In Pax Pamir, players assume the role of nineteenth century Afghan leaders attempting to forge a new state after the collapse of the Durrani Empire. Western histories often call this period "The Great Game" because of the role played by the Europeans who attempted to use central Asia as a theater for their own rivalries. In this game, those empires are viewed strictly from the perspective of the Afghans who sought to manipulate the interloping ferengi (foreigners) for their own purposes.
In terms of game play, Pax Pamir is a pretty straightforward tableau builder. Players spend most of their turns purchasing cards from a central market, then playing those cards in front of them in a single row called a court. Playing cards adds units to the game's map and grants access to additional actions that can be taken to disrupt other players and influence the course of the game. That last point is worth emphasizing. Though everyone is building their own row of cards, the game offers many ways for players to interfere with each other directly and indirectly.
To survive, players will organize into coalitions. Throughout the game, the dominance of the different coalitions will be evaluated by the players when a special card, called a "Dominance Check", is resolved. If a single coalition has a commanding lead during one of these checks, those players loyal to that coalition will receive victory points based on their influence in their coalition. However, if Afghanistan remains fragmented during one of these checks, players instead will receive victory points based on their personal power base.
After each Dominance Check, victory is checked and the game will be partially reset, offering players a fresh attempt to realize their ambitions. The game ends when a single player is able to achieve a lead of four or more victory points or after the fourth and final Dominance Check is resolved.
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A few weeks ago, I did something unexpected.
I saw there was a live Kickstarter for 1861/67, and I backed it immediately. Me, the Euro gamer who judges whether or not he'll like a game based on the percentage of beige on the table. Me, the person for whom turning wooden pieces into other wooden pieces is the idea of a perfect weekend. Me, the person who will probably end up naming his future firstborn Uwe Pfister Feld Gerdts.
In ages past, I've tried to venture outside my dry-Euro comfort zone. I tried to play Ameritrash games: Dead of Winter, Journeys in Middle Earth, and anything FFG offered that could snap me out of this comatose German aversion to anything that remotely reeks of fun. But to no avail--every time I tried to engage with plastic miniatures and beautiful graphic design, I spent entire gaming sessions looking over my shoulder, wondering if my beloved Concordia felt betrayed, asking myself if the dead, empty eyes of the sad men on Great Western Trail's cover would ever take me back.
But then I saw something that would haunt me forever.
Capstone's new edition of Irish Gauge.
Look at it. Feast your eyes on that beautiful, minimalist graphic design. Look at the delectable little choo-choo trains. The placid greens, the muted hexagons, the obtuse-yet-simple table of numbers. But surely it wasn't for me. Train games are for middle-aged nerds who collect stamps, and I'm a cultured Eurogamer. I don't manipulate share prices--that's beneath me! I'm too busy turning salt into bricks into food into tools into wine into cloth into cold, uncaring victory points in the Mediterranean. Auctions? Hah! What is this, 1997?
So I guiltily tucked it away. I kept my little transgression hidden in the deep, dark recesses of my cardboard-obsessed mind. And for a while, I was happy. But then I finally got the chance to play a game I'd been dying to try; I finally played Brass: Birmingham. I have trouble categorizing the Brass games: are they economic simulations? Are they Euros? Do they share DNA with the rest of Martin Wallace's games, which are decidedly not Euros? These questions will surely go down in history as some of the greatest unanswered mysteries of our time. But what isn't a mystery is the fact that Brass: Birmingham is special.
A bloat of obscure rules, concepts, and grammar coalesce into a cutthroat tapestry of economic manipulation--a knife-fight between British gentlemen who dare say you're bloody daft for interfering with their capitalistic machinations, and by jove they will strangle you with the coal-and-soot-laden invisible hand if they have to. It's a nasty game, and it's an unusual game, and it is special. I can say with confidence that it is probably the best designed board game I've ever played. To boot: if you're a sheepish Eurogamer like me, it is infinitely more palatable than the barebones economic rampage that is train games.
The first time I played Brass: Birmingham, I lost. I lost by a lot. But I had a hell of a time losing, and try as I might, I just couldn't get the game out of my mind. Maybe, I thought to myself, Maybe I could be into economic board games? Maybe I could love games that aren't beige? Maybe, somewhere deep inside, there is a part of me that could be confrontational, and conniving, and cutthroat? Ah, but it was in between print runs. Bad luck. There was nothing for it.
Weeks later, I saw that my local game store had a more innocuous--and civilized--game on sale: Gugong. I'd played it before and remembered liking its spin on the worker placement mechanism, so I drove out to pick it up. I don't know how the timing lined up so perfectly, but there, in the midst of the chaos and cardboard mayhem, were the two games that had been plaguing me for weeks: 1 copy of Brass: Birmingham, and several copies of Irish Gauge.
I did not stand a chance. Faster than you can say Kennerspiele des Jahres, I had 3 new games in my shelf.
The first time I played Irish Gauge, I hesitantly introduced it to the table as some train game I saw at the store for cheap. It was a lie designed to obfuscate my shameful obsession. Oh, how wonderful would it be if this impulse purchase could somehow ride the wings of serendipity to rise above the fray of mediocrity? (The table is the perfect place for melodrama). So we played. And it was fantastic. It was beyond fantastic--it was revelatory.
Look, don't read this word-vomit as a review. It isn't. Irish Gauge, by all regular metrics, is a fine game. Fans of the cube rails genre (to which Irish Gauge belongs) don't even consider it the best cube rails game--that accolade many of them reserve for Chicago Express, or, if the pedantry will allow, Wabash Cannonball. But it is a solid game of auctions, company value manipulation, and general economic skullduggery. And it's a whirlwind--what with its one page of rules and its breezy mechanics for determining dividends, the whole thing plays in under an hour. It basically begs you to play it a second time.
Irish Gauge is a game, but it's also an argument. It is likely the simplest, most stripped-down version of itself, and so on that merit it makes a case for the value of barebones economic games. What it abstracts away is dross; what it keeps is a spatial puzzle of optimization and tenuous alliances. There is a fragile balance to be found in this type of game, not unlike the fragile balance I later came to enjoy when I played Pax Pamir.
Brass: Birmingham, that lumbering behemoth, planted the sick notion in my head that economic games might be as fun as the driest of Euros. Irish Gauge convinced me of that fact. For the longest time, I refused to consider these types of games as the expansion of my horizons--too mean, too complicated, too mathy. Not enough story, I thought. You can't ask that much of me; I play games to have fun, not to do homework.
But here I am, a convert brimming with potential. If economic games are for me, then why not the Pax games? Why not COIN games? I am once again excited to discover new things--I feel once more the thrill I felt when I first became a hobbyist, when every Shut Up & Sit Down video was an exciting new possibility, when every game on Wil Wheaton's Tabletop could possibly be the game. I eagerly await the arrival of my first 18xx game as my cardboard pantheon grows to include names like Wehrle and Russell and Wallace and Tresham. It doesn't mean I've turned my back on the chorus of passive-aggressive Germans who brought me into this hobby. It just means there's room in my heart to be a little bit sinister.
7 Months. That is roughly how long it has been since I backed the #Pax Pamir (Second Edition) reprint on Kickstarter. Since then, I have procured multiple different games that got me really excited and have truly enjoyed. These games include: #Too Many Bones, #Bus, #Aeon's End: Legacy, #Barrage. All excellent games and all games I have gotten some good plays in solo and multiplayer (sans Barrage).
When Pamir arrived on my doorstep, it was not the game that was front of mind. I have been working through TMB and Barrage solo play and have put Pamir on the back burner...that all changed when I opened this beautiful game, it changed even more when I sat down to play my first game on Thursday, and it has become more and more evident how excellent this game is. I just sat down this lazy afternoon to play a fully solo game against Wakhan and the game has consumed me!
Ok enough gushing, I want to provide you an idea of how my two plays so far have gone. The first play was with one other guy (he also purchased the game, we have been fanboying over this game for awhile) and Wakhan, the solo automa bot. We sat down to play and set it all up and had to do some research and reading as to be expected when playing a game for the first time and especially with a bot. We had some deck construction issues...there was a dominance check in the opening market...definitely not supposed to happen! We fixed it and took off.
Quick overview of how the game went. I chose the Russians as my opening loyalty, my friend chose the British I believe, and Wakhan is loyal to everyone. The game state really was fairly even for the first dominance check, we scored disks and I believe my friend took the lead there. Second dominance check came around and we were both loyal to the Russians and they were dominant...leading to a splitting of the points, blocks clear. It is anybody's game. I have always heard tha you typically shift your loyalties throughout the game, but I felt as though staying loyal to the Russians was the play, I had two gifts and had a strong disk presence. The final dominance check came out and I had the perfect card in hand to remove dominance from the British AND was rolling in rupees to buy the final dominance check to jump up and claim victory. Wakhan and I split the 8 points moving me to 11 point, Wakhan at 8 and my friend at 6.
Looking back, we made some Wakhan mistakes with her free actions and maybe a couple actions here and there, but it is really good having her with 2-players. She adds a level of uncertainty and a common enemy so that you are not at each others throats the whole game.
Second game, purely solo with Wakhan today and it went very quickly and smoothly! Wakhan started out by throwing out a crazy amount of Afghan armies and roads giving them a wild lead, so I switched from Russian to Afghan to take advantage of her aggression, scored big on the first dominance check, then the second dominance check was triggered by having two in the market and thankfully I had just pulled ahead in disks and there was no dominant coalition and beat Wakhan in about an hour.
This game is an absolute delight. You truly feel like a tactician having to evaluate the game state at all points, keep track of what the other players are working towards and how they can hurt you. My favorite aspect of the game is the different coalitions and how anyone can hop onto the dominant coalition at any point to neuter the current leader, though it comes with a price. The theme of the game comes out for me so much because I have seen the Heavy Carboard stream about three times and Cole Wehrle does such an excellent job of explaining not only the mechanics but also why everything functions thematically. My personal favorite is betraying a card in your own court to turn it into a loyalty prize, proving to your leadership that you can sacrifice anything and anyone in your camp to prove you are fully committed and loyal to that coaltion. I never would have thought about that had I not listened to Cole explain and unfurl the story this game tells. If you ever have a chance to play this game, or even better own the game. I highly recommend it. The barrier of entry is a little high because it is hard to understand the game state, but that comes with experiencing the game. The mechanics are simple and the components are UNREAL. I have only gushed over the game play but MAN the components are stunning and worth the higher cost.
I got an opportunity yesterday to play my first game of #Pax Pamir (Second Edition). I have wanted this game for a long time, and I quickly backed the reprint when it came back to Kickstarter. I finally got my copy on Wednesday, but, a few days of travel, and being behind on work meant that I couldn't play it until Sunday afternoon. Now I have played it, and, I decided to write a Brian's Battery review on it.
Firstly, I do have a few disclaimers:
- These are my first impressions. I have played the game a grand total of ONCE. And, as such, I may have gotten some rules wrong that would change the game.
- This is a Kickstarter game I have waited for since I backed it early this year, and, I had wanted it for months before that. So, that may influence how positively I view the game today.
- I love historical themes, so, I will be more positively biased towards this sort of game anyways.
In Pax Pamir 2E you are set in in Afghanistan directly after the fall of the Durrani Empire. This is the time of history known as the Great Game. This is the time in history where European powers used central Asia as a the theater to play out their imperial ambitions. During this period, Afghanistan was a place where Russia and Great Britain wrestled for control. There was also a local nationalistic movement that tried to gain control of the region. PP2E puts you into this "Great Game," but not as one of the main players. Rather, you are a lowly Afghan chieften/warlord. You don't know who will win, and to a certain extant you don't care. What you are trying to do is to make sure whatever faction wins, you are loyal to them, so that you will be able to live a softer life, or at least to continue to live. Your loyalties are very pragmatic, and you can and will switch loyalties whenever it seems convient to you. You will be placing spies, accepting British, Afghan, or Russian patriots into your court. You will be inviting armies from the powers to set up in you area, or to place roads in your area. You will be offering gifts and bribes to make sure that if the coalition you back wins, they will remember you.
This is all driven by a fairly simple tablaeu builder. You have limited very few actions automatically available per turn. But there are a lot of actions on the cards in your tablaeu (court) that you may or may not be able to play depending on the political enviroment. You really do feel like you are not the main player in the Great Game, but rather a cash strapped political wannabe, which is a cool feeling to have.
So, without further ado..... A Brian's Battery breakdown of my first impressions of #Pax Pamir (Second Edition).
Components ++ What can I say about the components that cannot be said before? The whole package is a wonderful marriage of form and function. The art is wonderful, and evocotive, but the symbology is still clear and easy to read. The coalition blocks are super simple and don't "look" like armies or roads, but they are fun to handle, beautiful to look at, and are still wonderfully evocotive. I will make two specific comments in regards to the components.
- The included cardboard coins are really nice, when considered in a vacuum. But, they pale in comparison to the optional metal coins. If you are interested in this game, and have an option to get the metal coins... They are well worth it.
- The cards are not linen finish. I am ok with that. Cole Wehrle, the designer, said that they chose not to go with linen finish, because it messed up some of the fine lines on the artwork on the cards. In this case, I would prefer the artwork to the linen finish. But, it is something to note.
Rules complexity vs. Depth ++ To be very clear, these are first impressions... But, ruleswise it not that heavy, but it looks like there is a LOT of depth. Of course, I could be wrong... But, those are my first impressions.
AI opponent +- I am going to break this down into several components.
- Ease of management + I do think this is a fairly easy AI manage, certainly for one that can feel so effective.
- Does the AI make intelligent decisions? +- Sometimes. I did feel like generally the AI did make very intelligent decisions. But there was one or two really headscratching decisions that ended up loseing her the game, but, there were specific decisions she made that lost her the game.
- Does the AI feel like a human component = I haven't played with a human opponent, but I doubt that the Wakhan will feel like a human opponent. Even if she does, she was designed to stimulate the feeling of two human opponents. and so, as such, she will grow her court, and put out coalition blocks, faster than you can.
Thematic + I felt this game really comunicated the theme well. But, if I had not done as much research into the game before I don't know how thematic it would have felt if I hadn't dug into it beforehand.
Rulebook + I think that the rulebook was well written, the aids were well presented and written. I think I could have learned it easily enough from the rulebook, but I did watch a bunch of how to play videos before I even got the game in order to speed up how soon I could play the game.
Gameplay + The gameplay was wonderful. It was engrossing. It was engaging. It captured my attention, and held me thrall. The turns The AI weren't onnerous to manage. I am in awe at this master of game design. We will see how more experience changes it for or for worse...But, I think this will probably end up in my top 3 games of on time. This is a game with great potential. And, I am looking forward to playing this more. Of course, with more time and experience my opinion on it might go down.
Do I recomend this to you? This is a game where you will get screwed over, this is a game that does not need you to be interested in history, but it will feed your interest in history. This is a game that has a game state that is very clear to read, and very opaque at the same time. This is a game that has a lot of input randomness in terms of what cards come on the market. Some people will really bounce off of that. None of these are problems for me. If they are not problems for you, I highly recomend you check this one out.
So I have a few games that I would love to play (and I think they'd be staples) but for a variety of reasons I don't think I'll ever get to play them. Mostly it is due to time constraints, but also due in large part to not having the right group that would like either the weight or the time.
#Dune - So much of what I've heard about this game makes me want to play it. Based on one of my favorite books of all time. Great at higher player counts. Lot of negative player interaction. The chance to backstab. I haven't done too much research because I don't think I'd ever play it, but what I know sounds awesome.
#Twilight Imperium 4th Edition - I still don't have a 4x SciFi game in my collection and I'd love to get one. This falls into the category of just not enough time. Seems like I'd love it though.
#Star Wars: Rebellion - Another game in a Universe I love (for the most part), but just seems like it'd be way to long.
#War of the Ring (Second Edition) - I could almost say the same thing as I did above. Middle Earth is the most fascinating literary world I've ever experienced. I just need, time, time and more time...
#Pax Pamir (Second Edition) - I think so much of this game looks awesome to me, and I think I'd really enjoy it. But I don't know if my gaming group(s) would. I also have no idea about time on this one. Maybe the solo mode by itself is worth it (@philryuh), but it's hard for me to consider picking up a game to basically solely (pun intended) play solo.
[Brass: Birmingham, Concordia, Gùgōng, The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, Irish Gauge, 1861: Russia / 1867: Canada, Pax Pamir (Second Edi...]
[Pax Pamir (Second Edition)]
[Twilight Imperium 4th Edition, Star Wars: Rebellion, War of the Ring (Second Edition), Dune, Pax Pamir (Second Edition)]