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Subject: Review after first (and last) game rss

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David Banks
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Let me begin this review by stating two things:

1. I know that reviews after only a single game are somewhat unfair to the designer of the game, but I know I'll never play this a second time so I cannot do better than offer this.

2. I really, really, really wanted to like this game and was completely ready to forgive all sorts of minor problems as this looked like the diplomacy game of my dreams. So bear in mind, I take no joy in writing this review.

Rules Overview
I will not go into too much detail here as the other reviews do a very good job of explaining the rules of the game, but I will do a quick overview. In this game you take the role of one of the colonial offices of the 7 great powers of the 19th century - Britain, France, Germany (also plays Austria), Russia, US, Japan, and Italy - in their quest to add possessions to their Empires. The game plays out over a very attractive map of the entire world, with over a hundred locations for the players to squabble over in South and Central America; Asia, and Africa. Turns represent four years of time, and in each turn players can build and move units, take territory, fight colonies or each other, and conduct diplomacy.

The game is rich in historical theme which plays itself out in two ways. First, each of the countries start at very different levels of power so that the British player has interests across the globe, whereas the Italian player has much more regional interests. This dynamic is nicely captured by not only starting each of the players off with different forces and colonies, but also by limiting the amount of merchant ships (i.e. trade links) they can possess. Players cannot build these units, although some gain more as the game goes on. In order to extract resources a player needs to form a chain of these across the sea zones back to home. With this simple mechanic, the game forces some players to think big while others can't. To compensate for the variation in power between the states, the game has a (in theory) nice solution where any victory points gained during the game have to be divided by a number (10 for the British; 2.5 for the Italians), meaning that smaller players are rewarded more than bigger players.

The second way the historical theme is magnified is through a set of variable historical events that take place over the course of the game. Some are very minor, such as a territory going into revolt; others are a lot of fun, such as the UK Liberals getting into power and reducing the British players budget for that turn. In addition there are interesting, if fiddly, rules about Chinese and Ottoman entry into full conflict with the Great Powers, which can result in some of their territory opening up.

The heart of the game lies in claiming and squabbling over territory. In the movement phase players simultaneously place markers down on territories. There are four general type of marker and each represents an increased level of political interference. The lowest level simply gives a 1:1 return on the investment, whereas the biggest one can massively increase the gains. These markers cost money to buy but are all placed at the same time. This is where the politics comes in. Certain types of markers cannot share space with other types and when there is a conflict a 'casus beli' marker is placed. (The best way of thinking of this rule is that each space can have a total of 4 points on it, but no more - i.e. a level 1 and a level 3 marker, but NOT a 2 and a 3). This means in the negotiation phase, someone has to back down or else the other player has the right to declare war. As markers cost money which you won't get back, this generates tension.

What is very cool about negotiations is that you can bargain any way you want and split up or redivide territories all over the place in order to reach an agreement. If you cannot come to a agreement, European players can call a Congress where the issue, as well as other ones, can be mutually negotiated and resolved. Furthermore, players might have alliances, secret or public, which will allow them to join in wars (or if reneged on, allow the forlorn ally to declare on the liar!). Without a casus beli, you may NOT go to war in this game. Furthermore, if 4 of the great powers join in a war the game automatically ends, with penalties for the instigators.

Otherwise, the game ends after ten turns.


The Expectations: Good and Bad
Even as write that little overview, I have wistful memories about how I thought this game would play out. In particular, in the run up to the game, I had a number of expectations about what would be really good and what would be bad. Before I turn to how the game actually played, I will tell you what I looked forward to; i.e. what I thought were the really innovative mechanics.

Variable Country Sizes - I also own Here I Stand and really like diplomacy games where everyone is uneven as it generates very different dynamics and goals. I thought the victory conditions modifier-thing was nifty too.

Casus Beli - The idea that war had to have a cause really appealed to me, as it meant that truly canny negotiators should be able to avoid the predations of bigger players.

Many Locations - I loved the idea of huge empires sprawling all over the map, with squabbles over particularly juicy pieces of territory.

Many Victory Conditions - Aside from territory, there are also bonuses for, meeting historically-specific goals such as getting treaties with certain countries, or keeping players out of certain areas.

Conferences and Bargaining - the idea of negotiating and trading almost anything was the major attraction for me. I love 19th century history and reading about obscure trades in Samoa for gains elsewhere. I couldn't wait to recreate this. Ditto Congresses.

History - The game was really trying to simulate one of favorite eras. I was ready to forgive everything.

That said, I had my eyes open to two potentially serious drawbacks:

Time - I knew, before going in, that this was going to be a long game. I play with a group who are comfortable playing games like Imperial and Civilization, but unless someone is a total badgering time-Nazi it is impossible to make these things go fast.

Fiddliness - The treasury rules - where you tot-up or subtract your income each turn - was going to be tricky going in. I knew it was. But still,I thought people would be able to get past it.


The Actual Playing of the Game
So why did it not work? The reason is because two core mechanics do not have enough heft, and as a result they pull down the rest of the game. What is sad, is that they were the two things I thought would make the game shine: Variable Victory Conditions, and many locations. Because these two mechanics are so weak they cripple the central dynamic of the game and the key thing that attracted me to it - Negotiations.

Broken Locations - I thought lots of locations would be a good thing. It's not; it's a bad thing. Although there are clearly some extremely valuable territories on the map such as Congo, many are mediumish and it is hard to assess their value in a meaningful way. Furthermore, there are so many territories (over a hundred) that there is no way that they can all be taken in a game with even all seven players. This creates two very serious problems. First, it is hard to determine what anything is worth as very few things are seriously great. With so much choice it is hard to know what to care about. Second, too many places equals too little conflict. Conflict-adverse players can just claim worthless pieces of territory instead of fighting hard for those they own. That might make for some fun sand-boxing, but it makes for a poor competitive experience.

Variable Victory Conditions - As I mentioned, there are oodles of other minor little victory points to be picked up through treaties, defending areas, or isolating other countries. But that's the exact problem: there are oodles of them, and they are minor. This means players are unsure how valuable they are or whether they are worth pursuing. It's not that there are too many choices, it's that none of the choices are especially meaningful. It's really not easy to know how much it's worth pursuing these strategies and so players end up being half-assed about it.

Negotiations suck - I feel so sad typing that, but it's true. The two above problems combine in a very game-breaking way. Because there are too many sources of victory points, but very few very valuable sources, nobody knows what they are fighting over. If there were half the territories on the board and much more valuable alternate sources of VPs people would have a much clearer idea of what they cared about going into negotiations, and thus a much better sense of when they should fight or bargain. Let me put this another way. In AH Diplomacy, players - even new ones - can quickly ascertain what they should care about and then plan accordingly. In Pax Britannica, it's never clear when you should give a damn.

In short, in this game, it is very very hard to know what your interests truly are. Let me state that again as it is central to my whole critique: in this game it is very difficult to know what your interests are.

Without knowing your interests, you cannot plan your strategy and more importantly, negotiate for them. So we are left with a game where there are all sorts of canny and novel ways of fixing conflicts. The problem is nobody knows what they should be fighting over.

Probably the only way that this can be mitigated is through repeat play, but as this clocks in around 6-8 hours and does have very exhausting accounting rules, it's hard to see this getting a space on the table when so many other group games pull players in way quicker and easier.

That's why I'll probably never play it again and can only give a one-game review.

As I said in the intro, I was so ready to fall in love with this game and searched hard to track it down. But there are too many things to do that don't matter very much and too few to do that do matter. The result is a negotiation game without a clear sense of conflict. That, combined with the long play time, makes for a very disappointing experience. And I really hate saying that.
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Pete Belli
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This classic really needs an update.

Quote:
To compensate for the variation in power between the states, the game has a (in theory) nice solution where any victory points gained during the game have to be divided by a number (10 for the British; 2.5 for the Italians), meaning that smaller players are rewarded more than bigger players.


The weakest element of the game. The play experience is completely unbalanced.

Quote:
Casus Belli


No relation to this contributor, in case you were wondering.
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Martin Gallo
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I have only played one game, and was hooked. The only drawback is time - Time to play and time to get enough people together.

I solved the accounting problem by using my iPhone and a custom calculator. This could easily be done with a spreadsheet, by the way. My accounting phase rarely took more than a minute and I was plying Britain.

I think you are right that it would probably take you several games to figure out what was happening. Our group (four newbies) played a 'cooperative' game where we kibitzed and discussed strategies and motivations and I think that REALLY helped.

I was overwhelmed with all those little countries until I saw how they connected to the larger VP sites and allowed for some of the bonuses. All of a sudden they became important. They also introduced more conflict because I was not the only one seeing that. Yes, that part of the game could probably be streamlined (see Struggle of Empires for an example of how the game might look) but given the focus of he game I think it is correct as is, or at least very close.

It is an epic game, from a time when epic games were played regularly. A time before most of us had kids, jobs or Eurogames.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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DBanks wrote:
In short, in this game, it is very very hard to know what your interests truly are. Let me state that again as it is central to my whole critique: in this game it is very difficult to know what your interests are.

Complex games often leave first-time players floundering. Your review boils down to this: "I don't get it, and won't spend the time to learn it".

pete belli wrote:
This classic really needs an update.

See here.
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Ken
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DBanks wrote:
First, it is hard to determine what anything is worth as very few things are seriously great.


I think this comment reflects having only one play under your belt. What's critical is to build an understanding of what is valuable based on the type of marker placed and the divisor of the country in question. While the income is a big factor, that only gives you a part of the picture. Areas worth 4 pounds generate profits right up to protectorates, but that provides different benefits to different nations. So it's key to build yourself a matrix of what the value of each marker is in raw terms, then create a chart for each power for the VP contribution that represents to "get it."

This also provides you guidelines for when it's time to move to a dominion possession (Warren's post pointed out that I had this wrong) - locking out interest markers for players with a lower divisor than yours can be critical to a "big dog" like France or England. The US can easily net greater benefit from an interest marker than a British protectorate through the end of a game. So when placing, you need to consider where merchant fleets are, what other powers can reach, and whether that changes your marker selection.

I've never seen a game where every area was controlled. Even ignoring issues with unrest requirements for organized areas, there's simply insufficient value to going after territories with low incomes. Unless they get you a VP bonus,they often aren't worth the investment.

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But that's the exact problem: there are oodles of them, and they are minor.


You're really underestimating many of these. Many of these are worth 2 VP per turn. That's the same as ten pounds of unspent income to Germany, which is not a small sum every turn of the game. Further, to compensate for these "free" VP, Britain needs to be pulling in an additional 20 pounds in income. That's not nothing, particularly for the larger powers. Yes, there are a lot of these running around, but they really shouldn't be considered minor - they can be a big, big deal to make up.

I think these two criticisms are completely valid for your first time playing this game because they lead to the problem you describe - it's hard to know what's worth doing as any individual power when you don't know the game. But this can be corrected with a play or two or by having an experienced player or two around to kibitz.

The big problem of the original game has for me is the simultaneous, semi-eternal movement phase. I go to Egypt so you go to Egypt and you're Britain so I decide to go somewhere else, which causes Fred to go to somewhere else, which... AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! This can create never-ending rounds of chaos and across the table diplomacy, which really extends the game. And that hurts - players can either be hyper-aggressive and look for CB or they can run away. I think a written order system or some form of turn order might have been better.

Personally, I think you'd probably enjoy the game with more plays and/or someone to point out why X is a good move, but Y isn't. The dynamics of the game change as it progresses and different powers hit their stride. And that means that the game shifts as you play it, which is really interesting. The "magic" you're looking for really is there (particularly if you use the rule that reduces the value of a territory when co-dominions occur, which drives less accommodation and more conflict). But there is very little chance that everyone will find it on their first play.
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David Banks
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Complex games often leave first-time players floundering. Your review boils down to this: "I don't get it, and won't spend the time to learn it".


I think this is an unfair characterization of my review, in which I gave explicit reasons for why I had problems with this game. I never once criticized the complexity. If anything, I said that was attracted to me! I wanted a deep diplomacy game.

So, my criticism is not that it is complex. Complex is fine. I own and have played many games which I would consider far more complex than Pax Britannica (for example Napoleon's Triumph, Here I Stand, or Fields of Fire).

As I made explicit in my review, my criticism is to do with the poor linkage between choices and payoffs. There are a many moving parts in this game. That's fine. The problem is it is quite difficult to figure out what counts as important or not. Let me put it another way. It is extremely difficult to calculate value as there is, in a sense, too many low-payoff choices and very few high-value ones. This makes the calculation of risks and rewards very difficult. Most games use a combination of in-game modifiers modifiers and clear and limited victory conditions (or at least primary and secondary objectives) to help a player to make relatively informed gut-checks about their chances and rewards. The three games listed above do this very well and make it possible for players to figure out what winning and losing looks like while they are playing. In our game of Pax nobody could clearly tell who was winning or losing which made it very hard to threaten war, bargain, and suchlike. In fact, when the winner was declared we were all surprised. All 6 of us.

That's the first time I have ever played a game where NOBODY could guess who was winning. And I play a reasonable amount.

Let me re-iterate my core criticism. The game does not make it simple to judge the value of possessions or the costs/benefits and/or risks associated with decisions around those possessions. Instead, it expects the players to figure this out mostly on their own and know when to compromise or when to draw lines in the sand.

If you think this is an unfair characterization, please tell me why. I am open to being persuaded, but not by having my point dismissed (and actually find your points to usually be very insightful ones).

Your last point is right though. I cannot give this game more time. I already have a (growing) collection that does not get enough table-time and have a very hard time getting more that 3 players together at once. If most of those players can't really figure out who is winning or losing until the very end of the game (which is what happened when we played), I cannot justify trying to figure this out.

And, for the record, I really do want to like this game.

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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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I"m sorry, David. You don't (and won't) learn the game, and I won't debate its merits with someone who hasn't done so. Nothing personal - I can't count the number of games where my own first play analysis went out the window as I gained experience.

Ken's remarks are more to my taste. His experience with Pax Britannica mirrors my own, and I recommend his post as a fine thumbnail sketch of the game's strengths and weaknesses.
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Warren Bruhn
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David, it's not my purpose to dismiss your points. But I would suggest that you and the other players in this game look at your first game experience in a different way. You are used to playing games in which the VP of each player is so plain and in your face that it's crystal clear what you've got to attempt to do. The only question is often how to try to accomplish gaining a VP or knocking down another player's VP.

I would suggest looking at the fact that how each player is doing in Pax Britannica is not so clear is actually a GOOD thing. This elaborate diplomatic game can be played as more of a role playing game, and by gut instinct, just using the VP bonus guide on the back of the player page, together with the value of the territories as a general guide. Then being surprised by the discovery of who "won" can produce some laughs and fun discussion.

We just played a 6 player game in my area, and as the only experienced player in the group, I was pretty surprised that Russia didn't win. See the AAR in the sessions folder on this forum. But that didn't make it less of a fun game for me. I played almost as well as I could have, and the social experience was great!

But for those of you with a competitive streak, it's a simple matter of arithmetic. Most people today don't want to actually do any arithmetic, even with calculators available. Here's the breakdown:

First, understand that a player who starts out with no control markers on the board at all can play the entire game without them. Just spread as many interest and influence markers around as the player can, and then buy VP every turn. Colonial office income will be maxed every turn. If you crank out the numbers for that strategy, you'll see that Italy and Russia can be a real threat, even without colonies.

Second, understand the baseline of what the economics people call "opportunity cost." The "opportunity cost" of anything can be compared with how much VP a player would get based on turning that money in for VP at the end of a turn. For example, the 20 money cost of placing a protectorate marker for Britain is 2 VP, for France approximately 3 VP, for Germany 4 VP, for the USA 5 VP, for Russia and Japan almost 7 VP, and for Italy 8 VP. That protectorate marker had better pay off to make it worth the price! Likewise, if one is tempted to build a 10 factor fleet, how much is that worth in VP? For Britain it is worth 3 VP, for France a little over 4 VP, for Germany 6 VP, for the USA a little over 7 VP, for Russia and Japan 10 VP, and for Italy 12 VP. That 10 factor fleet had really better be worth it in terms of the VP cost! And don't forget the cost of maintaining militarty units that are outside of their home countries. How much is it really worth to have multiple 10 factor army units sitting in Anatolia, Transvaal, or Brazil the turn after establishing a control marker there in terms of VP cost? Another thing that you can calculate is how much a Central American or Panama canal is worth to build for each player. It produces 15 VP, but the cost of building is worth different VP for different players. When I built the Panama Canal as the USA player, that cost me 7.5 VP, so I only netted 7.5 VP out of that move. Britain, on the other hand, would have netted 12 VP, because it only costs Britain 3 VP to build it.

Third, understand the value of a possession or protectorate or influence or interest marker in VP terms at game end by doing the math. Take the income, times two, divided by your VP divisor, and that's how much it's worth to you at game end. Then, divide that number by other people's VP divisors to see how much it's worth to them.

Fourth, understand the value of a marker in terms of what it will produce in income after subtracting maintenance costs. That is conveniently listed at the bottom of each player's national card. However, remember the cost of leaving a garrison. The closer to the end of the game you are, the less valuable some of these territories are in terms of the relative value of the income they produce.

Fifth, keep an eye on what other players are making in turn by turn VP. This is NOT a secret. It's written on the bottom of each players econ sheet, and it is open information.

The game could have used a chart that made everything a cost or income in VP, instead of using the intermediary of money. But would that make it a better game? I actually think the fact that one doesn't know exactly how well everybody is doing adds mystery and excitement to the experience, as with hidden or partially hidden victory conditions in some other games.

It can be an uncomfortable experience, perhaps, for a "strategy gamer" to be uncertain about what to do, or to somehow feel incompetent because he doesn't understand the exact situation on the map and on the sheets. However, as long as one understands the basic VP vs. money relationship described above, there is really no reason why a "strategy gamer" cannot have some fun with this game. Players just have to have a general idea in their heads about these mathematical relationships. And you can put off counting all the beans until the end of the game.

In my limited experience with this game, all the good territory, i.e., anything with a value of 4 or more, which is white or pale yellow, gets control markers in the first 3 turns, or maybe 4 turns. Then the purple, light blue, and red territories come into play as events make them available over the rest of the game. The whole world doesn't have to be colonized to make this a fun game. In fact, the efficiency and opportunity cost issues provide an "anti-imperialist" counterpoint to the "imperialist" colonial powers. That makes for interesting decisions to forego establishment of control markers.

I hope your group can give this one another go. It's worth playing a few times.
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David Banks
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Wow! I am really surprised how much chatter there is on this forum considering how old this game is.

I have re-read the points others have made and concede that it is very hard to (a) give an accurate review of a game after one play, and then (b) be able to defend that review in the face of others who have played the game more than once.blush Aafter reading the comments, I concede I probably don't understand the game very well.

It's funny because when I read reviews by people of a game after one play, I get pretty annoyed myself!

So why place myself in the firing line? Well, I think the key reason I felt the need to write a review was for two reasons.
Firstly, it is a very long game which requires lots of people. I am one of those gamers who can meet the conditions to play a game with such characteristics about twice a year tops. So those game-times really are pretty sacred and the game group gets bummed out big time if they fizzle. So in some sense, this is a review for those players who are under similar constraints.

Secondly, and this is the bit of the review that I stand behind, it just didn't feel right. I know this is an annoying and highly subjective thing to say but it really matters when you consider the limited opportunities I get to play such games. When I played Here I Stand and AH Civilization with this group they all got into them and enjoyed them even if nobody was sure what they were doing. The puzzles and challenges of the game seemed to draw them in, not shut them out. Many felt it was the reverse with this game. I fully appreciate and completely believe that with more plays this feeling would change from frustration to bliss. However, it will be hard to convince the group to give it another shot considering how baffled some were first time round.

With shorter games it's easier to get people to give it another go. With longer ones, that is not the case. I feel like this means longer games (perhaps unfairly) need to be better the first time round, if you know what I mean. Civ is the classic example of this in my experience.

But, I take all the criticisms here; they are fair ones.

Still, I felt I needed to do a review on behalf of those people who want a big game, but don't get to play them often. For those people, I would suggest some other games first.

PS: Lesson learned! I am never going to write a review after one play again!
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Ken
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I think what you're hinting at is a pretty simple idea - there are games that are "accessible" and those that are "inaccessible." Accessible games have victory conditions and paths to victory that are relatively easy to see and figure out. There may be some nuance to execution and a number of options to explore, but the general path to victory is relatively easy to see.

Inaccessible games either have victory conditions or paths to victory that are very difficult to see without experience. While you might be able to read how victory points are accumulated, that doesn't necessarily make it obvious how to actually go about getting more than your opponents, particularly when asymmetrical starting conditions are combined with asymmetrical accumulation of VP. And this shows up in a number of games. In addition to Pax, two other of my favorites have the same issue: Britannia and Empires in Arms.

Both are similar to Pax in a number of ways. The different players start with positions that are positively nowhere near equivalent. And while it's "easy" to see how you generate VP in both games, it's very hard to see what the "right" amount of VP you need to have at point X in the game is when you first play the game. Britannia is probably a better example of this - after the first scoring sequence (through turn 5), it is not at all uncommon for the Romans to have at least triple the VP of anyone else in the game. And many new players look at that and go "Wow, I need to kick the hell out of Yellow." Except you don't - they've largely shot their wad until turn 15 rolls around in terms of earning massive amounts of VP.

With Pax, it's a similar problem. It is not a very accessible game. You need to know who you can pick a fight with and why you'd want to pick a fight. You need to understand what's important from both an economic and a military perspective (particularly since building armies means those counters aren't available as navies in your force pool). You need to get a feel for what should be "yours" vs. where you're stretching.

None of that is easy. Which is why it's a game that either requires asking questions on a forum like this or having someone who knows the game teach you and kibitz. Even better if they don't play themselves so their advice doesn't have the hint of "are they just screwing with me?"

But I'll certainly agree with you on this - if you only rarely break out large games and aren't going to give them a number of tries relatively close together, then Pax is a bad, bad game to select. It's very unlikely to satisfy and extremely likely to have players going "well, there's X hours of my life I won't get back."

But if you invest the time and will play it a number of times, it's a really good game.
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Martin Gallo
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Part of the problem is, I think, that people who like games that are not widely played are interested in keeping a potential opponent. The OP expressed a desire to like the game and several of the posts were attempts at being helpful.

Opinions are merely conclusions or feelings based on incomplete knowledge. The OP expressed an opinion that he game was 'not good' or 'did not meet his expectations' and there is no wrong in that. Most of the following posts were attempts to show how the game could meet those expectations with a little more work on his part or a sight adjustment of his expectations. It might very well be that this is not the game for him and there is nothing wrong with that.
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Warren Bruhn
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David, I doubt you need a rule of never reviewing a game after one play. If you applied that rule to SPI's Campaign for North Africa, you would never write the review! I would simply suggest applying the title "First Impressions." I think first impressions are important. I think this review of Pax Britannica did a good thing by provoking discussion of what is fundamentally good or bad about the game, and why this old game is never likely to gain a big following, as least in it's current form.

Like Ken, I've been frustrated with the simultaneous movement and status change phase. I've never seen anything else like it in boardgames or miniatures. It seems to be more of a role playing game mechanic. Also, the combat system is really something out of the 1960's, and isn't entirely exciting. And the values for economics and resistance are fixed.

However, one of the guys who played for the first time here in the last couple of months really liked the type of interaction that occurred between the players as we negotiated and had a Congress of Europe. You just don't get such interesting interactions in other games, even in good ones like Here I Stand.

One thing that helps old games is to have sessions reports posted, along with strategy advice. Although Pax Britannica has been around for a long time, it has little posted about it. There are only 225 posts about it at Consimworld. Here on BGG there is only one strategy article about Japan with little content. I'm not sure what there is on Web Grognards. Perhaps the best thing available on the web is the Pax Ladder, a record of 84 PBEM games. Some people think the game is best as a PBEM game because the diplomacy can be so much more elaborate.

And yet, this game has fans. This is the only game on the topic of the late 19th Century scramble for colonies. There is romantic potential there.

[edit]

Went to Web Grognards and found a bit of stuff on Pax Britannica. There are some variants, pbem rules, excel calculators for income and VP, and three strategy articles, including this interesting one by Jim Bailey on a big war involving Britain, France, Japan, Italy, and the USA:

http://grognard.com/info/paxstrat.txt
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Mr. Grace
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"risk adverse" . OR "..risk averse"
Nice review of a game I love ( but haven't been able to play for years!)Just one correction, tho : it's not "risk aDverse", it's "risk averse" ( ie no "d")...risk "adverse" might mean something,somewhere, but it's a malaprop here ...
BTW : I like the game for all the reasons you apparently don't ( or most of them).To me, it's the nearest thing to Real Life, where one has imperfect knowledge, and it's difficult to make 100% calculated, rational decisions..! Those 19th century diplomats didn't know how it was going to turn out, they often had to make *intuitive* decisions, or even just wing it ...the game's genius ( for me ) is to bring that imperfection to the table. But you're right about the accounting being tedious ..Thanks again !
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Let me add another opinion from someone who has only played once.

And like other posters, it wasn't the "everything is the same" I found problematic. Sure you realize your grasp of what strategies are fruitful and which areas to focus on isn't complete, but that's only to be expected.

No, a more damning objection to the game is that the British player (at least) needs to be a friggin' man-machine calculator of superhuman ability to crunch numbers. (And let me assure you I'm not unaccustomed to deep or involved games)

I would say this game is in serious need of weeding out some of the less central mechanics and elements of the economic whole. Or, more positively, the state the game is in offers fair opportunities for simplification and clutter reduction that won't impact its central gameplay strengths!

By now, I am aware the victory conditions weren't especially balanced, but it would be dishonest to say this revelation came to us through playing the game.
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Sphere wrote:
pete belli wrote:
This classic really needs an update.

See here.

I read that thread, but as I did my hopes were sinking.

Making the control marker include a 1-strength garrison combined with simplified income was something I came up with myself, independently. Unfortunately that was about the only simplification that thread could reach consensus on. Disappointing, especially since I saw that myself after only a single play, and me not being a designer...

Then the discussion diverges into huge subdiscussions that effectively turn PB into a whole different game, as well as a lot of input from old grognards which are fine with the game as-is (which tells me they're blind to the severe clutter plaguing the current edition, and more significantly doing so needlessly, without adding to the core value of the game)

Of course much of the blame for this needs to fall on the shoulders of Mr Costikyan. Public opinion (and "designing by committee") tends to wander off in spurious direction and there's actually nothing wrong with that. The thread simply is suffering from a severe lack of direction.

I can't imagine it being so complicated or difficult to clean up the game fo' real as you'd imagine coming away from that thread. Instead I'm gathering that Mr Costikyan's not really putting his heart into this (not yet at least). Either that, or he needs to hand over the reins to somebody better capable of killing the darlings, as it were.

Oh well.
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Vicomte13 13
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Warren Bruhn wrote:

Like Ken, I've been frustrated with the simultaneous movement and status change phase. I've never seen anything else like it in boardgames or miniatures. It seems to be more of a role playing game mechanic. Also, the combat system is really something out of the 1960's, and isn't entirely exciting. And the values for economics and resistance are fixed.


The combat system actually stikes me as something straight out of Alfred Thayer Mahan. The supreme importance of sea power in that age is emphasized. With only a few naval factors advantage, you can virtually wipe out an enemy's overseas empire, by defeating his navy, then blocading his colonial ports. The enemy armies die off, then you can take send in armies to them over. This is certainly brutal, unforgiving. But it just about perfectly reflects the prevailing Mahanian philosophy of the time. The British, for example, always tried to maintain a fleet that could defeat their two largest rivals. At the start of the game, you see it: add the French and German fleets together, and they are one 3-factor fleet and three 1-factor fleets shy of equalling the British. Ditto for the French and the Russians.

When the Germans really began to press their naval building, the British were ultimately not able to keep up...and the Entente Cordiale with France began. The British-French de facto alliance from the Crimean War forward effectively protected both empires, as nobody could hope to rival their combined naval strength; nobody else was equal to France, let alone Britain. But the British didn't really feel the pressure to form the Entente Cordiale with France until they were no longer able to match the combined Franco-German naval forces.

Kipling's poem "France", which he wrote in 1913 on the occasion of the visit of the French President to London to discuss Franco-British military cooperation on the eve of the Great War, has a verse in it that summarizes the final state of affairs between the two, after two thousand years of war:

Yoked in knowledge and remorse, now we come to rest,
Laughing at old villainies that Time has turned to jest;
Pardoning old necessities no pardon can efface-
That undying sin we shared in Rouen market-place.
Now we watch the new years shape, wondering if they hold
Fiercer lightnings in their heart than we launched of old.
Now we hear new voices rise, question, boast or gird,
As we raged (rememberest thou?) when our crowds were stirred.
Now we count new keels afloat, and new hosts on land,
Massed like ours (rememberest thou?) when our strokes were planned.
We were schooled for dear life's sake to know each other's blade.
What can Blood and Iron make more than we have made?
We have learned by keenest use to know each other's mind,
What shall Blood and Iron loose that we cannot bind?
We who swept each other's coast, sacked each other's home,
Since the sword of Brennus clashed on the scales at Rome,
Listen, count and close again, wheeling girth to girth,
In the linked and steadfast guard set for peace on earth!

France and England did indeed eventually come to rest - for dear life's sake - as the closest allies in Europe. And it took the German threat to do it. Pax Britannica does a creditable job of simulating this too.

A parallel interesting feature of the game is how well it recreates the Continental Center versus Periphery theory of political strategists of the time, who saw Russia as the menacing "center" and pondered how to deal with the one (apparently) overwhelming military threat that could NOT be blunted with naval force. The Russian Strategy in Pax Britannica can evoke the British nightmare of Russians over the Khyber Pass into India if the Russians go for the "build a huge army and take India" strategy.

So, while the combat system is simple, I think its simplicity gives a pretty good simulation of the way grand strategists thought back then, especially about naval power.


The simultaneous movement system really is tricky, I agree. It's even harder when you try to play this game solitaire. That said, I think that there are a few aspects of the game order that make a difference. One key one is that you can't UNDO a build. Once you've built a marker, you can't unbuild it. And once you've placed a marker, maybe you can spend money to upgrade it, but you can't "take it back" - you're going to have to either fight for it or lose some cash. So, while it's true that folks can "hang back" to see what others do, this also means that first movers declare to all the world what they intend to keep, and can force a war over it.

Another key fact of the rules that I didn't get for quite awhile is that you can place colony markers, etc., in enemy colonies you've conquered, but you have to have BOUGHT them first, and put them on your country's home space. You can't just toss them on the board after you've won a colonial war if you didn't buy them during unit construction and movement.

This realization made things a lot more interesting.

To win the game, the British really have to take the high-value areas. If they don't, they can't get the points to compete (over a longer game) with powers who have lower multipliers. The British have an advantage, but they don't have a lot of extra economic points to simply play blocker here, there and everywhere. Indeed, the British (and French) really WANT the Italians, Germans, Russians and Japanese to get out there and grab at least a protectorate somewhere, because that ends the "$30 per turn" free Colonial office of the "uncommitted powers". Italy can nearly win the game by booking the points and buying influence markers, so you especially want Italy to come ashore somewhere and stay ashore.

Of course, nobody can beat the British early in the game, and other than the British, nobody can beat the French either. After that, nobody can beat the Germans (because they can match naval builds but have a bigger starting Army). And nobody can undo builds or take back markers. That poses a really interesting question for each player on the First Turn. What happens in the First Turn - how the players deal with that - establishes the friendships and enmities that can last the game.

The British can decide to mark the territories none will touch by throwing down Influence markers, or they can go for ownership...which may leave other places exposed. The French can grab something valuable the British don't...but do they do it with Influence markers, or with a Protectorate?

Each country has a choice to make, and that choice is heavily determined by whether the British does something first, or sits back. If the British want a war with you, they'll sit back and then pounce, but that's risky.

The simultaneous move has subtleties to it. It's not clean, but it is very much like real life. And the key to making it work is to really emphasize the rule that once something is built it can't be unbuilt, and to remind them that if they have not already build the protectorate markers during the build phase, they can't put them out on conquered enemy colonies if there is a war.
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Vicomte13 13
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perfalbion wrote:
The big problem of the original game has for me is the simultaneous, semi-eternal movement phase. I go to Egypt so you go to Egypt and you're Britain so I decide to go somewhere else, which causes Fred to go to somewhere else, which... AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! This can create never-ending rounds of chaos and across the table diplomacy, which really extends the game. And that hurts - players can either be hyper-aggressive and look for CB or they can run away. I think a written order system or some form of turn order might have been better.


I actually think that the simultaneous movement phase is one of the greatest strengths of the game, because it simulates the messy reality of the way that time flows. In games, each side takes a turn, but in real life, everybody acts simultaneously, and then reacts to what others do.

The only rule of time, in the real world or the game, is that actions cannot be undone. Once you do something, it's done. You may be able to fix the result if you don't like it, but you can't go back in time and undo what you've done.

So, you can put down a marker any old time during the movement phase, but you must first pay for it to do so. And the order in which you do it in real time is tha order in which it happened. Once a marker is down, you can't pick it back up again and get the money back. Certain markers - Interests and Influences - you can put down but then pick up (you don't get the money back, though, and you can't put it back down unless you pay for it again). Control markers commit you. You can upgrade a Control marker, but you can't downgrade it.

Part of the charm of the game is influencing other players by what you do and what you hold back from doing.
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Andrew Kluck
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Sphere wrote:
DBanks wrote:
In short, in this game, it is very very hard to know what your interests truly are. Let me state that again as it is central to my whole critique: in this game it is very difficult to know what your interests are.

Complex games often leave first-time players floundering. Your review boils down to this: "I don't get it, and won't spend the time to learn it".

pete belli wrote:
This classic really needs an update.

See here.

Odd, you criticize a new player for finding fault with the original game then link to a thread where the designer finds fault with his own game and is soliciting advice on how to fix it.
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Simon Barnes
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Sitnam wrote:
Odd, you criticize a new player for finding fault with the original game then link to a thread where the designer finds fault with his own game and is soliciting advice on how to fix it.


1) By your later use of the world fault I'm going to assume by "criticise" you mean the action of finding fault. If so I don't see how telling someone that new players often don't get such complex games in their first play is finding fault. It is just a common occurrence, in fact something he admitted to doing himself so many times he forgets. The op later admitted this was the case (although admittedly he also used the word criticism, but wrongly IMHO).


2) The designer isn't finding fault as such.. just soliciting views on reducing complexity and game time to make the game more accessible (read more sales). In effect he is considering a Pax Brittanica light. That is only a fault on the original game if by definition you find long complex games to be faulty. If the designer did indeed realise his initial intentions I personally would still keep the first edition and try and get someone to play it. The second edition would probably not interest me.. I'm not saying it would be faulty.. just not interesting.


So nothing odd at all really.
 
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