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PAX Unplugged is a brand-new convention focused on tabletop games

Coming to Philadelphia in November

An art print, available from Penny Arcade, of characters playing a tabletop role-playing game.
Penny Arcade
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Penny Arcade and ReedPop are partnering to bring a new convention to Philadelphia this November. Called PAX Unplugged, it will focus exclusively on tabletop games.

The two companies already partner for multiple conventions, including PAX West, East and South. But while those events primarily focus on video games, Unplugged will be the first show dedicated in its entirety to that hobby. The team is still working to determine logistics, collect vendors and schedule events but director of events Ryan Hartman tells Polygon that his team has already secured a large block of hotel rooms in and around the city.

“If we were going to do an out and out brand new PAX-style PAX, you could almost copy and paste the model to Philadelphia,” said Hartman. “This is a chance to be able to reinvent the wheel and do some new things. ... It’s going to be a PAX, but it’s going to have its own different focus.”

There are already two other large fan conventions for tabletop games in the U.S. Origins Game Fair is scheduled for June this year in Columbus, Ohio while the nation’s largest and longest running tabletop convention, Gen Con, and will take place each August in Indianapolis, Indiana through 2021. While neither conflict on the calendar, there will no doubt be some fans that have to make a choice which to attend.

Hartman doesn’t see those other conventions as direct competitors, and instead wants Unplugged to be an opportunity to expand the tabletop audience.

“Clearly Gen Con is the biggest dog in the park,” Hartman said. “I would say that as an industry, tabletop is absolutely exploding right now.”

Hartman isn’t exaggerating. Industry trade publication ICV2 estimates that is rose to $1.2 billion in 2015, up from $880 million the year before. There is also sustained growth in crowdfunding, especially on Kickstarter.

“The tabletop space is huge,” Hartman said, “and there’s definitely an appetite for it among our exhibitors, among our fanbase and among the industry.”

In the past few years Penny Arcade founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik have become personally invested in one tabletop company in particular. Staff at Wizards of the Coast have made a habit out of getting together to play Dungeons & Dragons with them. The adventures of their party, called Acquisitions Incorporated, have become a centerpiece of PAX events drawing thousands of spectators.

Hartman was unable to confirm that Wizards of the Coast would be involved in PAX Unplugged, or if a game of Acquisitions Incorporated would be hosted at the convention.

“We were able to get Acquisitions Inc. to come to South,” Hartman said, “It’s not just as easy as saying, ‘Hey, we want to do it! Add a show, and let’s do it!’ There’s a lot of moving pieces and cat herding with it. But I’m thrilled that we’ll have it at South this year, and we’ll have it at East as well. I would love to be able to do it at Unplugged, and I’m sincerely hoping.”

Badges for PAX Unplugged will go on sale this spring. For all of Polygon’s tabletop coverage, head to our dedicated page.