Another PAX has come and gone, with attendees filled to the brim with indies, badges, panels and lots of swag. I toured the show floor over the three days. Here's what stuck out to me from the show floor.
Azul, Azul, Azul
Having just won this year's Spiel des Jahres, it's no surprise that Azul was popular on the show floor. Every time I went to borrow a copy for myself and some TAYbies, it either wasn't available or someone else was in the line ... already borrowing it. Enforcers had a copy or two on the floor for teaching, which was the most reliable way of trying the ceramic drafting game.
But even without the plaudits, Azul was always going to be popular on the show floor. Games run from 30 to 45 minutes, a good length of time for a convention. Components are colourful, the abstract strategy is eye-catching and wonderfully tactile.
Anything with a big bag that you draw from is good fun, and having instant clarity on what everyone can draw, what everyone needs and the directions everyone needs to go instantly gets people thinking. It's no surprise Azul won the Spiel des Jahres this year, and even less surprising that it was a hit in the tabletop section.
Speaking simulators and lawnmowers
There were plenty of familiar faces in the indies section this year: Agent A, DUSK and AMID EVIL, Dead Static Drive returned and more of Necrobarista was playable.
But in the regular indie section - not the handpicked PAX indie winners, or indies at separate publisher booths - I kept hearing chatter about two games in particular.
The first was Speaking Simulator, a game about infiltrating humanity and bringing about its downfall. Small problem: you have to pretend to be a human first, which involves manipulating a tongue and facial muscles accurately enough to convince other humans.
It's the kind of game that's infectious to watch, but the mechanics are surprisingly quite difficult. You're essentially playing with two parts: the face, which is controlled by clicking and dragging with the mouse, and the tongue which is controlled with WASD.
Moving the tongue is a bit like moving a shopping trolley. It has a substantial weight and is prone to flopping out of the mouth, or onto the wrong trigger point entirely. It was difficult enough that it soured the experience by the end, although that only made things funnier for spectators.
Another favourite was Lethal Lawns, a top-down local co-op game about competitive lawn mowing. Each game was split over rounds of three, with the winner being the person who earned the most money. Players can be temporarily taken out if they get hit by the side of a lawnmower, which spills coins all over the ground.
Other games worth a quick mention: Ashen, the Annapurna production that was hugely popular every time I walked past; Fuze, a 10 minute co-operative board game about defusing bombs that is a fantastic addition to anyone's library; Segrada, a great alternative to Azul if you can't find a copy; and Spin Rhythm, a neat rhythm game with a great controller that DJ Hero fans would love.
Lethal Lawns launched earlier this year, but the developers were doing a "pay what you think its worth" promotion on the show floor. That was nice for families who rocked up and just quickly wanted keys for cheap. It made me wonder whether it encouraged other devs to effectively race to the bottom with discounts, but from all the chats I've had with devs at PAX, most of the money they make isn't from game sales anyway - it's merchandise.
The expo hall felt a little roomier
Both the tabletop and expo halls underwent a slight restructure this year, the latter most prominently. The indie games were immediately adjacent to the queue hall, rather than backing onto the tabletop section like it has in years previous.
But the biggest change was in the expo hall. It wasn't quite as jam packed, which is perhaps best illustrated by comparing the floor plans from 2017 and 2018:
One reading of this is that there's less stuff at PAX, although I found I actually enjoyed having a bit more room to move around the expo hall. It wasn't as if there were an absence of indies to play or blockbusters to queue up for - Ubisoft's circular booth did a great job of drawing people in for this with The Division 2.
The changed layout made the show floor easier to traverse, which was a lifesaver. I've traditionally dodged the expo hall if I want to get from one end of PAX to another: it's too busy, there's too many people standing around booths and it's more of a hassle than it needs to be. Saturday was still packed, but it wasn't as much of a trouble go through the tabletop section, through the middle to the indie section, which was nice.
Extra bonus: the media room also got moved this year. I was just by the front entrance, which was infinitely easier to access. Thank you immensely, dear organisers.
A nice, modular table
In the tabletop section there was a small booth for Monty Haul, a group that were selling dining tables for gamers. When you wanted to have dinner, you've got a regular 4, 6 or 8 seater table. But when you want to play something, you can open up the top to reveal a wide playing area.
There's a hard plastic sheet you can draw on with a whiteboard marker, handy for D&D. And you can store sheets and miniatures underneath, pop the lid back on and carry on with dinner.
It's a nice idea - minus the part where the 4 seater table costs $2000 plus another $300 for shipping. The only problem is that the table itself is fairly plain, just as a table and a table that costs $2000.
But the idea is cool. I've seen some modular addons for dining tables on Kickstarter, but a dedicated gaming/dining table with a bit of class would be so much nicer. I'd be surprised if we didn't see an IKEA or mass manufacturer jump on the idea before too long. Gamers, after all, will pay for quality.
If it's quality.
What were your favourite moments from PAX this year?