Casting Deep Meteo
The Wanamaker Organ at the Macy’s City Center, the largest playable organ in the world.

PAX Unplugged 2023

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #171. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Wide but shallow.


“Y’all want to check out the world’s second-largest playable pipe organ?”

Why the hell not. For our renewed annual pilgrimage down to sunny Philadelphia, we opted to fly down instead of drive, so I would sadly not get the chance to stop by Stu’s clubhouse somewhere in the swamps of New Jersey, but we had a bit more time to take in the delights of the City of Brotherly Love. With a pilot program for regular street sweeping in wide deployment, the crooked concrete spiraling out from the convention center and beyond looked more inviting than ever. We got our breakfast tacos, wandered downtown, scooped some cloudy donuts, grabbed my badge and then Sam suggested that since we were close to the Macy’s we might as well pop in to see what the pipe organ has to offer.

Stumbling in, everything appeared as it should for a movie-set Macy’s – waves of decoration, a full house of discount percentages, columns, marble, stuff to buy. It’s a huge store, famously so, and it took a minute to get the center anchored by a statue of a big-ass brass eagle and upon looking up several stories of pipe organ. I didn’t know what to expect, despite being familiar with pipe organs and impressively large stores as well as Sam’s previous qualifier for this particular musical instrument. And yet there it gaped, this vibrating maw, sheathed in shifting LEDs and surrounded by the devoted elderly and a handful of nerds.

Every fifteen minutes or so the world’s second-largest playable pipe organ located in this Philadelphia Macy’s store strikes up a jaunty holiday tune, leaving those inside feeling like they were stuffed in an angel’s trumpet. It didn’t play long for us, maybe a minute or two, and I’m not sure if this is because of the air or energy required or simply to spare our primitive fleshy brains, but I was left with a pleasant holiday vibration straight through my last cell. As Shoresy says in season 2, it set the tone. (Ed. Note, the Wanamaker Organ at the Macy’s City Center is the largest playable organ in the world. In fact, it’s the largest instrument in the world made entirely by humans. However, the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ has more pipes but has not been fully functional since 1944.)

Table-view of several players playing the colorful and complex card game Stardriven.


Rock Manor is stocked with road warriors, with a spread of games in a variety of vibes, not the least of which is one of the few card games about lawyering that brought in that Netrunner energy I crave. For PAX Unplugged 2023, they were demoing a pre-Kickstarter version of their upcoming galaxy-exploration game Stardriven. It’s a three-to-four player game about staffing up your star ship and getting shit done, with a whole host of intergalactic peoples including Space Bears and more. The point is to get that solid gold rep, shunting scoundrels and pirates while getting the right crew and other conditions to complete missions. I didn’t get to playtest for very long but even my short time gave a sense of the churn, the turnaround, the zipping about and rolling and placement of dice in order to edge out the other players.

The game is kept on time by a certain number of missions and turns, limiting a session to about an hour as it spreads through a few different mechanical systems teetering towards too much but stepping back before crossing the line. Ultimately a cute and middle-complex game to step into after the gang tires of the initial Euro offerings and whatnot. Rock Manor says they’ve been working on this game for a few years now and the upcoming Kickstarter is more of a formality, as is the longstanding trend. In the end, this is a long-term project for them – an interstellar IP with at least two other games in the works to flesh out the planets, solar sailors and cosmic stories for years to come.

The box art for Varia, featuring a warrior battling a fearsome foe on a misty battlefield.


The PR email on this one almost caught me but the number of tete-a-tete games haunting my shelves was so worrisome that I passed. But then I wandered by the booth and saw their new set was samurai versus ninja and I’m damned if I’m not an easy target in some ways.

The employee in charge of the spiel performed it with great gusto and gave the gist as follows: Dark Souls on cardboard, but like, the boss rush mode. Each player has their own deck, pre-constructed or with some rules for mixing it up, built around a single fighter, and they’re dueling. Each round goes through moment by moment, with the attacker setting the pace and the defender responding in kind to either out-shield the damage or maneuver past it. This establishment of the timeline does a good job of breaking down the choreography of the fight while still maintaining the visceral feeling of exchanging blows, whether it’s landing that big swing or slipping past with a pulled-down eyelid.

Varia is ultimately a finely tuned execution of this type of battling card game, while throwing in some d4s and d6s to paddle fate about and prevent any solved lockouts. The developers also insist on a wide range of balance as part of their focus when releasing new fighters in their seasons, though I personally believe balance is more a matter of faith than science. Regardless, samurai fighting ninja remains cool as hell, and this one does the eternal skirmish justice.

The box art for Scram shows three chubby kitties staring straight at the viewer, daring them to do something about it.


When your senses are blasted by so many games, booths, options, it helps to establish some priorities for browsing. One of ours is “games to make the holidays more interesting,” and usually this category requires some animal-based aesthetics. PAX Unplugged offers this in abundance, this year being no exception, and in our exploration, we came across Scram.

This is an adorable “fuck you” card game about shooing critters off your campsite, sometimes by making them the other player’s problem. Everyone is working through a hand that is partly face up and face down, and the face down cards stay that way unless instructed otherwise, so everyone needs to stretch the memory neurons a bit. Each card is an animal, numbered by potential disruption, with bears and skunks high on the list but chipmunks and otters much lower.

Best of all it teaches fast, plays faster and offers many opportunities to reverse some misfortune someone else’s way while you’re whittling down your own collection of adorable pests.

A collage of various scoundrels (but probably not 3000) arranged to form a larger image of a horse head.

3000 Scoundrels

Before PAX Unplugged properly opened the gates, we hit up a couple of Philly’s finest board game communal spaces. The first was Philly Game Shop, a store with a ton of tables that’s happy to have you there to play, and we put some time in with Betrayal at House on the Hill. It was a delightful and comfy spot, but they didn’t serve drinks, so we moved on over to Queen & Rook.

This vegetarian cafe/bar has a truly overwhelming lending library, so we asked the staff for any new game recs, and they said that 3000 Scoundrels was as fresh as it gets and has had people talking. This is a Western-themed (with some sci-fi garnish) bluffing game with some engine-building elements based around the titular number of possible “scoundrels” each player can hire to figure out which safes to steal. Each turn, the players draw some cards that determine which actions they can do. But this is somewhat limited, and may not allow each player to do what they want to do, so they play these cards face down in a slot. They do what they wanted, and then can have their perceived bluffs called by other players, which can be a bit of a nuisance.

From the shot we were into this one, mostly a group-solo affair as there isn’t a whole lot of direct interaction unless one of the randomized scoundrels allows it, so players are left to their own schemes when they aren’t accusing the other players of shenanigans. We were having a real rootin’ tootin’ time, and Nick declared that this game ruled and he had to get it. But as we cruised into the back half his mood soured, and despite not even being the person in last place he felt so abused and belabored that the game was officially dead to him. And then we hustled out because trivia was starting.

The box art for Coyote & Crow features the titular characters standing shoulder-to-shoulder as the sky behind them lights up with magic.

Coyote & Crow

We work up so damn early to try and get a session of this d12-based role playing game in at PAX with an experienced referee, but as per usual with this type of endeavor, our luck did not hold. Still, the art is incredible, and the team behind the game involved three dozen indigenous writers, and I’m holding out hope to get some time with it soon. I mention it here because it looks so rad and there’s a whole publishing ecosystem behind it, and maybe you’ll pick it up and want to run a game for me. Also, d12s are the best dice and I don’t get to roll them enough.

The box art for Tales to Amaze shows several characters dressed in cool mid-century duds taking on all comers, up to and including a pair of flying saucers.

Unmatched Adventures: Tales to Amaze

The Vintage RPG Discord server had me hyped on this co-op expansion of the long-running popular tactics skirmish game Unmatched, the premise being that any character from any box can fairly fight any other. Again, balance is a matter of faith, but it is mechanically possible to square any two up. Up to this point it was strictly a player-vs-player affair, but Tales to Amaze brings in some of that Horrified energy to press some friends together in a band of heroes to fight either the Mothman or some Alien Invaders and their gaggle of cryptid minions.

The demo presenter said this set was tough and they weren’t lying. Unmatched already does not allow much room for error, with few if any options for regaining lost health for most characters, but the villains and their henchmen are not held under that same strict rubric. So, it’s best to communicate and focus your attention, and some knowledge of how the minions work goes a long way in mitigating their card-eating abilities. You run around to divide and ambush these threats, with the randomness of draw doing that old work of calling your shots. The maps and the miniatures and the bits all shine though, and I hope to bring in my Buffy and Jurassic Park boxes to complicate the fiction, but mostly I’m glad to have a way to play Unmatched that creates a common enemy rather than increased household competition.

The box and game spread for Mega Man Adventures. The game box looks like a cubed version of the original Nintendo cartridge!

Mega Man Adventures

Caught some time with my bro Protoman as the expo hall was literally closing down. Three friends and me, a stranger to them, bumbled through our respective stages, sharing the dice we rolled and the cards we drew to survive as many stages as possible. Mega Man has a shrine in my heart forever, but the various board game incarnations never really sing for me, and this one didn’t change the track, unfortunately. Running and jumping and shooting were all abstracted into dice rolls, lovingly and with great attention to the legacy, but it just didn’t feel the same. It’s a co-op puzzle solver, where the Blue Bomber is about moving fast and taking wild leaps. Maybe the next one will satisfy, like a cold E-tank. 


Levi Rubeck is a critic and poet currently living in the Boston area. Check his links at


Ad Free, Casting Deep Meteo, Games, Unwinnable Monthly