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Board Game: Pax Porfiriana
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Ben Wickens
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There are a small number of games that have had a large impact on me in terms of what types of games I like and what I want out of a game and Pax Porfiriana is right up there with some more established classics like Bridge, Chess and Go in that regard.

It is one of my favorite and most played games and it also started a series that lead to two other games I love Paxes Pamir and Renaissance.

At its heart Porfiriana is fairly straightforward. Everything is represented by cards and other than the start player cards everything is available from either the open market or from one of the 4 public cards.

Historically Pax Porfiriana represents the period of time in Mexico known as the Porfiriana peace -a time full of strive and various attempts to take control from Diaz coming from all sorts of directions represented in the game by the possibility of annexation to the USA, a military coup, a people's rebellion or succession from one of his cronies should Diaz face an natural or at least a seemingly natural end. Players represent land owning lords with aspirations for power.

Everything is represented by cards whether it is military troops, economic enterprises, Partners to giving victory points and abilities, Orange and black cards representing assassination attempts, defamations, attacks on businesses, events and a chunk more besides.

At first glance the game appears to be a tableuax building engine builder but it truth you cannot put too much stock in your tableau as it can be destroyed or neutered easier than it can be built up.

There are lots of things that make Porfiriana special and unique. The first worth stressing is the history and theme. Every card is full of historical notes and every card plays out in meaningful and interesting ways. It does not just feel "I have this card that gives me this ability" you really feel a connection to everything. You might have a partner who gives you an ability but that same partner could also create strive if an event triggers and you have cards from a different faction in play.

The next aspect to highlight is the card market. The market is put in rows so that the cost goes up exponentially. The first column costs 0, then 1, 2, 4, 8 and finally 16. Few players will be able to buy a 16 cost and yet they know in a few turns someone else will be able to buy it cheaply. It creates a great balance between having a range of interesting choices and getting some insight to what will be coming in the future. This is enhanced by having such a large pool of cards to draw from - only a small percentage will appear in each game so you never know what will be in the deck for your game although it is likely to have some enterprises, troops, events etc the individual cards can make a big difference as can the timings and distributions of card types in a given game.

The game gets rid of standard victory points and victory conditions. You win the game by taking control after a topple card has been played. There are four VP types and to take control you need to be able to have more VP's of the type matching the political climate (USA Annexation, military coup etc) than the to players with the least VP of that type plus Diaz's natural defense (usually 2). If 2 players have sufficient VP's then it comes down to who has most cash, as it does if no-one has taken power after the 4th topple card has been triggered.

The game goes one further though with how you get and lose victory points. The game is highly interactive but unlike a standard take that game in here if someone destroys your business you probably will get VP's for it which can be powerful enough that people will play these cards on their own businesses when the timing is right. Also someone could have victory points tied up in businesses or troops that could become inactive if the business gets unrest on it which can create interesting situations and ways to break potential deadlocks.

Without being too open the game provides a semi sandbox within which players can explore the game situation whether they want to go for enterprises generating money to buy victory point providing cards or play lots of orange cards against themselves or focus on a military strategy... Then certain cards and situations can change the flow of a game. The economy might go into a long recession and noone might be able to achieve much or a card could destroy all buildings in Sonora and prevent new ones being played the rest of the game. The game can tell so many stories and every game is a memorable experience.

Despite all these elements and claims people have of the swingy nature of the game there is a huge amount of skill in the game and lots of interesting and deep choices to be made.

Although if someone teaches you the game it can feel fairly managable quite a few people have found it too much for them in terms of all the options they have and unclear ways that their actions will impact the game state. The game doesnt hold your hand and gives your opponents lots of ways to interact with you.

I have played the game over 100 times online, dozens of times solo and good number of times face to face. There has been the odd game where some have found it too much for them and that has diluted the experience, there has been the odd game that has been won early with the game taking less time than the rules but it has provided many of my finest gaming moments.

Compared to modern releases the gaudy art, the confusing presentation ( slightly different card layouts for each type of card), the basic components etc do show the games age (although people complained of these things on release too) but I find it all charming and appreciate having such an amazingly big, deep game in a box smaller than many of my filler games.

It opened me up to see how interaction in games could be interesting and not just dull take that, how history and story can be part of a gaming experience and how games can have these without needing everything to be decided by a card turn or dice roll.

The game is not without its faults - in terms of graphical presentation, streamlining ( do we really need chain railways etc.) minor card costs etc. Also once you have played the game a lot you see that it is at its best at 4 and might need to do minor variants at different counts and even then, whilst brilliant you are not playing the optimal player count. Then you see one or two uninteresting strategies are maybe a bit strong with the current costings of cards... But these things are only issues if you have played as many games as I have.

This game is not for everyone. Not everyone likes this level of complexity in rules, fiddle or interaction. Some people wont like a game that can take as long to teach as to play, others wont like the rule book ( not one of the best although much better in living rules than it was). Some just might not have the game group where it can hit the table. It is a game that is better with repeat plays but even at 2,3 or 5 it is a fantastic experience.

There are few games I could play 150 times and still want to play again, still find new ideas to explore and discover but this is one. If you want a prettier, more accessible experience I do think the new Pamir is amazing but in terms of feeling like a sandboxy crazy ride of a game this cannot be beaten.
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Martin G
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Amen! I think I like it best of all with 3p though.
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qwertymartin wrote:
Amen! I think I like it best of all with 3p though.
I also like the 4 player game, as long as it's with an experienced table.

5 and 6 is right out.

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Simon Brinkmann
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benme wrote:

There are lots of things that make Porfiriana special and unique. The first worth stressing is the history and theme. Every card is full of historical notes and every card plays out in meaningful and interesting ways. It does not just feel "I have this card that gives me this ability" you really feel a connection to everything.
For me the convuluted cards killed the theme. There is so much Information (necessary and unnecessary) on each card and I have to concentrate so much during this game that there is no space left in my mind to absorb any theme. The fact that you have to watch/take care of the cards of the opponent usually enhances player interaction, but in Pax Porfiriana the convoluted cards just make me want to sit no farther away from my opponent than 10“.
So far the game felt for me like a chore. But once you really grasp it (like benme) and are in the right mood it is fine.
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Ravnos Phantom wrote:
benme wrote:

There are lots of things that make Porfiriana special and unique. The first worth stressing is the history and theme. Every card is full of historical notes and every card plays out in meaningful and interesting ways. It does not just feel "I have this card that gives me this ability" you really feel a connection to everything.
For me the convuluted cards killed the theme. There is so much Information (necessary and unnecessary) on each card and I have to concentrate so much during this game that there is no space left in my mind to absorb any theme. The fact that you have to watch/take care of the cards of the opponent usually enhances player interaction, but in Pax Porfiriana the convoluted cards just make me want to sit no farther away from my opponent than 10“.
So far the game felt for me like a chore. But once you really grasp it (like benme) and are in the right mood it is fine.
You're fortunate then that the mechanisms exude the theme so all your actions during the game still gives a great feeling of the theme of the game. Setting perhaps not so much if you do not look at all the extra info on the cards or know a lot about it already.
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Jamie Bird
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Apologies to those who have heard me say this repeatedly, but I LOVE the cards. From the dramatic and appropriate use of colour, through the slightly chaotic graphic design to the resultant pamphleteer look, I think they capture the theme beautifully.
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Ravnos Phantom wrote:
For me the convuluted cards killed the theme. There is so much Information (necessary and unnecessary) on each card and I have to concentrate so much during this game that there is no space left in my mind to absorb any theme. The fact that you have to watch/take care of the cards of the opponent usually enhances player interaction, but in Pax Porfiriana the convoluted cards just make me want to sit no farther away from my opponent than 10“.
So far the game felt for me like a chore. But once you really grasp it (like benme) and are in the right mood it is fine.
It's not an easy game to learn, it took me 6 or so plays for it to click, but then once it did, it clicked big time.
I learnt from the original rule book which was nightmarish in its opacity. Only after several games and reading the revised rules in the collector's edition did it start to come together.
Having a good teacher with the right teaching approach helps a lot, something I didn't have. So I fully understand not seeing the theme for all the moving bits. Whether it's worth all the effort is up to the individual, but it certainly was for me!
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Ben Wickens
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In terms of the convoluted cards...

I think this game isnt for everyone - if you want complete control this isnt the game for you. This is a game that whilst you can play 100% like a strategy game it is best if you play it experientally. Pax Pamir has much less clutter and the second edition is a much smoother experience. Some people love Feld games where you have lots of interesting choices but they are made manageable by another variable restricting your actions (die rolls in castles of burgundy, cards drawn/drafted in Notre Dame). Multiplayer interactions do massively increase the complexity of any game.

Although there are complex rules in Porfiriana I think you can teach this and learn this theme first and encourage players to play as they would in their roles. So think of yourself as a hacienda - you want power but you also need the means to get it.

You are well positioned to appear to be loyal to Porfiriana and develop Diaz friendly enterprises but also maybe you have a foot in the door for influence in a military coup. You will favor white and green cards in the market and keep your eyes out for rumblings of defamations, nationalisations and other challenges that the market could show. You want to hold onto one white (Military coup) favoring army to maybe help change the political climate if the leadership is vulnerable to topple and maybe invest in developing other players transport connections to increase your income and mobility of your troops. When you think in these terms you might not make your most "optimal" move first game but you wont if you get information overload either. 3 times out of 4 you make a theme/character appropriate move it will be a solid choice. When a topple card is on the market then the math of the victory situation maybe needs to play a bigger role but even then thematic / character inspired play will often be a good guide.
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