Review: Pax Porfiriana

Game Name: Pax Porfiriana: Collector’s edition Published Year: 2012
Game Publisher: Sierra Madre Games Player Scale: 1-6
Game Designer: Phil Eklund, Matt Eklund, Jim Gutt Run Time: 120 min

¡Bienvenidos a México!

Pax Porfiriana, Latin for “The Porfirian Peace”, refers to the 33-year period in the early 20th Century where dictator Porfirio Díaz ruled Mexico with an iron hand until toppled in the 1910 revolution.

PP_game

Your objective in the game, as a rich businessman of the time, is to topple president Díaz. Being a competitive game, you are going against each other to see who gets the position after him. This indeed not a story of friendship. You can topple in different ways, depending on the actual regime while the topple happens, but you only get 4 chances to do this in the whole game, otherwise, there is a Mexican stand-off at the end and whoever has more gold wins.

How it plays?

The game goes in a sequence of turns until the las topple cards get played. Each player performs all the four phases and then play goes to next player.

The first phase is the action phase. Each player gets to do 3 actions (or 2 if jailed) and there are a lot of options to choose from. You can purchase cards from the market, play or sell cards from your hand, upgrade in play cards, move troops around or speculate in the market.

After this, if there is a headline card in the 0 space of the market it gets played and then the market is restored, moving cards towards the lowest cost and filling up the empty spots. Finally, you get your income based on your enterprises without unrest, extortions and connection cubes.

PP_hacendados

You see that there are lots of options and moving gears in this game, even if the gameplay is quite easy to pick up there is quite a fair amount of complexity in the gameplay. All the meat in this game is in the cards though, the game comes with 220 cards, and depending on the number of players you will play only with half or a third of the cards, so every game can be very different and it will help keep that game fresh. Also, each player gets a Hacienda card, which will grant a special ability and your initial income.

PP_business

There are 6 kinds of playing cards in this game. The enterprise cards are businesses that you can purchase are where most of your income will come from. There different kind of businesses, some of them they depend on the kind of regime in play as it affects the mines production and economy, others are more stable and can be improved (but beware as they become juicy targets for others to exploit too!) or depend on other enterprises in play.

The partner cards, they are people that you get for your cause and they are faction related. They will give you different abilities or prestige points.

PP_partners

Troop cards are military units that you can use either to defend your businesses or to extort another player’s enterprise.  They are faction related also and most of them they can only be used in one of the 3 regions of the game (Sonora, Chihuahua and USA) as they have jurisdiction. Once you pledge for one of the causes you can have troops as a private army.

PP_troops

Black cards represent defamations, lawsuits, assassinations and other dirty tactics against your political rivals. And orange cards represent bandits, strikers, etc. that will create unrest and steal from your businesses. These two types when used the victim usually gets a reward in prestige points.

PP_headlines

Finally, we have the headline cards. These act as events and also include the topple cards. These also can trigger a Depression in the game, if two bear cards are played in a row, and the only way to go back to business as usual is playing two bull cards in a row.

PP_regimes

This more or less covers all the interactions in the game, there is one last thing, as I’ve talked about different regimes but I haven’t explained yet. There are 4 different regimes: Pax Porfiriana, Anarchy, Martial Law and US Intervention. These will affect the income of some of your enterprises and how the topple works as each regime is associated with one kind of victory points. When you try to topple, you will need a number of certain prestige points greater than Díaz basic 2, plus the sum of the opponents with the least points of that kind.

Solo game

As you can see from the gameplay this game doesn’t seem very solo friendly as there is quite a lot of interaction between players, but it does have a solo variant that you can play. In this case, you will go against Díaz itself. I haven’t particularly played it yet solo, but it does look like it makes a very interesting game.

Also, there is a variant made by Ricky Royal that is highly regarded in BGG’s 1 Player Guild, if you want to take a look here are the written rules and the videos of Ricky playing it on his YouTube channel (Box of Delights). Definitely worth to give it a go and I’m particularly looking forward to it.

Opinion

I will start saying that I like Phil Eklund’s games, they are very particular designs that are not for everybody and usually, the rules are not easy to digest. Nonetheless, I haven’t played one of his game that hasn’t been rewarding to learn to play it. They are all science or history based and have very intelligent and interesting mechanics. This one is probably the easiest Phil Eklund game to get into that I have played.

This is the first game in the Pax series, it was highly regarded in the 1 Player Guild and in BGG in general so I was looking forward to playing it at some point. I wasn’t disappointed at all. It makes for such an interesting gameplay the whole game. Turns are fast, there is a ton of interaction between players and is a deep game. With so many cards and different types of them, it makes for a lot of variation in the game too, you never know what will happen or what will come out in the market. Things can change a lot from turn to turn too so is quite a dynamic game, and getting that victory condition when the topple card comes is very hard to achieve.

The interaction between players is great, but you need to be careful as when you do something to someone else you usually give them a plus in prestige points, and a point in this game can give you the victory, such a brilliant design. This game feels a bit like a COIN-lite game but more focused on the economy, for those who don’t know me, I’m a big fan of GMT’s COIN games, they are my favourite system, and the interaction in this game with the factions and between players reminds me a bit of that system, with a bit less complexity and a bit shorter too.

Pros: High interaction between players, very rewarding gameplay and lots of variability.

Cons: The artwork and game pieces are not very attractive, so that may put some people off but it won’t matter when they start playing. This is quite common with Sierra Madre games, though they are doing a great job in their new releases to improve the aspect of their games without increasing the price to crazy levels. Looking forward to keeping getting their games.

You may also like: Pax Pamir, Pax Renaissance, GMT’s COIN games.

That’s all folks, I hope you liked it and hopefully, I’ve convinced you all to try a Phil Eklund game at some point!

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