Mar 21 2011

PAX East 2011 Part 3: Card and Board games

I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed by the presence of card and tabletop gaming at what is billed as a video game convention.  Don’t get me wrong; it was fantastic. I think that because everything was so crowded last year that I just completely missed most of the “paper” gaming presence. As much as I like video games, I think sitting down to a board game with a bunch of friends is just about the best way to spend an evening.

Cool Mini or Not

Alright, so this first highlight isn’t really a board game. When I started painting my Warhammer 40k army, I was pointed at Cool Mini or Not as a place to check out other paint jobs and get ideas. Well, they had a huge booth at PAX this year and are working towards being your one stop for everything you need to paint minis.  They have tons of minis to buy, and are working on carrying every line of paints, brushes and basing materials that you could ever want.  I purchased a set of four dvds with over 13 hours of mini painting instruction.  I’m going to be busy!

Note: Looking at non-Games Workshop minis makes you realize how terrible the faces on GW minis really are.

Super Dungeon Explore

Brian and I got to play through a demo of this game at the Cool Mini or Not booth.  It’s being made by a company called Soda Pop Miniatures.  They specialize in Japanese Pop style stuff.  Lots of anime and mostly naked large breasted women.  This game, however, features chibi style minis of classic adventuring characters and enemies.  They guy who was showing us the game said they were trying to bring 16 bit graphics to a board game. The character models look really fantastic and we picked up a couple to paint.

On our play through, Brian played the paladin (surprise, surprise) and I played the mage (also shocking).  The game plays like a D&D dungeon where someone plays the DM and everyone else controls characters.  For this particular scenario, there were two crystals we had to destroy and a number of kobolds defending them.  Each turn we got movement and action points based on our characters.  The game was pretty fast to pick up and it looks like it’ll be lots of fun to play.

Because it’s not out for release yet and they only had demo versions, I’m not entirely sure what the game will look like when it’s finished.  I believe there will be mix and match dungeon tiles to help keep things fresh.  I am really excited that all the pieces will be paintable.  I already plan on painting up our plastic figures from Mansions of Madness, so this’ll be one more fun project. My only concern is that all the enemies, at least for now, are kobolds.  Granted, some are melee fighters and some are casters, but they’re all kobolds.  I’m hoping that maybe somewhere down the line they’ll release expansions with some other baddies for us to fight.

Munchkin Axe Cop

They announced it.  That’s all I really have on it.   I think there’s potential for something great there.  Axe Cop has such a rich world that I think it’ll fit well with a Munchkin game.  I also think Munchkin, like Monopoly, is well suited to take on a theme, with the major difference being that Munchkin is enjoyable to play.

Magic 2012

The new core Magic the Gathering sets will be coming out early this summer.  This is exciting to me mostly because I’ve hated the two most recent sets.  The infect mechanic has been prevalent throughout, but I’ve found it hard to play in a casual way;  games usually just wind up being reduced to 10 poison counters rather than 20 hit points.  It’s worse if only one player is using an infect deck and the other isn’t.  That rant, however, is best saved for another post.

Dungeons and Dragons

Wizards of the Coast has a huge presence at PAX, but the D&D available this year was really impressive.  They ran games all weekend.  There were encounters and learn to play sessions.  If you’ve ever wanted to give it a try, I really recommend signing up for one of the PAX sessions.  It’s a nice opportunity to get off your feet for a little while and interact with some of your fellow con goers to fight the forces of evil.

Indy Alley

One of the really awesome parts of PAX this year was Indy Alley.  It’s a bit hidden, but it’s where the independent game designers have their booths.  The guys who did Gamebook Adventures were there, as well as a couple of iOS game devs.

What I enjoyed most, though, was being able to meet Len Peralta of Jawbone Radio, Geek a Week, and Monsters by Mail (among other things).  He did all the art for a card game put out by Don Gusano Games called Quack in the Box (the fun card game of medical malpractice).  It was a little awkward.  We walk up to the booth and the girl working there was all excited to tell us about the game.  She was happy to tell us that, in fact, the artist was there signing copies of the game and doing sketches.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was really just there to meet Len.

At any rate, we bought the game and got to talk to Len.  I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but it looks like a fun, solid game.  I adore card games like this; they’re quick, fun, and portable. I’ll be sure to let you know how it plays.  If nothing else, I was more than happy to support an independent game maker.

That pretty much wraps up all the games that really caught my eye at PAX.  I’m sure I’m leaving things out, but I neglected to take any notes while I was at the convention. I’ve got a couple more awesome experiences that I would be remiss if I left out.  Coming soon…



Mar 18 2011

PAX East 2011 Part 2: Video Games

While Penny Arcade is a web comic, PAX is primarily based around video games.  In fact, with its attendance of 70,000, PAX East is the largest video game convention in the country.  So there.

Most of the big name games (Old Republic, Portal 2, LA Noir, 3DS) were all but inaccessible.  Most of them had a 3 to 4 hour wait.  As part of my resolution to not spend the entire con in line, I didn’t get to see much of these.  The LA Noir booth had a video playing on the outside, and Old Republic was visible without playing it, but the others were enclosed so without waiting in line there was nothing to see.  With the exception of Old Republic, those games are all coming out soon; it’s not like this was my only chance to see them.

Most of the games I enjoy playing are the less mainstream games anyway, and PAX is great for that.  I’ve got a bit of information about a lot of them.

Let’s jump right in.

Tropico 4

Alright, so there’s nothing really mind blowing here. I love the older Tropico games, and this game promises not to disappoint. Far from just being a rehash of the old stuff though, they have added new missions, new buildings, and a new mechanic. You can now get a counsel of ministers elected to help you get some of your more questionable plans passed and into effect. They’ve also added interactive natural disasters.  As I said, nothing really life changing, but I think it promises to be a really solid game.

Magic: Duels of the Plainswalkers 2012

Like Tropico, this is a sequel that while basically the same game as the original adds a pretty fantastic new feature.

The Magic TCG added a new multiplayer format called Archenemy.  It allows one player to control one large, epic enemy and up to 3 other players work together to take him down. I’ve played it a couple of times and you really have to have a strong deck and a strong coordinated effort in order to defeat the archenemy.  I’ve been crushed a number of times when the archenemy pulls a card that allows him to place a pile of 5/5 flying dragons on the board… and there’s nothing you can do about it.  They’ve added this multiplayer mode to the already pretty fantastic video game.

Defeating the archenemy doesn’t seem nearly as insurmountable as in the card game.  Brian and I did wait in line for this one, and we were matched up with one other person to take down Koth.  We were ultimately (and fairly smoothly) successful.  I think a large part of this was that the cards happened to be with us and not against us.  Only a couple of unlucky draws and we could have been in serious trouble.  I’m super excited for this game to come out.  I’ve been really into cooperative board games lately, and having a co-op video game that isn’t a shooter is pretty exciting.

If you are at all interested in Magic, even learning to play the card game, I highly recommend picking up the digital version.  It really helped me learn how to play, and I also get to play decks with more complex mechanics (landfall) that I would hate playing in a physical deck.  It’s rather akin to my love of playing Risk on the computer; there’s far less that you have to worry about figuring out. And far less for you to get wrong.

Child of Eden

This game looks pretty awesome.  It’s something kind of like a mellower Geometry Wars involving shooting shapes.  I can’t say that I was 100% certain of what was going on.

The game is apparently a spiritual successor to a PS2 game called Rez.  I never played it, but when I looked it up I discovered that it’s the game that in Japan came with an extra vibration piece you were supposed to put in your pocket to make the game more immersive.  (I remember reports that it was not being used for immersion, but that it was a great incentive for girls to play video games.)

Anyway, the interesting thing about Child of Eden is that it is a Kinect game.  For there to be a non-sports based Kinect game is pretty awesome in the first place, and watching people play is rather like watching them do Tai Chi. It also manages to be a Kinect game that’s not targeted at being a party game.  Other than the fitness “games”, there haven’t been many released that I really feel like I would use all by myself.  This one  seems like it could be really relaxing and fun.


I am totally excited about this game and it comes out next week on both the PS3 and 360.  It’s made by Hothead Games of DeathSpank and Penny Arcade Adventures fame.

It’s sort of a cross between Overlord and World of Goo.  The basic premise is that you start the level in command of 50 little Swarmites.  You get points based on how many of them make it to the end of the level.  You are meant to sacrifice some (in the demo video they show them all jumping off a cliff so that some can jump across their heads to get to the other side) and as you go on, some of them get different abilities (it looked to me like a few of them were on fire).  It’s that perfect combination of platformer and puzzle game that always gets me hooked.

Orcs Must Die

I won’t lie.  Just from seeing the name of this game I felt a little conflicted.  I mean, hey, I like orcs.  I like having them around.  I don’t want to kill them. Then I saw some gameplay and I got over it.

This game looks crazy. It’s a combination hack and slash and tower defense. Fear not, oh ye tower defense haters. It’s not like that. Instead of the standard fare of gathering resources and building units, you’ve got these traps you can place in the path of the oncoming orcs. There are spikes that shoot out of the floor, blocks that fall from the ceiling, springboards that launch them across the room.

Also different from your tradition tower defense is that you are an actual character running around and you have the ability to kill the orcs yourself.  This game has the potential to be incredibly fun or incredibly frustrating. Either way, the art style is fantastic and it looks like a solid purchase for me.


This game is not for me.  Then again, it never set out to be.  However, I feel like I need to mention it because it was the thing that Brian was most excited about seeing.

The game is described as a team based action shooter.  In reality, it’s a free to play MMO*. It’s a little bit Halo, a little bit TF2, developed by a guy who used to work on World of Warcraft. The game looks really awesome if you’re into those sorts of games, and I’ll admit that the art style is pretty cool.

Instead of classes, players will be able to use battleframes which will determine their combat style.  You can add to these battleframes or switch them at any time (I love the smell of microtransactions in the morning). It’s a really interesting concept and while it may not be my type of game to play, I’m interested to see how it does in the market.

*The developers have said that they don’t want to call it an MMO because it doesn’t fit into the traditional form of one.  I think they problem they have is that RPG so often gets automatically assumed at the end of MMO because, well, those are the types of MMOs that are on the market and doing well.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

This was the game I was most excited to see at PAX… and the only think I missed out on completely.  The keynote started late and ran long, and the Reckoning panel had already started when we got out (and was already full).  I had figured they would probably be on the floor as well, but sadly, they weren’t.  I’ll have to take my friends’ speechlessness as testimony that it’s going to be an awesome game. I’m just sad I didn’t get to see it for myself.

There were two games that are already out that I had passed over but as a result of seeing them in person, I am now very interested in.  One is Risk: Factions.  I adore a good game of Risk, especially a video game version.  The fewer tiny plastic army dudes I have to cram onto Australia, the better. I figured that I’ve already got Risk games, what do I need another one for.  The game said, “Yes, but now you can play Risk… as a cat.”  I’m in.

The other game is Raskulls.  It’s got over world levels and bonus stages with puzzles.  And the cutest art ever. Precious.  Gonna have to pick that one up too.

Well, that covers about half of the games that are out to take my money in the near future.  I’ve got a few pretty awesome board games to talk about in another upcoming post.

Mar 16 2011

PAX East 2011 Part 1: Overview

Well, we’ve been home from PAX for a couple of days now.  I’ve had time to unpack all my swag and think about everything we saw and did.  So, let’s talk about it.

1. Staying at the Westin was the right choice and staying over Thursday night was even better.

Even though we live less than an hour from the convention center, Brian and I decided to get a room this year.  We thought it would be a nice little mini vacation for us.  Plus, after last year when we drove back and forth from the convention center, staying over seemed like a much better option.  We also got a room for Thursday night which turned out to be especially good since the convention started at 10 on Friday instead of 2 like last year.

By staying at the Westin, which is connected to the BCEC, we were able to pop back to our hotel room anytime we wanted and take a break or drop off swag (oh man, did I get some swag).

There were two main negatives to the Westin, though.

First, they charge for parking, even if you’re staying there.  That’s a load of crap. If you want to also open your parking garage up to people not staying at the hotel and charge them, that’s fine.  And to add insult to injury, it was $30 a night.  On top of your room cost.  Nonsense.

The second problem is that there aren’t a lot of food options in that part of town.  Granted, that’s not a problem limited to the Westin, but their room service selection for meals other than breakfast weren’t stellar either (Brian and I have never been afraid to order room service when there’s nothing else to eat).  I think next year we might request a fridge for our room and bring sandwich stuff with us. That way if can’t find something to have, we won’t be limited to granola bars.

2. The BCEC is a really awesome venue.

After being packed into the Hynes last year, the BCEC had a refreshing amount of space.  One of my biggest problems last year was sitting on the floor while in line.  By the end of the weekend, my back and hips were killing me.  I’m just not built to sit on a hard  concrete floor.  Almost all the hallways where lines were formed were carpeted and most of them had benches.  It was fantastic.

There was just a lot more space.  Even with 70,000 people, you could find quiet areas of the convention center to sit and relax. (This is especially nice when you’ve run into one of those people who has been up for 78 hours and hasn’t showered yet.) There was also plenty of tables and chairs for playing card or board games.  They have a library of board games which you can borrow, and a lot of people would get them set up and put up a sign that read “LFG”.  The rooms for panels were larger and could accommodate more people. It felt like there was just a ton more to see and do this year. I wound up being pretty overwhelmed with everything that I wanted to see.

The only negative, as I mentioned before, is the lack of proximity to food.  There has been talk of expanding the convention complex, which would be fantastic.  On the plus side, the Starbucks at the Westin was fantastic and it broke our streak of going on great vacations where we are completely unable to get a decent cup of coffee.

3. Jane McGonigal’s keynote was fantastic.

Last year for the inaugural  PAX East, Wil Wheaton gave the keynote address.  Now, I’ve got to tell you, that’s a hard act to follow.  He’s definitely a guy who is a wonderful public speaker and one who really knows his audience. Plus, y’know, he’s Wil Flippin’ Wheaton.

For those not familiar with her work, Jane McGonigal is into seeing how games actually make us better people and better at what we do.  She goes way further than, say, using Mavis Beacon to learn how to type.  Her whole idea is that the skills we learn and develop by playing games can be used in the “real world” to make a huge impact on our everyday lives.  Her book, Reality is Broken, came out in January and if you haven’t read it, I recommend it. (I actually haven’t finished reading it yet.  Standing in line waiting for the keynote, I had my iPad out and was reading on my Kindle app.  A few feet behind me, a guy had the book out and was about half way through.  It felt like we hadn’t read the book for the quiz.)

Jane has been everywhere lately.  She did a TED talk and was even on the Colbert Report.  Public speaking is certainly not a problem for her.  I think she also had the advantage at PAX of speaking to a group of people who are behind what she has to say 100%.  I imagine at a lot of her talks there must be a fair number of skeptics who think that playing games (and especially video games) is either escapism or at least a waste of time.  The PAX audience got to hear a speech based around the idea that we are all awesome and it’s in large part due to the hobbies we enjoy.  You really can’t go wrong with a subject like that.

4. I didn’t spend the entire weekend sitting in line.

When I really stopped to think about last year, I’m pretty sure I spent a total of about 8 to 10 hours in line.  The kicker is that other than the keynote, I didn’t see any panels last year.   This year, I spent a minimal amount of time in line.  Some of this was by choice (We opted not to go to the concert this year. More about that in a later post.) but most was by design.

The use of official Twitter feeds was amazing.  There was one feed that was exclusively for lines.  It would tell you if a particular panel’s line was filling up fast or if there was plenty of room for more.  The only down side was that the internet at the convention center was a bit bogged down at peak times.  There was free wifi at the BCEC, and I was really surprised at how well it held up.  We overloaded the Hynes wifi within about an hour of them letting us in the building last year.  First thing in the morning I had no problem getting wifi, and I could occasionally pick up a signal off and on during the day.  Next year it might be worth it for me to splurge and pay for the hotel wifi just to be sure I can get important con information.

Another great improvement this year was the use of the Conventionist app.  Available on most smart phones, you could download the PAX info that included maps, a list of exhibitors, and a schedule of panels.  You could choose which panels you wanted to see and have your phone give you a reminder that they were coming up.  That was the hardest part for me last year.  I couldn’t keep track of what time it was or when things I wanted to see where going on.

The only feature that Conventionist is missing is the ability to share your schedule with others.  Ideally, I’d love to be able to swap schedules within the app.  Then I’d be able to look and see where my friends are and what their plans are and compare them to mine.  However, I’d settle for the ability to email my schedule to other people.  An lot of my friends that I don’t get to see often were at PAX, and I never got around to seeing most of them.

5. I laughed.  A lot.

The absolute highlight of PAX for me this year was the amount of time I spent laughing.  Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub were responsible for a lot of that (they get their own post), but a lot of it was just getting to hang out and play games with other people who are like me.  Going to the con really is like spending the weekend with 70,000 of your closest friends that you’ve never met.  Sure, there were a few people there who I’m not about to be inviting over for dinner anytime soon, but you can pretty much guarantee that you’ve got at least one thing in common with any other person in the building. For someone who spends most of her time alone, that’s a pretty great feeling. I’m already excited for next year and have started making plans for some awesome stuff.

I saw a lot and did a lot over the weekend, so I’ll have more posts detailing more of the specifics.  There are a ton of cool video games I can’t wait to talk about.

May 25 2010

PAX East or The Great Wil Wheaton Adventure

PAX East has been over for two months now, and I never did get around to writing about it.  I had started a blow-by-blow post of the whole weekend, but it was rapidly becoming rather long and rambling.  So I’ll skip that in favor of documenting the most important occurrence at PAX: When I met Wil Wheaton.

Me, dorking out next to Wil Wheaton. Yes, I am wearing my +5 to Sexterity shirt.

This was my first Con and I don’t know that I knew what to expect.  I should, by all rights, have had a terrible time.  I spent most of my time waiting in lines and sitting on concrete floors which left my back and hips extremely sore.  I didn’t get to play any game demos, and I missed all the panels I wanted to see except for the keynote.  Sounds like a pretty terrible time, right?

The thing is, I loved it.  I had a fantastic time and all thoughts of the event, even during and after the line sitting, are of pure joy.  I blame this on two things.  One is getting to spend three days with “my people”.  This is common at any gathering of geeks, nerds, dweebs, and other outcasts.  When we’re together, everything is a little bit better.  I made “line friends” who told me about boardgames I had to buy and swapped RPG stories.  The second factor leading to my phenomenal time is The Great Wil Wheaton Adventure.

It’s probably a good thing that I’ve waited so long to write about this.  I’ve had time to go through all the phases of acceptance: dorking out, embarrassment, and finally joyful acceptance.  I’ve shared this story with a few people now, and while it is universally accepted as completely nerdy, it’s also supremely cool.

I had no idea that Wil Wheaton would be sitting at a table signing autographs.  That fact totally escaped me. I knew he was giving the keynote speech and I had my copy of Just A Geek with me in case I found myself across a game table from him or something.  However, when we went looking for Scott Kurtz so I could procure my Skull plushie, there he was, Wil Wheaton with the longest line ever. (Actually, it was the longest line ever… until his line the following day, which was much longer.) Brian and I parted ways, he headed for Jonathan Coulton’s line, I for Wil’s.

A note about Star Trek: TNG and my family.  I was six when the show first went on the air and thirteen when it ended.  These were formative years and the show was always appointment television for my family.  We had big Bose speakers hooked up to our tv, which we didn’t use all the time.  We did, however, always use them for Star Trek so we could hear the rumble of the engines.  It was awesome.  I was also, of course, at the perfect age to adore Wil Wheaton.  I mean, who wouldn’t?

I digress.  So here I am, in line, talking to my line friends about board games.   I see that he has two of his books that I don’t own, and his Wheaton’s Law t-shirt.  I intend to purchase all three.  I get to the front of the line and forget all of this.  I shall now document the exact dialogue exchange as it happened.

Me: Hi.

WW: Hi.

Me: If eight-year-old me knew I was talking to you right now, she’d lose it.  I mean, you are pretty much the first man I ever really loved.

WW: Awww.  I’m glad we finally met.

Me: Yeah, it’s been really hard on our relationship.

WW: Well, you grew up as beautifully as I knew you would.

Me: (blushing profusely) You too.

And then he asked my name and signed my book.  I know, I’m a total dork, but it was the coolest thing that’s happened to me in a while. It was definitely the event that saved PAX.  I can’t really imagine having as much fun without it.

I less-than-three you, too, Wil Wheaton.