PAX Australia is most definitely the best organised convention in Australia. To give a short history, ‘PAX’ standing for ‘Penny Arcade Expo’, was started by the web-cartoonists responsible for ‘Penny Arcade’. Designed to be a convention that focused on gaming, both digital and tabletop, it grew steadily, adding more and more locations to its yearly circuit including Melbourne, Australia in 2013. Its first year was a little shaky, mainly due to the fact that they didn’t anticipate how much interest they would get. A change of venue and two years later, the show has really hit its stride.
The calm before the storm. The empty showfloor before the door is open to the public.
As soon as you walk in the door your senses are overwhelmed. Colourful booths, big screens and even a real APC parked on the middle of the show floor. Let’s do a quick overview before we focus on the tabletop area. The main showfloor is dedicated to video games with the big 3 (Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo) each having a megabooth. The rest of the floor is taken up by hardware manufacturers, like Intel and Asus, as well as indie game developers. With constant give aways, competitions, and software/hardware demos, anyone with even a passing interest in video games can find plenty to occupy them here.
There were also five theatres dedicated to running panels and screenings all days. There were even a couple of panels on tabletop related subjects, including some designed to help aspiring tabletop game developers. You could find panels on the subject of pen and paper role playing as well, covering topics like ‘how to deal with a problem player’. Wizards of the Coast usually also run Magic the Gathering related panels but they were noticeably absent this year.
This brings us to the main attraction for any board and card games enthusiast, the Tabletop Tent. All of the tabletop related stalls are located in this massive area, perfect for the bargain hunters that are willing to do the legwork. The usual suspects such as Games Laboratory and Good Games are there as well as some local Melbourne retailers. A lot of stalls are offering sales and deals and you will find yourself parting with your hard earned cash before you can say ‘budget’. It might actually be worth saving up a few months before PAX to take advantage of these deals as I found some of them to be very reasonable even compared to online prices, especially considering how costly it is to ship things to Australia.
Another feature of the PAX Tabletop Tent is stalls of local developers and publishers demonstrating home grown games. Queenslands own Rule & Make were there as well, showing off a variety of games they’ve published. You will find some familiar Kickstarter success stories in this area like Fragged Empire, which we had a closer look at here. This is a great chance to check out and support Australian game developers and I enjoyed doing the rounds and checking out demos of whatever interested me. By far, the games getting the most attention, to the point of several SKUs selling out, were ‘Suddenly Drunk’ and ‘Drinking Quest’, with us Aussies clearly betraying our culture of awesome alcoholism.
There were also a lot of activities to be done in the Tabletop Tent, ranging from tournaments and free-play sessions to painting lessons and competitions. Many quick and friendly tournaments for games like Magic the Gathering and X-wings were being run on regular intervals. I took part in a 8 person free X-wing dogfight tournament and came second and found, to my pleasant surprise, that the event was sponsored by surrounding stalls, so everyone received rare promo cards. Bigger, more organised tournaments like the Dragon Ball Z card game PAX invitationals could also be found. There were even tournaments for some board/card games like Sushi Go and Ticket to Ride. When you’re getting tired and your feet are starting to hurt from endlessly wandering around the show floor, these awesome tournaments are a perfect way to have a rest and unwind.
By far, my favourite part of PAX is the free-play area where you can borrow from a massive and impressive library of board games and card games and play to your heart’s content. The collection of games was far ranging with multiple copies of some of the more popular games like ‘Ticket to Ride’. This is a perfect opportunity to discover new games, try out that game you’ve had your eye on, or simply introduce your favourite game to friends. Even if you are traversing PAX alone or with small group of friends, everyone is friendly enough to make this is a great way to meet new people or even make friends by joining them for a game of something.
All in all, it was a great 3 days packed full of fun and games. PAX Aus has become my yearly pilgrimage and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. If you think you would enjoy even half the things I’ve described here, I recommend you make it your pilgrimage too.