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.
After the debacle of missing his flight last year, Chris flew into DFW airport this year and drove down with me Thursday afternoon.
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!
Video Games Crossing Souls Swords of Ditto Frostpunk Moonlighter Children of Morta Sleep Tight Omensight Pillars of Eternity II Phantom Doctrine Wattam The Messenger Lightfall Re-Legion Ancestor’s Legacy
Tabletop Games Sagrada Drawing Dead* Santorini Bunny Kingdom Bargain Quest
* 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.
Video Games Lord of the Rings: The Living Card Game Darwin Project Evolution The Video Game Dauntless
Tabletop Games Mega Man Pixel Tactics*
Death Wish Steampunk Rally Dice Throne
* 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.
Video Games Underworld Ascendant* Laser League Guns of Icarus Alliance Eternal Card Game* Graveyard Keeper Moon Hunters* Deep Sky Derelicts Super Dungeon Tactics* Last Encounter
Tabletop Games Skulk Hollow* Mountaineers* 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!
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!
Hyper Universe took up a sizable portion of the show floor at PAX South 2017. After playing the game it more than earned its prominent spot at the front of the expo hall.
Hyper Universe is a colorful, side-scrolling MOBA developed by Korean designers Cwavesoft and published by Nexon. MOBAs, those Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas have exploded in popularity thanks to popular esports games like League of Legends and DOTA 2. MOBAs now come in all shapes and sizes. Hyper Universe carves a unique niche by combining the look and feel of a 2D platformer or fighting game spread out over a single, massive level.
Despite gaming’s large and often confusing list of genres and sub-genres, Has-Been Heroes is a tricky game to peg. It notably draws from side-scrolling Beat ‘Em Ups, tower defense and rogue-like RPGs to create a highly replayable adventure with its own unique rhythm.
In Has-Been Heroes you play as the old veterans of a typical RPG. With the big bad defeated and the world relatively safe, your task these days is to simply escort the young princesses to school. Unfortunately the lands aren’t quite as safe as you thought.
PAX South 2017 hosted a large expo hall full of tabletop and video games, from wonderfully obscure indie titles to the large spectacle of the Nintendo and Capcom booths. I saw and played as many games as I possibly could over the weekend, and met with some amazing developers.
I didn’t get a chance to see everything that the convention had to offer. But here’s my list of 20 promising games you’ll want to look for this year.
PAX South 2017 featured gigantic alien statues beckoning newcomers to check out HoloSpark’s upcoming cooperative first-person shooter Earthfall. Earthfall draws heavily from Valve’s Left 4 Dead series, and aims to fill the co-op void left behind after Left 4 Dead 2 released back in 2009.
“I’ve been banging on my buddy at Valve for two years to make Left 4 Dead 3!” laughs Russell Williams, CEO of HoloSpark. “I love PvE. It’s much less stressful to play as the heroes where you’re not getting shot in the head half the time.”
I had my second ever PAX experience with this year’s PAX South in San Antonio, Texas. The convention center was newly remodeled (and half under construction), the show was full of indie and large developers across video gaming and tabletop, and once again I had a fun mix of business and pleasure as I interviewed developers, played upcoming games, and hung out with long-distance friends as we met up at PAX.
It was an amazing weekend. Stay tuned here or on my social media channels for all my published content coming out of PAX South. What follows here is my personal account of my experience.
This year my mom was able to babysit my kiddo and house full of dogs and cats to allow my wife to come with me. We arrived in San Antonio early on Thursday and got to do some fun tourist stuff, like checking out the Alamo and walking around the Riverwalk and Rivercenter Mall.
We also went up to the top of the Tower of the Americas to get an evening view of the city.
We never get a date trip like this. Even though it was just the day, it was a lot of fun!
This year they pushed the opening of the convention back an hour. Not only did this make mornings much easier, but it gave me a chance to jump in with the Early Media Access on Friday, which began at 9.
I wanted to play more Zelda but I ran (literally) across the hall to where my friends had saved a seat for Chris Perkins’ key note speech. I’m a big fan of D&D and Acquisitions Incorporated and wanted to see his speech. It did not disappoint!
I had a bit of time afterward to jump into the expo hall. We sat down and tried Random Encounters, one of the games in the Tabletop Indie Showcase. It was a Kickstarter game from a year ago, and the devs were super friendly and engaging. The co-op dungeon crawler was a blast, and I ended up purchasing it later that day.
After a quick lunch I had a full day of appointments, from 12:30 to 6! It was incredibly exhausting but I saw a ton of great games (and not so great ones) and talked to some awesome people.
I was super tired and ready for dinner, but my friends (whom I hadn’t really seen all day at that point) were in line for the True Dungeon experience. I went up to the 3rd floor to join them.
The whole thing took over an hour but it was a neat demo of the full multi-hour experience they run at GenCon.
It’s basically a crazy mix of LARP and Escape the Room, complete with character sheets and animatronics. Impressive, though we were rushed through the two rooms. Pretty sure the wait took longer than the actual event!
We met up with even more friends and had dinner at Maria Mia near the Rivercenter Mall (and right next door to Luciano). At that point our group had swelled to 7 plus a newborn!
Afterward we went back to the convention center. But after True Dungeon and a big dinner it was late by the time we got back. We tried playing some board games but Zombicide ended up being a slog.
Note to self – don’t play a big board game that no one’s played before after an exhausting day!
Dinner: Maria Mia
Saturday was easily my favorite day of the convention, despite the noticeable surge in crowds.
I set up my appointments in the morning specifically with multiplayer games in mind so I could try and keep my wife and friends with me, knowing we would probably all separate on Friday (which we did).
Both Earthfall and Hyper Universe ended up being some of my favorite games of the convention, and it was a blast getting to play them with friends. The devs were super forthcoming and fun to talk to and the games were a lot of fun.
I wish I would have had more time with both, but I had scheduled myself very tight to see as much as possible.
After that we started to separate again. My wife jumped in line for Acquisitions Incorporated (she’s an even bigger fan than me) while I checked out a number of indie games, including the very nice-looking Mages of Mystralia.
Eventually I grabbed lunch and joined up with the Acquisitions Inc crowd. This was total “me” time as we sat and watched the full three hour live show. It was incredible, and definitely my favorite part of the whole convention. It was the first time they did it at PAX South and I hope it becomes a new trend.
That took up the rest of the afternoon. We wandered around the expo hall for a bit, then went out for dinner. We eventually decided on a BBQ place on the river.
Since we’d gotten out earlier than yesterday, we went back to the hotel to FaceTime with our daughter and change. Then it was back to the convention center.
After last night’s experience I knew not to grab a new game and try to figure it out. Instead I whipped out my newly purchased copy of Random Encounters and we played a fun four player game, which took up the rest of the evening.
Dinner: Lone Star Café
Last year I spent the final day just wandering around freely trying games I hadn’t gotten a chance to try yet – especially board games.
Acquisitions Inc took up a large block of time on Saturday, so I still had several media appointments scheduled on Sunday.
I met with Games Lab and played Final War, a fun tactical card game that combined PvE and PvP battling. It released in Australia last year and is coming to the U.S. this week!
I also met with Daedalic and Northstar Games, played more games and met more awesome developers and marketing folks.
I found I actually preferred talking to people to playing the games themselves, especially with the time it takes to play most board games. Never enough time!
At one point I swung by the permanently crowded Nintendo booth. I was able to jump in and play Splatoon 2, the only game that wasn’t available in my meeting.
On Sunday I also went to my only panel I attended at the con, which looked at using games as a teaching tool for education. Look for my recap of the panel on Pixelkin soon.
The convention shuts down at 6pm. We had checked out of our hotel that morning and parked in a nearby lot. So we jumped in our cars and ate at the one place everyone says to eat in San Antonio – Mi Tierra. Fantastic Mexican restaurant – would eat again!
Dinner: Mi Tierra
And that’s it! Another year, another PAX South in the books. It was an amazing experience. I’m extremely fortunate that I can combine business and pleasure in this unique way, made even more fun that all my friends meet up there (all of whom live hundreds of miles, and one several states away).
Nintendo was in full force at PAX South last weekend. A large, permanently crowded booth stood near the front of the show floor. You could wait in line for hours to play half a dozen titles for the newly announced Nintendo Switch. The marquee title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, had its own roped off section within the booth area. That was a separate line that filled up instantly, creating a three hour wait to play the 20 minute demo throughout the weekend.
Thankfully I got a chance to meet privately with Nintendo and get some quality time with the Switch.
We’ve come a long way since the days of Mortal Kombat and Senate hearings on video games. In the last decade gaming has earned mainstream acceptance. Everyone games, whether it’s a teenager gunning down strangers online in Call of Duty, a child playing Minecraft with friends, or a grandparent playing Candy Crush on their phone.
For the most part gaming is still considered a purely leisure activity. That doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from video games and what makes them so successful. Gaming concepts like achievements and intrinsic motivation can help inspire students in the classroom to improve their grades and attitudes toward learning.
During PAX South 2016 I attended a panel by orchestra director and music teacher Ashley Brandin titled, “You Have Died of Dysentery: Meaningful Gaming in Education.”