Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX, is a multinational annual gaming convention where fans get to see and play all sorts of games – video and tabletop.  PAX West was first held in 2004 in Bellevue Washington and was met with huge success.  Over the years they grew significantly and moved to Seattle in 2007.  In 2010 PAX held its 1st convention in Boston – PAX East.  2013 was the start of an annual convention in Melbourne Australia.  2 years later the inaugural PAX South was held in San Antonio.  In 2017 the 1st PAX Unplugged was held in Philadelphia.

  PAX Unplugged was a different type of convention, instead of all games, it was designed to showcase only tabletop gaming.  Every year thousands of people flock to the City of Brotherly Love to attend panels, watch game demos, compete in dozens of tournaments, play unleased games, and buy classic and new board games.  Whatever you fancy – RPGs, strategy, deck building, dice games, miniatures, big name titles or possibly the next sensation are all under 1 roof.

  I spent several days roaming the expo hall, playing games and talking to developers.  Here are just a few of the cool games that I got to play and learn about.  My feet are tired, my game inventory expanded, and I got to meet some great developers.

  The 1st game is Varia by Anthony Tessitore.  It is a 1st person 1v1 fighting card game.  You are the hero and must take down your opponent by attacking and blocking their attacks.  There are about 15 player decks that can be purchased, and each one is a specific fighter that can be played directly out of the box.  If you like stealth, grab the assassin.  Into magic – there are sorcerers and wizards.  You can even mix and match to create your own special character like a Holy Assassin.

  The game was created by a D&D player that used to get into fights with other adventures over how loot was going to be divided up.  The players would battle but have to consult the DM when they would try to do certain attacks.  It seemed that the DM wouldn’t remember his rulings from game to game, so they decided to create their own rules, and that became the framework of Varia.

  One of the really cool things about this game is that it takes location into account when you attack.  Say you plan to punch your opponent 5 times in a row.  They can counter by quickly moving out of your range and attack with a bow.  This means that you will be swinging at the wind while they are able to do some serious damage.    How is this possible?  One player will lay out his attacks, then pass.  Player 2 will then lay out his counters, either blocking or just straight up attack.  Once they have finished their planning phase, they pass.  Player 1 is then able to play fast actions, if they have any, and then pass.  This goes back and forth until nobody can play any more fast actions.  The players then resolve their actions, in order, using dice for power and focus.  Damage is calculated, cards are removed and player 2 starts the next round.

  Each character has a unique play style, and mastering it can take a while.  But until you master it, and get lucky card draws, pummeling your enemy in a toe-to-toe battle is still fun.  Battles can vary in length depending on how well you are able to attack and counter, but most last about 30 minutes or so.  Even though there are 15 or so characters out, with more planned, all you need to get started are 2 decks – one for you and one for whomever you are fighting.  And since the decks are about the size of a deck of cards it is highly portable. 

  The starter set for the game comes with 2 class decks and everything you need to play for around $25.  Each character deck is about $17 a piece, or you can buy multiples in a set.  The cards are beautifully drawn and the text is well written.  If you are looking for a game that is constantly changing with the roll of a dice and pits your skills against another fighter mono y mono, look no further.  You don’t have any minions to hide behind, just your cunning and planning.