it’s hard to get away from a deck-building game that lets you play as one of the key characters while hunting bounties. At the $60 price point though, many of us may just pass on it and its figurines.
The game that seemed to be in the hands of many attendees was Klask, which had its own dedicated area for play. I can definitely understand the hype behind the game as the sound of clinking and clacking as well as giggles of excitement that emanated from its dedicated room was marketing enough. For the uninitiated, Klask is a dexterity game by Marektoy which sits elevated on a tabletop. The platform represents a sort of ball field and there are four ways to score. The first player to six points wins!
Of course, not everything about tabletop needs to be retail therapy; sometimes it’s simply about winning. I have never thought of tabletop as a way to enter into competition outside of the opponents at your own table but PAX West did not disappoint in its opportunities to prove your skill in tournament-style play. Tabletop Tournaments included (in no particular order): Potion Explosion, Catan, Sushi Go!, Small World, King of Tokyo, 7 Wonders (and its low-score competition 7 “Blunders”), Wingspan, Codenames, Clank!, Splendor, Smash Up, The Resistance, Coup, Carcassone, King of Tokyo, Lords of Waterdeep, Ticket to Ride, Dominion, Gravwell, Welcome To…, Kingdomino, Cartographers, Parks, Twilight Imperium (4th Ed), Power Grid, Azul, Evolution, Stone Age, Calico, Exploding Kittens, NMBR9, Terraforming Mars, Patchwork, Puerto Rico, Sagrada, Wingspan, Love Letter, and ClipCut Parks.
Most of these I had heard of or played with the exception of Gravwell and ClipCut Parks, both published by Renegade Game Studios. Out of curiosity I did a bit of research and could see how they could be considered for tournament play. Gravwell is a card game where players command spaceships toward the warp gate for victory. Over six rounds, if the players are just out of luck whoever is closest to the warp gate wins instead. The drafting element of the game can make it cutthroat enough for tournament vibes. ClipCut Parks on the other hand is a roll and cut game where players are racing to finish five park cards. Trying to capitalize on the roll of the die compared to your opponents can definitely be an exciting element of tournament play for this game.
Digital Board Gaming
Board game representation didn’t stop at analog; as mentioned before Dire Wolf Digital had a sizeable presence as well with PC stations to try out Everdell, Root, and Munchkin. I was most impressed by Clank! Catacombs which had new game elements like portals, wayshrines, side quests with prisoners, and ghosts that haunt. Folks can pre-order through September 16 and the game is expected to ship in November 2022. I admit I was surprised to see stacks and stacks of copies of Dune: Imperium to purchase. Most of the team here at Board Game Quest enjoy the game, so I’m not sure whether Dire Wolf just had printed too many copies or if the demand didn’t match the hype. It’s certainly eye-catching to see a pile of product (think like when you shop for groceries), but disconcerting considering the limited margins on board game sales in general.
I would say that PAX West is a great option for West Coast gamers who enjoy both video games and tabletop games. Unplugged can be tough on the wallet for us and most would likely be headed to Gen Con during the summer instead if willing to fly out that far across the country. It may not have the allure in the expo hall compared to the video game presence but it’s still a decent representation. Overall I’m always happy to see dedicated space for board games at any convention as I firmly believe that gaming is for anyone and sometimes all it takes is wandering by a booth to spark interest. Even if folks are mostly there to try the latest demo on the best gaming rigs and consoles, any new person we can welcome into the tabletop gaming world means more folks to play with and certainly a stronger lifeline for designers and publishers alike.