Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to go to PAX? Sometimes you want to PAX where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came. You wanna PAX where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna PAX where everybody knows your name. You want to PAX where people know, PAXers are all the same. You want to PAX where everybody knows your name.
Wow. 6 years. I can hardly believe it. I would like to promise I won’t begin all future PAX reports saying that I can’t believe how long it’s been, but I don’t think I can keep that promise. This is wild. I do really think the Cheers theme song is a great for the pilgrimage to PAX. Maybe not to the same degree it fits CVGC. Or maybe differently? Either way, it really is a great time and I’m sorry we couldn’t all make it this year. Anyway, I won’t bore you with the highs and lows from all 6 years, but let me just tell you it’s the same as last year. Bus. Fucking. Nachos. Can’t be topped. Fog of Love was a wild ride this year that might have given Two Rooms and a Boom a run for its money if it had been more than just 3 of us, but I’ve said too much. Also, I fear I broke my promise about not boring you with the highs and lows… Probably bus nacho related brain damage.
Michael, Patrick, Drew, myself, and, for logistical reasons, Erica left College Station for San Antonio Thursday afternoon. We made a quick stop at the Bastrop Spec’s and then headed straight for the Bottling Department Food Hall at Pearl – a room on the old Pearl campus that has been turned into a food hall with various vendors – think upscale food court. With a bar. That’s redundant – you obviously already pictured a bar. I had some delicious ramen from Tenko Ramen. The hall also had a burger joint, which was met with rave reviews, as well as a chicken place and a vegetarian place. Their hours are kind of limited Sunday through Thursday and we didn’t make it in time last year, but this year we did make it in plenty of time before they closed.
After enjoying the meal, we made our way to the house – just two doors down from where we stayed last year. This year we had a larger house with two floors and two living rooms – perfect for larger groups, we thought. Sadly, a larger group did not materialize, but it was still a good place for us. We had a house beer (thank god Erica had cold beer) and played Obscurio while we waited for Matt’s arrival.
Obscurio is a hidden role picture game. The players find themselves trapped in a sorcerer’s house. One of them is the sorcerer’s apprentice, trying to stop them from escaping, and another is one of the sorcerer’s victims, trying to help the players escape. As expected, I was the traitor. I had them going pretty well and it came down to the final turn – they had to all be right or else I would win and the deck was stacked against them. Somehow, they were all right and I lost. It was a nail biter.
About the time we were wrapping up Obscurio, Matt arrived. At this point, Erica, Patrick, Drew, and I went to HEB because it was about to close. We did not go to the same HEB as last year (it was already closed for the night), but this one’s beer selection wasn’t much better. We got the usual fair – stuff for breakfast sandwiches, beer, and junk food. They did not have any 40s, so Matt and I couldn’t have a 40s race. The closest they had was 32oz Modelo and, while I know we would have both rather had that, we also have some standards on what we’ll call a 40s race!
Back at the house, we busted out the Plinys that David so generously sent with Erica. Thank you, David! Talk about starting PAX off on the right foot! The rest of the weekend’s beer, while very good, would all be downhill from here. Michael took the opportunity to pose for some degenerate pictures with a Pliny bottle to get a rise out of some of his friends. It worked.
As we sipped on our Plinys, we started a round of Codenames. Codenames has a grid of 25 cards with a single word on them – some are red spies, some are blue spies, some are innocent civilians, and 1 is an assassin. Each team has a clue giver each round, giving one word clues to try and get their teammates to choose the appropriate spies. Michael, Erica, and I were robbed and lost to the team of Patrick, Matt, and Drew. I’m not convinced they weren’t cheating, but I can’t prove it. We didn’t get skunked, though, winning the round where Michael was our team’s clue giver.
Next, we played a game of Imaginiff. Once again, we needed a ghost player and “Dirty –t-sip Dave” made an appearance. I don’t know who this fellow is, David, but I’m worried he’s sullying your good name. Imaginiff has players vote on tough questions, like which Winnie-the-Pooh character Drew is or who would be the first to talk if we were arrested during a bank heist. I don’t remember who won this, but it was a close finish.
That about does it for Thursday. We stayed up too late, had too much fun, and drank too much. Sounds about right for a day at PAX.
That brings us to Friday morning. The first day of PAX. Scooters weren’t nearly as popular as last year, so that was nice. We made the uneventful walk past the Alamodome and got in line for admittance to PAX. It was a pretty short line and ended up probably being the longest we saw all weekend. Wouldn’t have even been worth mentioning except we did have at least one long line last year. At this point Michael was already at PAX (probably playing the demo for the Divinity Original Sin board game) and Matt, Patrick, Erica, and I set off to make the rounds of the expo hall.
It's always neat to see what’s in the expo hall, but my priority at PAX is usually to play board games in the tabletop area and hangout with friends. That said, no trip to PAX is complete without making at least one full pass through the expo hall.
Woot laying the smackdown on Matt in Shot One.
One game that grabbed my attention was Shot One, which appeared to more or less be a Windjammers clone. I beat Matt. How embarrassing for him. Embarrassing for Shot One, Windjammers 2 was also there and, well, more or less a Windjammers clone. Shot One isn’t available yet, but it sounds like it will just be local co-op – at least at launch. Windjammers 2 is also not available yet and I left with the impression it was just local co-op, but their Steam page says Online PvP, so I’m probably wrong.
Another game that grabbed my attention was Greak. Its art style was eye catching and side-scrolling adventures are usually something I enjoy, so it may be worth keeping an eye on. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it looks like it’s coming to Nintendo Switch. I’d probably prefer to play it on PC, so that may be a dealbreaker for me. Anything’s possible, though.
A game all 4 of us played was Klask. It’s kind of like a tabletop version of air hockey with marbles and magnets. It was really fun and I could definitely see something like a Klask beer league. We all played the 2 player version, but there is also a 4 player version. I’m not sure if that’s teams or everyone for themselves. I played against Erica and the game was close, but she was triumphant at the end. I don’t think we scored it correctly, though, and she actually cleaned my clock. But I might have played differently if I’d known all the scoring rules.
To nobody’s surprise, but everyone’s dismay, everyone's favorite haberdashery, the Blonde Swan, was not in attendance. And we didn’t realize it at this point, but the Reaper Miniatures booth was also not there to everyone’s surprise. I believe this was their first year to not be at PAX South. In looking up their site for this article, I found out they have their own convention in Denton, Texas September 3-6. So, you know, if that’s your thing, maybe you should check it out. Oh, and they’re selling koala and kangaroo minis to raise money for Australian bushfire relief.
Patrick and Matt left to join Michael in the tabletop area while Erica and I wrapped up the expo hall. I think our main other stop was the Larian booth (of Divinity Original Sin fame). A booth we would visit many times throughout the weekend. In fact, you can probably just assume that every 3 rd or 4 th paragraph should be about a quick trip to Larian to, you know…make sure they were still there; see how things were going; make sure no new pins were out. Standard stuff.
After meeting up in the tabletop area, Michael, Erica, and I went to go check out the Fog of Love demo. Which turned out to be less a demo and more playing the whole game. It’s a two player game where you create characters and go through relationship situations to try and fulfill your character’s needs. And I say two player game, but our play through was made significantly better by Erica commenting on our relationship and the decisions we were making. In fact, if you’re reading this Fog of Love, you should really hire Erica for your demos as a third player of sorts. I think you can expect a full write up of Fog of Love. Suffice to say for now, it was a great storytelling game. This was not one that I expected to like and I even halfheartedly tried to convince Michael he should play it with Matt instead, but I am so glad I played it and I actually ended up buying it on Sunday.
At this point, we joined back up with Patrick, Matt, and Drew. I grabbed a copy of Getaway Driver – a game by Tim Fowers – while they grabbed a copy of Azul. I didn’t really pay that much attention to Azul, but I know they played it later, too, and it seemed to be universally liked. Getaway Driver is a 2 player asymmetric game, where one player is a criminal trying to drive around town and pick up loot and the other player controls the police force, trying to close in on the criminal. You can also combine 2 copies of this to have 2 criminals (and either a 3 or 4 player game – not sure. Maybe both?). Drew was going to play Getaway Driver with me, but we decided that this wasn’t the right time to learn the game and put it back before going to the Indie Showcase with Michael.
Drew, Michael, and I first sought out Mantis Falls in the Indie Showcase. This is a 2-3 player hidden role game. One player has witnessed a crime and is trying to get out of town to safety. The other player is either also a witness, or is an assassin sent to stop the witness from escaping. As the witness, you win if all players get out of town (yes, even the assassin – a mechanic I’m not entirely sure I understand) or you kill the assassin. As the assassin, you win if you kill the witness. The 3 player variant is guaranteed to have 2 witnesses and then, again, the 3 rd player is either also a witness or an assassin. You know your role, but don’t know the role of either of the other players. Mantis Falls should hit Kickstarter at the end of March.
All of the Mantis Falls demoes were full at this point, so we sat down at a neighboring demo for a game called Set the Watch. No matter how much I insist, this is a game about guarding camps from monsters and has nothing to do with wristwatches. There are 4 characters and 3 of them have to defend the camp while a 4 th maintains the camp and rests. You use various powers based on your character and your dice rolls and can exhaust the powers which you can recover by resting at camp. If everyone fully exhausts their powers, you lose. The expo hall was closing by this point, so we didn’t get to play a full game (not sure if we would have, anyway), so we aren’t sure how the difficulty ramps up. I was kind of lukewarm on it, but really liked the packaging and the price was right, so I have since ordered a copy online. Because I didn’t buy enough games at PAX. And don’t have enough games :-p
After this, I decided I needed to wet my whistle with some of my contraband whisky, so I went with Michael to get a soda. Before I could get somewhere to spike my soda with a modicum of discretion, Michael and I say down at the booth for Atlantis Rising (second edition) and played through a game. Atlantis Rising is a co-operative worker placement game where you play Atlanteans who have pissed off the crybaby Atlantean gods who have decided that they should deal with it by destroying Atlantis. You have until Atlantis is destroyed to gather the materials you need to build various devices that help you and power a gate off Atlantis. We won with, I think, probably a few turns to spare. To be honest, I was getting tired of that island, anyway. Good riddance!
It was getting close to concert o’clock at this point. Matt and Patrick returned to the house while Michael, Drew, Erica, and I went to the Riverwalk Mall to grab a quick bit before going to the concerts. The mall’s food court was definitely a massive step down from the food court at Pearl, but it got the job done, and we returned to PAX for the concerts.
At this point, I had a cup of soda from dinner, so I added my whiskey to that. Probably better to have it for the concert, anyway. We got to the concert a bit after it started and had trouble finding space for 4 people, but we got 3 with an open seat behind them. The first act was Mariachi Entertainment System – a Mariachi band that covers music from classic videogames as well as other music – mostly videogame covers at PAX. They were very fun. We did get there before they had a shot of tequila. Looks like they also have tequila tasting videos. Second up was Bit Brigade, which features Michael on bass and whom Erica was representing with a t-shirt. The theater thinned out a little bit for this one, so we could all sit next to each other. Or, rather, we could have if Michael hadn’t been on stage. They played the music of Mega Man 3 while someone played through the game. Lastly, we had Freezepop. They were a lot of fun, but I guess the theater didn’t agree as it thinned considerably. I tried to overcompensate by cheering obnoxiously for each song. In trying to find a link to use for them, I found what looks like it’s intended to include the whole PAX South 2020 concert. It cuts off near the end of Bit Brigade and has no Freezepop, though. That link should start at MES, but if not, you can jump to 10:25:21.
After the concerts we had a very mundane and uneventful walk home. Just kidding! Erica started skipping home, so I joined her. I don’t remember if Drew or Michael did. But it was the right decision. We did have some other excitement, too, in the form of getting back to the house and Drew didn’t have his badge. He, Michael, and I set off to retrace our steps to see if we could find his badge. After determining he had it at under the overpasses, I raced off, leaping over obstacles in the Alamodome parking lot. I slid down the railing of the stairs. I thought I saw it up ahead when a roving gang of scooter soldiers arrived. I fought them all off, claiming Drew’s badge as my prize, and set off home, wondering where they were. I got to the top of the stairs and met them. There was much rejoicing.
We capped off Friday night with a couple games at the house. Matt taught us all to play Binding of Isaac. I don’t think we finished it, but it did seem chaotic and fun. I lucked into drawing Matt’s favorite character, Maggie, and at one point had a glass cannon which I used to wreck Matt. It required rolling a 6, which I did, and then Matt forced me to reroll, and I rolled another 6. Nice try, Matt. I’m sure you already have read Matt’s full review, but you can revisit it here.
Next, we played Space Base. It’s a bit of an engine builder where you develop your space fleet to buy more ships and trigger various powers, but mostly gain more resources to buy ships and points. I think engine builder is a little generous, but there’s certainly some of it there. It takes the Settlers of Catan mechanism, where everyone gains resources every time someone rolls. It kind of takes this a little further, where you can pretty easily gain significantly more resources while other players are rolling. I like it. I was doing pretty well until Drew insisted on rolling 11s every time, which gave Michael, like, a million points. Michael won.
Matt, Woot, and Drew working hard on building the perfect True Dungeon characters.
Saturday rolled around and we prepared to head off for adventure at True Dungeon. Sam had talked about joining us on Saturday, which would have been a blast, but it sadly did not work out in the end. Hopefully next year! Anticipating long lines, we probably left earlier than we needed to with our 11 AM True Dungeon timeslot. But Patrick, Erica, and I used a fair amount of that extra time by heading to the third floor first, where True Dungeon has historically been, and then waiting through weird lines and going the long way around to get to the expo hall, only to discover that you couldn’t gain entrance to True Dungeon through the expo hall, despite it looking like you pretty obviously did on the map. We still had plenty of time, though – we’d planned to enter True Dungeon at 10:30 and we still had at least 10 minutes. Drew joined us before too much longer and we all entered for the Infernal Redoubt module. This was the 3 rd part of a 3-part adventure – the first being Abyssal Swamp and the second being Path of Death. After last year, Michael and I thought that having the closure of the 3 rd part would be the most satisfying. There will 100% be a series of True Dungeon reports this year – in fact, part 1 is already available here! Stay tuned for more installments at your favorite website, cvgc.net.
I won’t spoil any of True Dungeon here, but it wrapped up at 1 PM and most of us were hungry. Michael returned to the convention to grab some food while the rest of us went to Yard House for lunch. Lunch – as opposed to dinner – at Yard House turned out to be a pretty good decision. I had some pasta and clam chowder. The pasta was fine and the chowder was pretty good. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably get a bowl of the chowder. Or maybe the macaroni Erica got. While we waited for our food, we got in a few rounds of Love Letter. Maybe just 1. I know I got my letter all the way to the princess in 1 round. Nobody ordered a yard of beer, but that’s probably for the best.
We returned to PAX and I think Patrick and Matt headed off for the tabletop area and Drew went to the Angry Video Game Nerd panel. I know that Erica and I went off to the expo hall – probably with a stop at Larian but then on to Mantis Falls to see if they had any loaner copies on hand. They did not, but they did have a demo wrapping up, so we sat down and played through the game. I enjoyed it. We got off to a very rough start and I’m not sure if that’s normal, but it was definitely fun. You can catch a full write up of our play through at this site very soon!
Next, we met up with everyone in the tabletop area to play Just One. This was a fun party game where one player has a word they need to guess and the other players are each allowed to write down one word to get the guesser to get the right word. The catch is that if two or more people write down the same word, those clues are eliminated. So, let’s say you have “Helicopter” and two people write down “Rotor” as a clue, you don’t get to know “Rotor”. It was fun. We did well enough the first round and then we did extremely well the second round.
Next, we played Wingspan – going into PAX, I think if you told Michael he could only play one game, this would have been his choice. It’s a game where you’re all bird enthusiasts, trying to attract “the best” birds to your wildlife preserves. I don’t know that I have a better way to describe it, but I feel like it’s a bit misleading. I always felt like I was buying birds for my wildlife preserves, rather than developing my wildlife preserves to attract birds, but maybe that’s just me being pedantic. Regardless, it was a lot of fun and a very good engine building game. I was producing a lot of food for my birds, which was a pretty scarce commodity (at least at the beginning), but I didn’t shift away from food production early enough to get important things, like points. But I still had fun with my cherry and wheat machine and like to think I was making cherry pies ;-)
This was getting pretty late and we hadn’t eaten in a while, so we went off to Maria Mia for some Tex-Mex on the river walk. We were there in year 2 and remembered it being pretty good. We all had delicious margaritas and I enjoyed some crawfish enchiladas. It was starting to get cold outside, so we caught a Lyft back to the house.
Back at the house, we learned there had been a monster truck show at the Alamodome earlier in the day. There had been some event parking that day, but I think we assumed it was for overflow at PAX. But, nope – it was for Monster Jam! Could have been a fun thing for someone to do if they were PAXed out, but I don’t think any of us were close. Also, it’s San Antonio – we probably could have found something better to do if we were PAXed out :-p
Our timing was impeccable, as I believe Patrick and Matt were finishing up a game of Binding of Isaac and it was time for a new game. We started it off with a rematch of Codenames. It went less well for my team this time. It was late and the game wasn’t proving to be super engaging, so we moved on.
We then dove into Detective Club. It’s a simple game – the clue giver has a hand of cards with funky pictures on them, like Dixit if you’re familiar with that (made by the same people). The clue giver looks at their cards and comes up with a word they think can describe two of the cards and then plays one of those cards. While the other players look at the card, the clue giver then writes their one-word clue on all the notepads except one, shuffles them up, and passes them out. At this point, all but one of the players knows the word. Everyone that knows the word plays a card to try and match the word while the one that doesn’t know the word only has the clue giver’s card to work off. After that, the clue giver plays their second card and all the players then play a second card. At this point, the clue giver reveals the word to everyone and explains why they picked the two cards they picked. Then each of the other players explains why they picked their cards given the word. If you didn’t know the word, you have to BS your way through it. Then, everyone votes on who they think didn’t know the word. I thought it was fun, but it also wasn’t proving to be too engaging, so we moved on to something that took less thinking.
Enter: Joking Hazard. This game is made by Cyanide & Happiness and includes a bunch of panels of comic strips. One is randomly flipped over and then the active player plays one from their hand to make the first 2 frames of the comic strip. Then, everyone else plays one from their hand for the strip’s punchline. Similar to Cards Against Humanity, the active player then picks their favorite and play passes around. It’s a fun mindless game that gets people laughing and we played it well into the night.
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Sunday was off to a great start because, much to everyone’s delight, Kim joined us! Probably Matt was especially delighted. It was still chilly, but the sun was out and it wasn’t windy, like the night before, so we were able to make the walk to PAX comfortably.
People were trickling in to the Alamodome – seems that Monster Jam was here for a second day. But, there was no time for monster trucks – we had more of PAX to see! I began my Sunday at PAX by buying Fog of Love. We then kind of regrouped before going out to the expo hall for more purchases. This was convenient because I didn’t have to carry Fog of Love with me.
I accompanied Erica to the Larian booth where she preordered the Divinity Original Sin board game. We had never found a time where the wait was less than 2 hours to demo it, but Michael highly recommended it.
We then tried to find the vendor with chainmail dice bags for my True Dungeon tokens. I think we had looked at literally every dice vendor (there are a lot!) before we found them at the Norse Foundry booth. They were quite a bit more expensive than I remembered from last year, so I didn’t buy one. Although looking at pictures, I think I misremembered how much they were. And I will probably get one next year if we do True Dungeon again.
This had us over by the Fowers Games booth, and I always like stopping by there, so we did and I added Getaway Driver to my collection of games from Tim Fowers. I really like all of his games I’ve played and like the concept of this one, so looking forward to playing it.
During this time a game trying to marry pinball with hack ‘n’ slash and maybe puzzles caught both of our attentions: Creature in the Well. It may be worth checking out. From what I saw, it seemed more like puzzles than hack ‘n’ slash, but they definitely bill it as “pinball inspired hack ‘n’ slash”.
Drew, Erica, and I then sat down to play Paranormal Detectives. This game has someone playing the ghost of some recently deceased person and we ask them questions, which they answer in strange ways, and we try to figure out who killed them, how they died, why, where, etc. I first asked what was used to kill her and asked for a sound clue. The answer was “BOOM!”. Erica then asked where she died and the answer had to be delivered via an anagram of sorts communicated through something vaguely resembling a Ouija board. Drew then asked who killed her and she had to reply by placing sliders to show us he was green, old-ish, and neither good nor evil. Our fourth player asked how she died and she gave the answer by holding his wrist and moving it to make a drawing. And our fifth player asked what the murderer’s reaction was and she had to mime the answer. Seemed like it could be fun with the right group, but then our demo was cut short by the 5 th player solving it :-|
We then returned to the group in the tabletop area and played Wits and Wagers. Wits and Wagers is a game where you have a question with a numeric answer and then everyone writes down their guess. Those numbers are then arranged in order and players bet on the range they think the right answer is – larger than all of them, lower than all of them, or somewhere in between two adjacent numbers. It’s a good party game - easy and silly.
Next, we played Deception: Murder in Hong Kong. This game has the players trying to solve a murder by figuring out the murder weapon and the murder clue – the catch is that one of the players is the murderer! We had enough people to also have an accomplice who knew the murderer and a witness who knew which two players were the murderer and the accomplice, but not which was which. The accomplice gets to watch as the murderer picks the murder weapon and clue. Everyone else is an investigator. Oh, and another player plays the forensic scientist – this player can give clues to point the investigators in the right direction and then players discuss the possible weapons and clues in front of everyone and how they match the clues. After 6 clues are given by the forensic scientist, everyone has a moment to explain where they’re at, and then we get 4 more clues. This cycle repeats and then one final round of 4 more clues. You can guess at any time, but then your guesses are done. You can still contribute to the discussion. Investigators win by identifying the murder weapon and the clue. Unless the murderer and accomplice identify the witness. Murderer (and accomplice) win if nobody guesses the right murder weapon and clue or if they identify the witness. Patrick was the murderer and I was the witness. A card we got turned the game into only 2 rounds, which was good. It came down to the final guess, but they did finally get the weapon and clue right. Luckily for us, we were able to identify the witness, so we won!
Around this time, Patrick, Matt, and Kim returned to the house – Matt and Kim to pack up and begin the drive home. Patrick to watch the rest of the Titans @ Chiefs game. Meanwhile, we checked out our last game from the tabletop library – Quirky Circuits. This is a programming game with various scenarios. We were supposed to move a Roomba with a cat on it around a room to clean up all the dust bunnies. And any vases we might “accidentally” knock over. We got all the dust bunnies and the vase we broke, but we didn’t manage to return to the base station. Honestly, sounds like normal Roomba behavior, but apparently it’s not quite a win. It was pretty fun. It seemed like it would be a good educational game.
We returned Quirky Circuits and then made one last trip through the expo hall. Where se sat down at the Skybound Games booth to play Trial by Trolley – another game made in collaboration with those Cyanide and Happiness folks. In this game, one player is the trolley conductor and has to choose a side of the track to travel down, killing everything in its way. It’s up to the players to get the conductor to choose the other side of the track. You begin by flipping over a random card on each side. These cards are things a reasonable person wouldn’t want to kill. Each player then plays another card from their hand onto their side of the track to make it that much more unthinkable to run over. Each player then plays a bad card on the other players track to try and entice the conductor that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if It went down that track. Finally, each player plays a modifier card to change one of the panels. For example, Erica and I had all but won a round against Michael and a stranger until they modified the pack of alt-right velociraptors on our side to make it so that one of them had stalked the conductor since preschool. Apparently, he wasn’t ok with that. So not ok with it that he was willing to burn down Yosemite National Park to kill the raptor. That was Erica’s only loss. I was a real handicap. I have since preordered it from here, but I’m not sure it was worth the preorder after factoring in shipping – but it is (presumably) the only way to get the kickstarter exclusive expansion. And possibly the only way to get the ultra deluxe edition.
And that’ll do it for this chapter of PAX. We actually had the house until Monday morning, so we went back, packed up, and then made the trek back to College Station. Poor Erica had to then continue on the trek to Houston. For those of you that were there – I’m glad you were able to make the trip and thank you for making PAX better. For those of you that couldn’t make it: sorry it didn’t work out this year and I hope that, if you want to, you can make it next year!
You can find the album of PAX South 2020 photos here.