The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Pax Porfiriana

For Sierra Madre games, I prefer the theory to practice

The original Lords of the Sierra Madre (either edition) lasted at least 3 hours, typically 5, with decisionless stretches. Moving troops (the entire board play) often took ten minutes to resolve to “no effect.” (Good players could recognize that, but subtle changes meant you played out another ten minutes to confirm).

I soured on it. But still, Pax Porfiriana intrigued me. A streamlined version? Sounded good.

Same theme: Hacendados during the Diaz administration. You build ranches, mines, smelters, railroads, gun stores, ostrich farms and the like. Your loyal troops extort money from your opponents or guard your enterprises. You foment unrest, cause strikes, employ bandits to rob your opponents blind, pay yellow journalists to boost your position, rouse the rabble against politicians you control. You buy US Intervention so that you can denounce the Yanqui devil. Good stuff.

The Mexican government bounces around: anarchy, martial law, the Pax Porfiriana and US Intervention. Each setting has different economics, a different special rule, and (most importantly) a different condition on how to overthrown Diaz. If the US is intervening, you need to have “Outrage” which is Anti-US sentiment. In Martial Law, you need the support of the troops (“Command”), in Anarchy you want “Revolutionary spirit” and in peace you want loyalty. The basic system is simple: Count your points. Diaz gets 2 points (normally) plus the support of the two weakest players. If someone has more points than the Diaz ‘triumvirate’ , they win (with multiple players winning, the richest wins).

But you can only overthrow Diaz if the time is right. You need a trigger. So you wait, building up your position and warchest.

You draft from two rows of cards, and shuffled into the deck are the four ‘topple’ cards. When one of those is bought, you check for an overthrow. After the fourth card (if nobody has won) then the richest player wins.

No game by Eklund would be complete without enough chrome to plate a Harley; there are other actions and cards I’m glossing over. But the core is simple: you get 3 actions to (mainly) draft and play cards, you earn income, and the next player goes.


  1. Great theme, and the research shows (as in all Sierra Madre Games)

  2. It’s fast. Two games in 2.5 hours.

  3. There’s just as much “Take that” as in the old game, but when you disrupt someone’s economy, you boost their an “outrage” or “revolution” VP. Those may never matter, but then again….(often people play the take that cards on themselves for the VP). Interestingly enough, you can steal money from Player B to short circuit Player C’s coup. These kind of bank shots are all over the game.

  4. You’ll use maybe a quarter of the deck, so each game will be different. (The game having boom and bust economic cycles also greatly changes the feel, and the victory conditions mean that adding a player also changes the feel). There’s a lot to explore.


  1. Here’s my prediction for the end of your first game. “I play X for some type of VP, I play Y to switch to the government that uses that VP, and then I pay to Topple. I win.” That happened in my first two games. It takes a while to grok the victory conditions and even just see “This person can win on his turn if he can do X.” Figuring out how to stop someone is the next step.

  2. Actually, one game ended because a topple card happened to be drawn first (of two draws) right before my turn when we were in a convenient (for me) government. This was anticlimactic, but it did make our first game fast.

  3. Did I mention all the chrome? The rulebook contains the typical SMG mess. I avoided this game for a year after reading the rules online and I wasn’t exactly wrong to do so. In the second game I kept trying to “I do X, Y, Topple and Win” and kept running into a minor problem. And at that point, I knew the rules. (I eventually did it, on my fifth try). This is a problem with Mage Knight too, so it’s really more of a “The more you know” than black mark.

  4. Keeping track of all the player’s special powers (gained from their cards, hacendados, etc) is tough enough. Too play well, you must track what a player can do with their cards in hand. I’m not planning on playing that well.

  5. I don’t think my eyesight is harmed reading all the flavor text; my optometrist may disagree.

Rating — Suggest


Written by taogaming

September 7, 2013 at 8:45 am

Posted in Reviews

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2 Responses

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  1. I’m pretty excited about getting this to the table. I’ve run through a solo play just to make sure I understand all the moving parts.

    The rules are the mess I expected them to be, although I think it’s… cute (?) that there are actual rules in the glossary. I don’t think the word “glossary” is being used in the correct way, here.

    What really surprised me is how much I hate the card layout. Aesthetically, I knew what to expect. But from a usability perspective, the cards left much to be desired. The title of the card is in a different place from card to card, as is the artwork. The art is a mixture of clip art and Google Images copy / paste. The game just has no style, and the card layout is un-intuitive. It makes me want to fire up Photoshop and see if I could do better.

    But it’s Sierra Madre, so it’s exactly what I expected. I’m betting there’s a good game in the box. I just wish there was more style in the delivery.

    Jeff Coon

    September 10, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    • I completely agree with you about the cards, Jeff. Visually, they’re quite stunning (in every sense of that word). But their organization is poor and inconsistent and they definitely make an already complex game harder to play.


      September 12, 2013 at 7:41 pm

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