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Subject: Designer Diary - Why make a Second Edition? rss

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Cole Wehrle
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I am wary of second editions, especially those that make promises about having cleaned up their act. I tend to like wonky first editions. I admire them for all of their woozy sharp edges. A Born-again board game with a tucked-in shirt and a face brimming with healthful sobriety does little to inspire me. You can have your polish, give me the unalloyed weirdness of an idea done not quite right. I'll spare you all my predilection for strange, pre-Catan euros and the odder wargames. Suffice to say, I'm the kind of person who after playing Lords of the Sierra Madre (second edition) decided to spend a few years hunting for a copy of the much stranger Lords of the Sierra Madre (first edition). It's a bit of a problem.

And yet here I find myself, about to embark on a series of essays about the design of a second edition. A design that I accept full responsibility for. It was the other guys who wanted me to republish the first edition with minor adjustments here and there. I was the one who demanded space for radical redevelopment. What the hell happened?

Well, my opinion about second editions didn't really change. Most of them, like remastered editions of a certain famous science fiction film series, are awful in concept and execution. Usually second editions fall into one of two traps. They either take the source material and make it needlessly baroque (*cough* Dungeons and Dragons) or they attempt to make the game more accessible and just happen to sap all of the tension out of a design as a result (*cough* Steam). In other words, you can get into trouble by trying to cater to your game's fans too much or you can get into trouble by extending your player base in ways that are fundamentally incompatible with the design of the original game.

Taken in this light, there's nothing horrible about second editions per se, it's just a difficult thing to do well. Even when well-executed, there's every reason to believe that the new edition is going to make someone unhappy. Consider the development and reception of new iterations of Twilight Imperium, Squad Leader, Study in Emerald, Brass, and a host of other titles. I'd dig into these right now, but I don't want to start a riot. And, anyway, I'm supposed to be writing about Pax Pamir. Okay, let's get to that.



I hope to recount the fuller history of how Pax Pamir came to be later. Both the first and the second edition have long, tangled pedigrees. I'll get to those stories in due time. But, right now, I need to make sure folks realize absolutely what I hope to accomplish with this edition. Pax Pamir second edition is a second edition of Pax Pamir in the biggest, scariest sense. It's dramatically more approachable, easier to teach, and contains literally half of the rules of the first edition. It is also the perfect introduction to the Pax series for players who were often curious about what Phil and company were cooking up in those small boxes but were afraid to jump in for fear of their rulebooks and cluttered card designs.

But, if the new edition of Pax Pamir is all those things, it is also harder, meaner, sharper, and more opaque than its predecessor.

When I set out redevelop Pamir, I didn't care to make the design more accessible. The priority was to make the game-state more transparent. I wanted players to be able to glance at the board and better feel the pressures the other players were putting on to them. The accessibility of the new design was a side-effect. I wanted to make a better version of Pamir for folks that were interested in these kinds of games. If it brought more players to the fold, all the better, but this was never going to be a game with a big, general audience.

Now, before everyone starts deciding to bury their old copies of Pax Pamir in the desert somewhere, I should say that here I am speaking about intentions only. I set out to make Pax Pamir a harder, better game that was more smartly realized both visually and mechanically. However, in that process, the game changed. It's still Pamir, but it's also fundamentally different. I think the core of that difference boils down to two big changes, which I'll describe below.

First, the game's focus changed. For all of the original game's differences from Pax Porfiriana, at it's core, both were games about regime control. For those unfamiliar with the series, it works something like this: players collect different “suits” of victory points. Which suit ends up being the “correct” suit depends on the current climate. So, to use Porfirana as an example, if Mexico has erupted into Anarchy, the player with the most Marxists in their coterie is going to be victorious. Controlling these climates (or Regimes, as they are called in Porfiriana) was managed simply by hoarding special cards which had the ability to change the climate when played. Basically, for all its arguments about simulation and history, Pax Porfiriana was a hand management game (a damn fine one too).

This system makes a lot of sense in Porfiriana both mechanically and thematically. But, I had wanted Pamir to disrupt it. To do this, Pamir added a new layer to the victory calculation. Basically, players worked together in formal coalitions to accrue the right kinds of victory points, and, when their coalition won, the player with the most “influence” (yes...another currency) would win the game. I had hoped these bad marriages would provide the game with it's central drama, but it turned out to simply be too hard to track in the vast majority of games. Climate control (basically making sure it was Anarchy when it needed to be Anarchy) was ultimately more important, and that's where players focused. I wanted to flip this. The climates were still in play, but I wanted to make them less important and to elevate the coalitions to be the game's most critical element. The forming of alliances and sudden, painful betrays needed to be the heart of the game.

The solution was ultimately simple, but it took me a long time to come around to. In order to decouple climate control from victory I simply had to make it so that the dominance conditions never changed. Dominance would simply be decided by roads and armies, regardless of current climate. Thomas Hobbes would have been proud. Now, in assessing the standing of each coalition, players simply needed to glance at a single track. Look ma, no bookkeeping!



Simplifying dominance allowed me to "spend" the game's complexity elsewhere, and I decided to spend it building out the victory point system to be more dynamic and responsive to the game state.

Originally Pamir was envisioned as a sudden-death game. However, with the victory condition being as complicated as it was, all this meant was that the game ground to a halt when the cards that triggered the end of the game appeared in the market. Then, after a big stall, a whole barrage of betrayals and plot-twists would unfold in a few actions and one player would likely run away with the win. Victory points allowed me to extend this drama over a much larger period in the game because they could allow players to see the endgame unfold in slow motion and react to the shifting fortunes of the players. Victory points were like a spotlight that allowed me to point the attention of my players on the two things that mattered in the game: loyalty and influence. Basically, only players loyal to the dominant coalition would be eligible to get victory points. And, the number of victory points they got depended up their standing in that coalition. The player with the most influence points in a coalition would get five points. The player with the second most would get three points. The player with the fewest would get one. If no coalition managed to secure dominance, a lesser amount of points were doled out to those players who had built large bases of personal power.

To my thinking, this mechanical imposition gave the game a much more epic narrative range. With each dominance, few points were dolled out and the players inched to victory, adjusting their partnerships based on the standings of the players. By the end of the game, players got the sense that they finally unified a fallen empire in conflict that spanned a generation.

But, I needed the pressure of a sudden-death condition as well to fuel some of the original game's riskier strategies. I did this with the “4 or more” rule. Basically, if, after scoring, a single player has 4 more points than every other player (individually), they immediately win the game. So, if a single player manages to gain dominance all by herself in the first check, she'll have 5 points and everyone else will have nothing. Game over. Likewise, if a partnership is dominant twice and the influence race between them isn't disrupted, the lead partner will have 10 points (5+5) and the secondary partner will have 6 (3+3). Game over.

Fans of the original Pax Pamir will see that these rules, while looking quite different superficially, actually mirror the end game conditions of the original Nation Building variant. This, I think, represents the core ethos of the new edition of Pax Pamir best. Most everything from the original game is still in this design, but those mechanisms are to be found as organic consequences of a new set of rules, not through bits of chrome scattered here and there.

I have a lot more to say about integrating the first edition's chrome-y rules about baggage trains and capturing secret battle plans into a single, more robust action system, but that will have to wait for another day.

edit: fixin' typos
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Geoff Speare
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*cough* per se
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Nathan Brown
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Can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this. Keep these diaries coming, my man!
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Cole Wehrle
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galfridus wrote:
*cough* per se


I typed it, and then I stared and stared and stared at it. Thanks!
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Justin Green
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Fascinating read, as always.

Can't wait for the game
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Geoff Speare
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On a less pedantic note, I'm very interested in this despite having recently tracked down the first edition plus the expansion.

Difficulty reading board state led to at least one "interesting" Pax game (Pax Renaissance in this case), where one player spent multiple turns undermining my position and was then confused when I attacked them. A more approachable Pax game seems like just the thing.

Plus, metal coins. meeple
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Cagey McCageface
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I dunno, I remain unconvinced I should upgrade from my 1st edition. I don't suppose there will be a PNP option with the KS? Maybe if I could play the game a few more times to get a better feel for the flow I'll like it better.

I am curious to see what your list of chrome-y rules are. For instance, baggage train has pretty much been weeded out of my group's games.
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Jim Parkin
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Having been interested in the first edition but never able to grab it with the expansion, I'm very likely up for getting the 2nd Edition. Thanks for the write-up, Cole. Always a fan of your work.
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I am so happy that you went with a point system. The sudden death system in pax pamir (and porfiriana) made me give up on both games. The end either felt very slow and drawn out (not super climactic) or the players did something without thinking too much about it and someone won. I never got to play with the original nation building rules.


The point rules make me want to give the series another shot. I love games with 10000 cards with various effects on them. The extra clarity on the biard and fewer rules is just a nuce bonus for me
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Fascinating read, as always. Keep them coming, please.

Also how will these changes modify the upcoming solo mode?
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Cole Wehrle
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kissgz wrote:
Also how will these changes modify the upcoming solo mode?


I'm not sure. Ricky Royal, who designed the original game's solo mode, has expressed interest in designing a new solo variant. And, now that he design has matured to a point where it's been more-or-less stable for awhile, I can tap him in to see if he'd like to try his hand at 2.0. Baring that, I'll be happy to design something.
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I almost always prefer 2nd editions, I generally enjoy the more polished games.

Through The Ages is a shining example. Mansions of Madness is great too, Robinson Crusoe, Gaia Project (okay that doesn't count as a 2nd edition ).

I cannot think of any games where I like the 1st edition better than the 2nd.
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Gavin Kenny
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Cole - I'm a fan of the first edition and actually like tracking all the various victory conditions and ways to win in Pax Parmir. I feel that alas your solution might have ripped the soul of what I enjoyed about the game out of it.

If someone gets a hold of the second edition I'll certainly play it, but I'll be thinking that I'm cheating on my beloved first edition
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Cole Wehrle wrote:
kissgz wrote:
Also how will these changes modify the upcoming solo mode?


I'm not sure. Ricky Royal, who designed the original game's solo mode, has expressed interest in designing a new solo variant. And, now that he design has matured to a point where it's been more-or-less stable for awhile, I can tap him in to see if he'd like to try his hand at 2.0. Baring that, I'll be happy to design something.


If Ricky is involved, there can be nothing but success.
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Cole Wehrle
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gavken wrote:
Cole - I'm a fan of the first edition and actually like tracking all the various victory conditions and ways to win in Pax Parmir. I feel that alas your solution might have ripped the soul of what I enjoyed about the game out of it.

If someone gets a hold of the second edition I'll certainly play it, but I'll be thinking that I'm cheating on my beloved first edition


Some do for sure. That's why I'm cautious about saying one game is a replacement for the other. These editions are different.

For what it's worth though, I will say that I find the second edition more strategic. Players are awarded for hatching and executing elaborate plans. Part of this is just a consequence of the shift in dominance condition. With dominance easily seen, there's more cognitive space to fret about the machinations of your opponents.
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Cole Wehrle wrote:
I find the second edition more strategic. Players are awarded for hatching and executing elaborate plans. Part of this is just a consequence of the shift in dominance condition.


That's why I'm glad you'll change so many things in this version. Feels like we'll have a brand new game, not a slightly modified and beautified original.

re: solo version: if Ricky is involved, I'm sure it will be great. However, I always felt like the Pax Porf solo method was more for my liking (a bit more streamlined? easier to play? more consequent?) than the Pamir one. We'll see what happens this time.
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Jack Francisco
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gavken wrote:
If someone gets a hold of the second edition I'll certainly play it, but I'll be thinking that I'm cheating on my beloved first edition


She'll never know. devil
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oly macfoogal
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Typo:
"if the new edition of Pax Pamir is all those things, it is also harder, meaner, sharper, and more opaque" ... "The priority was to make the game-state more transparent."

"More opaque" should be "less opaque"?
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olymacfoogal wrote:
Typo:
"if the new edition of Pax Pamir is all those things, it is also harder, meaner, sharper, and more opaque" ... "The priority was to make the game-state more transparent."

"More opaque" should be "less opaque"?


Why?
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Nate
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Cole Wehrle wrote:
Well, my opinion about second editions didn't really change. Most of them, like remastered editions of a certain famous science fiction film series, are awful in concept and execution. Usually second editions fall into one of two traps. They either take the source material and make it needlessly baroque (*cough* Dungeons and Dragons) or they attempt to make the game more accessible and just happen to sap all of the tension out of a design as a result (*cough* Steam). ...

Consider the development and reception of new iterations of Twilight Imperium, Squad Leader, Study in Emerald, Brass, and a host of other titles. I'd dig into these right now, but I don't want to start a riot.

That's a lot of Martin Wallace, relatively speaking. As far as Brass, are you referring to the new Roxley printing of Lancashire?

In any case, I'd love to read you digging into the different iterations of these games, particularly Study in Emerald and Steam.
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tilouboy wrote:
olymacfoogal wrote:
Typo:
"if the new edition of Pax Pamir is all those things, it is also harder, meaner, sharper, and more opaque" ... "The priority was to make the game-state more transparent."

"More opaque" should be "less opaque"?


Why?


I agree with Tilou. Knowing what my opponent has and how close they are to winning at any given moment might get rid of surprise endings, but it won't make my own choices any easier.

One complaint I've seen about the Pax series is that sometimes people have a hard time understanding what the board state really means - I've even seen claims that people missed an opportunity to declare victory because they didn't realize they were winning. Personally, I don't find that to be an issue... but others wanted something where you spend more time building strategies than trying to determine what the current and possible future board states are.
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Jack Francisco
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I don't mind the missed opportunities. I still miss one from time to time because I'm so wrapped up in what I'm doing. It's just another part of the system that I love.
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Morten K
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I for one would love to hear your recommendations on pre-Catan euros! Please don’t spare us.
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Cole Wehrle
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Tigrillo wrote:
I for one would love to hear your recommendations on pre-Catan euros! Please don’t spare us.


To prevent falling in the rabbit hole, I'll toss out one: Schoko & Co.

As with most of them, they are never a sleek as modern titles and there are more than a few silly systems that were better of discarded. But, on the other hand, there's a lot to love too!

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Mark Turner
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Gonna keep an eye on this. After sinking resources into the first edition plus expansion, truth is I hardly played it in the end. It is a lovely game but was hard to get to the table.

I would take an easier to explain game with a bit more 'play me' bling, although will feel a little sad about the lost value of the first set, especially as an upgrade kit is off the cards. Maybe a trade-in option would work ;)
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