Pax Review

A very interesting game that I recently was taught by one of my newer gaming friends was Pax (that link is to the publisher's site - it's not on Amazon).

In Pax, you are rebelling against Rome.  Well, at least most of you are.  To successfully rebel against Rome, you (as a collective group of players) must defeat Rome in 4 of the 7 categories.  Each turn, you will draw three cards, but you will see them one at a time.  One card goes in your hand, one goes on the bottom of the deck, and one goes under one of the "legion" cards.  Next, you may buy a group of "legion" cards by paying the cost of all of the cards in the pile.  Third, you may play cards from your hand in front of you - the first card is free, and each additional card costs one more than the card before it.  Finally, you collect income based on the pile you just added to that has the most cards.  Once all players have had a turn, whichever legion pile is worth the most gold goes into Rome's pile.  This continues until the deck has been exhausted.  At that time, players compare their strength in each category against Rome.  If Rome is stronger than (or tied with) all of the players in at least 4 categories, then Rome wins!  And thus, whoever has conspired with Rome (which means they have the most points in the "conspiring" category) is the winner!  Otherwise, players add up points (getting bonuses for various things like having more strength than Rome in a category) and whoever has the most points is the winner.

This is the person betraying you.
So, for everyone out there that enjoys games with multiple paths to victory, this is a game for you!  Now, "multiple" in this case mostly means two.  You can win by scoring the most and having the players defeat Rome, or you can win by sabotaging the players and conspiring with Rome.  I've seen both strategies win in both the two and four player games (I haven't played a three player game yet), so I know both are possible.  However, I think that in the four player game, (at least) one person has to be much more intentional about strengthening Rome's position by adding expensive cards to legion piles in order for the strategy to work.  Either way, I have found this dual victory condition mechanic to work very well, and it makes me hope that more games do something like this.

The next thing that I liked about the game is that each of the different categories was valuable.  With this, you could even argue that there are more than two paths to victory - within the "defeat Rome" strategy, there are different categories you can focus on.  Some of the cards give you points, others give you money, one type lets you buy legion piles cheaper, and one even allows you to draw more than one card at a time before deciding where they go.  Every category is useful - though some are much more useful at the beginning of the game, whereas others are much more valuable late.  Plus, the designer avoided making any of the categories unbalanced.  Specifically, the conspiracy cards could quickly become overpowered (they can give you instant victory), and to compensate for this, you don't collect any income on a turn that you play a conspiracy card!  That's a nice little touch that keeps the game balanced.

My final pro is that I like that your decisions in this game are simple yet challenging.  What do you do on your turn?  For the most part, you're simply looking at a card and deciding what to do with it.  But, since you have no idea what's coming next, it can be tough.  For example - if I draw a card that I could use, but isn't especially helpful, what should I do?  Should I bury it under the deck, even though I can use it?  Should I keep it, and hope that nothing better comes out?  Should I put it in a legion pile - but what if I don't buy it and it helps someone else (or even Rome)?  Pax gives you meaningful and tough decisions to make, and makes you decide how much you're willing to gamble on what you will draw next.

Your legion piles might look like this.
Now, the one con that I see for Pax is that there is a bit more luck involved than some people will like (so far I'm ok with it, but if I play it a lot more, it might eventually bother me more).  This luck primarily comes in two forms.  First, there are 3 cards given to Rome to start the game.  These cards are face down, and most of the time you will not know what they are (you can actually spend an entire turn to look at them, if you want).  So, when playing a close game where someone has been conspiring against Rome a lot, these three cards can determine whether the players win or whether Rome wins.  (One game that we played had 2 of the 3 cards give Rome a lead in a category, thus giving them the lead in 4 categories and having them win!)  The other way that luck plays a role in the game is simply in what you draw, and when you draw it.  As I said before, certain categories are valuable early, and others are valuable late (more specifically, are bonuses to scoring, so it doesn't matter when you play them, but they give you no in-game bonus).  If you draw a lot of scoring cards early, you will be at a significant disadvantage over a player that can get a lot of other bonuses in the first few turns.  The person with the victory point bonuses might officially be "winning" after a couple of turns, but the person with the discount on purchasing will have a better chance of victory.

Overall, I give Pax an 8.5/10.  It's a brilliant little game, and I look forward to playing it more.  I don't necessarily see myself getting together just to play Pax, though, so it doesn't quite crack the 9 threshold.

If Pax sounds interesting, you might also want to check out Atlanteon, Wizard's Gambit, and Orbit Rocket Race 5000.

I would like to thank iRon games for providing me with a review copy of Pax.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds really interesting. I'll need to think about picking it up...