Ah, the last of my initial import games. At the beginning of the summer of … 2018? I managed to get my hands on MetroX, Let’s Make a Bus Route, and Passtally, and I was over the moon about it. Played them all the time, really dug deep, and reviewed the first two (hence the links). Now as we move towards the winter, it’s time to finish out the triad (since I have a bit of free space in between Gen Con / Essen releases and the holiday push). To that end, let’s talk about passtally, from analog lunchbox and coming soon to the US via Pandasaurus Games (who also picked up Qwinto, one of my favorite simple roll-and-write games).
In passtally, you seek to build connections. Physical ones; don’t get the wrong idea. That’s a different game. Place colorful tiles with various turns and avenues to keep your path moving, and watch as it passes higher and higher towards the destination. Will you be able to keep track of its many twists and turns? Or will your opponents’ paths extend beyond your reach?
Set out the Scoreboard:
Also place the regular board in the center of the play area:
Now, take the tiles and shuffle them up, breaking them into three stacks of fourteen:
Flip the top tile of each stack face-up and put it in front of the stack. Also, place the Level Markers somewhere nearby:
Speaking of small squarish things, give each player 5 Level Markers:
Have each player put one on the START space on the scoreboard. Now, each player will place their remaining player markers on the board using the following method:
- The Start Player chooses an edge of the board and places one of their player markers on any open space.
- All remaining players in turn order place their player markers on any open space on the same edge.
- The player to the right of the first player places one of their player markers on any open space on the opposite edge of the board.
- All remaining players in reverse turn order place their player markers on any open space on the same edge.
Repeat Steps 1 – 4 for the remaining two sides.
There’s also a ruler, if you’re into that:
You should be ready to start!
So, the goal of passtally is to connect your four pieces along two separate paths, but make those paths as circuitous as possible in order to maximize your score. Unfortunately, you share the board with your opponents, who are attempting the same thing. As you play, you score points, and the player with the most points at the game’s end wins!
On your turn, you may do one of the following two actions:
- Place a Tile: Take a tile from the three face-up tiles and add it to the board, following these placement rules:
- All lines on a tile must be connected, and a tile cannot cut off any lines on the board. That’s why it’s passtally; everything must be able to pass through. You’re not creating new routes; you’re changing routes that currently exist.
- A tile must be placed horizontally or vertically. No weird diagonal stuff.
- You can stack tiles, but only on two tiles of the same height. You cannot stack tiles on top of another single tile or have tiles cover a gap, and you can’t make any leaning tile tower messes. That’s … never a good idea. Thankfully it’s also not allowed in the rules. Once a stack hits level 3 or 5, put a Level Marker on it. If you’re not sure, use the ruler included.
- Move Player Marker: Take one of your player markers and move it up to two spaces. Spaces occupied by another player marker (even yours) do not count, and you absolutely can have two or more of your player markers on the same side of the board. There’s no requirement otherwise, but this is a common thing that new players tend to overlook.
Once you’ve done that, your turn is almost over; now you score. Check to see if any two of your player markers are connected. If all four are, perform this step for both pairs. If only two are, do this once:
Count the number of “passes” your line makes. passtally uses “passes” to mean “the number of tiles the line passes through times the height of each tile”. This means that a single pass through a level 5 tile is 5 “passes”. Note that due to tile placements, it’s possible for a path to pass through the same tile multiple tiles. Every time you change tiles, add the number of passes to your running total. Then, after you’ve done that, use the scoreboard to translate the number of passes into points that you score. Your turn ends, and the next player in clockwise order proceeds with their turn.
Play continues until one of the following things happen:
- A player has 50+ points.
- Any stack of tiles runs out. If all three run out, the game immediately ends.
- A tile cannot be placed on the board. If this happens, the game immediately ends.
When this happens, finish the round so that each player gets an equal number of turns (unless otherwise stated). The player with the most points wins!
If you want to play an aggressive game, give each player a 60 second time limit for their turn. If you’d prefer the What’s Eric Playing? Recommended Variant, bump that to 90 seconds. It’s firm, but not intense.
Player Count Differences
There aren’t that many differences between two and three players, honestly. The major one is that the board state changes about … twice as much between your turns (2x tiles played, generally, in a two-player game when it’s not your turn; 4x, generally, in a three-player game). This means that you may need to be a bit more creative about moving your Player Markers to try and set yourself up instead of just relying on being able to “fix” whatever your opponent does to you. Not sure beyond that other than it’s naturally gonna bump the game’s play time up as you add another person. For that reason I’m usually a bigger fan of it at two, but I could be fine with the game at three if we had a time limit.
- Try to create paths that loop back onto themselves. The more times a path cuts through your tallest tiles, the more points you’ll get. If you loop three times through a height-9 tile, you’re doing really well (especially since that’s the maximum number of times you can loop through a tile). Half the game is trying to find out the best places to do this without being bothered by your opponent(s). It’s a small enough board that the answer isn’t obvious.
- Stacking tiles is a great way to block things off. If you stack it such that, in order to change it, your opponent would have to place two tiles, they generally … won’t? Especially if it doesn’t earn them any points to do so. The one instance where you should watch out is if your opponent already has both of their pairs of Player Markers connected at the start of their turn; if they do, they may go for things that don’t score for them but hurt you.
- If you already can score at the start of your turn, boost it or be mean. You can add more tiles along your path to bump your score up, sure. You could also use your tiles to throw off your opponent and make them have to spend their turn trying to fix the mess you made. If they can’t, great! If they can, though, then you’re just giving them a ton of free points. Be careful about doing that, since, you know, the player with the most points wins.
- Consolidating paths into one tile isn’t a good move. If you make two connected L3s into one L4, you went from 6 “passes” to 4 “passes”. That’s … unwise, long term. Try to avoid doing that unless you absolutely have to, and even then, question why you feel like you have to do that.
- Focus on “repairs”. If you’re not connected on your turn, think of it as though your path is broken. What is the minimal path to fixing it? Don’t try to rearchitect the whole thing; that’s almost impossible with two tiles and the analysis paralysis will kill you stone-dead.
- Don’t underestimate the utility of moving your Player Markers. That’s pretty much always a useful strategy. There aren’t that many spots on the board to redirect paths; sooner or later one of the paths your opponents mess up will point towards a spot you can just move your Player Marker to, and that’s essentially good as new, at that point.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is spectacular. It’s bright and colorful and bold and vibrant! It looks great on the table and it’s an absolutely beautiful game. They nailed the contrast of the path and the coloring of the pieces pretty perfectly. I probably would have liked like, a purple path piece instead of two blues, but who cares what I think, honestly, he wrote in his review.
- The components are really nice as well. They’re some of the thickest cardboard pieces I’ve ever seen. Really sturdy, nice weight; the whole thing is a pretty solid production.
- Should play fast. Ideally, with the right players, you should be able to bust out a game in 20 – 30 minutes. I’ve generally found that not to be the case, but allegedly, you should.
- Pretty easy to teach. You just want to create paths between your four tokens with two moves. There, you’ve basically learned passtally.
- Scoring is much easier than I thought it would be, when I first learned the game. You just trace the relevant paths and count each time. It seems complex, but it’s not too bad.
- The actual mechanics are pretty interesting. The actual process of laying the tiles and trying to determine how that affects the path (and how to stack / block tiles) is really neat. There’s a lot of good strategic depth to the game, and definitely more than you see in your first few plays.
- Didn’t come with English rules. I mean, I own a printer, but, that was definitely odd. I assume that Pandasaurus is probably going to include English rules when they distribute it stateside, so, that’s probably not going to be as big of a deal in the future.
- Shuffling the tiles is basically impossible. And I’m good at shuffling tiles. It’s just kind of a mess.
- This game is like if the human personification of analysis paralysis decided to come move into your house and also stole your wallet. For me, it’s only playable if you’re using a timer on players’ turns; otherwise, most of the game is watching whichever player is the slowest map out all possible network combinations and eventually figure out the “optimal” one. It ends up being kind of … agonizing for me, since I’m more of the “let’s play real-time games” kind of friend. If you enjoy thoughtful, methodical placement games this might be up your alley, but this made it fall a bit flat for me without the 60-second turn restriction, and with the restriction I’d probably still rather be playing Factory Funner or Eco-Links. That’s not to say this is a bad game, it just appeals to a very different type of gamer than I think that I am or generally play with.
- Stacking games (where stacking isn’t the main mechanic) always make me nervous. If anything falls over you’re kind of messed up, since you can’t really save state too well in this game. Just be careful when placing and try to avoid hitting the table.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Ah, dang. I wanted to like passtally more than I do. I mean, I don’t dislike it, and I kind of like it a bit, but I really wanted to love it. It’s got all the things I like. It has paths! It has tiles! It has great colors! It’s simple! But, it’s also, slow. It’s intense. It’s methodical. It’s thinky. And it might be too much of those things for me at any given point. I think part of that is inherent in the blocking interaction; it’s a bit like if Tsuro let you cover parts of your opponents’ tiles for some reason. It’s inherently a bit unfriendly, and as a result players have to be a bit more engaged in what their opponents are doing. But building all that up builds some investment, and I’ve seen multiple players get pretty frustrated after a really well-done block. Sure, that’s a consequence of the people I play with, but I think their frustration (and mine, in some cases) made the game a bit less enjoyable for me. I think it was well-summed-up by one of my group who asked me why we weren’t just playing Factory Funner, and I’m unfortunately inclined to agree. I think this is a perfectly good path-building game, but there are others I like so much more (such as Eco-Links) that it kind of gets eclipsed. With the right players (and a time limit), though, it’s easy to get to the table and play; it’s just that as more games come out in a similar genre, I’m less likely to do so. That said, if you’re okay with getting in other players’ business and you like path-building games, passtally is pretty fun, so maybe it’ll be a good fit for you when Pandasaurus brings it stateside!