Full disclosure: A review copy of Passing Through Petra was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Alright, 2018 is almost over, so it’s time to finish the year out strong. Next year’s going to be a wild ride (have several games from PSI and Iello to check out, which is exciting), but before we can get to that we have another game from Renegade for y’all. This week is Passing Through Petra, the next game from J. Alex Kevern, designer of Prowler’s Passage, Sentient, and others.
In Passing Through Petra, you track the caravans as they make their way through the canyon to trade. As you moderate these interactions, your influence grows around town and you seek to capitalize on this to establish yourself. Will you be able to turn these transactions into social capital? Or will you miss out on your opportunity to become a powerful leader?
Alright, first thing is you gotta set up the board:
You’ll notice it has a bunch of holes in it; perfect fits for these Canyon pieces:
Assemble it A -> B -> C -> D -> E. You should also assemble the card holder, and place it on the board:
Shuffle the Villager Cards:
Place one on each of the spaces on the edge of the board. Shuffle the Influence Cards:
Place one on each of the spaces on the other side of the board. There are a few things you don’t especially need right now, but should set aside, like the Market Extension pieces:
The Gold Trader tiles:
The Permanent Settlement tiles:
And the Building tiles:
You can then give each player a player board:
Do so randomly; similar to Let’s Make a Bus Route, they are subtly different. Have them place the nine influence cubes of their color in the recessed square spots on their player board:
Give each player their Merchant Pawns:
Have them put those in the center of the city grid. Now place a marker disc of theirs blank-side-up on the space marked with an X on each of the 5 influence tracks:
And take your 5 workers, placing them by your board:
Give each player camels in turn order: First player gets 1, second gets 2, and so on.
Now for the Trader Tiles. They look very similar to the Permanent Settlement Tiles, but more pronounced in each of their colors. Each player takes 6 randomly from the included bag:
And places them on their player board (at the bottom, forming their Market). The only rule here is that you cannot have more than three of one kind. Place them in the order you drew them; no organizing after the fact.
Now, draw four more and put them in columns above your player board next to the circle with their color + symbol. These are your Settlements. You may not have more than two of one color, here.
Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
So Passing Through Petra is an abstract strategy game about placing influence cubes on various influence tracks around the board. The first player to place all nine of their cubes wins!
On your turn, you may move your Merchant Pawn one space in any of the four directions (provided you can move in that direction; if you’re already on the edge of the board, you cannot move in that direction). You then take the action associated with the edge that you just moved towards. I’ll talk about each in their own section, so let’s dive in to that.
So, the part of the board’s canyon with only one side is known as the Plaza. When you take this action, you may take two Trader Tiles from the Plaza and slide them into your board’s Market row, displacing two from that Market Row. The displaced ones then get placed into your Settlements, above your player board.
Note that you may place them into your Market row in any order you’d like.
The part of the board’s canyon with two sides blocked is the Siq. When you take the Siq action, you may pull any one Trader Tile from the Siq (not the Plaza) and slide it into your board’s Market row, displacing a tile that’s already in your Market row. It then goes into your Settlements, just like it would for the Plaza action.
This one’s a bit of a doozy. So, for this one choose one of your Settlements with no worker currently in it, and then look at your player board to see what color / icon that Settlement is paired with. For each tile in your Market of the Paired Color, you gain one influence on the Settlement Color’s track per tile in your Settlement. Basically, if I had 3 Blue and 4 Purple, and they were paired, I’d get 12 influence on the Blue track. Move your token along until you pass the bonus space, and then flip it over but don’t stop moving. Once you pass or land on a space with an empty square above it (relative to your player count), add one of your influence cubes to that space and then flip your marker disc back over to the blank side.
Every time you pass the bonus space you’ll flip over to the cube side, but you can only collect the bonus once per turn. You may, given how much influence you gain in one turn, pass the bonus space multiple times and place multiple influence cubes, but again, really emphasizing you can only gain the bonus for that track once per turn. Green has no bonuses; you just gain a camel token or an Influence Card whenever you pass or land on that space. When you gain an Influence Card, you may take one of the face-up ones or draw a random one from the deck.
Let’s talk about the other bonuses:
- Red: Gain a Building Tile and add it to any column on your player board. Once per turn, adding a tile to that Settlement earns you a bonus Camel token for free (but only one).
- Blue: Gain a Permanent Settlement. Take one of the Permanent Settlement tokens and add it to the Settlement. Now you’ve always got at least one person there for Market Actions, and they can never be discarded. Note that you may only have one of each color.
- Purple: Gain a Gold Trader. A Gold Trader Tile matches every color for Market Actions, but once it’s pushed out of your Market, it’s returned to the Supply. It will never go to a Settlement.
- Orange: Gain a Market Extension. Add this to your Player Board and draw a random Trader Tile, adding it to the end of your Market. You now have a permanent extra Market space; hooray!
- Green: Like I said, it doesn’t have a bonus. You just get Camel Tokens or Influence Cards.
Once you finish, discard all the non-permanent Trader Tiles from your Settlement place one of your workers in that Settlement’s spot on your player board; again, you cannot use a Market Action for a space that has a worker in it.
As you’ve noticed, as your Market fills up, you need a way to reclaim your workers, kind of like Charterstone (or any other worker placement game). Well, the Village action is here for you. When you take this action, you may reclaim any number of workers. If you reclaim one or more, you may take the Villager at the 1+ space on the board. If you reclaim two or more, you may take the Villager at the 2+ space on the board, and so on. Some Villagers have immediate effects, some can be played later, and some have permanent effects, so choose wisely!
Other Turn Stuff
So, on your turn you may do a few other things before it ends:
- (optional) Claim Influence Cards. If you’ve completed the criteria for an Influence Card, you may reveal it and place an influence cube on it! Note that the ones that require equal numbers of influence cubes on tracks require that they are both non-zero. Just an FYI.
- Refill the Canyon. If, on your turn, you have pulled enough Trader Tiles that there is now a visible REFILL line, add Trader Tiles to the end of the canyon until you’ve filled it back up completely.
Beyond that, just take turns until one player wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference is that it’s much easier to go deep on one influence track at higher player counts, as there are more open spots. Thankfully, it’s also much easier to get blocked doing that, as you have three people who can pull tiles you want before you get another turn at four players, so that stymies that, somewhat. Beyond that, the time commitment of the game will increase at higher player counts, as there’s no real scaling between various player counts. To that end, I probably like this best at two or three, but there’s nothing wrong with four players; it just takes a lot longer.
- Plan ahead. You can see what’s coming up in Petra; make sure that you’re leaving the right actions available so that you can combo into them. Plus, keep an eye on the Market on your board; you don’t want to have tiles coming in that you can’t use; that’s just wasteful.
- You can use the grid to see what options your opponents can take on their subsequent turn. Factor that into your plans. If your opponent is about to bust forward on an influence track (or take a Village Card), you may be best served by doing something else so that you can profit off of them not taking anything from the Siq / Plaza.
- Check out what’s coming down the canyon and don’t back yourself into a corner. You don’t want to try and plan for something that’s not likely to hit the plaza anytime soon — you’ll just keep having to waste turns at the Siq getting one token at a time. That’s not particularly efficient, and this game rewards efficiency. So do that.
- Taking Influence Cards that you can complete instantly is … generally a good idea. It’s basically free points, and it gives you something to do on the normally-less-terribly-useful green track. It’s not unhelpful, it’s just not as immediately beneficial as some of the other tracks on first glace. The camels can be useful though.
- Watch out for an opponent attempting to amass tiles of the same color. That usually means they’re winding up for a massive Market action. Maybe try to take a couple of those and make them work for it a bit more. It’s usually difficult to totally stop someone, though, so don’t get too caught up in that whole thing. A better way is to try and preemptively claim some of the influence track spaces so that they have to go further in order to place cubes.
- It’s not a bad idea to use all your tokens at the Village, but it’s also a good idea to keep hold of some of them in case you need them later. Getting cards that will give you bonuses is, as you might guess, a pretty good idea, but if you need to make two Village moves it might be better to save a few of the tokens so that you can place them on your next Village move. Just keep in mind that you can’t use the Market on those spaces until those tokens have been cleared, so don’t linger for too long.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Really neat action selection mechanism. It’s one of my favorites that I’ve seen. Having the grid laid out so that you can see what options your opponents have (and what you can do) makes planning a bit more interesting and also more doable. It’s a very nice move.
- The component quality is really awesome. The canyon pieces are REALLY NICE; almost disturbingly so. They do make the box kind of heavier, but, I mean, you gotta make some sacrifices for quality.
- It’s a very pleasantly colorful game. Lots of different colors of tiles and player tokens makes the board pop, and it especially looks nice with the column of caravanners heading through the canyon. The game’s got a superior table presence, for sure.
- It’s pretty quick at two players. We got through a game in under 30 minutes, I’m pretty sure. We were kind of surprised; we thought it would take closer to the 60 on the box, but, nah; not too bad.
- Not terribly complicated to learn. It helps that there are only four potential actions and then some cards modifying them. The hardest thing to learn are the Market outcomes, and even those aren’t too bad.
- I love that the player boards are assymetric. It’s a very subtle thing (we didn’t notice until our first market action), but the market combinations are different, which varies up the play in a way that I like; you can try and grab tiles that your opponent needs and it might help you in a different way than it would have helped them. It’s interesting!
- There are so many different combinations that it doesn’t feel that directly competitive, for a racing game. You’re trying to play your blocks first, but there are so many different tracks that you can play on that it’s sometimes hard to remember that there are other players. That’s good, but it makes me wonder why there wasn’t a solo mode — seems like a fun puzzle to have to tease out, even at one player.
- Holes in the board is an interesting choice. I’m continually worried I’m going to damage the board trying to fit the canyon pieces into it, and that’s just going to be part of my life forever, now. I live with this pervasive dread. It’s not so bad, though; there was already a lot there.
- Some of the rules can be hard to catch on your first play. You’ll likely mess up one or two of them — the one that trips us up is that you can place as many cubes as you earn spots for in a Market action, but no matter how many times you pass the Bonus space on a turn, you only earn that bonus once. I assume it’s to slightly disincentivize megaturns, but that can still add a fair bit of complication for new players.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Passing Through Petra is excellent! It’s definitely going to be sticking around for a bit, but I like the art style and the abstract gameplay, a lot. As usual, I complain a bit about games that are just “do the same thing, but with more downtime” as the player counts increase, but I’m resistant to call that a gameplay Con because there’s also some engine-building components in this game as you start getting certain bonuses, and requiring players to drop fewer cubes just means you won’t see those engines ever hit fruition, which is a bummer, so I’m mostly fine with it. It seems like the kind of game that’s ripe for some expansion content, as well, as you could add more Villager or Influence cards as a quick adrenaline shot for the game or something else that could be interesting. Either way, it’s a neat abstract strategy game, and I love abstract strategy games, so if you’re looking for a fun new one to check out, I’d recommend Passing Through Petra pretty highly!