Hidden away under the WSCC escalators is one of the best parts of PAX, and one of the easiest to miss. Steve Jackson Games hosts a space where you the official Steve Jackson demo monkeys will teach you how to play almost any of the games that they publish. The husband and I played a hilarious round of Zombie Dice. We also enjoyed Revolution, a town-themed resource management game which was a bit less complex than Catan or Agricola with an interesting bidding system.
In future PAXes I'd like to see Steve Jackson in a panel (a table-top focused panel, perhaps) or even the keynote. Mr. Jackson has the old school chops to qualify for this, and he deserves your respect. A 1990 Secret Service raid on his company offices was largely responsible for creating the the EFF.
At one point during PAX, I took a little nap on a bean bag. When I woke up, some folks next to me were just opening their brand new game of Munchkin, and reading the rules. I sent them to Steve Jackson land; where I'm sure they got straightened out, and received oodles of free cards and tokens.
One big change to this year's PAX was to hold concerts and some speaking events at Benaroya hall, rather than at a stage erected in a large room at the convention center.
The biggest disadvantage to using Benaroya was that it doesn't hold nearly as many people as the old room. The husband and I missed out on the Friday night concerts because all of the available wristbands had already been given out. We hauled our butts out of bed and to the convention center very early on Saturday morning to be sure we got our wristbands for Saturday night's events at Benaroya. A lot of folks also thought that the walk from the WSCC to Benaroya Hall was too long. I'm of average health, and I didn't have a problem with the walk.
For me, the advantages of using Benaroya Hall outweigh the disadvantages. The ad-hoc stage of the previous year was standing room space up front, folding chairs in back, and monitors rebroadcasting the action on the stage to those in the back. The very large stage room had the feeling of an empty warehouse, with no slant to the floor as found in theaters. If you weren't in the standing room space, (or even if you were, but are a little on the short side), you didn't have a hope of seeing anything on stage. I really preferred seeing the concerts in the concert setting of Benaroya.
Last weekend, it was again time for PAX - the massive video and tabletop gaming exposition right here in Seattle. I will do a couple of posts about PAX, staring with the Omegathon - a weekend long competition between selected attendees with a grand prize trip to TGS in Tokyo.
I missed the first round of the Omegathon - where the contestants (Omeganauts) battled Zombie Dice. Zombie Dice is essentially a zombie themed variant of Farkle. I suspect that the decision to use Zombie Dice might have been influenced by the Penny Arcade forums.
I did get to watch the second round - Bomberman Live. Though I've played Bomberman on and off for more than 15 years, I did learn a new strategy - tunnels are traps! I really enjoyed watching this with a crowd of people.
Just before she stepped up to the controller, I offered a lonely Omeganaut (Kirsten) a brief explanation and beginner's strategy for Bomberman. Kirsten survived Bomberman by a hair; utilizing the "don't blow yourself up" strategy, and she asked if I could show her Katamari to her in advance of the 4th round tomorrow morning. We got Beautiful Katamari set up in the console freeplay area and I demonstrated basic Katamari mechanics and recommended that her time would be best spent putting some hours into the game.
It was great to watch the Beautiful Katamari round (#3). The audience politely clapped when an Omeganaut increased their katamari size, and cheered when they rolled up a nice tight string of big items. Alas, poor Kirsten got berated by the King of All Cosmos for the size of her Katamari and was out of the Omegathon.
Round 4 was Rock Band, with keyboards. The Omeganauts played in two four-man teams at Benaroya hall like real rock stars. I thought that the first group did better at being rock stars, but the cool technical performance of the second band won them the night.
Puzzle Bobble was the penultimate round. This was another great round to watch, where the audience cheered for combos, and were sympathetic when round was lost. At some point during the Puzzling and the Bobbling, Jerry Holkins appeared a few seats away from me. He said that he and Mike had liked this as an Omegathon game because of the interesting in the long-game. He vanished shortly before the end of the round, when the remaining Omeganauts numbered two.
The final Omegathon round was brilliantly conceived. Our hosts for this final round, Holkins and Krahulik, gave us some hints before it was revealed:
It's tremendously ancient.
It is turn based.
It involves resource gathering.
The final challenge was The Omegaclaw: a claw machine filled with plush gaming delights such as Koopas, Moogles, devious Pikmin, Vivis, and Heartless. Each contestant got a dozen or so attempts at the claw, and the most toys eared the winning Omeganaut a trip to Tokyo. The Omegaclaw behaved as all claw machines do - retrieving some toys with a vice-like grip while merely tickling others, and capriciously dropping some toys just before the threshold of the retrieval area. You can watch the whole saga on YouTube, of course, but being in the theater and being immersed in the live experience with 2500 other folks was a thrill to which I cannot apply enough hyperbole.
I have just a few closing thoughts about the Omegathon:
- Each and every round needs some kind of host, commentary, and interpretation. What's happening? Which 3d meatspace avatars are connected to which moving pixels on the screen? Which Omeganauts are in terrible danger of going out? For this duty, I nominate Stepto. His speech at w00tstock proved his ability both to understand a game and, most importantly, to hold an audience's attention.
- Having one or two non-digital games in an Omegathon is critical to keeping a wide breadth and "anything can happen" feeling to the tournament. While the format for Omegathon seems to be playing games which are, generally, easy to grok and quick to resolve, I would love to see a Monopoly round.
- What will the Penny Arcade team come up with for next year? What could possibly be more epic and awesome than the Omegaclaw? I propose pinball! While its source movie should be scrubbed from our consciousness, the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull pinball machine is fantastic. Elements from all of Indy's outings are represented there, with the most exciting being the Ark of the Covenant. You'd better look at this Ark - it contains 4 more balls! (Last time I was there, this machine was available at Pinball Cove at Shorty's in downtown Seattle, if anyone in blogland is interested.)