A PAX East 2020 Roundup

Having a con ‘season’ of sorts is a new experience for me, with PAX East 2020 following close on the heels of PAX Unplugged 2019 (thank goodness attending South wasn’t remotely an option), meaning that I’m going into this work week pretty darn exhausted . . . and with oodles, noodles, and toaster strudels of new content to write about! Let’s talk a bit about the con at large, and then get down to the details with some games.

On the tabletop side of things, obviously our specialty, it did appear as if the belt was tightened a bit. While the designated tabletop area seemed to be thriving, including the always excellent Games on Demand (thanks to everyone who played Transit and Afterlife, by the way), it seemed there were fewer tabletop-focused booths in the Expo Hall from the small and indie side of things. Talking to some creators, the running theory is that Unplugged is actually pulling those smaller outfits away with its chiller atmosphere, singular focus on tabletop games, and cheaper costs.

Not that there was nothing, there was still a whole lot to see, play, and bring home! I’ve got four different games either purchased or gifted to look at . . . but it’ll take time to play them enough to give a comprehensive review (heck, I’ve still got some games from Unplugged to cover as well).

So, while you’ll see more in-depth coverage of games that I actually got copies of, for this we’ll be covering things that I still got to spend a bit of time with and think are worth your time as well. Some board games, some community efforts, some . . . video games!?

The Indie MEGABOOTH

Yeah, alright, so we’ve never addressed video games here at CHG before, and it won’t become a habit . . . but when in Rome, and the little folks could always use a few extra sets of eyes, right? The roving showcase of small and independent publishers that is the IMB got its start many PAX Easts ago, and has grown so much that this year there were a whopping 79 games on display. That’s way more than I could get to, so I’d recommend checking the list yourselves later, but I did find a few stand-outs.

When The Past Was Around

Developed by Indonesia-based Mojiken Studio and published by Toge Productions (who had several more games at the IMB), When The Past Was Around is billed as “an adventure point-and-click puzzle game about love, moving on, letting go, and the joy and pain of everything in between.” Clicking around beautiful hand-drawn scenes to find items and clues in order to uncover a shadowy figure’s appearance, accompanied by gorgeous and relaxing music, WTPWA was exactly the kind of charming experience I needed by the time I found a seat at its booth on Sunday. I found myself smiling most of the time . . . except for when things took a turn, and I had as many questions as the answers I’d uncovered so far. The same Prologue I played is on Steam right now for free, so give it a look and keep an eye out for the Spring 2020 release of the full game.

Ambition: A Minuet in Power

Developed by San Francisco’s Joy Manufacturing Company, Ambition sees the player taking on the roll of Yvette, a young woman of 18th century France who finds herself abandoned by her beloved in Paris. Rather than retreating to the countryside, Yvette doubles down and decides to remain in Paris to climb the social ladder. Ambition offers a lot of choices that could affect your experience: who you talk to, what you say, which allies and enemies you make, how you spend your free time, even what clothing you wear. I rapidly found myself making more friends with supporters of the Crown than the nascent Revolution, but that’s just one of the paths that this game seems to offer, so there’s potentially a lot of replayability. I’m looking forward to exploring this one further, and seeing if Yvette can evade the guillotine. You can pre-order Ambition on Backerkit and wishlist it on Steam right now.

The Iron Oath

Sometimes you just need some good old-fashioned turn-based RPG goodness, and if it comes with impressive pixel art, a medieval fantasy setting, and some pretty interesting mechanics, so much the better. Brought to us by Curious Panda Games, The Iron Oath will see the player “command and manage a company of mercenaries, taking on various contracts while building your renown across an ever-changing world.” As I watched Michelle fight her way through a cave system to try and escort refugees to safety, I was struck by how robust it was. Characters could take injuries that would persist unless the right supplies were acquired and used, and pretty much every action from moving to picking the lock on a chest to fighting demons took Time that would eventually wear on the party. Fun to look at, fun to play, I’ll be adding this one to the Steam Wishlist as well to keep an eye on it.


Broken Archer

What was staggering about Broken Archer, the first of the small tabletop booths I swung by, was the sheer quantity and variety of games Chris, Erica, and Maggie had brought to the con. There’s Extortion, their newest game currently live on Kickstarter, billed as “a 3-8 player party game where you try to convince other players that you make the best President by talking them into voting for you.” Unsurprisingly, given the title, there’s a fair bit of blackmailing going on. Stick Figure Fighters is all about equipping your own eponymous scribbled being with all the weapons, armor, and other gear they’ll need to take down the competition and be the last stick standing. Alma Magic sees Wizards attending classes to become renowned masters of magic, competing with one another and maybe even taking the fight to the teachers. And there’s another seven where those came from! You’ll be hearing more about Broken Archer, but for now check out their Kickstarter and then visit their site to find out more.

the*gameHERs

Conventions bring gamers together, but actually building a community takes a bit more effort. Enter the*gameHERs, making an appearance at East before launching this month, “a women-led community dedicated to amplifying and centering the voices of women, femme-identifying gamers and non-binary gamers in our community!” As the site points out, gamers that identify as women make up almost half of the total gaming population, but their representation and promotion aren’t equal to that.

The mission statement goes on: “This is a sexist-free space for the casual players, the hardcore gamers, the techies, the streamers, the designers, the cosplayers, the developers, and programmers. Our mission is to advance the role, voice, image, and power of all the*gameHERs in the gaming world. We welcome all humans who value this mission.” That’s about as inclusive as you can get, and it looks like they’ve got a strong start set up: community contacts, events, a podcast, and more.

Unfortunately I missed my window to talk with the founders at East, but in reading up on the*gameHERs I came across this quite excellent interview with the team’s Heather Ouida on the But Why Tho? podcast done at PAX South:

Knights of the Hound Table

I’m always keeping an eye out for games that I’ll be able to introduce our son to when he’s old enough, the sooner the better, so Knights of the Hound Table from We Ride Games immediately caught my eye. Simply put, different factions of medieval dogs find themselves facing off for honor, glory, and treats!

Each round players will pick three dogs: one for offense, one for defense, and one for their ability. They’ll place these pups face down in whatever role they wish, and then reveal them to see who takes the round! Treats can be earned to get more powerful dogs to use, and a player’s health will gradually deplete, until only one side is left standing! The production values are great, the art is both high-quality and fun, and it’s a very easy game to learn – it’s Kickstarter says it’s for ages 8 and up, but I think that’s a high number.

With a successful Kickstarter late last year, Knights of the Hound Table can be pre-ordered by the general public via the We Ride Games site.

Kroma

An abstract placement strategy game designed by Carol Mertz, Kai Karhu, Francesca Carletto-Leon, and Temitope Olujobi, Kroma stood out for its unique design and colorful display alone. 2-3 players take turns placing transparent pieces of plastic in three colors – cyan, yellow, and magenta – on a back-lit triangular board. Coming in a variety of shapes, these pieces can be placed in two layers – and as the pieces themselves are primary colors, layering them correctly creates secondary colors. There’s some wiggle room in the rules depending on whether or not you have two or three players, but the base is that each player has picked a secondary color, and the player with the most of their color on the board when it’s filled wins the game – and then everyone has a cool-looking art piece to have around until the next round!

Searching around the net it looks like Kroma actually got its start as a class project at the NYU Game Center, which is a particularly cool lifepath for a game to have taken. Talking with the team it sounded like there’s still some prototyping to be done, and once that’s taken care of we’ll see a Kickstarter, followed by publication with AdMagic/Breaking Games.


Whew! And that’s just the light-touch overview stuff! Thanks to everyone who played games and talked with me about theirs at PAX East 2020, and keep an eye out for some more in-depth reviews!

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