Pax Pamir: Second Edition

I am woefully ignorant of the time and history that Pax Pamir covers, so I’ll read the description from the BGG page.

In Pax Pamir, players assume the role of nineteenth century Afghan leaders attempting to forge a new state after the collapse of the Durrani Empire. Western histories often call this period “The Great Game” because of the role played by the Europeans, who attempted to use Central Asia as a theatre for their own rivalries. In this game, those empires are viewed strictly from the perspective of the Afghans, who sought to manipulate the interloping ferengi (foreigners) for their own purposes.

Mechanically, Pax Pamir by Cole Wehrle is basically a tableau builder slash area influence game. Throughout the game, players will be buying and playing cards that will enable them to deploy and manipulate tokens belonging to the three factions of the game, the Afgan, the Russian, and the British. When certain actions are taken, players can swap their allegiance between factions. At four points during the game, a dominance check happens. If one faction has 4 or more tokens on the board than any other faction, the players who are loyal to that faction score points based on their influence in that faction. If no faction has dominance on the board, then individually players score points based on how many influence discs they’ve managed to shed off their personal boards.

On your turn, you can take two actions. Buying cards from the market and playing cards from your hand are both actions. You can also take any actions on the cards, and, if the suit of the card in your tableau matches the favoured suit, you can take those actions for free. Play continues around the table until either someone is 4 points ahead than everyone else, or, all 4 dominance checks cards have been played.

I can see genius behind the systems of Pax Pamir, but the game fails to illicit joy from me. Part of the reason is that I’m generally not a fan of direct conflict games, but in Pax Pamir it feels like you have to balance 4 different spinning plates with only two actions per turn. To do well, you need to hope the situation presents itself, and you can strike with surgical precision. I was able to earn 3 points in the first dominance check by luckily playing a card that dropped a disc onto someone’s hand, used a free action to slay that card, sending two discs back onto their board, then buying the dominance check early, leaving me in the lead. Two players allied with the British faction early on, and it wasn’t long before myself and the fourth player allied with Russia in a bid to keep the British from having an overwhelming majority.

A lot of the actions of the game are tied to the cards that are available to you. Should one player hoard cash, and the purple cards that allow you to tax them into oblivion come out, you can be left high and dry, severely limiting your ability to affect the card market. Pax Pamir ends up feeling more tactical than strategic. You’ll do better exploiting the momentary advantages that are presented to you, like an 11th hour allegiance shift. If you go into this game planning on only bringing glory to the Russian motherland, you’ll likely have a terrible time.

Familiars and Foes

Familiars and Foes by Christopher K Lees and Jordan E Perme is a 1 to 5 player cooperative game where you play as an elemental fox familiar on a quest to save the good witches and wizards of Joralee. A game of Familiars and Foes lasts for 4 waves, and pits players against a variety of enemy monsters.

To begin the game, all players chose an asymmetric familiar, and their corresponding spell cards. One will be the basic spells that you can use right from the start of the game, and the other will be the advanced spells that need to be unlocked by completing a variety of basic actions. The back of the rule book has a chart that seeds the board with a number of foes based on your player count, and chosen difficulty level.

Physical attacks tables are listed on each player’s sheet, with a varying threshold for successes and failures for each character. One character would hurt themselves if you rolled 6 or under, but would do 4 damage if the die exceeded 16. Another character had easier thresholds, but lower rewards.

Each character has their own set of spells, although the basic spells are all pretty similar. On your turn if you chose to play a spell you simply select which one you’d like to cast, pay the required mana, and roll the die, hoping to earn a success by exceeding the threshold, which is different for each spell. Again, higher risks mean higher rewards. If you manage to land a hit using a basic attack, each other player at the table had the opportunity to pile on, using the Ballyhoo mechanic. They pay a single magic point, then flip a coin. Heads, they deal two damage. Tails, they take one damage. If the Ballyhoo succeeds, the next player can pile on too. The Ballyhoo either continues until all players have piled on, or someone fails the coin flip.

I was not prepared for how adorable Familiars and Foes was. This game exudes charm and character. I absolutely adore the art all over everything. The Familiars are cute, and I desperately want their pushes to adorn my shelves, the enemies are charming and clever, and the little artist flourishes left me absolutely charmed. Even the Familiars’ Familiars, the frogs, are adorable.

Gameplay is straightforward, each person selects their action (either a physical attack or a spell), rolls the die, checks for success, then play continues to the next player. After all characters have taken a turn, the enemies get a chance to attack. Play continues round after round and turn over turn until either all waves have been survived, or the familiars have fallen.

Familiars and Foes has aspects that remind me of those rougelike games. Each time you set the game up, you’ll be in for a different combination of monsters and different artifacts that can drastically change how you will approach the wave. I really enjoy this variability, and I am looking forward to seeing more foes, more artifacts, and more familiars, hopefully in the form of stretch goals or future expansions.

Familiars and Foes is a light coop game that’s great for playing with younger members of your family, or introducing new players to the wonderful world of board games. It’s aesthetically pleasing, which makes it even easier to draw players to the table. The randomness is high, but if you can stomach dice controlling your fate, Familiars and Foes is a cute game worth checking out.