Have you started thinking about holiday gift-giving yet? Don’t give me the stink eye; this year for the first time I’m seeing holiday-themed merch for sale before Halloween. So much for that retail taboo. Anyway. What are you going to get for that tabletop gamer friend who has everything?
Have you considered Pax Pamir (2nd Edition)? Games about Afghanistan in the 19th century don’t come along every day, you know. Or not at all, really, until this one. It was originally part of Sierra Madre Games’ “Pax” series, small-box games that tackled out-of-the-way topics like the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. They’re known for their in-depth historical research, their tricky mix of long-term strategy and short-term tactics, and their almost impenetrable rules.
But then designer Cole Wehrle decided to redevelop Pax Pamir to better reflect his original ambitions for the game as well as streamline the rules and incorporate elements from its expansion, Khyber Knives. So he’s published the game under his own imprint, Wehrlegig Games.
In PP players take the role of tribal leaders trying to expand their power and influence by playing off the three major factions who dominated Afghanistan after the collapse of the Durrani Empire. Two of the factions are foreign--Britain and Russia--and one represents the domestic Afghanian forces.
Mechanically the game is a tableau-builder with players purchasing cards from a central market. These cards provide assets, resources, special powers, and extra actions when played. Events and special cards called Dominance Checks are also seeded into the market deck, which trigger when purchased.
Dominance Checks are the hingepoints of the game: the moment they are bought, players check to see whether any of the three factions has significantly more presence on the board than the others. If so, the player(s) with most influence in that faction score points; if not, the player(s) with most of their own pieces on the board (representing allied tribes) score points. The game can end immediately after a Dominance Check if one player is a measly four points ahead; otherwise whoever’s ahead after the fourth one wins.
It is not only allowed but expected that players will shift allegiances during the game, and the game state is further influenced by whichever of the four suits in the market deck is currently “favoured”, making the actions on those cards not count against the limit of two per turn that players get (among other possible effects).
As you can see Pax Pamir is a swingy game full of sudden changes--and I haven’t even mentioned betrayals and side-deals. Thus it’s a game the rewards players who pay attention and enjoy negotiation.
Component-wise, the new edition eschews the DIY aesthetic of its predecessor, so the card art is at once cleaner and more beautiful, there’s a cloth board as well as a mounted one and there are beautiful ceramic pieces for the factions instead of generic wooden tokens. But this major component upgrade comes with a heftier price tag, which turns Pax Pamir from an insta-buy to a “hmmmm...should I buy?”
Which is why I recommend it as a holiday gift, for yourself (and let’s face it, you deserve a treat), your gaming group, or a Significant Other who’s really into games. It’s a damned good game, and looks great on the shelf and on the table. So click here to order your copy of Pax Pamir Second Edition, because diamonds are forever, but boardgames are more fun.