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Pax Pamir; War Never Seemed So Elegant

I love how I feel when I play Pax Pamir. That may sound a tad weird, but I think one should consider how a game makes one feel during the experience of play. Certain games (eg. Space Base, Great Western Trail, even Food Chain Magnate) create for me a vibe of subtle anxiety - not enough to dislike the game, but enough for me to note the sensation. In fact, most games create for me such a feeling. So it's very noteworthy when I just perceive 'smooth playability, unmarred by jarring anxiety' (I know : kind of sounds like a whisky review - sue me, but I prefer games to booze:). 

The game is extremely 'efficient' in the quantity of strategic choices it offers per turn. This is owing both to a well-conceived map board and dense cards which drive the play - the world (or, at least Afghanistan) is your oyster every turn. Turns - and the game itself - play very quickly; of the 4 times I've played this week, no game exceeded 1 3/4 hours. (Oh - and I won zero of them, so this review is bias-free:)

Basically, players are factions vying for influence among the 3 large coalitions attempting to control a stylized map representing Afghanistan in the early 19th century. On their turn, players may take a number of actions allowed by cards in a tableau they've constructed. There are scoring rounds periodically; points are awarded at these moments. If, after one of these rounds, a single player has a commanding lead, she wins automatically. If not, whoever leads after the last scoring round is the winner.

Pax Pamir has too many virtues for me to list, but I'll try to offer some: 

  • It moves quickly; you need to pay attention to what other people are doing, and think about how to respond (ie you're involved even when it's not your turn).
  • It's a beautiful physical specimen
  • There's lots of interaction. Unlike, for example, Race for the Galaxy - an excellent tableau-builder, but one where you can play the whole game 'alone' with others - in Pax Pamir you are an active participant in a volatile arena - standing still and trying to do your own thing without participating in the scrum is not an option.
  • It has many paths to victory, and even better - it has bountiful 'catch-up' mechanisms that neither break the game nor give it a sense of futility for the front-runners - I was witness to a number of stunning turn-on-a-dime moves which brought victory when defeat seemed assured.
  • Plays great with 3 or 4, and I assume 5. (I am psyched to try 2).

I haven't enjoyed a game so much in a while - it's easy to teach, to learn, and to play. And it's quick. Super fun. It gets my highest rating.

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