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PAX Immensus


PAX Immensus1

This was my first ever gaming convention. Actually, this is my first ever real-sized convention. What hit me all day, in overwhelming fashion, was just the sheer size of the whole thing.

Before I delve too far into this, I should give you the full background. PAX East was this weekend. For those of you who don’t know, Penny Arcade puts on an electronic gaming convention every year known as PAX. It grew so big that they added another convention in Boston every year called PAX East. While it is primarily electronic games of all sorts (handheld games, console games, computer games, etc.), it also includes gaming generally. Magic, Warhammer, other board games or table top games, and any other type of game are included.

My youngest son is a big electronic game fan, so I bought him a couple of passes to PAX (from here on in, I’m just calling it PAX. Everyone is smart enough to figure it out.) for Christmas, and he decided to take me along. When he decided that he wanted me to go, my two thoughts were:

  1. What a great son I have that he would want to invite his father to a big gaming convention when he could just as easily have picked a friend to go with [blinks away teary eyes].
  2. Ahhh, everything is going just as I’ve planned! I felt a little like Nicol Bolas (foreshadowing . . . ).

As soon as we stepped into the Boston Convention Center, I was just struck by the enormity of the event. The front lobby was packed with people in the hours before the doors were scheduled to open. We wandered around the center and discovered an interesting thing: While the organizers want you to form a single-queue line, you only really need to do that if you want the swag that comes in the bag as you enter. If you would prefer not to wait in line forever, you could instead line up to enter the area with hundreds of computer terminals for online gaming (another long line) or you could quietly saunter over to the tabletop gaming area where the Magic tournaments and open gaming were. There was no line there at all.

After talking with the boys for a bit, we all split up and went our separate ways. I came back to the tabletop gaming area and rode the escalator to the main floor. I was amongst the first there, as everyone else was queued up for the exhibition floor. Curiously, no one asked for my pass to enter the main floor. From there, it was an easy walk to the exhibition floor . . . all without a pass. Huh.


Instead of heading straight for the exhibit, I stuck around and met up with Andy, the host of the long-running Commander podcast CommanderCast. We had talked about meeting up at PAX for some Commander, and he had sent out a tweet looking for Commander players for Saturday morning. The crowd of Commander players started growing, and pretty soon, we had a seven-player game going!

Warm wishes to (left to right) George, Tyler, Andy, Gabe, Steph, and Randy for a great game. Andy has a theory that Commander players who are hardcore (and yes, if you are reading this, you are hardcore) over-represent the combo, win-at-any-cost, nasty-blue-general types in Commander. He believes the average player is spread out far more evenly among the colors. Our game certainly represented that with three mono-red decks, a U/R control, a five-colored Karona, False God Avatar-themed deck, mono-white, and my Ruhan deck.

There were some crazy swings with Insurrection, double-striking Ruhan, and big blasts from Jaya Ballard coming in from everywhere. The table gradually whittled down, and I was the third player eliminated. Tyler and his Norin the Wary recursion/combo deck pulled off the win.

As I was getting up to check out the exhibition hall, my son Spencer arrived. He’d decided he wanted the swag and waited patiently in line . . . only to discover they were out of the stunning M13 Nicol Bolas bags that included the amazing Nicol Bolas hat.

Randy overheard us talking and just gave Spencer his bag and everything in it. Getting the Nicol Bolas bag was awesome, and the Nicol Bolas hat was crucial (foreshadowing . . . ). Big thanks to Randy. Commander players are awesome!

Exhibition Floor

The exhibition floor (and most of the building to a lesser extent) had the constant hum of thousands of people talking. It wasn’t deafening, but it was never quiet either. As someone who sits in an office with four other people all day, having a constant din of noise that was just loud enough to make conversation difficult, the exhibition floor was an exhausting whir of constant noise and overstimulation. I sound like an Amish person describing the big city, but the noise was more penetrating than any city street.

In spite of that, after a few minutes, it faded away, and everything was far more interesting. Most of the booths and conference-floor space were occupied by one company or another giving PAXgoers a chance to play their latest games. The smaller booths offered a variety of other things gaming-related. There were used game booths, gaming equipment booths, and everything gaming-related. There were four booths that really stuck out in my mind, each for a very different reason:

Magic booth – This should be of no surprise to anyone. They were toward the middle of the floor. They had set up walls all the way around the booth to limit entry, but several windows allowed everyone to see what was happening inside. Several computers were set up to allow players a taste of Duels of the Planeswalkers while standing up. There was a constant lineup to get in and a small table to buy Magic merchandise on the way out of the booth. Everything seemed to run smoothly.

Geekchic – Everything they were selling was handcrafted wood. The smaller items included deck boxes for single decks of varying sizes and boxes with sliding lids to hold several decks. Wood swords of varying sizes and wands of varying lengths were all available.

More interesting to me were the gaming tables. There were various tables that would appear to be regular high-end dining room tables, but the top would fold off to reveal a gaming table inside—deep enough to leave an entire Warhammer game in midgame while eating dinner above. The tables had drawers off the sides to store more paraphernalia, and everything was handcrafted.

I wandered among the tables and storage units for more than a half hour, admiring the quality, incredulous that anyone with $10,000 or more to spare would spend it on one of these tables. The pictures I took of the various tables did not come out particularly well, but head over to GeekChicHQ to ogle the toys the 1% buy.

Chessex – Most of you probably own a set of dice made by Chessex. They are the most common dice-makers on the market. While I do like dice, what amazed me about the Chessex booth were not the dice of apparently limitless size, shape, and color. What amazed me was the constant throng around the booth. Every time I went anywhere near the booth, there was a crowd three-people deep all the way around booth, and people weren’t just looking like they were at most other booths. They were buying. Apparently the recipe for success is an inexpensive product that everyone wants multiples of.

Utilikilt It is exactly what you think it is. The best part was the attempt from the muscle-bound He-Men to convince people that wearing a kilt would make you an even bigger man.

Tabletop Gaming

They are all playing games. You could leave a credit card and try out a game you have never tried before. You could sit down with someone and learn a new game from people who were there to teach you. You could take part in tournaments that were running all day. Magic tournaments started at 11:00 A.M. and ran pretty much until the place closed. They had eight-man Drafts firing as soon as there were eight people. Mini-master tournaments, team tournaments, Sealed tournaments, and Standard tournaments were all running nonstop. It was an endless stream of Magic gaming.

While I swung by several times, I never did enter a tournament. It just seemed like something I could do at my local game shop, so why do it here when there were so many other things to see? Many, many others disagreed with me, and the Magic tournament tables were always filled.

Magic Panel

The highlight of the day for me was the Magic panel. Rather than tell you about all the information Wizards provided during the Panel (Greg Haenig’s summary of everything spoiled across the web does a far better job than I could, and I was there), I want to focus on the ambiance of the moment. Everyone knew there were going to be spoilers from Avacyn Restored—that was why the lineup started more than an hour ahead of time. I arrived an hour before the panel was scheduled to start, and it was already half-full. Several hundred of us were crowded into a room to wait for our chance to be the first to see the new spoilers.

When you think about it, the whole thing is a little silly. Everyone on the Internet knew all the cards we did minutes afterward. The difference was that we were there. As we walked into the room, everyone wearing the Bolas crown was brought to sit in the front two rows. Spencer was one of the lucky ones in the front two rows thanks to Randy’s donation of swag!

As the cards started to be spoiled, the reactions to various cards were different. Demonlord of Ashmouth saw cheers when everyone realized undying would be in the set. When Silverblade Paladin hit the screen, you could almost hear everyone’s brain try to process soulbond and how it would work. Restoration Angel was next, and everyone immediately saw the connection between it and soulbond creatures. Sigarda met with a warm cheer. When Thunderous Wrath was revealed, you could see everyone trying to process miracle while looking at the radical card frame.

They took questions for the last ten minutes of the panel, and the lineup stretched to the back of the room. My favorite was a tongue-in-cheek question about how soulbond and banding would work together!

The best moment was the end of the panel discussion. Throughout the panel, they had been hinting at Griselbrand, so when they said they were ending the panel with one final thing, everyone expected Griselbrand to be revealed. Instead, the Return to Ravnica was revealed, and the place went nuts. The girl sitting next to me jumped up and screamed, clapping wildly. There was hollering and bedlam through the entire conference room.

PAX as a whole was a spectacular experience not to be missed. Next year, I hope to attend for all three days. While I had a great time, it took the entire day just to see everything, yet I barely had time to do anything! I would have liked to get into other panel discussions, actually play in some of the eight-man Drafts, and try out some of the new games. Already, I’m planning for next year’s spoilers . . . 

1 I know that this means “large peace.” I’m taking some poetic license here, people!

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