PAX Unplugged: Just boards, cards, minis, and dice, coming in November

Sam Machkovech
The cartoon versions of PAX co-founders Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins argue over D&D.
The cartoon versions of PAX co-founders Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins argue over D&D.
The Penny Arcade webcomic team has operated PAX (formerly Penny Arcade Expo) since 2004, and Ars Technica covers its various events every year for a reason—they're fun. More than that, PAX offers whatever fun you're looking for (at least, in the games-related space). Penny Arcade writer and PAX co-founder Jerry Holkins tells Ars Technica that the expos are like a nerd "mitochondria," with gaming subgenres (fighting, puzzles, FPSes, handheld, board gaming, and so on) existing as "organelles" that fans can flock to while attending.
PAX Unplugged, then, is the expo series' first major mitosis.
The brand-new show will debut on November 17 and will operate for three days at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. Tickets are not yet on sale. (Penny Arcade typically announces sale dates and times a few days in advance at PAX's home page and this Twitter feed.) As PAX has already accommodated a major board-, card-, and tabletop-gaming audience in the past, Holkins says much of the template of what to expect has already been built by fans at more traditional PAX events. ("I've looked down from [PAX East]'s skybridges and seen what would be an entire convention right there, just of tabletop games!")
Holkins, alongside Penny Arcade events director Ryan Hartman, tells Ars that in some respects, PAX Unplugged is a pretty selfish production. "I’ve never had a chance to go to Gen Con," Holkins says, after listing off the various PAX-related events he now attends on an annual basis. "It seems like the only way I’ll ever be able to go to a tabletop show is if I found one."
Hartman is quick to assure fans that he has been to Gen Con numerous times, in addition to other major board gaming conventions in and outside the United States. With that knowledge, he has begun putting together a show that will hopefully answer the question "Why do we need another one of these?" The block of June through October is pretty slammed with regional, national, and international board gaming shows already, and most of them have operated since even before the first PAX existed. So why another? One answer: demand, both from fans and from exhibitors. "Our other shows are reaching critical mass," Hartman says about sell-out crowds at capacity venues. "Tabletop exhibitors are not alone in wanting more space."
Hartman seems mindful of other shows' longevity and is cautious to mention major, hard changes to the usual formula—with the exception of one board game con trope. "I'm looking 100 percent at [paid] tokens and microtransaction, floor-experiential things, in a carnival-faire level," he says. "Yeah, no. That's on our radar."

Live role-playing, melting battle lines

Official signage opts for "Philly."
Official signage opts for "Philly."
He and Holkins repeatedly mention "PAX culture" as a guiding principle—as in, creating a relatively open playground of floor space, free games, new-game previews, and game-friendly events. Holkins says the live-music concerts at traditional PAX events may not fit, but he already has an idea for a replacement.
"I see us taking a cue from community there: what does a theater get used for in the evening?" Holkins says. "Right now, streamed RP [role-playing] is blowing up. The theater experience we offer at a PAX Unplugged will take cues from that community, as far as what they want to watch." Holkins didn't confirm whether PAX's popular Acquisitions, Inc. series of live, on-stage Dungeons and Dragons sessions would be part of that.
At this stage, PAX Unplugged appears to be a mix of in-flux ideas and details that are not yet being announced. Holkins and Hartman say more hard details will land during April's annual PAX East show at the Boston Convention Center. But the organizers' excitement is already heating up, with both guys confirming their love of board gaming—and their appreciation of how much the hobby has grown in the United States in the past decade.
"There used to be a very bright line between digital and table games," Holkins says, and he describes popular games on both computer and mobile devices blurring that line. "Seeing so much co-mingling of the two spaces, and the design talent on each side rapidly going back and forth—it’s interesting to watch what used to be a real battle line melt away."
Listing image by Penny Arcade
PAX Unplugged: Just boards, cards, minis, and dice, coming in November Reviewed by Bizpodia on 03:28 Rating: 5

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