Passing Through Petra

Publisher: Renegade Game Studios

Designer: J. Alex Kevern

Ages: 12+

Players: 2-4

Duration: 60 min.

As you travel through the Middle East, though one of it’s most important trade routes, you come across a canyon, with its rose-colours cliffs, you realize this is no normal place. There are stunning buildings that were built directly into the rock walls, and the caravans just pour in. They call it “The Siq, and you decide to settle in, become a citizen of this amazing place. But now, as the traders come in, its time for you amass your wealth and gain your fame. Will you be the most powerful citizen in Petra?

In Passing Through Petra, you will be trading with merchants passing through the Siq, and try to amass the most valuable wares and gain the most influence. It’s a game designed by J. Alex Kevern, who also designed Sentient (which made the top of my Top 5 Unique Dice Mechanics). This game has no dice, but it’s a race to the end, and the first person to reach the goal of getting rid of all their cubes will be the winner. Will you be the first to reach victory, or will you be left behind as the dust settles in the canyon?

What’s in the box?

Inside the box, there is 1 game board with 5 canyon wall pieces (to make the Siq), 1 card holder, 1 bag, 12 building tiles, 110 trader tiles (85 regular, 5 gold and 20 permanent), 10 market extensions, 30 camel tokens, 24 villager card, 22 influence cards, 4 individual player boards, 4 merchant pawns (1 per player), 5 market discs per player, 5 workers per player and 9 cubes per player.

I think every player board should be like this, its so nice when everything has a spot.

And the components… WOW. This might set a new standard for components in a game. The canyon wall pieces alone make this board really stand out, and pushing the merchants through the Siq is a really great mechanic (more on that later). But… little touches like the printed merchant pawns are an amazing touch. And those player boards… I absolutely love when companies do raised player board, where the components have a recessed spot to sit in so they don’t move, and theres a spot for everything. The cardboard for everything feels great, and the wooden components feel solid and the embroidered bag is one of the best in any game I’ve seen. Overall, the presentation of this game is outstanding and one of the best I’ve ever seen.

So how do you play?

To set up the game, take the player board and set up the 5 canon pieces to form the Siq. Fill the cards in their appropriate slots, and each player takes their discs in their player colour and places one on the starting point of each track, and then place their merchant on the centre square of the city grid. Then, randomly take tiles from the velvet bag and start to push them into the Siq until it’s full. Lay out the permanent tiles, gold tiles, extensions, building tiles and the camel tiles next to the board.

Every player gets a player board (they’re all different, so hand them out randomly) and takes their 9 player cubes of their colour and places them on the spots on their player board. they take their 5 workers and place them beside their board, and then each player randomly draws 6 trader tiles and fills up their market on their board (if you get more than 3 tiles of the same trader, put them back in and draw new ones). Then, draw 4 tiles at random and place them on the settlement above your board. Them 1st player will get one camel, 2nd will get two and so on. Now let’s begin!

This is where it all happens, the heart of the game. That grid movement is a great mechanic.

Each turn, you will move your merchant one space on the city grid towards a wall, and then perform the action on that wall. If you are up against a wall, you cannot perform that action and you must move in another direction. Let’s see what the 4 available actions are:

  1. The Plaza: Take any 2 trader tiles from the plaza (the 6 tiles that are at the top of the Siq, and slide them into your market from the left. 2 tiles will slide out, and take those respective tiles and place them in their respective locations above in the settlement. Refill the Sig back up when the refill line is revealed.
  2. The Siq: Same as the plaza, but take 1 trader tile from anywhere in the Siq. Same effects as the Plaza action.
  3. The Market: This is the main action of the game, and the one that uses the merchants in your market and settlement. When you use this action, you will select one of the 5 settlements where you have merchants placed, and place a worker in the open slot. Below each column, there is the main merchants symbol and  colour and a secondary symbol and colour, and that will indicate which merchant type you will trade with: take the number of the main merchants in the settlement and multiply them by the number of the secondary merchants in your market, and that is how many movement points you can move on the respective tracks (I will cover the tracks in a little while), and once you are done, remove all the regular merchants of that colour for that settlement and return them to the bag. If there is a worker in the spot, you cannot use it until you take…
  4. The Village: When you take the village, you may remove as many workers from your player board that you have placed in previous rounds, and return them to your supply. Then, depending on how many workers you removed, you may take village cards. If you discarded 1 worker, you may only take the card in the 1 spot, but if you discard 2 you may take from the 1 or 2 spot, and 3 or more workers will give you a choice from all 3 cards. After you take a village card, slide the cards down and then draw one to fill the supply. The village cards give you either one time powers, and instant effect or even a recutting effect during the game.

So let’s talk about the tracks and movement, because that’s the heart of the game. Each track has 7 spots, with one bonus spot and 3 spots where you can drop your influence cubes. When you do the market action, you may move your marker as many action points as the amount of merchants you multiplied, and you may spend camels to add one movement per camel. Your marker always starts face side down, and when you reach the bonus marker you will take the bonus and flip the tile over, and continue movement. When you reach a free cube space, and you can drop one of your cubes on the board, and then flip your marker back over. You can still continue around the track, flipping the maker face side up again when you reach the bonus space and continue dropping cubes, but you can only get the bonus once per round (except on the green local traders track). Each track has a different bonus:

  • The orange track gives you a market extension, which will allow an extra merchant to enter from the left. When you place the extension, immediately draw a merchant tile from the bag and place it in the new empty spot.
  • The blue track gives you a permanent merchant in the settlement. This permanent merchant will not be removed when you perform the market action and ill stay there for the remainder of game. You may not have more than 1 type of permanent merchant.
  • The red merchants will give you building tile: place it under one of your settlement collumns, and every time you move a merchant from the market to a settlement row with a building, gain one camel.
  • The purple track will give you a gold merchant which you will push into your market. When you are trading, the gold traders count as any colour you wish, but when they are pushed out, they don’t go into your settlement but back into the gold merchant pile.
  • The green track doesn’t work like the others. Every time you pass or reach a spot, get either a camel or influence card, depending on the spot. You may get as many bonuses here as you move per turn, even using the camels you just received to move another spot if you wish.
Right now, if the worker was placed on the orange space, the player could move 4 spaces on the orange track. Choosing red would give them 6 movements, but they would have to take a village action first to remove the worker from that spot.

Speaking of influence cards, you may complete influence cards each turn provided you meet its requirement, which can be either having the same number cubes on different tracks, or having a certain number of influence cubes on one track, or having the matching buildings or permanent merchants on the cards. This is a great way to get rid of cubes. Once a player has placed their 9th cube, they instantly win and the game is over!

img_4355-1.jpg
Both of those influence cards are met… so that’s 2 cubes gone!

Is it any good?

When I first saw pictures of this game, I was awed by the look, and when I saw it was designed by J. Alex Kevern I was even more excited. Sentient is one of my all time favourite games, and when I saw this game had no dice at all, I was both excited, knowing it would be different, but kind of nervous that it would be so different I had put too much hype into it and it wouldn’t be as good as I imagined it.

After my first play, my fears were gone. Passing Through Petra has the same kind of math crunchiness as Sentient, but in a totally different unique package. It plays fast and smooth, with one of the best action selection mechanics in any game. I love the grid movement with taking the action you move towards. It keeps your actions very tactical, and you really have to plan your actions very well knowing you can’t do the same one more than twice in a row. It’s great and really keeps you on your toes.

The mechanic of pushing merchants through the market is also great, and really makes you plan your actions. I also love that the player boards are different, as the trading partners are different on all player boards, meaning that all players will be looking for different merchants and thus keep the game balanced. All the mechanics are great, and the gameplay is full of tactics every round.

As I said before, the components are just amazing. Thick tiles, nice wood, and the Siq is just a sight to behold on the table. The art is also amazing, and really first into the theme of the game. Presentation gets a 10/10, and it sets a new bar for components in a game like this.

As much as the merchants in the Sig coming in randomly helps with the tactics and replayabilty, it can also be a little annoying when you don’t get any of the tiles come out for a while and you can feel stalled, although I’ve had games where players felt out of it for a few rounds then suddenly you catch up and place multiple cubes in a few turns. It happens less in a 2 player game, but can become more evident in a 4 player game. This game feels a lot better with 2 or 3 players, but still plays solid at 4. But if you play a lot of games with just 2, I found this really to shine at that player count.

This is the best view of the game… looking down the Siq is amazing. This game is a visual masterpiece.

I only had one real thing I didn’t like, and that’s the abrupt ending to the game. As soon as a player places their last cube, the game instantly ends. So if the player who started the game places their last cube, that means they had one extra turn than everyone else. I would be nice for everyone to have one final turn, and then some sort of tiebreaker in case other players got to finish as well. It’s happened a few times, but less than 50% of the time so its not a major flaw. Perhaps an expansion will fix it, but its not a game breaker for me.

Overall, Passing Through Petra was one of my favourite games of 2018, and I was very pleased to discover the game plays as good as it looks. If you like strategy games that have solid mechanics and great tactics, look into Passing Through Petra and you will not be dissapointed.

Pros:

  • Amazing components, the game really stands out on the table
  • Fluid gameplay with great mechanics, especially action selection
  • Variable player boards so no one has the same matching merchants
  • Random merchants so the gameplay never feels the same…

Cons:

  • … but that randomization can screw over your strategy sometimes
  • End game mechanic feels a little abrupt, and could use some sort of tiebreaker in case players could finish on the same turn.

Thank you to Renegade Game Studios for supplying a copy of Passing Through Petra for this review. You can find out more about them and their amazing games by clicking here*

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