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Wherever they go in the nation or the world, the talented minds at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology continue to make lasting impressions.

PAX Unplugged, which took place in Philadelphia from December 1 to December 3, 2023, is a celebration of all things tabletop gaming. Board games, role-playing games (RPGs), card games, and miniatures all saw strong representation in Philly. Each gaming niche had strong evangelists in attendance to showcase what their respective mediums are capable of, as well as deliver thought-provoking commentary, provide demonstrations for brand-new games, and discuss what the future of “unplugged” tabletop gaming might look like.

Professors Anthony Ortega and Greg Loring-Albright, who co-teach IMED 315 Tabletop Game Design Studio at Harrisburg University, attended PAX Unplugged 2023 with a cadre of six students. The students have been hard at work conceiving, designing, and prototyping tabletop games of their own, and bringing them to PAX allowed for playtesting by seasoned designers, producers, and publishers.

Harrisburg University Playtests the Future of Tabletop Games

Rolling out a figurative red carpet for the IMED 315 students was UnPub, an organization dedicated to connecting professional game designers with as-yet unpublished gamers. UnPub was kind enough to provide a table for the HU delegation all through the weekend, where they had time, space, and an audience to showcase their creations.

Billy Grim and Lucas Speicher, both seniors, brought their nearly finished, professionally printed games with them, which they pitched to several publishers. Grim’s and Speicher’s games – Rhyme Scheme and Road Blocks, respectively – are under active publishing consideration. The other students in attendance were Patrick Chaney, George Clements, Eddie Devoney, and Isaac Repko. Thanks to the strong showings by these students, Harrisburg University game-design students now have a standing invitation to visit UnPub Expo “anytime.”

Another standout experience for the group over the weekend was the chance to grab some face time – and playtest time – with Patrick Leder, founder and creative director of Leder Games, as well as Leder Games’ senior game developer, Nick Brachmann.

PAX Unplugged 2023 also saw Professors Ortega and Loring-Albright reunited with a Harrisburg University alumnus, Gabe Hicks, who now runs his own indie game development studio called Mythic Grove Productions.

The Value of Tabletop Gaming and Game Conventions

George Clements said of the experience: “Having this many playtests with this many different people at one time definitely gave me the direction I need to fix the remaining issues and expand on what I can do with the game.”

Patrick Chaney was equally enthusiastic: “Coming away from the convention, I can safely say that this branch of gaming has an exceptionally tight-knit community with a spectacular perspective on tangible game design.”

Events like PAX Unplugged are doing great work in dispelling the “solitary gamer” stereotype that still persists in the public consciousness. Gaming in 2024 and beyond is as collaborative a pursuit as participants wish it to be. The word “gaming” seems synonymous with “video gaming” a lot of the time. Modern, internet-based video games can help us bridge continents in the name of competition or cooperation, but some are saying the analog world of board games and tabletop games is entering something of a golden age. In 2022, forecasters predicted a 7 to 11 percent rise in value for the global board game industry over five years.

Harrisburg University’s Interactive Media bachelor’s program is a standout offering in what is certain to become an even more dynamic and competitive field. 2024 will see the introduction of even more game design programs on campus to help creative and competitive gaming enthusiasts make their mark on the industry.