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Pax Romana

What Playtesters are Saying

Not an AAR, but last night we played (in the VASSAL hotseat) four turns (4 activations each turn and we tossed in 3 event AMs too). It was a long game, especially because we had two players who had never played and my son had only played a turn with me before. It was my fourth time playing and twice I played solo. I think I am pretty good with the rules, but I did screw up a couple times.

Anyway, I played Greece, my son Charles (Carthage), and two of his friends took on the East and Rome. I just want to relate a moment of pure evil genius which (if there is any justice in the world) will haunt me in a later game.

Back at turn 2, Greece has been expanding nicely into Asia Minor taking advantage of Carthage beating up pretty badly on the East after the East decided to expand in both directions at once. I also was fighting Rome for control of Bruttium - Rome had decided that he could fight me early on, suffered a defeat, and then built up reinforcements while I was distracted. I had actually already resigned myself to a loss when I pulled a good elite leader and was back in style. My armies were still not all that strong, but war was inevitable. I talked to Anthony (Rome) and explained to him that we both had to be wary of Carthage, so when it was Rome's turn to activate, I offered him 2T to call off our fighting and take advantage of his turn to start moving north before Carthage took all of Hispania and Gaul. Naturally he accepted and sent some minor forces north and skipped attacking me. Ok, his friendly move to the north was naturally towards Greece (he didn't trust me that much) so when it was time to pay, I told him that I would wait to see what his real motives were. After some discussion, I promised that I would pay him at the income phase.

Next AM was drawn (by Rome - our convention is to let the last guy who activated do the next draw) was an event: Revenues and Stability - Rome had only 1T in the bank, so lost stability. I wasn't exactly pleased, but I did think it was an interesting coincidence.

Now Rome drew the next AM and it was Greece. Ah, Fortuna!

I paid a talent for my activation and opted to expand, changed Xanthas & Myra from garrisons to towns (2 minor moves used to build) and declared my major move. I rolled a 2, so I had 6 MP (my leader was a 3/4). I moved him to Brundisium to pick up 1 extra HI and then back to Tarentum and to Venusia (3 MP so far) and then to battle in Capua.

Battle of Capua:

Battle points: 4 LG is 16 BP – Rome did not use the town (bad move) and the intercept from Rome failed, Rome’s Leader was a 2/3. Greece: 3 HI is 9, 1 BP for Cavalry. Odds were 10:16. 1 Shift in favor of Rome. 1 Shift in favor of Greece for Cavalry superiority. One more shift for me for Tactical advantage. My roll was a “4”, Rome’s roll was a “2”. I shifted my result up by 1, so a “5”, so Rome eliminated (50%) 8 BP or 2 LG, leaving 8 BP on the field. Greece lost 20% of 9 and I chose to remove one HI (3 BP) leaving 8 BP on the field (I thought my cavalry would be useful later). Continuing, I now had 2 shifts in its favor and chose to attack (I won the battle so I didn’t have to pay a MP). I rolled a “3” and Rome a “1”. I shifted Rome’s down by 1 (I couldn't take any losses) and raised my roll to a “4”. 40% of 8 BP is 3.2 BP, so Rome has to eliminate 1 more SP of Legion. No losses for my army. Greece now had 8 BP (2*3 for HI plus 1 Cavalry) and my attack was at 2:1 – 4 shifts in my favor. (2 for 2:1, 1 for cavalry, 1 for tactical difference) - I rolled a 6 and Anthony a 4 which I shifted down by 4 and my 60% killed Rome's last legion. The good Roman 2/3 leader was also dead.

I wasn't done though. I paid one more MP to attack Capua (a town). The intercept attempt from the weak Roman legion failed (a "5" was rolled, tactics was - I think - a "1" (probably a 1/3 leader or a 1/4)) And even intercepting from the city gave only a 9 adjusted roll. You need a 12.

Anthony was desperate but the other players decided to "help" him, suggesting that since he lost a battle on home turf, he could raise militia. He did and his stability took a hit. There were 2 SP of militia in Capua though. I paid for siege expertise (using the 2T that I should have probably paid him). Now I had 8 BP (6 BP for my 2HI - cavalry doesn't count in sieges - a 2 siege expertise) versus his 4 BP (2 SP of militia and 2 SP for the town). 8:4 gave me 2 shifts and of course I have leadership tactical ability (3 shifts more). Greece's roll was a 3 and Rome's a 2. I reduced Rome's roll to nothing and raised mineto a 6. He took a point for the town and lost the 2 BP of militia so basically the idea to raise militia cost him stability and no gain. That's how I took Capua.

Oh, to make matters worse, I did pay him 2T after my income phase - not that I had money to burn (all the maintenance for Galleys prohibits that) - but I thought it was worth the joke.

It isn't easy to write AARs, Aaron, as I'm sure you know. I have been keeping lots of notes on the game, but when you are playing, it is almost impossible to keep things straight. Most of the time we prefer to roll dice instead of using Vassal. When I get into a real online game (instead of just using the machine as my board) it might be easier because of the logs.

In any case, I can probably clean up my notes and post them if you like. There have been some excellent battles. Hannibal is amazing in this game. He led Carthage out of a tough bind and even took Alexandria and when the East went after him again, he fought them back at amazingly bad odds - LEADERSHIP is all important in this game and you have to take risks when you have the best ones available and play smart and safe when you don't.

His friends also really liked the game, even though we really beat them up before squaring off. They had never played a game this deep before (to be fair, it is a very deep game, so not many have) and didn't know what to think. They basically played with their instincts - one was too cautious (Rome) and one was too crazy (the East). When we finished (3:30 or so) they were both really tired and Charles and I were wide awake.

--Michael Gouker - Consimworld - October 23, 2005

Having been thru 2 playtest games so far, I thought it would be appropriate to post my impressions of the game so far. It really has a lot going for it, aspiring to fill a niche between Diplomacy, CDGs, and civ-style games ,with a little (but not excessive) amount of historical flair thrown in. First, some highlights:

  • Pax feels more like a “system” than a game. Scenarios cover different historical periods, different parts of the map, different numbers of players, different levels of playing complexity (equating to game time), and plenty of optional rules to add or subtract historical limitations. Everything is tweakable. Playing different scenarios actually feels like playing a completely different game. The only real limit on the game’s future is the ability of the designers to write new and balanced scenarios for it.

  • The economics and military systems do a very nice job of representing the 25-year periods that each turn covers. Combat is designed to model campaigns, not battles, so attrition is enormous, battles are unpredictable, and strategies focus more on conquering and fortifying strategic territories than on destroying the opponent’s force.

  • The Victory conditions are different for each game. For smaller games, they might require the destruction of the enemy’s capital, or a decrease in stability from loss of territories, or some other historical goal. In the big multiplayer games, an interesting VP system doles out VPs at the end of each turn, rather than at the end of the game. This means each turn actually becomes a mini-game, with players making desperate attempts to cross the map and conquer as much as possible with whatever units survive the trek. At the start of each turn, all the VPs go back to 0 and everyone starts re-building and conquering again. A complete 6-turn, 4-player game may take 20+ hours to finish, but with each turn (~roughly 2 hours) having distinct winners and losers, there will still be a sense of closure after each turn that should be rewarding for everyone.

  • Objectives in the game encourage players to expand aggressively, but the attrition-oriented combat system will make expansion terribly painful. Painful, but necessary, as Pyrrhic campaigns can earn VP for your own side and transfer control of Cities and Territories that grant money at the start of the next turn. When the new turn starts you get money from all the territories, provinces, and cities/towns you controlled at the end of the previous turn, and it is with this money that you go out and buy your new units.

  • The game features some nice double-blind mechanics, including purchasing & placing new units and leaders. All leaders get removed every turn, then returned to the pool and new leaders are drawn and placed anywhere at the start of the next turn, along with all the new units that the player is going to purchase. In other words, armies will "appear" somewhere on the map at the start of each new turn,almost like a new game is starting.

  • The multiplayer game is heavy with Diplomacy-style gameplay mechanics, where you can ally with other players and do ally-type things (loan money, move thru allied towns & armies, combine forces, etc).

    What the game is not:

  • A military simulation. Military expansion is certainly central to the game, but this game is not designed to accurately recreate Hannibal’s march thru Italy. You may draw a leader with Hannibal-like capabilities, but you may elect to run him thru Asia Minor or Egypt instead of Italy.

  • A re-enactment of history. This is a macro-level historical game. Several of the scenarios do cover historical situations, with accompanying decisions to make, but the scope of the game requires more abstraction than in many Bergian games. Personalities like Pyrrhus and Spartacus may make appearances, but the Advanced game focuses on building your civ, not re-creating history.

  • Quick & Easy. This game will be hard to pick up. The base system is not the kind of thing you will start playing in 15 minutes. However, once you know the system (and they’re making every effort to design a User Guide and example-laden Rulebook to make that easier), you’ll be all set to play a variety of different games. There will be growing pains, but the rewards should be worthwhile for those who stick with it.

  • Dull. There’s lots to do in this game, and with every turn having its own life, a 6-hour time block should fly by.

    --Aaron Lewicki - Consimworld - Nov 1, 2005

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