Pax Pamir: the review, fratricidal battles in the Afghan mountains

Pax Pamir: the review, fratricidal battles in the Afghan mountains
Geometric decorations, fabric maps, monolithic components: picking up the Pax Pamir that has just distributed in our country is a bit like taking a dip in the past, as if you had stumbled upon an archaeological find that testifies to an anthropological cross-section of an almost forgotten era. However, its archaic nature is only a facade pose and the game proves to be alive, profound and capable of impressing friends and relatives.

Pax Pamir: the historical setting

We are at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the mighty Durrani Empire is in ruins, the Sultan Ayyūb Shāh has been violently deposed and the country is in disarray. It is a period in which the Afghan tribal leaders begin to move to seize the reins of a country left to anarchy, in which minor leaders try to put their feet on each other's head by seeking resources in the power of the "feregni", the foreign rulers who are starting to challenge each other by proxy through the deployment of military forces in the Middle East. This is the conflict known to Western historians as "The Great Game" and which the Russians call "The Tournament of Shadows", a clash in which diplomacy and espionage are indissolubly intertwined and whose repercussions foment bloody fratricidal betrayals.

In this climate of fragile alliances and strong tensions, the players interpret the local leaders who try to consolidate their political and military influence, leaders of the peoples who try to excel in the territory and at the same time to bind themselves to foreign coalitions that prove to be man winning hands, but only one sign of weakness, one false step is enough, and all the equilibrium could be overturned, upsetting bonds and friendships. In the Game, everything is allowed.

The setup

Each player retrieves a board and the ten corresponding tokens, four rupees and a rotating disc with which to identify their temporary loyalty. The map, in addition to showing the disputed territories, also acts as a counter scoreboard, as well as a meter with which to measure which is the most influential political aspect of the moment: diplomacy, espionage, economics or military, with diplomacy that starts the dance at every single game start. The only relatively complex step is that of creating the game deck. These are in fact made up of Court cards, Event cards and Domain cards that must be mixed together strategically, so as to best support the mechanics of the title.

Court cards are the most common, the ones with which affect the game actively and every turn, the Event cards instead generate temporary modifiers that remain active until they run out. Then there are the Domain cards. They actually mark the match and determine the assignment of the points. In other words, they are of utmost importance. To prevent these from gathering unfortunately in a single point of the deck, the cards must therefore be divided with a particular technique which, however, is explained in detail in the rules manual and which is anything but complex.

The first ten cards of the deck thus created are then placed on the Market board, the source from which to recruit one's courtiers into play, and the transparent tray containing the 36 Coalition blocks is brought to the stage, these in turn represent the armies of Russia, Great Britain and Afghanistan. All participants choose their initial affiliation and the game begins.

The game

Game designer Cole Wehrle has created rules for Pax Pamir that are legitimately destabilizing. Not because they are particularly numerous - the instruction booklet barely counts twenty pages - but because they are dense and closely intertwined. Each element of the game is linked with the other, giving rhythm to an exquisite strategic dance that opens up infinite playful panoramas. However, the depth of this virtue makes it necessary to review every single regulatory element, making sure that each element is well understood by all participants. At the first reading of the rules, many will inevitably end up rolling their eyes, ready to swear they have not understood anything, however do not give up! The title boasts an excellent design and reconnecting the notions to actual practice is a matter of a few rounds.

The basics are, moreover, immediate: at each round the active player can perform two actions to choose between buying cards in the Market, play one of the purchased cards in your Court or activate one of the actions made available by the courtiers. Depending on how the wind of political influences blows, it is also possible to perform a series of bonus actions. Once your maneuvers have been completed, you move on to the "cleaning phase", a phase that involves the gauge of all the excess cards - in the court and in your hand - and the updating of the cards in the Market.

The maneuvers Coalitions are managed through Court cards. When these enter the scene, in fact, they develop a whole series of effects ranging from the construction of roads to the deployment of troops, passing through the constitution of tribes and the deployment of spies. The double value of the Court cards fits gracefully into the narrative tracks of the entire game atmosphere, underlining how the interests of the Court develop a symbiotic relationship with those of the national Coalitions, without however being coincident.

Last, but last but not least, it is worth noting the importance of the Dominion cards. When these enter the scene it is necessary to examine whether or not one of the Coalitions has obtained a clear advantage over its opponents. If one of the factions is excelling, players loyal to it will divide up a large sum of points, splitting them according to how loyal their courts have been to their allies. If, on the other hand, the war situation is in balance, all those who have a greater number of active spies and tribes rooted in the battlefield receive the points. Once the fourth and final Dominion card is resolved, the balance is drawn and the new leader of Afghanistan is crowned.

The game - part two

To avoid the thunderous impact of an excess of information, we omit here to detail every single element of the game, but suffice it to know that between political instability, dismissals, taxes, bribes, wars and assassinations, there is a lot of meat in the fire with which to influence the political developments of the decaying empire. However, we would like to underline how Pax Pamir also provides the possibility to juggle single-player games using an "artificial intelligence" conceived by game designer Richard Wilkins and known as Wakhan.

In the macro-narrative, Wakhan represents a force radicalist - religious or philosophical - which extends to every corner of Afghanistan, influencing entire populations. In fact, it corresponds to a chieftain who counts and acts like any other player, but who "cheats" badly ignoring a whole series of rules. As often happens in these contexts, AI is regulated by a deck of cards designed specifically to simulate strategic maneuvers, maneuvers that are, however, invariably plagiarized by the randomness of the context. To compensate for this systemic limitation, Wakhan is in fact an ally of every single coalition in the field and can "radicalize" the members of the cohort, which concretely translates into a quantity of free actions with which to guarantee important advantages.

The Wakhan mode is perfect for those who, passionate about the game, want to amuse themselves independently with complex challenges, but it is also a bad starting point with which to take the first steps, if only because, becoming a four-handed job, they are unable to be fully representative of the main mechanics. Pax Pamir must in fact be experienced in a group and draws maximum energy from human intellect and sociability. The possibility of using it alone must therefore be considered as a plus, as the proverbial icing on the cake that enriches what is the most consistent main course.

The materials

The presentation by Pax Pamir is brilliant, even if it is not evident at a glance. Taking into account the market segment in which it fits, the title seems to have little to offer compared to its counterparts. In addition to the minimalist resin blocks and the fabric map, in fact, the components are all produced with standard materials such as cardboard or shaped wood, elements that are not very impressive when compared to the growing influence of miniature games. Wehrle's work, however, reveals its qualities once it is handled directly. The weight and consistency of the Coalition blocks, the sensory impact of the fabric, the perfect weight of the playing cards: everything converges in recreating the sensations typically linked to the games produced in the past, those that endure the passage of centuries. Imagine a middle ground between the old Jumanji and the Go boards carved through the tachi-mori technique and you can get an idea of ​​the achronic sensation that Pax Pamir exudes from every pore.

It is also important to point out how Cole Wehrle has spent years researching the "The Great Game" conflict. It did so mainly in order not to lightly describe a political and cultural situation of which we are still experiencing the aftermath, but such a thorough degree of research could only influence numerous aesthetic and content implications, directly impacting the planning of editorial design. The Event cards and the Corte cards in fact boast illustrations taken directly from historical sources, genuine and original representations that converge in guaranteeing an authentic and, in its own way, authorial sensitivity. In full Magic: The Gathering style, each single card is also enriched by a brief description that summarizes how the character / instrument / place represented influenced the political balance of nineteenth-century Afghanistan, what its role was in the "Great Game ”.

Game suitable for…

Pax Pamir is suitable for a mature audience that is able to appreciate the strategic, political and historical imprint that the product is able to offer. That said, it is not essential that the participants are regular and experienced players. Despite the intricate premises, the title can entertain both newbies and hardcore fans, offering both categories of adaptive levels of immersion. In fact, it can be appreciated superficially, playing it lightly, but also investing time and attention in it to turn it into a highly competitive and reasoned experience, undertaking challenges that have little to envy to chess or xingqi.


The publisher estimates that each match lasts about 90 minutes, but 90 minutes are in a flash. In trying the title we ended up getting involved in countless rematches, greatly exceeding the threshold of the professional test and resulting in pure fun. We only became aware of the passage of time late in the evening, when the pangs of hunger reminded us that dinner time was now looming. In Pax Pamir, every action can affect the results of the match, there is no downtime and you never feel like you are at the mercy of chance. In addition to being an exquisitely balanced title, Pax Pamir offers as an added value an educational and cultural approach that is not at all arrogant, which manages to remain in the background, within the reach of those who are interested, without negatively affecting the usability of the title.

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