We’re no strangers to game convention life, having attended various sized events over the past decade. We started out with small local meet-ups then soon thereafter braved the deeper waters, chronicling our experience with noteworthy articles like 7 Misconceptions about Gen Con and 7 Reasons to Attend Origins Game Fair. Essen Spiel (Germany), UK Games Expo and PAX Unplugged have all been on our bucket list, but we’ve never been able to make any of those work. With the release of boop. on track to make its convention debut at this year’s PAX Unplugged, we scrambled our schedules and *boom* Philadelphia was on the agenda.
Having been to a lot of conventions, I figured PAX Unplugged would be similar. I was told it would be a cross between Geekway to the West and Origins Game Fair. What I envisioned and what we discovered were two entirely different things. It was much bigger and with more things going on than I expected. There was another show taking up space in the Pennsylvania Convention Center at the same time as PAX Unplugged so the flow of the location wasn’t normal from what I’ve been told. I kept that in mind as I consistently found myself running into dead ends while trying to access different parts of the show. And right there is the extent of any negative comments you’ll hear from me about PAX Unplugged. Everything else was excellent.
First, let’s talk about the layout. Not the flow of things, but the assortment of options of things to do. The convention spanned over three levels. The uppermost area included the ballrooms where panel presentations and announcements took place. the lower level offered dedicated spaces for role playing games, puzzles (like an escape room), an area celebrating diversity, and “how to play” rooms to name a few.
The bulk of the convention took place on the second floor. It included the exhibit hall, a paint-and-take area, tournament zones, tables filled with terrain for miniatures games and open gaming space. The exhibit hall has set hours (10-6 daily), but the rest of the places were open much longer. Some things required advanced registration while others were available to walk-up and participate.
If you wanted to check out new products, there was a place for that. Actually, several places depending on what stage of development and availability you were seeking. The lower level included the UnPub room where designers were testing prototypes. Move up to the main convention space and you would find open gaming areas where you could sit and play a game. There was a library to check out games and play on the spot. A special “first look” area included games brought in from overseas. Then there was an exhibit hall with new games as well as prototypes for up-and-coming games.
We spent the bulk of our time in the exhibit hall from start to close. Part of that was because boop. was making its convention debut… and sold out by the start of the show on Sunday. But it was also because that’s where we make the most connections with publishers.
PAX Unplugged was more than just playing and looking at games. There were a ton of photo ops throughout the hall as well. Some were just signs and something fun encouraging people to “take a selfie” while others were more professional and intended for more than just a quick snap. There was a “wild goose chase” where you could collect stamps and cards from participating vendors and earn free pins. I hadn’t planned on doing the goose thing but they had these cute displays and I finally caved and started it. If I happened across one of the geese, I would get the stamp along with a specialty card. As I understand it, if you finished the whole thing, not only did you receive prizes, but you also ended up with an entire game consisting of the loose cards collected along the way. It was a novel idea not only for exploring new exhibitors, but also helping break the ice on conversations.
Speaking of pins… there was pin collecting, too. It’s something that has become common at conventions and I pride myself in filling up my lanyard with new ones. Some pins in the Pinny Arcade Pin Quest were were available for purchase, others were part of official promotions. Then some weren’t part of the Pin Quest, but were available through activities like the wild goose chase.
There was so much to do, but I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to the many people who made the event really shine. PAX employs staff called Enforcers who are there to help. Some cater to the exhibitors, but they’re also there to answer questions in general. I would see Enforcers holding signs with phrases like “Have you hydrated?” or “If you have any questions, please ask me.” From start to finish, the event flowed smoothly. The most important thing it did… made me realize we need to prioritize attending it next year. Hopefully we will have more time to play games!
If you’ve attended PAX Unplugged, what would you add to this event overview?