My approach to the third day of PAX East was a little different than in the first couple of days. I took the time to explore some nooks and crannies of the Expo Hall, grab some soda from Wild Bill’s, and of course check out a few games.
There is so much to see and do at PAX East even when games are not strictly the focus. Pick-up games of Magic, D&D Adventure League and tons of small tabletop games can be demoed live with the creators.
Wandering the halls of the conference you also find community rooms, lounges to pause in and play some handheld games (I finally started Fire Emblem: Three Houses) and stages with games and fun activities. All of this just makes the four-day PAX East such a great event to enjoy.
On top of that, it’s held in the beautiful Seaport district of Boston with many lovely restaurants and waterfront views. The Lawn on D attached to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center also has many amazing food trucks providing great food, and a comfy place to enjoy it as the weather during PAX East was stunning.
I spent a great deal of time checking out the sites and tabletop areas on Day Three, but I did check out a really intriguing game called No Place For Bravery, a story-driven action-RPG from Glitch Factory and Ysbryd Games. This pixel-art, dark fantasy Soulslike caught my eye with its over-the-top action, morose yet captivating storyline, and visual style.
Playing as Thorn, a seasoned warrior who is preparing to lay down his sword for good until receiving a new lead on his missing daughter Leaf, I embarked on a dark adventure full of pain and discovery. The world was detailed and exciting, the action fast and brutal, with execution actions giving bonuses and items to help the journey.
I found the concept of the game so interesting, this detached father who loses his child and then goes to the ends of the world to get her back. The developer bills it as a story exploring the lengths a parent would go to find their child, and that came across strongly. The neat hook of Thorn being accompanied by his disabled foster child Phid on this journey adds further nuance to the journey.
The game has a surprisingly sensitive control scheme allowing parries and attacks to flow seamlessly, and progression gives new abilities and weapons to select. Thorn is far from invulnerable and careful playing is necessary to survive to complete his mission.
I tried this game during PAX Online a couple of years ago and while I liked the core experience the game was buggy and felt rough at that time. The version of No Place for Bravery I saw at PAX East has obviously come a long way. It was smooth, deep, great to look at and I wanted more of the journey right away.
Now an iconic part of the PAX East experience and at many fairs, festivals and conventions is a non-alcoholic craft beverage company. The neat hook about Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda Pop Co. is that you buy a metal mug (here a beautiful red PAX East embossed version) and get free refills for the whole four-day event, or a single day if that is required.
The soda is exceptional and made from cane sugar and a mix of natural and artificial flavoring with very few extra ingredients. At PAX East they had seven flavors including sarsaparilla, black cherry, root beer and vanilla.
I spoke to one of the operators and it was really interesting to hear how Wild Bill’s pivoted when Covid hit. PAX East 2020 was their last show and they needed to shift to online distribution, streamline their operations and stay solvent if they were to survive.
Survive they did with a quick pivot to online operations. A revamped and effective online storefront was launched (he admitted the previous site was terrible), additional canned products and bundles were created, and they launched. Word of mouth started a quick surge of sales which carried through to a successful online pivot.
Now that fairs, festivals and conventions are returning the teams are overjoyed to be out and handing out soda directly to their thirsty fans. The best part is that they have a new online stream that will continue to supplement their business. Like their soda, Wild Bill’s future is sparkly.
D&D Adventure League and Magic The Gathering
While my schedule is often very full at these events, I always like to carve out some time to play some D&D and Magic the Gathering. There is something just so cool about sitting with strangers and playing a sealed deck or starting a character adventure.
In the case of Dungeons & Dragons they had daily Adventure League sessions. Local DMs ran two-hour sessions with pre-rolled characters and a random AL module. I sat and was paired with a very mixed group of folks and drew a Ranger character (well, I picked it).
We proceeded to play through a fairly standard adventure with missing townfolk, low-level monsters, some quick treasure drops and a dungeon crawl. While the module itself was not a terribly inspiring experience the playstyles of three other people on the fly were amazing.
One player was very quiet, but once he got into combat he was roleplaying with gusto, explaining how his attacks happen and cackling with laughter when he hit a natural 20. I strongly encourage anyone at a PAX show to take the two hours to drop into a session. It is always a complete blast!
Magic the Gathering is another great quick play session that I love dropping into. In this case I chose a low-cost sealed-booster short tournament. The cards are provided and are kept after play so the charge is really reasonable.
It is a random draw single elimination tournament with eight players facing off one-on-one and playing the three Mystery Booster packs and basic lands provided. There are different, more complex and time-consuming tournaments such as tournament qualifiers and sealed commander deck multi-round sessions in pods, but I wanted something quick and clean.
What I love about these sessions, which I have done before, is that neither side knows what to expect, what their draws will be or the skill of their opponent. I had a good mix of black and red cards and was able to put together a decent deck with my boosters and provided lands.
My rusty Magic skills came back quickly and I managed to beat my first opponent pretty handily with almost no health lost. The second round was much closer but I still prevailed with a last-minute flurry of attacks and spells thanks to a deep mana pool.
The final round was not so much in my favor; my opponent was obviously a veteran. He played an early defensive game and then whipped out some massive damage that ended the game quickly. Regardless it was great fun to play some fun competitors ad-hoc in the tabletop area.