Not so brief overview
[Introduction] [Ending the Game] [Is the game fun?]
Pax Britannica represents the Second Age of Colonialism. Starting in 1880 and continuing through the outbreak of the Great War, the world powers vie for control of the nether reaches of the world. Diplomacy is stressed as a means of conflict resolution. War, on the other hand, is its failure. It also represents means by which countries can better themselves on the world stage in ways diplomacy cannot achieve.
The world powers are, Great Britain (the gameís namesake and for good reason), France, Germany, Russian, Italy, Japan and the United States. Minor countries are also present such as Belgium, Netherlands and Spain. However, they are non-player countries and act in part by random event and part by the wills of the other powers. Nevertheless, they either start with global empires or can acquire them like any other power. In practice, though, they get squashed like bugs.
The driving force of the game is the territorial conflict. While not the point in and of itself, conflicts are the inevitable clashes between powers as the go for the limited number of resources. As such they often define actions for all players. Opportunities come and go, often capriciously, sometimes through careful planning but rarely as expected. Countries involve themselves in regions through four levels of participation. In increasing order they are Interest, Influence, Protectorate and Possession. With each level come greater economic benefits. It also increases the control of the area and importantly, that control is at the exclusion of others. The economic benefits make a quantum leap at the Protectorate level and, likewise, it forces virtually sole control of the region. The seeds of conflict are sown.
The stage that is the map is divided into 102 historic land regions. Regions defined by three values: Political Organization, Native Level and Economic Value.
The politics of a region are defined as Unorganized or Organized. An unorganized area is one with a weak government, if one at all, and is unable to stop foreign intervention. Powers do not need an excuse or cause to involve themselves there. They may freely enter and setup business, contingent on other powers there. The majority of areas are Unorganized and it is likely the most of the conflicts will occur in these. Some areas, however, have a strong government and are called Organized areas. Powers may only have the most trivial of involvement (Interest) with these. For the most part, they may not control them. However, by random event, any of these areas may fall into Unrest. This unrest gives a power the excuse it needs to use military might. This intervention may include other powers and additional possible conflict. Assuming the power can defeat the local armies, they may control the area. While this Unrest is randomly decided, the occurrence is weighted and not all countries had an equal chance of civil Unrest. For the most part South America is stable at least in terms of foreign colonization and any of its countries will rarely enter Unrest.
The Native Level represents the ability of the local population to resist domination. Powers must defeat them militarily in order to establish control in the area. While smaller countries have a nominal 1 or 2 rating (some pacific Pacific islands have a zero rating), others are more significant. Brazil has the highest at 20. Even if it does go into Unrest, some powers such as Italy and Japan do not have the combined armies to defeat them. If they did, the cost of maintaining troops in Brazil for a single turn becomes equally significant.
Lastly, the Economic Value (EV) of a region determines its profitability. The higher the value, the more its worth. Again, this number ranges from a lowly 1 (areas which will never be worth the investment, at least economically) to the mother lode of Brazil at 9. Most of the areas are a respectable 5 or 6. These values drive the game as much as random events. Naturally, the better areas are gone after first. By the same token, wars may be fought over them and rightly so, a good area will be a cash cow for the owner.
The economics is fairly straightforward. For instance, an Interest costs $5 to build but nothing to maintain once placed. It also has an income modifier of 1. That means the income is 1 times the countryís EV. Since income is done every turn, an Interest placed in a 5 EV area will pay for itself in one turn. After the initial placement, it generates $5 a turn. Any number of countries may get the same income from the same area. While it is helpful to receive $5 a turn, other countries can get the same money. You all are richer to be sure, but you do not have an advantage: everyone is $5 richer. Conversely a Possession in the area does two things. First, it cost $40 to place, $20 to maintain but has an income multiple of 10. A Possession in the same $5 area now generates $30 a turn (5 EV x 10 less $20 maintenance). The second thing it does is prevents others from being in the area. You know have $30 no one else has.
Since each has a different cost, maintenance and income, a convenient worksheet provided for the players. This overhead presents a slight time consuming phase and for that reason my friends refer to it as the Accounting Game. More the pity for them if they canít see the value of the game.
The game ends in one of three means. You can play 10 turns and reaching 1916, the Great War begins. For as many times as Iíve played this game, I have never seen this happen. Most games end in a blaze of self-indulgent greed. The other way it ends is when the Great War Index reaches 100. Starting out at zero, the index increases with the occurrence of specified events. Breaking a treaty is worth 5; the end of each war phase is 2; calling a Congress of Europe to peacefully resolve conflicts, is another 3; and so on. They add up quickly. Expect game to really only last five turns. However, the power that drives the index past 99 is severely penalized. It loses VPs equal to three times the modifier for the turn.
The last way it can end is the actual outbreak of the Great War. This is whenever four European powers are involved in the same war. The two countries which start a conflict that becomes the Great War have the same three times penalty. The other countries involved are penalized but only for the strict value of the penalty. Needless to say, few countries can win with any penalty.
How is the game won? By simple victory points (VPs). Actually not so simple, but you expect that. VPs may be purchased at the end of each game turn with any money remaining. However, money canít be saved from turn to turn. Second, at the end of the game you get VPs equal to the total of two turn's income but without any expenses. These VPs will be modified by a national devisor but more on that later. You can also get VPs from special events such as building the Panama Canal and having a communications path across Africa. Powers are also given VPs as incentive to preserve their national interests. For example, America holds to the Monroe Doctrine and gets 10 VPs at games end if no other power has Control markers in the western hemisphere. Britain must have India and Japan has their version of the Monroe Doctrine for the orient, ďAsia for Asians, mantra.
Is the game
With so much emphasis given to the game mechanics, it is easy to lose track of playing the game itself. It is arguably the best diplomacy game around. It certainly is the most intense. Each conflict is important and the mutually exclusive nature of the results ensures the intensity. Wars are risky at best. While itís possible to win big time, it is more likely a country can lose everything. For that reason, it is regarded as a last resort. The ethereal nature of the alliances, no matter how many treaties are in place, creates an uncertain and ever changing political landscape.
The game lends itself quite well to a play by email. I would venture to say the more have played it electronically than face to face.