PAX Unplugged is a tabletop gaming convention hosted at the Philadelphia Convention Center every December. The event features an overwhelming number of tabletop games including crowd favorites like Settlers of Catan and Munchkin. It’s best to arrive as early as possible to get the most out of the day. PAX Unplugged offers both day passes and full weekend passes, but a single day pass is adequate for most casual tabletop fans as long as you arrive early. The convention starts at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, but the line to get in will wrap around the building before the doors even open. Expect to wait in line for at least an hour if you arrive any time before 11:00 a.m.
Once inside the convention center, prepare for an overwhelming amount of things to see and do. The best way to approach an event like this is to pick a direction and start walking. This event is best experienced with a small group of friends, but plenty of people attend by themselves as well. You will be looking at a lot of board and card game items available for purchase. There were also several artists selling artwork at the convention.
The long wait to get in means that most people won’t see much before lunchtime. Food and drink items are sparse and expensive inside the convention center. A souvenir cup vendor selling sodas and mugs was outrageously expensive at $50. This included a mug, lid and straw which were all sold separately. Some of the mug setups they were selling were even more expensive than that! It can be difficult to justify these prices, and with so many great restaurants in Chinatown, it does not make sense to purchase food or beverages inside the convention center. Be prepared to either pack a lunch or eat outside of the convention center.
I had the opportunity to play three games while attending the event. The games were Squid Game: Let the Games Begin, Star Wars: Unlimited, and the Pokémon trading card game. Squid Game: Let the Games Begin was the clear favorite among the three games. The board game follows the events of the show perfectly and utilizes a timer to keep players on edge. Fans of the show will enjoy the opportunity to play variations of the games played by the show’s characters.This was a casual game that anyone could pick up and learn. The second game was a Star Wars themed trading card game coming out this year. Fans of Star Wars will enjoy seeing beloved characters in a trading card game, but the rules were confusing. A few slight tweaks to the game could make it one of the best card games out there, but it is likely too late to make those types of changes. The third game was a classic – the Pokémon trading card game. The play area was bright and colorful. The game was taught by a staff member who was patient and clearly enjoyed Pokémon. Many people collected Pokémon cards when they were young but not nearly as many people knew how to play the trading card game. At the end of the demo the staff gave out free cards so that players could play the game at home. The card game was fun and easy to learn. A free pin was also given out which made a great souvenir to remember the day.
While the convention is designed for more hardcore tabletop gamers, it can still be an enjoyable space for more casual players. None of the people in my small group were hardcore gamers, and we occasionally made jokes about playing Uno at some point during the convention. The event even includes appearances by a handful of celebrities who signed autographs and answered questions during panels. If you have never been to PAX Unplugged, I enthusiastically recommend giving it a try at least once. In summary – pack a lunch, arrive early, wear comfortable walking shoes and play some games!