I am again coming back to Pax Pamir Second Edition, a beautiful game which made such a great impression on me. A fantastic Christmas present which I had an opportunity to familiarize with thanks to great solo system – using bot called Wakhan. But of course, such an interesting title with tons of interaction really shines in multiplayer configurations.
For those of you who hear about the game for the first time or simply would like to learn more about the idea and mechanics, let me provide the additional introduction. 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.
3-player variant live
Shortly after New Year I had a chance to bring this game to the table for the first, and so far last, occasion of the face-to-face game. Nothing compares to a session live with your friends – especially with the game which components are of such superb quality.
Let us see how I coped in my first multiplayer game:
- It was still a discovery for all of us, so we had to cross-reference the rules form time to time; still, the players aid are really great and usually that was enough.
- Playing with two other players meant we were very carefully watching each-others backs not to allow anybody the 4 VP lead and automatic victory
- I started strongly, supporting Russians and getting 5 VP in first Dominance; but these were my last points during the game…
- Lukasz was keeping to British form the start, while Kuba betrayed his Afghan friends and in last moment joined British empire, winning the game during 4th Dominance!
- Final scores were: – Kuba 9, Lukasz 9, Michal 5.
2-player variant using Tabletop Simulator
My second and third attempt was supposed to be in a larger group but finally we played only with Marek. There was no chance to meet live so we have chosen Tabletop Simulator. And interesting observation here – many games have fantastic and beautiful TTS implementation, rivaling in graphical dimension with their boxed versions. Not in case of Pax Pamir – while module is fine, the real game have such a superb quality components – especially map, armies and roads – that nothing compares to live game.
Still, in those pandemic times, it is often digital session or no session. So without further delay, let us see how it went!
- a 2 players game is a real cut-throat thriller! You need to intensively watch each and every move of your opponent, and double the effort when Dominance card appears on the bazaar.
- a well played battle, which eliminates your tribe and cripples the hand by also destroying great political card is a great way for success!
- there is no negotiating – like in 3, 4, and 5 players version. This is all or nothing.
- In our case, it finished two times in auto victory – first time in pretty unexpected double-Dominance card draw. Results: Marek 7 – Michal 2 and Marek 5 – Michal 0. This is not surprising, as when you get an advantage in 2 players game, that is usually all or nothing. Despite the results, that was still great fun!
First Impressions for the multiplayer mode
Let me share now my thoughts and experiences regarding the game:
- Again, the game proved to be very thematic – the components, the cards, the history behind, the mechanics – all this really allow you to immerse in the XIX century Afghanistan.
- I mentioned it couple of times but have to repeat myself: the components are superb – 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 definitely one of the best-looking board games I have ever seen (if not the best!).
- I also appreciate the mechanic of switching the loyalty. In wargames or conflict driven titles you are usually attached to some faction(s), leading it through the whole game. Not here! Changing the allegiance might prove to be one of the most beneficial actions for your clan.
- This game plays completely differently based of number of players – solo this is a great challenge, but a predictable one; 2-player game is a real thriller; 3-player and more is more a coalitions game, keeping in check each other. So many flavors within one box!
- One of my objections to solo mode was a rulebook. In multiplayer version there are almost no ambiguities and player aid is usually enough. Great work.
To sum up, the game is engrossing, beautiful, re-playable, with difficult and thrilling solo and multiplayer variants. I got fantastic present and will be trying to bring this to the table whenever possible!