I love Christmas presents – this is such a beautiful tradition and I really cherish the anticipation. Still, as you probably experienced, not always the gifts you receive are the ones you dream of. And in trying to address it and you just pointing to only one option, you lose the fun from uncertainty! So in our closest family we designed a method how to deal with it. Me and my wife are creating list of like 10 items, potential gifts. And then the other side choose 1-2 from it. Surprise guaranteed as well as perfect present.
After this extended introduction, let me focus on main topic of article. One of the items on my “Christmas list” this year was Pax Pamir – Second Edition. How thrilled I was when I found a big, sturdy and very heavy box under the tree. That mean a lot of fun in the days to come!
Before sharing more about sessions and impressions, some information about the game. Hope that will build your interest in that title too! Also, I missed Pax Pamir first edition, but as I read on BGG, the second one is such a vast improvement that you should consider that one.
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 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.
In Pax Pamir Second Edition there is an option to play solo, against an automated opponent called Wakhan. As designer writes, this opponent represents some radical ideology that has taken hold across region and that transcends traditional loyalties. What is interesting, Wakhan can be faced by one or two humans – but just to be clear, this is not a cooperative variant and only one player can win.
We are still in the semi-lockdown here in Poland so it is really hard to play live. Thus I decided to start my Pax Pamir game familiarization with Wakhan solo variant. That proved to be great idea, and the sessions were exciting and challenging!
Session 1 – a grand victory!
I will not go into details of how Wakhan plays – enough to say that we have her action cards which allow them to behave appropriately to situation on map – especially Dominance Cards which are key to victory. And she does it very well as underlying algorithm is nicely written. What I will focus on are my sessions against bot and then impressions based on three plays.
Let us see how I coped with Wakhan in my first game:
- No dominant coalition during first dominance, and even number of tribes/spies deployed. 2-2.
- I had just one more spy/tribe deployed than Wakhan so even at the cost of 5 I decided to immediately purchase the second Dominance card!
- We both were aligned to dominant coalition – I just managed to do it in my last two moves… My 2 VP advantage stays during third Dominance check.
- After the clean up (always, if a coalition was dominant during the check), there was not much block left on map so I just had to make sure spies/tribes are even. And I succeeded with the last, 4th Dominance card!
- It went much better then expected – I jumped at one occasion to get the advantage and then just worked to maintain it. Michal 11 – Wakhan 9.
Session 2 – a complete defeat!
That was complete disaster. Please look below at the details:
I admit, due to the initially available cards I did not have a clear strategy. Ok, I was unfortunately to draw 2nd Dominance Card when first was on table which resulted in immediate scoring and 5-0 lead for Bot. But to lose due to automatic victory – Wakhan lead was too big – that was painful. Michal 1 – Wakhan 8.
Session 3 – a very close and exciting game!
The time has come for tie-breaker game 🙂 And what a game it was!
I was heavily investing in Russian troops – as you can see above – and managed to have the largest alignment during the initial Dominance Check (still, I think I made an error, not giving 3 VPs to Wakhan – not that he needed it as you will see later). But then things started to deteriorate and another double-dominance check doomed me.
The third attempt was definitely the best – very tense, exciting game with situation changing like a roller-coaster, from my VP points lead to one-point defeat. Michal 8 – Wakhan 9.
Let me share now my thoughts and experiences regarding the game:
- I really like solo modes based on the action cards – instead of constantly checking through the various flowcharts and algorithms, we have clear set of actions described on the card, adjustable based on the situation on the map.
- In conflict titles you are usually attached to the starting faction, leading it through the whole game. Not here! Switching the loyalty might prove to be one of the most beneficial actions for your clan.
- The game is very thematic – the components, the cards, the history behind, the mechanics – all this really allow you to immerse in the XIX century Afghanistan.
- The superb components – just look at the pictures and gap in awe at the map, printed on the cloth; the heavy and beautifully ornamented army / roads blocks; the cards graphics. This is one of the best-looking board games I have ever seen. Which is not surprising, as Cole Wehrle designs tend to be fantastic in graphics aspects (see ROOT).
- One thing which might be improved – at least for the solo mode – is putting all the Wakhan exceptions on the player aid. Some of them indeed are already printed that way but I find some areas – like card discard or special algorithm for situations when dominance card is on the market – missing with constant need to look them up in the Rulebook.
I really received wonderful Christmas present. The game is engrossing, beautiful, re-playable, with difficult and thrilling solo variant. I am sure it will play superbly with other players; I hope to be able to test multiplayer mode pretty soon!