Last week, I traveled down to PAX East in Boston, the eastern cousin of PAX (Penny Arcade Expo), a game and media show put on — ultimately — by the authors of the Penny Arcade web comic. All things considered, it was a really good weekend. PAX East was easily the biggest convention I’ve ever attended; I’ve seen a figure of 69,500 attendees, but that must be turnstile, rather than unique individuals. At any rate, the joint was huge and so were the teeming throngs of conventioneers.
In spite of pumping contacts who’d gone to the previous PAX East for information, I had difficulty envisioning just what to expect. How much tabletop gaming would there actually be, given the undeniable prevalence of electronic games in the Penny Arcade community? A lot, as it turned out.
A whole slice of the main hall outside the main exhibition area was given over to tabletop games. Wizards of the Coast had dozens of tables running their Dungeons & Dragons encounter series, Fantasy Flight Games spent the weekend in the expo area teaching Civilization, Mansions of Madness and Death Angels, Steve Jackson Games had a booth for demoing their newest games, Z-Man Games had an extraordinary selection of titles to show and sell, Indie Press Revolution and another unnamed group of independent role-playing game publishers were showing off their games. Plus there were more demos of board games by Days of Wonder, Gamewright, Looney Labs and other independent outfits whose names I didn’t catch. Plus, the Tabletop Headquarters had a fair size game library for attendees to browse, including a number of titles that must have been donated by companies demonstrating at the show.
Basically, there were a lot of damn tabletop games to play. I didn’t do everything on my hit list — I skipped the Action Castle panel on Friday, but got a quick ten minute try-out the next morning at the booth — but then I tried things I didn’t expect, either, like a preview of Ice Dice from a Looney Labs volunteer, or a Rogue Trader adventure run by gaming gadabout Bob. If you want to see the full list of things I played, visit my play log at Boardgame- and RPGGeek.
Of the panels I did attend, there was the rather civil Dungeons & Dragons Edition Wars; the Rat Bastard’s Guide to Long Campaigns, which was somewhat misleading in its title, given the lack of rat bastardry; Publish Your Own RPG — And Don’t Go Broke Doing It!, which let me down because a lot of the advice boiled down to “get on the internet; use free tools and media”; and Careers in Paper Gaming, which also contained a lot of familiar advice. I’m probably a outlier due to paying attention to shop-talk discussion threads in the various role-playing forums out there, so I hope plenty of other people found those panels enlightening.
Social media played a role in the convention that I expected, but underestimated. Sure, there was the #paxeast hash tag, but there was a lot more whizzing around through cell networks and the convention center’s wifi — which was frustrating in its spottiness, but hardly surprising given the number of devices probably trying to make use of it. Gamers used Twitter to find extra players for games; companies used it to announce deals. On returning from Boston, I belatedly discovered the bustling forum community that used the PAX event as an umbrella under which to organize their own activities.
And in spite of all that, I only saw a portion of the whole show. There was the whole world of electronic gaming that I essentially ignored. The only time I went near it was to attend Bill Amend‘s Further Greetings from a Dead Tree Dinosaur Cartoonist panel on Sunday in the main theater. Then I remembered, “Oh yes, there’s console gaming and PC gaming and look, stand-up arcade machines!”
In short, PAX East was an instance of “far more to see and do than you can cram into a weekend, so don’t sweat it.” It was a fun experience and now I have an idea of what to expect next year and how to go about getting what I want out of the experience.
Below the jump, you’ll find a smattering of pictures I snapped over the weekend.