PAX Australia 2018: The Things That Stood Out

PAX Australia 2018: The Things That Stood Out
Image: Alex Walker/Kotaku
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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:

The PAX Australia 2018 floor plan above, PAX Australia 2017 below. Image: PAX/Reed Pop

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?


  • My favourite thing at PAX is always meeting the people I only ever see online other than at PAX. It’s always cool to catch up with them in real life.

    Also meeting Dave from Dodge Roll games and Graeme Struthers from Devolver on Sunday was a highlight. Both were great to talk to.

    Sadly, I never did succeed in my mission to meet Serrels, though.

  • The Lee Carvallo’s Simpson Game Reviewing Challenge panel was fantastic. It was an hour or so of Simpson’s nostalgia.

    Dungeon Crawl was hilarious as always as well!

  • OK these new ads (more?? really?? where else can they possibly fit some ads??) where the full article picture is completely replaced by an ad for a number of seconds is ridiculous.

  • $3k for an 8 seater table with all sorts of extra features isn’t that terrible.

    People (myself included) really underestimate the cost of dining tables until they have to buy one.
    I think we did pretty good recently when we paid $2.4k for a big chunky 12 seater that’s wide enough to squeeze in 14.

    Sure you can get tables for much less. Cheapest 8-10 seater tables at IKEA are like $350 but if you want something solid that will last then you hit $1000+ pretty quickly. Especially if you’re looking for some specific colors and sizes to fit the room and the house style.

    And don’t get me started on chairs.

  • Definitely felt the less exhibitors in the hall… More room was fantastic I agree but comparatively there was less to see. Would be good to use that queueing hall more efficiently next year!

  • While the Expo Hall was better spaced they need to have a good long look at rearranging where promoters like Nvidia and HyperX have their stages (they were literally facing each other across the aisle). The gaggle of show-goers looking to score some lame swag absolutely choked the pathways.

    • Yeah, they could lose the shouty bros and make the experience much better. Those two booths were desperately trying to out do each other and all we go was pointless noise and crowds.

  • I’d missed the last two I think but jesus, more room? It was absolutely PACKED on Saturday. The queues were a joke, people getting turned away from numerous exhibits because there was too many. It felt like they sold way too many tickets, or there wasn’t enough facilities for demoing etc.
    Might just be this particular year, but there was hardly any games that were AAA that were available. Rage 2, Fallout 76, Skyrim (can’t remember what it was) were all spammed hard while waiting to get in, but that was as far as they all went. Unless you count a plastic mask.
    Found Metro at least, which does look amazing.

    Would be good if the food wasn’t absolute shit and being gouged for water etc is pretty insulting when everyone has forked out enough to just get in the door, to not be ripped off at every step by the food vendors.
    Anyway, it was fun overall, but there is definite room for improvement.

    • yeah food vendors inside the Expo hall are always a ripoff. just step outside and go around the corner and have a nice meal for less

      • We bought rolls, meat & cheese and stuff for lunch and walked backed to the hotel Fri/Sat, it allowed more money for dining out for dinner. Sunday lunch, we ate at Munich Brauhaus because we both still had cash. Convention hall food is always a rip off, often it’s more the responsibility, blame, to the company that owns the space rather than who’s renting it.

        Dinner recommendations for next year:
        Twenty Pho Seven, inexpensive but tasty. Russell St (we ate here twice)
        Meat Maiden, amazing but allow ~$80/pp for three courses, drinks extra. Little Collins St (we would have eaten here Sunday lunch, but they close Sundays)

        This was my first PAX, but I was given a heads up about how busy Saturday would be so I more focused on panel discussions. My main gripe with the queuing hall was standing on concrete for 2 hours… there are a variety of temporary plastic/rubber tile options.

        The AFK lounge, great idea but I could not for the life of me find it. I went upstairs, followed the signs and at a point the signs stop but the hallway continues and there’s multiple rooms, but the AFK lounge isn’t marked in any way shape or form. The couple of enforcers I asked were only vague on where it was.

  • My suggestions for PAX Aus 2019:

    – Reuse the Queue Hall for LARP.
    – Increase the size of Expo Hall, taking over the Tabletop space and booths completely.
    – Keep Speed Run where it is.
    – Keep Classic Gaming, Classic Tournament and Current console and current tournament where it is.
    – Add classic arcade machines and pinball in the walkway outside the doors. Maybe about 20-40, interspersed between the info and merch lite and all that.
    – Keep Jackbox and Handheld where it is
    – Keep Bandland where it is
    – Keep all Panels where they are.
    – Use new Exhibition Centre, Doors 11-21 for Tabletop/Tabletop booths
    – Use Melbourne Room 1 and 2 for Collaboratory/Protospiel.
    – Use outdoor space between convention and exhibition for giant chess, bocce, horseshoes – basically lawn games.

    Basically this keeps all the noisy things at one end, keeps the tabletop at the other. You have more spaces for lines, so things are spread out more. With the increased space you could increase the number of tickets as well. It adds some fun additions, but mainly maximizes the space and gives more floor space to AAA, which is quite lacking. Having to book for Days Gone or Dreams means that most people missed it, and I didnt even know Dreams was there. They would have more opportunity for Photo Spaces

    • – Add classic arcade machines and pinball in the walkway outside the doors. Maybe about 20-40, interspersed between the info and merch lite and all that.

      And an Enforcer to manage each one? Sadly it isn’t feasible. All of the machines we had for play in the Classic Gaming area come from private collections, so just dropping them out in the wild without supervision isn’t something that can happen. There was a Pinball party bus out on the promenade though!

      • I wasn’t aware that they were from private collections. I would have thought a sponsor would be happy to have their games made available for the weekend. But if that’s the case, I’d extend the classic games area and split it – one for home games, one for arcade/pinball.

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