PAX Unplugged 2022: The Puzzle Events

In a previous article, I wrote about the experience of being at PAX Unplugged 2022 (PAXU), a convention dedicated to analog gaming of all types. While there were not many exhibit booths dealing entirely in puzzle games, the concept of puzzles as large-scale games was very present throughout the convention. There was a puzzle hunt, four different puzzle rooms, and a scavenger hunt, just to name some. Considering that PAXU 2021 did not have any of these types of events that I could find on any scale, the inclusion of so much puzzle content floored me. And because I didn’t have a chance to play and complete all of this content during the convention, I reached out to PAX Unplugged attendee Michael Andersen – writer at ARGNet and a friend of REA – to help me recap them.

Foodies from Outer Space

Foodies From Outer Space was the main puzzle hunt-style experience of PAX Unplugged, designed to be a playable pen-and-paper puzzle challenge of 14 puzzles, feeding into one final meta puzzle to answer one pressing question: after indulging in all of their favorite foodie pleasures that PAX Unplugged had to offer, what was the one food they could all agree on taking together?

The core 14 puzzles relied heavily on delightfully creative word puzzles whose format and difficulty would be familiar to Puzzled Pint fans, paired with two location specific puzzles that asked attendees to find pieces of art around the Convention Center. On top of that, a helpful convention map pointed out the locations of 7 cardboard standees of aliens, labeled with prospective favorite foods. Seven feeder puzzles helped players match the names of aliens to their descriptions, while an additional seven feeder puzzles helped figure out which food to choose as the aliens’ favorites.

This was a great series of puzzles if you were able to get your hands on it on day one. It was the perfect thing to help while away the time waiting on line for a panel, or to occupy your mind as you rested your feet after walking the show floor for a few hours. I especially appreciated that some puzzles were based on art found at the convention center, and thus were tied directly to the event. Fourteen puzzles plus having to visit booths to find the aliens plus a meta meant you had plenty of puzzle content to keep yourself occupied. Foodies was a great addition to the convention and I look forward to this format being continued in the years ahead.

Puzzle Rooms

Another new addition to the PAXU puzzle experience was a set of four cooperative puzzle rooms. Each room was playable by an escalating number of teammates, from two players up to eight. One room was offered for free and the other three were $15 per person. They varied in theme but all took place in a conference room in the convention center and, interestingly, were all based on the split-team concept.

Unfortunately I had to make an early exit from PAXU this year, and I did not have the opportunity to play any of these rooms. Thankfully, I was able to talk to some trusted folks about the rooms. The general consensus is that the rooms were built around solid puzzles with super cute themes. The $15 per person price tag was on the cheap side for a 45-minute room, but opinions were split on the value considering they were set up in a sometimes loud conference ballroom and players with experience did not need the full time.

What I can say for myself through observation is that the rooms were popular. I walked by the registration line early in the day and there was a constant wait to sign up. Asking later in the day about availability was met with a very small amount of sporadic slots. I’m hoping that the assumed success of these rooms at PAXU make them a permanent fixture of the convention moving forward.

Czech Games Edition Treasure Hunt

Czech Games Edition, a board game publisher, created a seven-part scavenger hunt in search of planetary posters, themed around the board game company’s Starship Captains game. Each new poster provided players with a puzzle challenge, followed by instructions on where in the convention hall to find the next planetary poster.

CGE Treasure Hunt poster with sci-fi art.

Starship Captains did a great job of threading a narrative puzzle adventure through both physical and digital realms, although certain puzzles would have been more approachable with a pen-and-paper approach, such as a paint-by-numbers puzzle that was delivered as a flat image file on your phone.

This game was perhaps the most easily visible of the games presented at PAXU this year. Attendees were all but guaranteed to see at least one of the planetary posters on a walk around the con, and they were both easy to understand and easy to access using a QR code.

Lockbox Adventures Safecracking Excursion

Lockbox Adventures presented convention attendees with the hardest challenge of the convention with a series of three puzzles that introduced players to Lockbox’s core gaming mechanic of solving a series of pen-and-paper puzzles to earn the game’s prizes, locked away from prying eyes. While Lockbox’s core product is focused on plastic containers and provides hints to help players when they’re stuck, the PAX Unplugged challenge scaled things up to a hefty safe. The first 25 players to unlock the safe received a custom coin in a Lockbox-branded display case, with an even more special treat for the first two to complete the challenge.

A gold challenge coin that reads "LOCKBOX" in an ornate box.

While the puzzle competition meant Lockbox couldn’t provide hints, the three puzzles’ clues could have been more clear. One puzzle’s wording was ambiguous enough to allow for two equally valid solutions, another provided wording likely to lead puzzlers astray, and the final puzzle didn’t provide any clues beyond the puzzle image itself.

This was Lockbox Adventure’s first time presenting at PAX Unplugged, and they definitely made a noticeable entrance with their puzzle contest and the safe sitting on their table. I don’t have hands-on experience with Lockbox Adventure’s standard content, but after showing up with a puzzle game booth and a game to solve while at the convention, I am eager to test out their product.

Kickstarter’s Wild Goose Chase

With four challenges heavily reliant on puzzles to advance, it was nice to have the Kickstarter Wild Goose Chase to serve as a good old fashioned scavenger hunt. Forty different booths at PAX Unplugged had a goose standee on location. Booth attendees would mark visitors’ cards with a booth-specific stamp and provide a card from Kickstarter’s own “Blow My Mind” card game, which presents players with provocative questions to debate like “Is Cereal a Soup?” Collecting 20 stamps earned players a custom Pinny Arcade goose pin, while getting the full 40 earned a limited edition Kickstarter d20 for the first few players to finish every day.

A series of Wild Goose Chase cards beside an enamel pin.

The frequent goose card stamping felt like it was likely a bit of a distraction to booth attendees dealing with visitors coming to the booth for a stamp but since many booths had originally received their funding on Kickstarter in the first place, having Kickstarter send booth traffic to now-launched projects provided a heartwarming reminder that Kickstarter’s involvement doesn’t end when the money is collected.

A Final Thought

To put it lightly, I was impressed at how many convention-wide games were available at PAX Unplugged 2022. Previous years’ conventions had none that I was aware of, so the jump up to five separate experiences that were very different from each other was nothing short of amazing. These games encouraged attendees to interact with different areas of the convention, engage with vendors, and team up with fellow players. They brought a certain meta aspect – turning a gaming convention into a series of games itself – to the weekend. I look forward to the continuation, and perhaps even an extension, of these games in future conventions.

Disclosure: PAX Unplugged provided a media pass.

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