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Pax Porfiriana» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A Little-and-Often Review - Pax Porfiriana rss

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Adam Taylor
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At the time of writing, Pax Porfiriana is one of only three games that I rate a ten. If one of the frequent forum hypotheticals were to be genuinely enforced and I had to choose only one game to play for the rest of my life - I'm pretty sure that this is the one that I'd choose.

Like a very smelly cheese or 25 minute “conceptual” prog-rock song, a game like Pax Po inspires devotion from its fans in part because it's hard to approach - because it gives up its charms gradually and it makes you work for them. Pax Po was my first (though certainly not my last) experience of a game that was more rewarding the more you explored it. Also like the above things, it's not for everyone; it is a very particular experience that might just not be what you're looking for in a game. However, if you've not tried Pax Po and you have the opportunity - give it a go.

Fanboying aside, what is it that I like about Pax Porfiriana? I like the variety of it. It creates good stories because the random inclusion of only a proportion (very roughly a third) of all of the possible cards means that every game has the potential to throw up entirely different circumstances and challenges.

Partly due to that variety and partly due to the complexity of different interlocking mechanisms, there’s always something new to explore – some new combination or strategy. This can make it a difficult game to teach; those who want to understand all of the possible strategies before making their first move can be paralysed by not being able to see a path to victory. My usual advice to new players is “Try to get an economy going, try to get ahead in a type of Prestige (whilst having some way to change to the matching regime, up your sleeve) but mainly just try stuff and see what happens. Learn by doing.” Progress is not linear so it’s possible to spend the first half-hour just getting to grips with the rules and still have a shot at winning later in the game.

Perhaps most of all, I like that you have to really engineer a victory - it's not enough to just plod your way through the game cranking the mechanics and accumulating victory points. A win is generally the culmination of a plan that was complex, unexpected (otherwise you would be stopped) and ultimately achieved with only three (or fewer) actions. "If I send these bandits to raid my own plantation it moves us into anarchy and causes a slave revolt; I’m imprisoned but get awarded an extra revolution point so when I buy the topple and flip my hacendado... BOOM!" Even if you're on the receiving end of someone else's victory - it's still a hell of a thing to witness. It is very much one of those games where you're often just one action away from victory - "If I could only do this, this, this and this - I'd win." - which makes it deliciously tense.

There's so much going on in Pax Po and yet it's achieved with very simple components - the cards (220 of them), some cubes and some disks - in a box small enough that I always have room to take it to game nights. Of course this is possible in part because there's so much information on the cards - which does lead to my only negative:
Personally I quite like the… esoteric graphic design style but, even as a fan, I can see that some of the design inconsistencies make it harder to learn and harder to approach the game - sometimes differences that look important are incidental and differences that are key can be hard to spot. That’s really my only criticism though – and it’s far outweighed by just how engaging, involving and varied the experience of playing the game is.

In short: It’s revolutionary.
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Martin G
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Thanks for being part of some of my best plays of it
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Jack
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And thanks to you, Martin, for being such an active member of these forums.

Totally agree with the review. The fact that it's hard is what makes it awesome. If it wasn't hard, everyone would play it, and not everyone can.
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Jorik
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Quote:
I like that you have to really engineer a victory - it's not enough to just plod your way through the game cranking the mechanics and accumulating victory points. A win is generally the culmination of a plan that was complex, unexpected (otherwise you would be stopped) and ultimately achieved with only three (or fewer) actions.


this is the most brilliant bit of Pax.
you work your way towards the topple only to find out you're either one action or $2 short. (happens to me almost every game)
slowly accumulating the right cards to change the regime at your choosing while keeping an eye out for what the rest is doing is what makes it compelling.

I think that Porfiriana is more approachable then Pamir because of the building an economy aspect. Pamir is way more of a closed system. (even if you lose Porfiriana you still know that you built thaat dam, gunstore and controlled the newspaper while using the Mexican Airforce to protect your Yaqui rebels(there's a sense of accomplishment in building all that stuff))
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Cole Wehrle
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Lovely (and spot on) review!
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Zac T
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I really love this game, but in my 10 or so plays I haven't quite found the variety I expected. It's not quite like Glory to Rome or Innovation where surprising things happen almost every time you play. I definitely see the same patterns happening in most of my games of Pax.

This may be because I've played the game more than the people I usually play with. If my competition were stiffer, more interesting things might happen. The problem is, with so many rules, it's hard to get other players up to speed. I would love to have 3 or 4 people to play this with on a regular basis; then maybe the overall level of play would rise and I would see more variety. But alas, that seems hard to achieve.

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Quote:
Even if you're on the receiving end of someone else's victory - it's still a hell of a thing to witness.


I've had at least a couple of games - more teaching games admittedly - where someone else has been trying to perform a topple and not quite managing it, but I've seen it and been unable to resist helping them achieve it just because the nature of it has been so, well, delicious. I wouldn't do this outside of that context obviously but yes, seeing one - witnessing one - come off is really satisfying, even if it's not my own.
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Adam Taylor
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zacht111 wrote:
This may be because I've played the game more than the people I usually play with. If my competition were stiffer, more interesting things might happen. The problem is, with so many rules, it's hard to get other players up to speed. I would love to have 3 or 4 people to play this with on a regular basis; then maybe the overall level of play would rise and I would see more variety. But alas, that seems hard to achieve.


I think it does need familiar players to get the most out of the complexity of the game. There are - for example - certain strategies that will tend to work against less experienced players and can end the game too soon.

I have found that there's a good amount of variety from the just the random card selection though - games where there are loads of black and orange cards so everyone's wary of starting enterprises, games with an unusually high number of soldiers marauding back and forth or games where an unusual number of the headlines are bears and there's no way to avoid depressions.
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Adam Taylor
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qwertymartin wrote:
Thanks for being part of some of my best plays of it


And the same to you!

I'll always remember our game at Eastbourne when - having come close to victory at one point - strife and a depression led to you ending the game with nothing: no tableau, no money even no cards, if I remember rightly.

Good times.
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Martin G
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
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Yes. You fuckers.
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Jack
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Just another piece of what makes this game great.
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Morten K
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Even though it takes devotion it can actually also be an engaging and thrilling experience the first time you play it!
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