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Board Game: Pax Porfiriana
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Subject: A guided tour of Revolutionary Mexico rss

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Martin G
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I’ve really enjoyed my first five plays of Pax Porfiriana, but (as with most Eklund games) it is a pain to learn from the rule book. I thought others might benefit from an illustrated guide, either to help in learning the game or to decide whether or not it might be for them. The pictures are taken from the 'card anatomies' provided on the side of the box.

The basics
Pax Porfiriana (“the Porfirian Peace”) refers to the 33-year rule of the dictator Porfirio Diaz, running up to the Mexican Revolution in 1910. The game sets players as wealthy businessmen, each aiming to topple Diaz and install himself by fair means or (more likely) by foul.

Pax is a card-drafting and tableau-building game in which a deck of 200+ unique cards represents everything from mines and plantations to marauding troops, spies and assassins. Cards are purchased from two market rows of six face-up cards, becoming cheaper the longer they remain unpurchased. Each player gets three actions per turn and purchasing and playing cards will make up the bulk of them.

The cards carry a wealth of iconography, representing a number of interconnected subsystems, with any space left over being crammed full of historic art and flavour text.

Toppling and regimes
The initial draw deck is stacked with four ‘topple cards’ which represent opportunities to overthrow Diaz. If a player successfully topples, he wins immediately; otherwise the richest player after the fourth failed attempt wins. The game depicts four historical possibilities for Diaz’s toppling: US annexation of Mexico; revolution; peaceful succession; and military coup. The type of toppling that can be attempted is determined by the current Regime, depicted by a set of four cards separate from the main draw pile.

From gallery of qwertymartin


Much of the game’s character comes from the fact that players will be positioning themselves to achieve different varieties of toppling. There are four categories of victory point (known as Prestige): to overthrow Diaz in a coup needs Command prestige; to succeed him needs Loyalty; to justify annexation requires Outrage; and to foment a revolution needs... Revolution! A successful topple will only occur if a player can collect enough of the relevant points and then manoeuvre into the matching Regime just in time for the Topple card to show up. This is even more difficult than it sounds...

Typical of the interconnectedness of the game’s subsystems, the four regimes (Martial Law, Pax Porfiriana, US Intervention, Anarchy) don’t just determine the potential topple type but also affect the game’s economy and possible actions in several other ways - as shown by the Martial Law regime card above.

So, those are the goals. What are the cards in the draw deck that allow our scheming hacendados to get there? I’ll go through them type by type.

Enterprises
Money (represented by coloured tokens) is very important in the game. Many cards cost money to play and the price of cards in the market rows escalates exponentially (0, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 for the six visible cards). The main way for players to build up an economy and make a regular income is by playing Enterprise cards into their tableau.

From gallery of qwertymartin


There’s a lot going on here, so let’s focus on one thing at a time! The main purpose of an Enterprise is to earn income. When a player plays an enterprise to his tableau (paying the cost in the top right), he adds a number of personal income cubes to the card. At the end of his turn, a player earns one coin for each income cube he has in play.

Enterprises come in a variety of types. Plantations (shown here) and Ranches have a starting income (2 cubes in this case) but it’s possible to add more cubes later by taking a Buy Land action. Banks and Mines have a fixed income, determined by the Economy and Mines value of the current regime card. Their income changes immediately when the regime does - I told you it was all interconnected!

The game’s geography is quite abstracted. There are two Mexican districts (Sonora and Chihuahua) and one in the US. A number of cards have effects limited to one district, represented by its flag. This plantation is in Sonora, for example. Enterprises also have a connection type (foot, mule, rail or ship) which determine the cost for troops to reach them (see later). This enterprise starts off with a rail connection, but can be upgraded to ship. Paying the upgrade cost allows a player to add another income cube to the connection space. But Pax is no multi-player solitaire game: if you don’t do it first, I can pay to upgrade a connection on your enterprise!

This is only a beginners’ guide, so forget about the slave revolt for now...

Partners

From gallery of qwertymartin


The other main way to build up the power of your tableau is by playing Partners, which confer special rule-breaking abilities. Partners belong to one of four coloured factions (blue = US, green = federal, white = local, pink = rebel) and often carry one of the four prestige point types. This Partner belongs to the rebel faction and comes with a Revolution point, shown by the oval icon. Partners come in a wide variety of types; Monopolies like this one earn the player money when other players do something. Fortunately for me, the card’s ability refers only to terms I’ve already defined, so you should be able to make sense of it by now!

Troops

From gallery of qwertymartin


The next sub-system is the military, and this is where things start getting really interactive. Troop cards come in the same four factions as Partners, and also often carry prestige points. Furthermore, many troops have an associated Regime Change. Playing the federal troops shown here will change the current regime to Pax Porfiriana, just what you need if you’re planning to succeed Diaz in a peaceful topple.

Troops are not played in isolation but must be stationed at a particular Enterprise, which must be in the matching District. The cost to deploy the troops is given by the current connection on the target enterprise. But the enterprise doesn’t have to be in your own tableau! You can send troops to another player’s Enterprise to extort money from them. To keep track of this, one of the target player’s income cubes is replaced with one of the attacker’s.

Only one Troop card can survive at each Enterprise, and if you want to kick some inconvenient extorting troops out, you can deploy Troops of your own with higher fire-power, shown in the top left (value 1, 2 or 3).

Attack cards

From gallery of qwertymartin


Now we get to the really nasty cards. Orange cards represent native uprisings, strikes and bandits and are played against an Enterprise. Like troops, their target must be in the right district, and they often change the Regime. As well as stealing money from the target player, they generally add a number of Unrest discs to the Enterprise. Unrest is a pain! It cancels all income, reverts connections to base and nullifies any other special effects of the Enterprise. Unrest can be removed using Troops or the Police, but this takes up valuable actions.

From gallery of qwertymartin


Black cards represent covert operations and target another player rather than a specific Enterprise. They take two actions to play, unless played during the Regime shown on the card, and can have devastating effects. This Assassination card allows a Partner from another player’s tableau to be eliminated.

But being attacked is not all bad. Black and orange cards come with compensatory ‘victim-awarded’ prestige points. It sucks to have your best Partner assassinated, but at least it causes some Outrage. And just to get even more Machiavellian, there’s nothing to stop you playing attacks on yourself just to get at those valuable prestige points! As the rule book delightfully puts it: "It's as if you say 'What a great revolutionary I am, freeing the oppressed', omitting the fact that you were also the oppressor."

Headlines

From gallery of qwertymartin


The final type of card represents external events that affect all players. If a headline reaches the zero-cost row of the Market, it is discarded without effect. If it is bought by one of the players, they decide whether or not to activate it. If activated, headlines always change the regime and have some other special effect, which can range widely in how badly it will affect each player. And they also cause Strife, depicted by the two-coloured fist icon. Remember the four coloured factions the Partners and Troops belong to? Strife means they fall out with each other. In this case, if you have both green and blue factions in your tableau, you’ll have to discard all cards of one of those factions.

And that’s not quite all! Headlines also carry either a bull or bear icon. Whether activated or not, all Headlines go to a separate discard pile. Two bears in a row triggers a Depression, only ended by two bulls in a row. Depression reduces all bank and mine income to zero, and on top of that makes everyone pay one gold maintenance per tableau card each turn.

Hacendado cards and Public cards
There are a couple more card-types that aren’t shuffled into the draw deck. Each player starts with one of six Hacendado cards, each of which has a different special power and two base income. During topples, these cards can be flipped from their starting ‘loyalist’ side to one of the four faction colours, representing taking a stand against the dictator. Their steady income is lost for good, but a prestige point is gained, and the player can also start accumulating a private army. Finally there are two double-sided Public cards which are always available for purchase. They come at a high-price but can effect a vital Regime Change when no other way is available.

And there's so much more
This has been a whistle-stop tour of a complex and interconnected game, but I hope it has given an idea of how it plays and whether you might be interested. I hope to follow up with a review after a few more plays. I haven’t been this excited about climbing the learning curve of a game for quite some time.
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Thank you for this excellent teaser.

I shall look forward to your review. Hopefully my wife and I will have had a chance to play the game before then (the game is sitting on my desk) so we can compare notes.

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This is great Martin, thanks. It's coming in the mails now and this'll help me sort it out. It sounds incredible, almost 'Chudyk'-like in tactical richness, tons of choices, and pure drama. You've really put this on the map for me.
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Martin G
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Good comparison Tom. Pax definitely has some of the improvisatory nature of Innovation, but with the thematic detail and narrative of a war-game.
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qwertymartin wrote:
Good comparison Tom. Pax definitely has some of the improvisatory nature of Innovation, but with the thematic detail and narrative of a war-game.
During today's double header (that's right everyone, this is an Eklund game that can be played easily in double headers) one of the players made a comparison with Innovation. I would be inclined to agree, except that there is a more profound strategic dimension to play.
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What's the sweet spot for # of players here?
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This has moved up my want list and will likely be a buy for me if I see it at BGG.Con.
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enzo622 wrote:
What's the sweet spot for # of players here?
To answer that, let me explain how the victory condition works. To successfully topple you have to have more prestige points of the currently relevant type than the 'Tripartite defence'. The Tripartite is calculated by adding 2 prestige for Diaz plus the prestige of your 2 weakest opponents. In 2p this is modified to 3 for Diaz plus your opponent, i.e. you need to beat your opponent by 4 to topple.

Having more than 2p opens up some interesting non-zero-sum dynamics. Say you are going for Command, P2 is going for Outrage and P3 for Loyalty. You can attack and 'victim-award' an Outrage point to P3 in order to boost P2's tripartite.

So far, I suspect 4p is the sweet spot. The clever thing about the tripartite with 4p is that two players can both go for the same victory condition without blocking each other, because your strongest opponent is not part of your tripartite.

I've only played with 2 and 4 so far, and 2p was a really good way to learn without too much chaos. I would guess that it will be fine with 2, great with 3, best with 4, and OK with 5, with a tendency towards too much chaos and downtime.
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Cole Wehrle wrote:
During today's double header (that's right everyone, this is an Eklund game that can be played easily in double headers)
Yes, we played back-to-back first time too. Early games were actually really short as we didn't know enough to stop a player winning on the first topple attempt. It was only our latest 4p that went all the way to a money victory, after each player had had a near-miss toppling attempt. And even that didn't break two hours.

Quote:
one of the players made a comparison with Innovation. I would be inclined to agree, except that there is a more profound strategic dimension to play.
I hope you'll share more of your thoughts soon Cole, I'm looking forward to hearing more perspectives on the game.
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Also, for players using this thread as a teaching guide I would add one thing. Unlike most games the victory requirement here is very, very hard to explain to new players. It's not terribly complicated, but there's nothing like it and its proved to be the lingering confusion in every game I've played so far. The next time I teach it (perhaps today with two players) I think I will really take time to explain it before I even take out the game's components. After they get that you can describe a few basics about how things are bought and built, the different suits of cards, and you're off to the races (things like police actions can be explained with they become relevant).

Other than that, this game plays very, very smoothly, even with new gamers. Yesterday a couple of our players had only just begun learning board games and after a few turns at a fair idea of what was going on (though it took them almost to the end to figure out the victory condition).

qwertymartin wrote:

Quote:
one of the players made a comparison with Innovation. I would be inclined to agree, except that there is a more profound strategic dimension to play.
I hope you'll share more of your thoughts soon Cole, I'm looking forward to hearing more perspectives on the game.
After a couple more plays I plan on writing up a full review, perhaps later this week.
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Thanks. I did know that, but I can see how the wording could confuse.
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Cole Wehrle wrote:
qwertymartin wrote:
Good comparison Tom. Pax definitely has some of the improvisatory nature of Innovation, but with the thematic detail and narrative of a war-game.
During today's double header (that's right everyone, this is an Eklund game that can be played easily in double headers) one of the players made a comparison with Innovation. I would be inclined to agree, except that there is a more profound strategic dimension to play.
And I had just decided I could safely not get this!!

I think I've just been sold.
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$35 + $7 shipping? I had to keep myself from ordering 2.
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usrlocal wrote:
I figured you did, but even in the rules the wording on this is a bit ambiguous depending on where you read about it - the glossary really nails it, though. I just wanted to make sure that it was clarified for those who may not have read through the glossary.
The most important (and most precise) rules are always in the glossary in Pax.
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HuginnGreiling wrote:
$35 + $7 shipping? I had to keep myself from ordering 2.
Incredible, isn't it? I just wish mine would show up already
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
HuginnGreiling wrote:
$35 + $7 shipping? I had to keep myself from ordering 2.
Incredible, isn't it? I just wish mine would show up already
This game easily wins the "most game per cubic inch" award.
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Cole Wehrle wrote:
This game easily wins the "most game per cubic inch" award.
No kidding. They had to use extra-thick cardboard to hold in all the awesome!
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HuginnGreiling wrote:
$35 + $7 shipping? I had to keep myself from ordering 2.
Imagine how the people who got the €20 Essen pre-order felt!
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qwertymartin wrote:
HuginnGreiling wrote:
$35 + $7 shipping? I had to keep myself from ordering 2.
Imagine how the people who got the €20 Essen pre-order felt!
It feels wonderful, thank you.

Re: number of players. I think Martin has it right, although I might pitch a little lower. 3-4 will work well, 5 might be a bit of a slog, like a knifefight in a canvas bag.
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This is a really solid rules over view. I've only played the game once so far, and learnt the game from the rule book (which i can manage even if Eklunds rules style is a bit technical manual). From my limited experience i can attest that this is a good game. I agree that there are similarities with Glory to Rome and Innovation in that the cards do several things and interlock very well. Its more thematic than either GrR or Innovation though,
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outlier wrote:
like a knifefight in a canvas bag.
Thank you for this wonderful, horrible image.
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outlier wrote:

Re: number of players. I think Martin has it right, although I might pitch a little lower. 3-4 will work well, 5 might be a bit of a slog, like a knifefight in a canvas bag.
I've only logged one five player game but I think the five and six player game (if you provide the extra cubes) are worthwhile because of the way they re-balance the victory conditions. However, it's worth noting that such endeavors should be reserved for experienced players. For teaching, I think the game should be kept at 3 or 4. The two player game, while good, is so profoundly different that it rarely leads to "teachable" moments.
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qwertymartin wrote:
I've only played with 2 and 4 so far, and 2p was a really good way to learn without too much chaos. I would guess that it will be fine with 2, great with 3, best with 4, and OK with 5, with a tendency towards too much chaos and downtime.
I've now played four times 2p, three times 3p and three times 4p. They all work really well!

My 2p game last night was the first where both of us were already familiar with the rules. I found that you could angle for two different victory conditions, using the threat of one to force your opponent into difficult choices, while you build up the other. I was aiming for Revolution from the start, but then built up a sideline in Command and managed to buy the Porfirian Army for the win on the 2nd Topple.
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