Every religion starts with a prophet. Ours was about to fall to a pack of unbelieving citizens before even getting a decent following. “Just a second!” says Mateusz Pilski, co-founder and lead programmer at Ice Code Games, demoing the recently announced RTS Re-Legion at PAX South. While he was busy explaining the initial set-up of the demo our starting forces fell, and now our prophet’s in danger of being swarmed by non-believers.
Dauntless either has terrible timing or brilliant timing. Indie developer Phoenix Labs had one of the largest booth at PAX South to show off their free-to-play monster hunting game. The booth lie in the shadow of the even larger Capcom booth, whose gigantic Rathalos statue beckoned people to play one of the biggest releases of the year: Monster Hunter: World. Dauntless offers a much more streamlined – and more importantly free alternative to the niche hunting genre.
The future of the toys to life genre may look bleak, but PlayFusion has a few cards up their sleeves to remain optimistic. Their Lightseekers cross-media brand had a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, and began releasing last year. But it’s the collectible trading card game I checked out at PAX South 2018.
The Lightseekers Trading Card Game is no mere tie-in or side project, this is a fun, full-fledged card game with unique mechanics and 386 cards, each of which becomes an augmented reality card when scanned into the Lightseekers mobile game.
One of the most popular booths on the show floor at PAX South 2018 was Microsoft’s Mixer booth, which was hosting the Darwin Project. Developed by indie Canadian studio Scavengers Studio, Microsoft quickly saw the potential between creating a Hunger Games-like action-survival game, and incorporating their own live streaming software, Mixer. The result was a throng of people crowded around the Mixer booth as they yelled to nuke certain zones and cheered to bestow buffs and aid to their favorite players.
It’s Battle Royale, with audience participation.
As one of the smaller Penny Arcade Expos, PAX South remains a great destination for indie designers and publishers. This year Capcom dominated the showfloor with Monster Hunter: World, but bigger indie publishers like 1C, TinyBuild, Annapurna, Devolver Digital, and Crytivo also drew large crowds. Microsoft’s Mixer booth proved a popular destination, with the Hunger Games-like Battle Royale Darwin Project letting onlookers vote to help, or hinder, the players.
Here are the 20 most exciting indie games we saw at PAX South 2018.
For the third year in a row I was able to attend PAX South. It’s always an amazing, exhausting, and wonderful time where I can uniquely mix business with pleasure.
A gaming convention is a goldmine of connections and content. I’m recognizing many of the same people year and after year while meeting awesome new developers, designers, and PR folks and learning about new and upcoming games.
At the same time my wonderful group of friends all meet in San Antonio for PAX South every year. You may recognize them if you watch our weekly D&D adventures. During most of the days I’m working, interviewing devs and playing games on the show floor, but it’s awesome to then go out to eat with my best friends and then stay up late playing board games in the freeplay area.
It’s a huge bummer that my wife couldn’t make it down this year, and it was a bit annoying that it was bumped up two weeks earlier this year, putting it even closer to the holidays. But PAX South 2018 was still a great show full of gaming goodness.
We got into town around dinner time. We hit up Whataburger for dinner and noted that it was crazy cold with an annoying wind chill. We hightailed it back to the hotel and broke out some board games I had brought – Dice Throne, Hero Realms, and Pixel Tactics. It’s always fun to see folks playing board games in the lobby of your hotel, but Thursday was the only night we did that – the other nights we’re at the convention center!
Swords of Ditto
Children of Morta
Pillars of Eternity II
* Didn’t demo, but did talk about it with the exhibitor.
On Friday I took advantage of the Early Media Hour to pop into a very uncrowded show floor. My plan was to hit up the exhibitors I wanted to see but who weren’t taking appointments: Capcom, Devolver Digital, and Larian Studios.
Unfortunately most of the exhibitors were still setting everything up, including getting computers up and running. I gravitated toward the Tabletop Indie Showcase, which is consistently one of the most interesting areas of the entire showfloor. It’s full of new board games, most of which are still in a late prototype phase and planning Kickstarter campaigns for initial print.
I checked out Sagrada, which happened to be one of the few games that had already released. It was a lovely dice-drafting abstract, where players competed to build the best stained glass window. It was easy to learn and I quickly saw the challenge of working around the color and number window restrictions.
Devolver Digital had set up shop so I stopped by to check out Crossing Souls and Swords of Ditto. Both looked fantastic. Crossing Souls is basically 80s nostalgia + Earthbound while Swords of Ditto is Zelda + Rogue Legacy. I like a lot of those things.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 was on full display at Larian again this year, but they didn’t actually have anything new to show. D:OS2 is one of my favorite games of 2017, but I didn’t need to play it here, so I hopped over to Capcom.
Capcom always has one of the biggest, most visually impressive booths at PAX South. Here it was all about Monster Hunter: World, but it was basically the same content as the PlayStation 4 beta, with one new hunt. I was up against the start of my appointments, so I moved on.
From there it was wall-to-wall appointments from 10 am to 6 pm. I front-load my schedule on purpose so I can spend my last few hours on Sunday going back and seeing anything I missed.
I’m not going to go over everything I saw here (look for my published content in the coming weeks) but there were some really impressive indie games, including XCOM-like Phantom Doctrine, cRPG Pillars of Eternity 2, retro platformer The Messenger, and everything at 11 bit Studios.
We met the Herrings at some point in the afternoon, and we all went to dinner at Maria Mia. Well almost all of us. I tried getting in the autograph line for Acquisitions Incorporated, as my wife and I are big fans (her even more than me).
I was one of the last in line and exhausted from nonstop appointments. In half an hour I moved maybe a few feet in the line. I really wanted to get the autographs for her but given the line and time she let me off the hook. I joined up with everyone else at the restaurant, scarfing down a delicious burrito while they waited for their checks.
They caught the Patrick Rothfuss panel while I went back to the hotel to check in with the family, change, and meet everyone at the Tabletop Area that evening. I enjoyed talking with Roxely Games and trying Santorini. Always helps to learn from the publishers! I would return to Roxely throughout the weekend to chat with Paul and learn about their whole library: Brass, Steampunk Rally, and Super Motherload.
I also brought my copy of Dice Throne, which I had learned about at last year’s PAX, and got it signed by the always incredibly friendly developers. Dice Throne Season 2, with six new characters in three add-on packs, is coming to Kickstarter February 14!
We also tried Bunny Kingdom from Iello as it was already set up and a volunteer offered to teach us, but they apparently only just learned to play from a single game. We mostly felt lost the entire time. It seemed like a decent area control, card-drafting game but the demo was not a great experience.
We ended our board game evening playing Bargain Quest, one of the games at the Tabletop Indie Showcase that was available to check out for Freeplay. I had to manage my shop economy selling equipment to heroes, then have those heroes fight a boss. There were some neat ideas but overall I wasn’t terribly impressed.
Lord of the Rings: The Living Card Game
Evolution The Video Game
Mega Man Pixel Tactics*
* Didn’t play the game, but did talk about it with the exhibitor.
After the insane schedule that was yesterday, it’s nice to get a bit of a break on Saturday. Saturday is always the busiest day of the weekend, and this year it was easily noticeable with huge crowds (well, relatively huge for PAX South anyway).
The Teoh’s joined us on Saturday. They live relatively close by in Austin and can make a day of PAX rather than commit to the full weekend. That means the whole D&D team was here….minus my wife. 😦
A big chunk of my day was reserved for Acquisitions Incorporated in the afternoon, but my morning was filled with appointments, including some bigger indie stuff like Darwin Project and Dauntless. Dauntless was particularly a fun Monster Hunter-lite to play co-op with four of us, and I’m interested in trying more of the beta.
I met the community manager from Fantasy Flight Interactive in the lobby of a nearby hotel to get a little private time with Lord of the Rings: The Living Card Game, which is looking really solid. Should make for a great co-op PvE alternative to digital card games like Hearthstone.
This year I’m eager to expand my board game coverage, and had meetings with North Star Games and Level 99 Games, both whom I’m met at last year’s PAX South. Evolution: The Video Game looks like one of the best digital board game adaptations I’ve ever seen, while Level 99 had an interesting licensed deductive game using Penny Arcade’s Automata series, called Automata Noir.
Acquisitions Incorporated was amazing from start to finish. I definitely won’t spoil things here but they go in some very surprising and hilariously amazing places as they wrap up the Tomb of Annihilation storyline. We didn’t have great seats since my wife wasn’t here to snag the nearly front-row seats we had last year, but it was still a fantastic show.
With a bit of time after the show I toured around the Tabletop Indie Showcase and checked out the rest of of the games there, including the really neat looking Skulk Hollow, which featured asymmetrical two player gameplay between a massive behemoth and an army trying to take it down. It’s coming to Kickstarter soon!
We had our big fancy dinner that night as we walked around the Riverwalk. In previous years our hotel was a decent walk down, but this year we stayed close by at the La Quinta. The Riverwalk is fun but having a closer hotel is way more convenient. We eat a really nice (and expensive) Italian dinner at Michelinos.
We returned to the convention center and the Tabletop Freeplay Area. I lagged behind, once again stopping by the hotel to change and chat with the family. I joined everyone as they were starting up a game of Death Wish, a jokey card game that was also being shown on the show floor. We actually began making fun of how simplistic and silly the game was and were ready for it to end.
This time I picked out the next game, settling on Steampunk Rally, which I’d learned about on Friday. It has a steep learning curve we had to get over, but it helped when I found a YouTube video from Roxley that explained the game.
About halfway through we all started getting it, and had a blast by the end, careening past the finish line as our various machine parts exploded. Neat combination of cards, dice and movement that easily scales up to eight with simultaneous turns and card drafting.
We finished with half an hour left and tried to whip out a 3v3, six player game of Dice Throne. We got through about a round a half and both teams reduced to about half health when they had to shut us down for closing time. We always make the most of our PAX’s! Both the Teohs and Herrings ended up purchasing Dice Throne; it was easily the hotness of the convention.
Wisp in the Vale*
Lightseekers Trading Card Game
* Didn’t play the game, but did talk about it with the exhibitor.
Other than a single private press meeting I had scheduled first thing in the morning (which I was horribly late for thanks to 2 of the 3 elevators breaking down at my hotel – argh) my Sunday was completely open.
I had originally planned on attending the Acquisitions Incorporated “C” Team show at noon, as I’m also fan of that weekly D&D series. I ended up skipping it so I could spend more time on the show floor check out video and board games that I still wanted to see.
This was a fun day. I managed to squeeze in a ton of games, but didn’t feel stressed about making appointments like I did on Friday. All the exhibitors were more than happy to chat about their games. Some pleasant surprises included multiplayer steampunk ship combat co-op Guns of Icarus Alliance, party and card-based dungeon crawler Deep Sky Derelicts, and co-op rogue-lite spaceship shoot ’em up Last Encounter.
I also sought out a lot more board game publishers and designers this year – Albino Dragon, Fantasy Flight/Plaid Hat/Asmodee, and Fowers Games. To maximize my time I focused more on talking with designers and picking up press copies of new games rather than fully demoing games right on the show floor.
The one demo I had was with Play Fusion’s new Trading Card Game based on Lightseekers, their free-to-play Skylanders-like action-RPG. The Marketing Manager was super friendly and offered to quickly teach the game at a nearby table in the Tabletop Area. It felt like an appropriately kid-friendly trading card game with a neat rotating mechanic for buffs. There were families playing as well as full competitive tournaments running. Look for my full review soon!
Alas the convention ends when the show floor closes at 6 pm on Sunday. Chris and I were the only ones left of our group at that point. We got on the road and had dinner at a Sonic in San Marcos as we continued on the four hour car ride back to the DFW area.
It was a wonderful show. A great opportunity to meet new people, making new contacts, and get a lot of content to write about, while also having fun playing games and hanging out with friends. See you next year, San Antonio!
We have to do a rare cancellation of our weekly D&D session this week. But for good reason: most of the Graham Gracker Crew will be headed to San Antonio for PAX South this weekend.
It’s become an annual tradition for the last few years, even though we just all saw each other for New Year’s (our other annual tradition). A little annoying that PAX South was moved two weeks up this year to make it even sooner, but we love the expo and hanging out together. Plus it’s a great chance for me to work with a media badge.
So while there won’t be any D&D this week there should be some content forthcoming from our PAX South trip. Stay tuned!