Pax Pamir is an interactive historical game about politics and power in nineteenth century Afghanistan from the designer of John Company and Root.
In the game, players will work in coalitions to build a new state after the collapse of the Durrani Empire. However, only a single player can win. As your coalition becomes powerful, former allies will turn to espionage and political subterfuge in an effort to secure their personal dominance.
For as long as I've been thinking about game design, I've wanted to do a game about European Empires in central Asia. This fifty-year cold war between the Russian and British Empires is sometimes called "The Great Game." It's filled with compelling people from all walks of life and is set against a fascinating backdrop of espionage and empire-building. Think about it like a Victorian James Bond. Cool, right?
Well, as I learned more about the period and about the study of history itself, it was clear that my first impressions were badly mistaken. The drama and romance of the period hid untold volumes of colonial violence. The imperialist policies put in place around the world at this time were unconscionable even by the measure of their own time. This was plainly not a good setting for the adventurous romp I had in mind.
But, as I dug further into the period, I started discovering another story, far more interesting than the tale of two European powers jockeying for position on the frontiers of their empires. The collapse of Durrani power in Afghanistan, which I had always understood as a secondary event, was actually the central drama of this place at this time. Though the Europeans played a critical role in the events that ensued, they are better understood as supporting characters in a dynastic struggle that lasted over a generation.
With this design, I hoped to reverse the standard tropes about games about empire and direct player's attention towards those struggling to pick up the pieces of their fallen order and build something new. Of course, one shouldn't romanticize them as well. Dost Mohammad was a ruthless and efficient ruler who viewed the British and Russian interests less as fearsome invaders than as regional rivals. He believed (correctly) that he could outlast and out-compete his foes. At its core, Pax Pamir is a game about finding sovereignty in an age of expanding global empires. It's also a game about trying to read and to understand complex geopolitical situations.
In preparing the game, I've done my best to consult a wide range of sources. The most important single document that informed this design was Fayż Muḥammad Kātib Hazārah's Sirāj al-tawārīkh. Written nearly two generations after the conflict, the Sirāj al-tawārīkh was the culmination of nearly twenty years of research and unparalleled access to primary documents (many of which are now lost). I also relied upon a wide range of secondary works ranging from popular histories such William Dalrymple's Return of a King to scholarly monographs such as Christine Noelle's State and Tribe in Nineteenth Century Afghanistan. A full bibliography and reading guide will be included with the rules.
The nineteenth century has cast a very long shadow over our own moment, and I hope this game, in its small way, offers new perspectives on complicated problems.
Bottom Shelf Board Games has produced a wonderful overview of the new edition that can be seen here.
Note: The copy of the game featured in this edition uses an old version of the map and prototype components.
Though Pax Pamir presents players with difficult strategic decisions that reward experienced and thoughtful players, the core of the game is simple. Most turns, players will purchase from a central marketplace.
After buying cards from the market, players can play them on their personal row of cards (called a Court). Playing cards like this will add new units into play, such as armies, roads, tribes, and spies. Each of these types of units has their own special utility.
Additionally, when a player expands their court, they gain access to new actions which you can use to disrupt the game state. But, be careful, powerful cards on your court will attract the attention of enemy spies!
Players score victory points by developing positions of influence in dominant coalitions. Influence can be gained by offering gifts to their supports, wooing patriots, and betraying high-value targets with your spies.
However, too much infighting will likely prevent a coalition from achieving dominance. If no alliance can secure victory, personal power will be all that matters.
Pax Pamir: Second Edition can be played with one to five players. The game presents very different challenges at each player count.
With two or three players, Pax Pamir: Second Edition is a sharp affair, prone to sudden-death victories (in this way more like the first edition). The four and five player games tend to be longer, often extending until nearly every card has been bought. Larger games usually emphasize partnerships and player-to-player synergy, whereas the smaller games emphasize combo-building and diplomatic flexibility.
In the solo game, players will square off against an automated opponent. This opponent may be adjusted to be used in the two player game as well. Games with the automated opponent emphasize risk management and a deep knowledge of the game’s core systems.
The rulebook for Pax Pamir: Second Edition can be found here. The solo rules are not yet included. Outside of that, the current rule set is complete, but has not yet been finalized. The final rule book will also include design essays, a bibliography, and a reading guide on the period.
In terms of components, this new edition improves on every element.
In terms of design, the second edition of Pax Pamir has offered me a chance to put into practice the many lessons I've learned over the past few years. I have done my best to simplify and streamline the rules of the game without compromising the game's strategic difficulty or interactivity.
Though these changes may seem small, fans of the first edition will quickly realize that Pax Pamir: Second Edition is very much its own game.
I think that the differences can be best described as a shifting of priorities. At its core, the first edition focused on a player's ability to read and navigate an exceptionally difficult to track game-state. The shifting alliances between the players were a secondary concern. In contrast, the second edition elevates those player alliances to the fore. If you are interested in a further breakdown between the two editions, I'd encourage you to read Dan Thurot's excellent preview of the new edition. It can be found here. If you'd like a second opinion, check out Alex Singh's written preview here.
In short, though the rules are dramatically shorter and the design itself has been streamlined, Pax Pamir: Second Edition should not be mistaken for a light Pax game. While the new design is easier to teach, I think it remains a difficult game to master.
If we are able to raise sufficient funds on Kickstarter, Pax Pamir: Second Edition will be published by a new company, Wehrlegig Games. Our objective is simple: publish beautiful games with historical themes that treat their subjects and their players seriously. These are games that make arguments and encourage discussion. They don't shy away from difficult subjects.
Because we know the audience for such games is limited, in order to make sure we produce games up to our standards we have decided to rely on a direct sales model. The vast majority of all copies produced will be sent to Kickstarter backers. Hopefully we will be able to produce some additional copies which we will sell directly and to some retailers (MSRP $75). However, there are no plans to have this edition of the game enter regular distribution channels. This means we can spend many more resources on the game's physical production without having to worry about retail viability.
Cole Wehrle is a published writer and game designer who currently serves as a staff designer at Leder Games in Saint Paul. Before working in the board game industry, Cole earned his PhD at the University of Texas. His research concerned the ways that the British Empire influenced narrative structure in the nineteenth century novel. He has presented at conferences all over the world and taught classes on a wide range of subjects, from Classical Rhetoric to American Postmodernism. He is perhaps best known for his historical board games (An Infamous Traffic and John Company) and for his recent design, Root.
Drew Wehrle is the older of Cole's two younger brothers. He has helped Cole develop every game he has ever designed. During the development of the first edition of Pax Pamir, Drew lived with Cole in Austin, Texas and was instrumental in preparing the game for publication. Drew will be handling all of the business and operational elements of Wehrlegig Games, as well as assisting in game development. He currently lives in Chicago where he is the School Programs Coordinator at the Chicago Botanical Garden.
Travis Hill is a freelance board game rulebook editor, coffee connoisseur, corgi wrangler, and public high school educator. He co-hosts Low Player Count, a discussion-based podcast on 1-2 player board games. You can find all of his work here. After working on John Company last year, he is thrilled to work with Cole on yet another project.
Lily Zhu is a published writer on games who studied nineteenth century science and the British Empire as well as the digital humanities at the University of Texas at Austin. She and Cole hosted a brief podcast on games and politics while working together at the Digital Writing and Research Lab. Lily will be coordinating marketing strategy and customer service for Wehrlegig Games.
Risks and challenges
The production of Pax Pamir: Second Edition is a passion project for all involved. Cole, Drew, Travis, and Lily all are employed elsewhere, and work on this production will be limited mostly to evenings and weekends (and, for Cole, very early mornings). If the labor this project requires exceeds the amount of time we have allocated for it, we will not hesitate to hire help.
Cole and Drew will be overseeing the bulk of the project. Over the past year we've developed partnerships with folks around the gaming industry, and we have contingencies in place for every element of the project's production and fulfillment. This is the fifth game Cole will have shepherded through the development and manufacturing process.
At this point, Pax Pamir: Second Edition has been in active development for six months and all principal design is complete. Over the next few months, Drew and Cole and their playtesting teams will continue to fine-tune the deck balance and make small alterations. We will also oversee the completion of automated opponent for the solo and two-player variant games. We have built a lot of padding into our schedule to absorb any development delays.
In terms of the physical production, all of the artwork has been assembled and the vast majority of the game's graphic design is complete. Certain funding goals will demand additional graphic design work, but time has been allocated for these goals and built into the schedule.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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