After two years in existence, the newest PAX is still relatively small. There are few big-name publishers exhibiting on the show floor, with many of the biggest booths belonging to hardware companies like Intel, Alienware, and Astro. There aren’t as many prominent figures in gaming walking the halls of the Henry B. González Convention Center in downtown San Antonio, TX. And the expo floor certainly isn’t as big and sprawling as PAX’s counterparts in Boston and Seattle. PAX South is a low-key show, for sure, but that’s all part of its charm.

One thing I love about conventions in their early stages is the ability to actually move around the show floor, even on the busiest day. Those who’ve attended New York Comic Con in the last few years know that getting from one end of the hall to another is a slow crawl, and even a show as organized as PAX East devolves into madness on a Saturday. This isn’t so with PAX South, at least not yet, and not only does that make it easier for members of the industry and media to do their jobs, it more importantly lets fans get facetime with the ones making these games they came to see. At one point, I heard a younger attendee say to an exhibitor, “You worked on this game? That’s so cool!” It made me think about how I take attending these events for granted, and it was hard not to smile at the public’s excitement and enthusiasm.

The games themselves are also of a different vibe than the average gaming convention. You won’t see a lot of gray/brown shooty-bang-bang types in San Antonio, but you will see plenty of quirky, off-the-beaten-path titles that no longer have to compete with AAA giants for attention. PAX South is an indie haven, and not just for video games--it’s the ideal place to discover independent tabletop games as well. From Devolver Digital’s packed booth to the PAX Rising showcase to the tiny tables in the back, the floor is loaded with promising titles from up-and-coming developers.

Kiko Villasenor

There were delightful surprises outside of the main hall, too. An expected highlight was the Jackbox stage, perfectly situated between the queue lines for two auditoriums. Anyone passing by could join in a game or just watch, and I often heard dozens of people breaking out in laughter over a hilarious Quiplash response. When I found myself in need of a quick breather, several times I took a seat on the floor and enjoyed a few rounds--the fun was infectious. Not far from the Jackbox stage was a band room (with real instruments) set up so attendees could take a break from gaming and jam; at one point I walked by and was treated to a pretty solid rendition of some Pearl Jam tunes. Another room housed classic arcade cabinets and was constantly full of people.

Then there’s the location of the convention center itself, right on San Antonio’s iconic Riverwalk. As an east coaster, I thoroughly enjoyed the sunny, 75-degree weather; working at a riverside restaurant table sure beat being at home in the snow. With plenty of hotels and eateries in close walking distance, the entire downtown area seemed to be overtaken by nerds last weekend, some in costume, some carrying tabletop games under their arms, and most still wearing PAX South passes around their necks.

If PAX South follows the trajectory of the rest of the Penny Arcade Expos, it won’t be this small and intimate for many more years. Maybe by its fourth or fifth year the big-name publishers will be out in full force and the show floor will be teeming with wall-to-wall attendees. Right now, though, I’m loving the easy-going vibe of the San Antonio show, and hope I have another year or two to enjoy it.