Now that we have tried Pax Romana in four player configuration – only two turns, and stripped basic mode to get the feel of the system, several things become evident.
Pax Romana is remarkable game because of the scalability it offers. For staters, there are the Standard and Advanced games, but there is more. Much more. Details can be added, or left out, and game length can be easily adjusted. For example, to make very very basic game, one can leave out events, opportunity objectives, and all the advanced game functions and retain only the very basics. In such stripped down mode, Pax Romana is has very fluent system, and solid fundamentals. In this mode, game mechanics, and victory conditions & VP generation, is easy to learn without having too much extra details to worry about. Everything necessary is there tough, the campaigning, unit recruitment, the financial, town and city building, sieges, naval movement etc.
One can also tune down (or up) the available activations in a game turn to speed up playtime, or make turns more active. Any combination of above is easy to adjust without breaking anything in the core system, or without sacrificing the way game works.
Game also has other kind of scalability. Because of the vast period covered, several independent conflicts can be played out, involving two, three of four players and involving only part of the Major Powers.
Activations, once you know what can be done, and what should be done, are relatively fast. Big portion of thinking comes from the fact that there are too many things that need to be achieved, and not enough resources to do that all – or not enough moves to do them properly. Once players are familiar with the naval movement, the dangers of naval movement, and the fact that land movement is not fixed rate, playing becomes more fluent.
However, if analysis paralysis set in, it can become somewhat severe – say if player that is known to think a long periods pulls two consecutive chits from the cup and wishes to think every move in great detail before even making the dice roll that decides the available options.
Decent overall plan, and one can get away with few minutes per activation. It is one major move, and two minor moves after all – and there really are only so many things that one can achieve.
Pax Romana has unique system that is perhaps not easy to follow if only familiar with one type of games. The turn sequence does not quite follow card driven games, nor does it follow regular igougo system. Additionally, many things have inbuilt variability, and requires paradigm shift from planning to reaction.
First time around, setup took some time. Not familiar with all the locations, it was a bit of search to find them all, even that there really were not that many units in play. I can see that the setup time is somewhere around Wilderness War, which is considerable more than for example in Hannibal, but then again eons less than in Mansions of Madness.
Scenario that was briefly played involved four major powers, Rome, Carthage, Greece and the East. Thought that we would play four turns, with three activations in each turn to limit the total time, but ended up playing only two – mostly because of the learning curve for three new players.
I got to be Carthage, albeit I acknowledge it’s strength and that the knowledge may have contributed to the end result. It was actually funny to see the game develop, where Romans and Greece started to divide Danube, Rome collect regions from North, and East pushing to Asia Minor. Everyone on their own at start, and leaving Carthage to roam free in Hispanic. Obviously it did not take whole lot of time for Carthage to establish control over the whole Hispanic while East and Greece were fighting bitter war in the Asia Minor, and Rome gearing up to collect the Danubian bits and pieces.
East went additionally for a full civilization mode, building and besides of massing significant armies, build large number of cities and towns. Greece, who could have used her fleets to restrain the development, did nothing of the sort, and just tried stay put in Asia Minor, and expand modestly in Danube.
When game ended, Carthage was leading, Rome and East were in equal terms, but for longer run it really looked that it would have developed into contest of Carthage and Rome over Gallia and Hispania and the East trying all their might to eat up territories of Greece. By no doubt, there would have been eventual conflict between either Rome or Carthage and the East to curb the development before it went too far.
It was most enjoyable though and I think that Pax Romana is quite the game I have been looking for.