I find games with a point of view endearing, whether or not I agree with it. In Labyrinth War on Terror Dick Chaney was right, in Pax Renaissance Martin Luther nailed his thesis to a door because the Fugger bank of Ausburg slipped him a 50. Pax poses a history where bankers were the real play makers, pulling the strings behind the rise and fall of empires, driving the spread and evolution of ideas, and creating the genesis of the modern world.
How you feel about Eklund games probably has a lot to do with how you feel about complexity for the sake of complexity and artistic aim in a designer. One thing I love about Space Hulk, Tigris and Euphrates and Ukraine 43 is the amount of millage they get out of a streamline ruleset. I do subscribe to the view that a good game is only as complex as it needs to be, and fat should but cut where ever it can. However with Eklund games I think they have to be complex to pull off their conceit. High Frontier only works because it looks complicated, it is a game about rocket science and it feels like it. Pax Renaissance only succeeds in convincing me I am the medieval illuminati because of the multiplicity of systems I am trying to simultaneously control. If the game were streamlined I would not be the puppeteer trying to grasp too many strings but just a trader in the Mediterranean.
Like the other games in the series this is a tableau builder card game vehicle for a power struggle between players. Cards come out into two conveyer belt markets from which you buy Turkish pirates, inquisitors, Flanders Guilds etc. Most cards when you first play them give you a ‘one shot’ to launch a peasant revolt or a crusade or some other combat driven carnage that reorganises pieces on the map, and perhaps gives you one of the games 10 empire cards pushing you towards victory. It has lots of unique cards, lots of systems, a tiny box and an unforgiving rulebook.
Unlike the other games it seems to come in consistently on or under the hour mark. It also feels both simpler and more complex than its brethren. There are more systems and more rules, there’s a trading in the Mediterranean system for dispersing money to your traders around the map, there are four types of combat and a loads of different wooden chess pieces that mean different things depending on where they are on the map. It’s a pain to learn. On the other hand as the victory conditions stay in play once active and the take that elements are far more restrained than its predecessors actually playing the game feels a little easier. There are relatively few ways to kill your opponents’ cards with only the empire cards really moving between players, as such the game feels stable. It is also a lot more forgiving of minor mistakes. There are four victory conditions, a religious one, a trading one, an imperial one and a republic one, two of these revolve around having the most empire cards and the other two around having specific pieces of the map. Compared with Porfirana and Pamir these are easy to grasp, the destination is clear it’s just getting there that is the hard part.
Sometimes getting your target victory condition is as simple as buying a card or two, more often you realise your need to complete a profitable trade fair to buy once specific card to instigate a civil war in Byzantium ending its republic and thus handing you the Renaissance Victory. But then someone steals Portugal from you and the only rational response is to burn their priests!