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Pax Unplugged 2023 Board Game Standouts: ‘Dune: Imperium’, ‘Block & Key’, and More

5 Minute Read
Dec 5 2023

Pax Unplugged featured an overwhelming number of new games to check out. These are just a few of the coolest games you can’t miss.

Last weekend, I hopped on a plane back to my homeland—to the city of brotherly love, hoagies, Gritty, and all those jawns: the city of Philadelphia. It was Pax Unplugged 2023 weekend and it was a great time getting to see friends I haven’t seen in ages and the chance to check out a ton of new board games.

Some of these aren’t technically “new releases,” but they were at least newish and new to me, so I figure that counts.

Sonic Roll — Semi-Cooperative Dice Rolling

Even though the rest of this list is in no particular order, it felt disingenuous not to start off with a game featuring my favorite radical rodent, Sonic Roll by Kess Entertainment.

I didn’t know there would be a Sonic Game at PAXU. I just wear Sonic apparel 85% of the time.

In Sonic Roll, players are working together to race through levels by rolling various combinations of colored dice. Blue dice are for speed, yellow dice are for jumping and flying, and red dice are for attack. Play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy (in her classic design) to beat up badniks, unlock special stages to collect Chaos Emeralds, and maybe even unlock some more hidden content in the campaign mode!


Sonic Roll is planned to arrive at Barnes & Noble stores in early 2024, with a wider retail release online at Target and Amazon. Kess Entertainment was also showing off a Spy x Family game and a Mega Man game with similar dice-rolling mechanics but with an entirely different gameplay on top. But I’ve always had a preference for my Blue to Blur instead of Bomb.

Varia – Card and Dice Dueling Game

Varia is a lot of things all wrapped into one nice little package by Guildhouse Games. It’s a head-to-head duel where each player has their own character deck. Each character’s deck has its own tricks and combos to pull off and ways to potentially counter their opponent.

There are currently over 15 different characters to play as, with more on the way. And thanks to Varia’s innovative deck-building system, you can build your own custom character and be sure it’ll be on par with the other decks you play against.

Block and Key – 3D Pattern Matching

I’m always looking for games with a unique presentation, and Block and Key by Inside Up Games nailed the presentation.

Block and Key is a little hard to describe. It’s much easier if you can be there to see it. But imagine each player’s point of view looking straight on each side of the platform. From that perspective, players are attempting to place blocks to form certain patterns, no matter how far forward or back the blocks are, as if you were to take a picture from that POV and find your matching pattern.


It’s a truly mind-bending game of perspective and raw brain power that just looks great. Plus, the platform you play on is the game box itself! That’s just good design.

Dune Imperium: Uprising – Stand Alone Expansion

Dune Imperium has been out for a little while now, but Dire Wolf has now released Dune: Imperium – Uprising. Uprising is somewhere between a 2nd edition and a standalone expansion. It’s got a lot of the same core design of the base game but with some tweaks and improvements. Plus, all other currently available expansions are compatible with Uprising.

What really stood out to me about Dune: Imperium — Uprising was how streamlined it is, especially the combat section. It’s abstracted just enough to remove a lot of the clutter that often accompanies other strategy combat systems, but without losing any of the strategy.

The Big Shuffle Film Noir Set Matching Card Game

Previously Pluto was just dripping with character. Everyone at their booth was dressed in classic prohibition-era gangster outfits and smoking candy cigarettes. I’m so upset I didn’t get a picture with them, but their game, The Big Shuffle, can speak for itself.

The Big Shuffle is a game about setting up your perfect scene. Players are each competing to be the first to get their scene set first. But the scene is shared, so players need to stay one step ahead of each other in order to be the one to get it set just right.

Each card will alter the amount of influence that player has over the Who, What, and Where of the scene. Each player is trying to get the scene to match their agenda but also has hidden shared agenda cards between players. This gives multiple ways to win, or maybe a way to doublecross a potential ally at just the last minute.


Author: Matt Sall
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