September 3, 1985
Short Review: Great game for 4 or more; useless if you have trouble scaring up opponents. And at $25 it's a little steep.
PAX BRITANNICA (Victory Games); about $25. Designed by Greg Costikyan. Two map sheets totaling approximately 36" x 48", 28-page rule booklet, 8 reference sheets for player and minor nations, pad of backprinted "score sheets", approximately 400 die-cut counters, two six-sided dice, boxed with plastic tray. For four to seven players; playing time quite variable, but roughly from one to six hours. Published 1985.
"The sun never sets on the British Empire." Yes, it's the world of the late colonial period from 1880 to 1916. Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, the United States, Russia, Japan, and Italy seek riches through conquest of native people around the world. Rules are included for economics, supply, bribery, negotiation, Congress of Europe, war at land and sea, canal building, random events, Chinese rebellion and colonial combat. Military units are abstract. 104 land areas and a dozen sea zones are depicted.
The end of Pax Britannica is quite unusual. I have played games which lasted all the way until 1916 and I have played others that were over on the first game turn. The length of the game is dependent on the outbreak of the Great War which occurs whenever four or more great powers are at war or when European Tensions rise above a fixed level. Because the player(s) who cause the war lose three times as many victory points as the others, war or even a mild dispute (since it increases European Tensions) is not a thing to be taken lightly.
Pax Britannica has a number of very novel features. For example, the rules on negotiation prior to war and the calling of a Congress of Europe to settle disputes are quite imaginative and work quite well. The Congress has a lot of power, but military might doesn't take a back seat either. For players who like economic games and planning, there is a lot of room for study here. Should you enter Egypt or Kongo or the Far East? And should it be mere Interest? or Influence? or Protectorate or even Possession? Likewise, those who enjoy effective military strategy, will be suitably challenged. Forces sail across the world and maintaining supply lines can be tricky. Finally, the local Diplomacy expert will also love this game, what with its ample room for negotiation and committee politics.
I have a few gripes about the game. One is Costikyan's running commentary throughout the rules that seem to say, "Oh, wasn't it great how they ran the world back then?" This smacks a bit of the pollyanna to me. Another is that some important rules are not emphasized, but merely mentioned in a throwaway line in an unusual place. Some, one does not notice until the second or third playing. Finally, some of the rules with respect to the way war, Great War and victory points work are a little vague, though the meaning becomes clear in time. [If anyone has any questions, I'd be happy to lend you the teachings of my experi- ences.] A little more rules editing could have helped a lot here.
But all in all, if you enjoy multiplayer games, if you enjoy diplomatic games like Diplomacy or if you enjoy economic systems similar to the late, lamented Empires of the Middle Ages, by all means try out Pax Britannica. If you have trouble finding four or more opponents, though, look elsewhere. Otherwise, the price is a little steep, but it's one of the best multiplayer offerings I've seen in some time.