One hallmark of any PAX, whether it be Prime in Seattle or East in Boston, is a hopping tabletop gaming scene. During my weekend at PAX Prime 2011, I surveyed the crowds of gamers have distilled all of that geek energy into it's most potent form: the top ten list. Whether a game was a frequently-spotted new release or an unreleased title with a crowd clamoring for info or a demonstration, this list contains the cream of the crop.
10) Super Dungeon Explore
Super Dungeon Explore is an unreleased title from Soda Pop Minis, who consistently had a crowd waiting to check out the upcoming game. Soda Pop's expertise is in sculpting some of the coolest miniatures around, so the look of this game is obviously one of its strong points. The other is its ability to boil a true dungeon-crawling adventure into a roughly 90 minute playtime.
Descent blew the doors on this genre back in 2005, but nobody has yet perfected a formula to wrestle down that title's 4 hours length. Some (D&D Adventures Series) have succeeded by going purely co-op, but others have (Tomb) have taken the same aim as Super Dungeon Explore and failed. It will be exciting to watch this game go for the gold when it releases later this year.
9) Penny Arcade: Gamers Versus Evil
It's pretty much a guarantee that a Penny Arcade-themed game is going to be a big hit at a Penny Arcade-run convention. The big question was how Penny Arcade The Game: Gamers Vs. Evil would separate itself from the massive crowd of deck building games. After some demo play, I can report back that this might be the best introductory game for the genre, as cards are kept light and simple, yet the theme is executed well enough to add in the right amount of silliness and fun. Dominion vets might need not apply, unless you want to convert a few friends to the hobby, that is.
Already being discussed as one of the hottest games of 2011, Quarriors was not even available for purchase at any of the vendors, nor was publisher WizKids there to represent their game. Instead, Quarriors came packed in the bags of in-the-know attendees, giving it a surprising amount of table time considering its complete lack of promotion at the con. Another game based on the popular deck building mechanic, Quarriors separates itself from the pack by using dice instead of cards. If you are a fan of rolling dice, then this will be right up your alley. The base game includes 130 of them!
7) Gears of War
If PAX were any other con, Fantasy Flight Games would probably be represented on this list with its sequel to The Adventurers, Rune Age, or the dice game version of Arkham Horror, Elder Sign. Instead, Gears of War was their top offering this weekend. Although the FFG always had a crowd waiting to demo all four of the above games, Gears of War was the only one to be spotted multiple times being played out in the wild.
6) The Legend of Drizzt
Yet another dungeon crawling game! Are we seeing a PAX theme yet? Video gamers love hacking and slashing. The Legend of Drizzt is the third entry into the D&D Adventures line, and gamers clearly are ready for more. This version keeps up the buzz around the series by breaking out fan-favorite Drizzt Do'Urden and the Neverwinter setting. The game is basically "epic level" D&D Adventures, where the monsters are vicious but the heroes are also quite powerful. New additions include quarter-tile caps and diagonal pieces that can be used to round off the walls of a cavern, as well as new powers that involve a hero's stance.
5) Fortune and Glory
Flying Frog Productions is back at it with a highly-stylized take on 1930's pulp adventure. Players go on a worldwide treasure hunt, but Nazis, Chicago mobsters, and other dangers stand in their way. The game uses a card challenge mechanic with cliffhanger moments that must wait until future turns to be resolved, giving it that true pulp movie feel.
There was some doubt about this game given its steep $100 price tag, but those who had the chance to demo this game were voting with their dollars. I saw at least four copies make their way into the open play area. Yet while that number may seem insignificant, it's not. For one, it's just a small sample, but also take into account that buying a gigantic game like Fortune and Glory (I do not exaggerate, the box is gigantic) in the middle of a crowded con is a serious commitment. You're signing up to lug that thing around all day, and potentially fly it home! For these gamers, it was worth it.
"In 1878 the Polish genius Rynchowski isolated an electrical fluid with remarkable lifting capabilities. A single, pivotal event that would change the world." That one sentence gives all of the background you need to understand Leviathans, an early-1900's steampunk combat game where naval combat has evolved to use levitating ships rather than seafaring vessels.
I sat down for a demo at the Catalyst Game Labs play area and was impressed by the system. Cumbersome movement constantly reminds you that you are steering hulking masses of steel and electrical fluid, not nimble fighters. The combat also accurately represents encounters between these heavily armored beasts, as it will take several turns to sufficiently damage a ship. There are no lucky "one shot, one kill" dice rolls here. In Leviathans, you need to prove yourself the better field tactician and survive a war of attrition. This is absolutely a miniatures combat system worth looking out for when it launches later this year.
3) Small World Underground
Small World Underground is Small World for the hardcore gaming set, as was discussed in last week's review. What defines a "hardcore gamer," you might ask? Travelling great distances to spend an entire weekend playing games is a good start. For the same reason as several other games on this list, Small World Underground makes the cut because of the sheer number of gamers purchasing copies at the con. Of all the games I saw being opened up and punched for the first time, Underground topped the list.
2) Paint the Line
Paint the Line may be a ways off from release, but its beta test debut attracted a steady stream of gamers all weekend long. Based on the Penny Arcade web comic's plot run of the same name, Paint the Line is a Cold War-themed ping pong trading card game. I'll let that sink in a little bit for those not familiar with the strip. The gameplay is solid and actually manages to bring something unique to card gaming: the same cards can be used for either a TCG or a deck building card game. The game's designer, video game industry vet Steve Bowler, was on hand to run demos for the crowds, and we'll be following up with him for a closer look at Paint the Line in the coming weeks.
1) Any game played on a Geek Chic table
Face it, when you've got one of these, it doesn't matter what game you are playing. It's not that Geek Chic hasn't been around before, but this time they showed up with the most deluxe of deluxe tables. Pictured here is "The Sultan," one of Geek Chic's swankiest offerings. The other table attracting a lot of attention at PAX Prime was the Locus, a table with a full-size touchscreen built into the top.
The technology in use here is called NUIT, an OS-independent solution that allows users to run games from their platform of choice. Touch technologies, such as the Microsoft Surface, have been demoed at previous PAXes with versions of Settlers of Catan or Dungeons and Dragons running on them, but never before has a touchscreen looked so beautiful.