PAX Unplugged: A Local’s Guide

Ho adventuring gamers! We are on the eve of PAX Unplugged in downtown Philadelphia, and two of us fellow Cannibal Halflings will be lurking about. It seems that event organizers have failed to learn their lesson, and allowed Seamus (2017) and I (2018) to return for our second years in attendance. While both Seamus and I are excited, I have the advantage of actually living in the area for the last five years. It has been helpful for planning on my end, and it’s time to turn over some of those nuggets of wisdom to you dear readers to act as your man on the ground in advance to the upcoming invasion of gamers into the heart of a major American city. Hopefully these tips will help make your experience more enjoyable! 

Getting there

So, you’ve decided to attend, and now arrived in town (or are already living here) to face the minor question of “how the hell are we going to get there”?

For those of you who managed to stay within walking distance of the Philadelphia Convention Center, good on you! Enjoy it. For the rest of us, here’s some pragmatic advice: if you can avoid driving there, I would do so. The con site is in downtown Philadelphia, and while traffic isn’t anywhere as bad as say, midtown Manhattan, you are likely to have a slow go of it dealing with traffic, especially when it comes to parking. Street parking will be near impossible to come by on the days in question, and the Philadelphia Parking Authority are notoriously swift and merciless to those who thought they could pull one over. In the end, I would bite the bullet and pay to park in a nearby not. Most lots will be charging event pricing that will cover the day. If you need to, I would consider moving deeper into Chinatown in the search for parking, as the neighborhood borders right up against the con location, and is well equipped for events. It may be $20-30 to park for the day, but it will offer peace of mind.

Ideally though, I would recommend public transportation if possible, with stops along almost every major transportation line. The convention center straddles Jefferson Station, through which the Market Frankford subway line (running east and west) and the Regional Rail lines (train lines to surrounding suburbs and indirect neighborhoods) run. For those who are staying by the airport, the Broad Street line runs north and south to a stop at the intersection of Race and Vine within easy walking distance. For anyone staying in New Jersey, the PATCO train has stops at the 8th and Market and 12th and Locust intersections, and keeps pretty regular with trains every 15 to 20 minutes. Overall, you will almost certainly spend less on your fare than you would on parking alone, never mind gas and tolls, and the lack of worry over traffic makes it worth a modest inconvenience. 

Finally, Uber and Lyft are fully active in the city, and there are still taxis. I would recommend these only if you are going somewhere besides the con and you have no other options, but they are still options. Be wary though: it’s the weekend, and in one of the busiest parts of the city. Be prepared for raised fares for the convenience and immediacy in a bottlenecked area. 

Event Signup

To put it bluntly, if there is a module that you must participate in, lest dire portents consume you, I highly recommend that you arrive at the moment that the doors open and wait in line to sign up. To prevent people from booking out sessions months in advance, registration for oneshots open on the morning of that day, specifically 9 am. Last year on a Sunday, the last day of the con, I arrived half an hour before registration was set to open. The line was so long that by the time that I was able to sign up for anything, the module I had wanted to try was filled with a waiting list already in place. I don’t forsee the demand being lesser, and while I believe there are a few more planned modules this year, and more “showcases” by publishers which offer some flexibility, if there is something special you want, be prepared to show up extra early and wait in line. 

If you have some flexibility, or might want to try something new, I would look more at the Games on Demand option, where volunteer GMs will be offering different indie games every few hours for 2-4 hour oneshots. It can be a great option if you find yourself at loose ends but a deep desire to roll some dice. (There are about 408 hours worth of gaming at GoD this year! – Seamus)

For those you coming for collectible card games or miniature events…well, I have less personal experience there. However, the friends who I came with were able to get into events in the afternoon without running into too much trouble without lining up at the door. Some of these are qualifier events, so people looking to play competitively should absolutely keep an eye on ensuring that they make their times.

Food and Relaxation

There is hot food and cold drinks offered within the convention center itself, and if you find yourself unable to break away from the action, those are viable options, but it’s mostly standard cafeteria fare and it will be priced like a sporting event. If you are hanging around I would recommend heading up the third floor of the convention hall. It’s a bit quieter, and there’s some room to spread out and sample some of the wares you have just purchased. 

However, if you want a little something more, or want to try something special for the rest of your meals, you’re in luck: Philadelphia is a great food city, and you are smack in the middle of a very active section. I’ll keep my advice contained to options that are in close proximity to the convention center, but for those who wish to explore, Yelp and OpenTable are your friends, as is the list of 50 best restaurants in the city. The con location is within a short drive (or Uber) to the Old City, Center City, and Fishtown neighborhoods, so if you want to adventure for dinner, those are prime locations to look. 

However, you guys are here for a con! Portable, quick, and close at hand are the name of the game. Fortunately, you don’t have to go very far. The Reading Terminal Market, within a few minutes walk maximum, is one of the oldest markets in the country, and its a destination all on itself. It’s full of food stands for quick bites, including a large number of goodies from Amish country (a person in a bonnet tallying up your order on a register is a sight to see) along with doughnuts, breads, sandwiches, hot bars and coffee. There are a bunch of tiny restaurants where you can squeeze onto a counter and order. There’s a pretty good variety of all types of cuisines, so even the picky should be able to find something to eat.

For people who want to bring in something portable, I would take a look at some of the DiBruno Brothers locations nearby. Known for a delicious selection of meats and cheeses, the locations in Center and Old City also have great sandwiches and snacks, and you can easily prepare a breakfast or lunch for yourself for the upcoming day.

However, I would really encourage people to take a walk through Chinatown,. Despite the name, there’s a lot of variation that you’ll find: ramen, hotpot, bakeries, bubble tea, noodle shops, peking duck and bbq pork, Thai, Korean Barbecue, Sushi…just to name a few. Most locations in Chinatown prize flipping tables, which bodes well for people who might be looking for something at the last minute. They can be cash only, so be cautious as you arrive if you’re interested.

As a couple quick highlights: Dim Sum is a weekend brunch tradition, and it great for groups because it’s easy to share, and the cost for a full meal often works out to less than $20 a head. There is a neat market, a smaller version of the Redding Terminal, at Chinatown Square, which also has burgers, cocktails and a Halal Boys for those who aren’t feeling as adventurous.

 All in all, there are plenty of options, and I would encourage people to try something new.

I’ll be trying to post updates on each day of the con, keeping up on what’s going on and describing what I’ve run into. If you want advice, or just to say hi, let me know at @WHalfling on Twitter and I’ll try to stay on top of updates!

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