PAX Unplugged: The Best Convention I’m Not Sure I Will Return To

This past weekend I was at PAX Unplugged, and I am glad I got to go. I got to play in my very first Call of Cthulhu game. I had fun with a new character in D&D. I met a gamer I had previously only interacted with online. I even met a fellow Captain Hammer. They even had a diversity lounge with some really cool people. And of course, I snagged some awesome stuff in the dealer’s hall. It was really great.

Will I be back next year? I don’t know. Why? Short answer: poor organization. I was there most of Friday (arriving around 1 pm instead of the 10am open), and I didn’t get to play in a single game. Zero. None. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I checked in at the D&D AL desk and they were full for the next 6 hours. Other games, no open spots on the wait list. I stood in a few lines to get any game I could only to have the available games fill up before I got to the front.

Why didn’t I sign up online beforehand? There wasn’t any. No, I’m not kidding. They did not do any kind of official online preregistration before the convention started. Need proof to believe me?

That is the “queue room” 20 minutes before we we’re allowed to sign up for role playing games Saturday morning. Note, this doesn’t include minis gamers or board gamers. I got in that line 2 hours beforehand, and I was not the first. I got into three games that day. Considering the number of games available, most of the people in that room didn’t get to sign up for games in advance.

This brings me to my second complaint: there just weren’t enough games. When I asked an “enforcer” (their name for one of the super polite staffers and/or volunteers), they said they underestimated the popularity of the games. There really needed to be double the space for RPGs. I can’t speak to board gamers or minis gamers as to whether they had enough space for their games since I didn’t check them out all weekend.

At the end of the day, these are rookie mistakes, and they can certainly be forgiven even if one could have simply Googled “how to run a tabletop convention” and get solutions to these issues. The Pathfinder/Starfinder Society crew saw PAX Unplugged’s setup and decided to use Warhorn on their own to schedule their games; I did not hear of similar issues from them. The Google link above has Tabletop.Events on it’s first page. Both of these services allow for people to sign up for games beforehand and would have solved the above mentioned issues. They both do their job extremely well, and I cannot recommend them enough to anyone running a convention, no matter what size. Had they used either of these (or one of their own creation), they could have discovered how popular RPGs (and other types of games) was going to be and shift resources accordingly.

Will I be back? Not unless these have some type of online pre-registration for events. Waking up before I normally wake up for the day job to get in a 2 hour line is not exactly my definition of fun. If they do get some kind of pre-reg system in place, will I then? In a heartbeat. I got to see lots new games and familiar faces, roll dice and slay monsters, and it was 11 hours closer to me than GenCon. I just don’t want to have to wait in 2+ hour lines for a game again, not when I can just click a few buttons and have a guaranteed spot.

Final thought: I want to give a shout out to the enforcers. They we’re kind and patient and did EVERYTHING they could to help upset gamers. They made things run as smooth as they could with what they had to work with. Every last one if them deserves a round of applause. Thank you for your part in making the convention as great as it was.

7 thoughts on “PAX Unplugged: The Best Convention I’m Not Sure I Will Return To

  1. Glad you liked the Pathfinder Society set-up! It was actually Venture-Agent (Status Pending) Robyn Allen’s idea to do an independent Warhorn for our Philly PFS-run event at PAX, as we use it for local organization for both weekly games and convention games, and from what I heard it really helped things run smoothly down there.
    Hopefully the PAX Unplugged team use this next year for reflection and to steal ideas from other successful Tabletop-oriented conventions like Gen Con or even Paizo Con.

  2. I just want to throw it out there, this is kind of a pilot con.
    Pax’s way of seeing “is there enough demand to justify a PAX con for board games?”

    the answer seems to be “overwhelmingly yes”.
    I expect next year to be substantially larger, because Unplugged was baby sized compared to PAX East.

  3. Many of your points are accurate. My wife and I had some issues with the scooter company, but to the credit of the PAX “Enforcers” (a name I do not care for, despite its attempt at humor) they attempted to rectify the problem, and when it was still not solved, both the PAX manager as well as the PA Convention Center Event Coordinator were on hand in an instant to help get it resolved.

    As for a lack of events… on the plus side, there seemed to be PLENTY of unused space in the building for future growth, so hopefully they can get more events scheduled, and alleviate some of the “lack of events” problem. As for pre-registration… yes, there are already web-based event registration sites such as Warhorn which work just fine, and would “likely” handle a convention of this scale, although I cannot speak knowledgeably on their total capabilities. I think with enough notice, Warhorn, or some other similar service, could develop a dedicated site for the future PAX Unplugged events.

    My personal recommendation… don’t give up on them, but instead, forward all of you comments (positive and negative) on to them, along with some possible solutions to the problems. After all, the only way they can know to fix the problem is if they know of them, and if we all give them time to learn from their errors.

    Rob Placer – Owner
    Family Fun Hobbies

  4. Same problem, combined with me showing up solo without a group of friends and not being a very good “joiner”. I got into a couple games, but didn’t even go on Sunday because the drag of trying to get into games and failing is just brutal.

  5. On Sunday, I did demos in the dealer’s hall since there are open chairs with the games’ creators.

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