So PAX East happened. That was a thing. After spending the whole weekend in 2011, I decided to be more targeted in 2012 and only spend Saturday there. Plus, the convention fell on Easter weekend and the Easter Sunday dinner is a big tradition in my family.
PAX East grew, unsurprisingly. The exhibitor hall increased in size, as did the tabletop area. The exhibitor hall list was down in terms of things that interested me, namely tabletop-related stuff. Geek Chic was there, of course, and Mayfair Games, but that was about it. It turns out that was because a number of tabletop-centric booths were located in the tabletop area of the convention center.
The tabletop area looked like it doubled in width compared to 2011 — the length being constant in the hangar-like main space of the Boston convention center. It was filled mostly with tables for scheduled tournaments and free play. Where the forest of tables didn’t extend, there were booths for publishers, designers and retailers. Companies like Foam Brain Games and Fantasy Flight Games smartly moved into the tabletop area this year. Not only did that put them in better sight of their target audience, but they could stay in business longer. The exhibitor hall closed at 6:00pm each night, while the tabletop area kept rocking til much later.
The trade-off to that decision might be that they lost out on ensnaring people who were brand new to tabletop games. One of the key sights I remember from last year was the glut of people wandering the floor or clearing table space to tear into their new copy of Mansions of Madness. How much of that was the game’s newness versus drawing in interested video games, I couldn’t say. I wish I could peek at the sales numbers of 2011 and 2012 to compare.
The tabletop game area kept busy all day long. Last year, you could track the day by the activity level in the area as people came and went. This year, it seemed most tables were occupied and gaming underway all Saturday long.
While I got to try to plenty of board game demos — find out more on the carcast we recorded going home — I didn’t break into any role-playing. Wizards of the Coast had their marshaling area/holding pen, which didn’t really appeal. Games on Demand were present, but that required me to pull together a group of players on my own. Pandemonium Books & Games had an actual schedule of board and role-playing games to be run throughout the weekend, but those times never jived with my own. So it goes, right?
All in all, PAX East was really a spectacle for me. I saw a lot of cool things, but I didn’t get to do as many of them as I might have liked. But it was a pretty good day and a pretty good weekend trip to Boston. Except for one thing. Having covered the positive, PAX-related aspects of the trip, I’m going to get into the huge stinker of a problem that set an absolute low for the weekend.
The hotel, on the other hand, got off to an awful start. We had a room at the Westin Waterfront, which is right next to the BCEC. Check-in time was 3:00pm on Friday. When we arrived at that time, we were told there was a backlog of rooms turning over as people checked out, so ours wasn’t ready. The desk person took my number and said they’d call when it was ready.
After an hour, I checked back. The room still wasn’t ready. After another hour and a half, for a total of two and a half hours, the person then at the desk discovered that why yes, that room was ready. No one had bothered to notify us. And there was no concern expressed on the staff’s part about the time we lost or inconveniences experienced.
The Westin really fell down on this one. They didn’t make their commitment of the check-in time and then didn’t follow through on notifying us when the room was ready. As a result, we lost two and a half hours thinking “just a little bit longer” would be something approximating an actual little bit.
While I get that as many people who filled the Westin and BCEC can be daunting and I have nothing but sympathy for the people on the ground in housekeeping and front office of the hotel, who were doubtless overwhelmed, I am hugely disappointed by the overall experience. Aside from this not being the first time PAX came to the Westin and BCEC, it cannot be the Westin’s first rodeo at all. They were seemingly unprepared for the volume of people passing through the hotel, even though it sold out months before. That lack of preparation and contingencies for travelers coming from out of town with nowhere to go was an outright failure on their part.
Thanks to Twitter, I had an interesting conversation with some employees of the chain. You can find the public portion of the conversation begin here with @WestinWatrFront, then @StarwoodBuzz — Starwood is the hotel group to which the Westin brand belongs — picks up the baton. That exchange went on sporadically through the weekend as I walked in and out of wireless availability. It culminated in an emailed apology from an employee of the Westin Waterfront, saying they were sorry and “We did have some challenges with this particular convention but our staff did everything possible to accommodate everyone.”
Yes, guests without a room to check in and not offering anything to help with luggage or making the wait more pleasant is certainly a challenging situation. And who can blame them? PAX East is a guaranteed sell-out. The Westin can do pretty much as they please and never run short of customers for that weekend. I don’t doubt they’ll go far with that tactic.
The ironic part is the night before, we had a completely trouble-free stay at the Boston Sheraton, also part of the Starwood group. The Sheraton was in the throes of Anime Boston plus early PAX East arrivals and they did just great by us. I hope those two compare notes sometime in the next year.
For more thoughts on the weekend, check out the Carnagecast extrasode Escape from PAX East, recorded with my friend Sarah during the drive home from Boston to Vermont. We talk about the games we played: Castellan, Chupacabra, Ice Dice, Star Trek Deck Building Game, Ticket to Ride India and Asia.