The second year of Pittsburgh’s gaming convention, RePlay FX 2016, was much like the first, in that the convention had all the values that made it such an entertaining venue before, with enhancements stemming from what, at first glance, seemed to simply be their first year strengths arrayed better so that all that RePlay FX has to offer could be sampled by its attendees. However, upon contemplation of the significant changes in this event, I can only conclude that RePlay FX appears to be becoming a hybrid gaming event.
In the first year, while there were console games, tabletop games, and musical acts, they were fringe activities taking place in the margins. While the console games were in the main hall, they were crowded together towards one wall; the musical acts were outside the main doors, and few attendees seemed to be stopping on their way to the main draw inside the convention hall; and, the tabletop games were down a hallway and in a dedicated nook that was peopled only by one Replay FX staff member when we went to it.
This year, by way of comparison, the live music stage was inside the main convention hall and, as it had multicolored stage lights, did attract audiences from the attendees that were both exhausted from standing up to play games and predispositioned to like brightly colored lights from their fandom for vintage coin op video games. Additionally, the musical acts were playing gaming soundtrack favorites. For instance, when we visited the live music area, we listened to a few Legend of Zelda interpretations by the Triforce Quartet. They were such a cool act that I might have preferred to sit down for a while and let my bones soak up the vibes, but as I still had not found Tempest anywhere in the hall, and the echo of Tempest screens charging toward my cursor was at the forefront of my memory, I moved on.
The console games section was expanded into rows, and the supply of numerous home gaming platforms, represented from the 1980s to the present, seemed easier to enjoy; and, lastly, the board game tables supplanted the laid-back space outside the main hall which was the venue for live music in 2015.
I love to play vintage coin op games, and we did nothing but hop between stand up arcade games on Friday, but Saturday we decided that we would make extensive use of the board game room. The board game room, as it was prominently situated right outside the main gate to the convention hall, had a lot more traffic this year, and on Saturday, most of the game tables were filled at any given time, so that there was a little waiting for games, but that did not stop us from enjoying four hours of tabletop gaming, including learning how to play Hanabi, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Pandemic Legacy. A chance to have a handful of board games taught to us is a great thing. Not only can we sample these pricey products before laying out the funds, it also diminishes the time between buying a game and playing it on a game night with friends, as we already understand the game, and do not need to absorb the rules. Aside from that, as I haven’t gone to a tabletop convention since the early 90s, for me it was also a taste of GenCon. And apparently the dozens of other attendees that were in the open tabletop gaming area agreed with me. This is why I remarked in my opening paragraph that RePlay FX seemed to be evolving into a hybrid gaming convention, just as gamers worldwide are evolving to prefer a hybrid gaming environment embracing both video games and tabletop games in venues such as “gaming cafes.”
As we are already big Pandemic fans, and have been wondering if we should drop the $75 (and growing, due to being currently hard to find) that is required to acquire season 1 of Pandemic Legacy, we found that this was a great opportunity to test drive the game. Also, while the grown-ups have played Pandemic many times on game nights, my daughter has not had this chance, and she has been wanting to play any version of Pandemic since watching that episode of Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop.
What was especially innovative is that the person who taught us how to play Pandemic Legacy had opened a brand new copy of the game before the convention, and had been playing it off and on through the convention, so that we were inheriting characters that other people had played. Some of the characters had experience, and we were entering the game year at the end of February. The yellow disease markers were incurable and untreatable, which meant that one of us was on quarantine duty for most of the game.
We also learned One Night Ultimate Werewolf in the best possible way. The gamers that taught us played the One Night app through this steampunk speaker that looked like it was borrowed from Agatha Heterodyne‘s closet.
As to the video game room, there were still row upon row of arcade classics, not only the holy gaming relics worthy of veneration, such as Ms. Pac Man, Tempest, Crazy Taxi, Asteroids, The Simpsons (in two years of attending this convention, I have never found The Simpsons video game to be unoccupied), and Rampage, but also the more ephemeral oddballs such as Robotron 2084 (forgot about that one, didn’t you?).
There were hundreds of pinball games, including probably a few that were as old as the oldest attendee, as well as newer models such as this Game of Thrones pinball game—which dates at least to before the Red Wedding, as it depicts Robb Stark.
One thing that I greatly appreciated, as it was an inestimable contribution to the enjoyment of my five year old, was the presence of small folding step-ladders on the show floor. With the extra ten inches of height, a whole world of video game enjoyment opened up to my son, and we discovered that he loved pinball as much as he loves racing games. Last year, my son could only play with the console games and a handful of coin op games in the hall, and this year there was no game that he could not enjoy. My recommendation to parents, though, for future installments of this convention, is to buy one before this show, as there were at least twice as many attendees this year as last, and with that kind of growth rate, you won’t be able to count on the availability of amenities.
I mentioned in my review of Tekko 2016 that there seemed to be a conversation between Tekko and RePlay FX, as well as the other pop culture events in this area, as Tekko had expanded their coin op video game selection into a miniature Japanese themed RePlay FX. The influence of Tekko could be more directly observed at RePlay FX 2016; not only was there a Tekko booth next to the RePlay FX registration stand, at least two of the Japanese games I saw at Tekko were on the RePlay FX game floor. There was also a marvelous Japanese import that I had not seen yet at either con, Magical Truck Adventure, which we had a wonderful and vigorous time playing. Magical Truck Adventure—truck as in hand truck, the two-manned cars that use muscle power to ply train tracks—requires its two players to frantically pump the hand truck’s lever alternately to flee threats and to pursue enemies. We found it to be one of the more refreshing examples of the Japanese arcade imports that combine physical fitness with playing video games, not unlike the dancing games in this regard.
The vendors had more competition this year, but there also seemed to be more customers in total. In addition to Comic Wreck, who we mentioned in our last year’s review, there were many new faces, including not just more vendors hawking video game accessories and apparel, but also another comic book merchant, Pittsburgh’s own New Dimension Comics, as well as an animator, Philo Barnhart, known for his work on not just the famous video games Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, but also many Disney cartoons such as The Little Mermaid, and Don Bluth productions, such as The Secret of Nimh. Philo Barnhart’s sketch prices started at $40, and he had dozens of prints available for the more budget conscious, but as he always seemed to be sketching when I walked by, RePlay FX fans seemed to be glad to have their own personal piece of video game or animation history hanging on their wall.
There were numerous highlights this year at RePlay FX 2016, but the defining moments for our family were probably the four hours we played board games, discovering my son was a pinball enthusiast, and getting our pulses racing playing Magical Truck Adventure. In its first outing, RePlay FX defined itself as a new, distinctive, Pittsburgh pop culture convention, and this year, RePlay has already leveled up to be an even more engaging event.
(Editor’s notes: RePlay FX provided press passes for this event. Cross-posted on Board of Life.)