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Passing Through Petra Review


Designers: J. Alex Kevern
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 60 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


Passing Through Petra Board Game; Photo by Benjamin Kocher

Review:


The Siq and the Treasury in Petra.
The actual Treasury at the end of the actual Siq.
(Photo by Bernard Gagnon, 2010.)
There are a lot of merchant-based games out there, but my guess is you haven’t seen one where the merchants are pinned between a three-dimensional wall of stone. Welcome to Petra—originally known as Raqmu—a historical city in southern Jordan (and not a character from Ender’s Game). As a brief history lesson, merchants used to flock to the city, traveling in caravans sometimes five miles long. To get to the city, however, these merchants had to travel through the Siq, a narrow gorge that spanned over a kilometer long. 

In Passing Through Petra, this historic pilgrimage, if you will, is re-imagined nicely with three-dimensional constructs of the Siq, as well as the Treasury at the end of the gorge. Once everything is set up, Passing Through Petra has some serious table presence. Although that’s what initially drew me in, it is my pleasure to relate that the gameplay itself is just as scrumptious. 

My Experience


Passing Through Petra Board Game Review - The Siq - Renegade Game Studios; Photo by Benjamin Kocher

I’ll be honest; at first glance, there looks to be a lot going on, with a bunch of different tracks to stay on top of, a central movement-action grid, merchants of all types, camels and other various tokens, and glorious 3D constructs. Fortunately, the rules themselves are fairly straightforward, and turns are easy to figure out. Learning from the rule book wasn’t a problem, and teaching it to my game group the first time ever playing wasn’t problematic, either; everyone picked up on it quickly.

My first reaction was to just do things, as I really hadn’t solidified any type of strategy. That said, I began feeling a natural strategy within the first few turns of my first game, and I kept with it until the end. Most other players focused on using up their Influence cubes (the first player to use all nine cubes wins the game) on Influence Cards, which are essentially like mission or objective cards (once you successfully meet the card’s criteria, you place an Influence cube on it). I completed maybe one of those cards, whereas each other player had multiple finished. In the end, it was anyone’s game. I needed just one more turn to win, but someone beat me to it. If I had been one turn more efficient, I would have had the game in the bag. In subsequent plays, it became more apparent that there isn’t one overpowered strategy, but that many different paths to victory are available, and that’s wonderful.

Pushing the merchants through the Siq (i.e. filling in empty spaces) was strangely fulfilling…except when the Siq walls weren’t secured to the ground. This made for a lot of awkward moments as merchants got pushed underneath the rock walls. As far as we can tell, there were no casualties, but one merchant did threaten to file a lawsuit due to unsafe thoroughfare. I suppose we’ll have to be more careful about securing the Siq walls properly next time…

Now, let’s talk for a moment about what these merchants actually do. As you collect merchants, they eventually join your settlements—the areas above the colored worker spaces on your player board. When you take a Market action, you multiply the number of merchants in a particular column (i.e. purple, red, etc.) with the number of merchants of the color associated with that column (as shown in the tiny icon at the bottom right of that worker space). Fortunately, I know my basic maths, so multiplying four Red merchants (in my settlement) by three Blue merchants (in the Merchant row on my player board) didn’t cause me too much of a headache. Just know that there is some mathing to do, albeit rather simple mathing. But, if you’re like me, then chances are your brain will shut off at the most inopportune time, and you’ll have to ask your comrades what 3x3 is.

The games also took about an hour—including the very first playthrough—which matches the estimated time on the box. During those games, I found myself to be engaged in not only the gameplay, but in the visual representation of Petra, the Siq, and everything that was going on. I’m no historian, but thematically, it’s wonderful. If it was just the visuals that kept me interested, I wouldn’t be too fond of this game; however, Passing Through Petra plays very nicely. I found the mechanics to be smooth and the actions and choices meaningful.

While Passing Through Petra may look intimating at first glance, I do think this will be one of those games I pull out to introduce new gamers to the hobby. There really isn’t anything here to fear, and after a few rounds, you’ll be sailing through like a champ.

Now, for a more detailed look at the game, let’s take a look at the rules, components, and other technical aspects that has (for me) become one of the most important things in determining if a game will click with me or not.

Setup:

Passing Through Petra by Renegade Game Studios--Image by Benjamin Kocher at Everything Board Games, Board Game Review

I won’t go through every step in infuriating detail (that’s what the rule book is for), but I will make mention of a few things. First, you build the Siq by inserting the 3D walls into the notches located in the board. Make sure these pieces are flush with the board at the bottom, because this will make it much easier for the caravan to move through (if they’re not down all the way, the Merchant tiles tend to get stuck under the rocks, which, if that were to happen in real life, would be pretty bad).

Also note that each player board is different. There are no player powers, but the combinations of merchant to settler (which is how the merchant tracks are activated and many Influence cubes are placed) are all varied, which is nice.

In all, setting up the game wasn’t confusing, and actually helps you get acquainted with what everything does. The only thing I can see being an issue in setup is building the Siq, but after you’ve done it once or twice, it’ll become second nature.

Gameplay:


Players take one action each turn. Actions are decided by the direction they move their Merchant pawn in the grid (as shown above). Moving it toward the walls labeled Siq, Market, Village, and Plaza will grant that player the action associated with the name of the wall they moved toward. So, if I move my pawn toward the Siq, I would take a Siq action (which is to choose any one Merchant from within the Siq and add it to my Merchant row on my player board). Other actions include:

Market: Initiate a trade by placing a worker in an open space just below your Settlement (top of the board) and multiplying the number of merchants in that column (i.e. red, purple, etc.) by the number of merchants in the Market row that correspond to (but are not the same as) the merchants being used from your Settlement. The number you come up with determines the amount of spaces your Merchant track Marker disc goes on that particular track (i.e. if you initiated trade with the Purple column, you would move your disc on the Purple track). These tracks provide bonuses, but also allow players to place an influence cube. If your resulting number is high enough (i.e. 6x6=36), you could end up going around the track multiple times this turn, which will allow you to pick up multiple bonuses and place multiple Influence cubes. Once a column of Merchants has been used, they return to the bag.

Village: This is how you get your workers back that you've placed during Market actions. Take one or all of your workers back, and then you may choose a Villager card depending on how many workers you took back (1, 2, or 3+), as indicated by the dots next to the face-up Villager cards. These cards grant immediate, permanent, or one-time-use benefits. 

Plaza: This action allows you to take two Merchants from the Plaza area (the Plaza is essentially the six closest merchants to the Treasury). Push the line of Merchants up through the Siq to fill in any gaps, and immediately fill in any open spaces at the entrance of the Siq.

The small size of the grid limits how many times you can take the same action in a row, because once you run up against the wall of the grid, you can no longer move in that direction, ergo you can no longer take that action. It's a great little mechanic.

The game ends when one player places their last Influence cube. That player wins.

Artwork and Components:

Passing Through Petra Board Game Review by Benjamin Kocher at Everything Board Games. Photo by Benjamin Kocher

As far as the board goes, the artwork feels rather barren. However, considering the actual, physical location of the real-life city, it makes perfect sense thematically. And to be honest, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I find that the lack of color everywhere else makes it so the player colors and merchant colors really pop, which also makes it easier to identify the various locations and individual merchants. The art on the cards is actually really good and gives a good visual representation of the era, as well as the role the card plays in the game. Very well done.

The 3D Siq walls look and feel great, and while not everyone I played with was a huge fan of the protruding visualization (hey, nobody’s perfect), I really like it and feel that it adds something special to the game (even if it is another shade of brown). The 3D Treasury is cardboard, but is sturdy and works just fine. The tiles are your generic cardboard tiles, so nothing fancy, but nothing to complain about, either. Same with the cards as far as durability goes. The player components are colored wood, and while nothing earth shaking, they get the job done just fine. I have no qualms with the components.

The Good:


Passing Through Petra Board Game Review; Photo by Benjamin Kocher
  • Fairly easy to learn
  • Three-Dimensional Siq!
  • Thematic to the core
  • Smooth mechanics
  • Meaningful actions and decisions
  • Not a lot of downtime between turns (because turns go rather quickly—if everyone is paying attention, of course)
  • Pushing the Merchant tiles through the Siq just feels nice.
The…Other:


Make sure the Siq is flush with the board! (Re-enactment done by professional actors. Do not try this at home.)

Alright, so as much as I love the Siq, it can cause issues when pushing the merchant tiles through the gorge. But, you know, just make sure the pieces are pushed down all the way and you’ll be fine.

Math. OK, so there’s not a lot of math, but for those less inclined (like me), it could be a drawback. Fortunately, we all have calculators attached to our persons at all times—in the form of cell phones—so if your brain farts get too bad, you’ll be just fine. (And my math teachers always said we wouldn’t ever just happen to have a calculator with us in real life. Ha!)

Final Thoughts:


Passing Through Petra Board Game Review; Photo by Benjamin Kocher

Passing Through Petra, for me, lived up to the hype I had heard surrounding it. And let’s be real, most of the hype I cared about was the Siq. And, yes, I dig that, too. But the gameplay and mechanics—separated from the wonderful 3D constructs and thematically bland game board—really makes this game the gem that it is. The Siq and thematic elements are the sweet, sweet toppings.

I really like Passing Through Petra. It’s not too hard so as to scare away new gamers, but not so easy that it’s dull to seasoned veterans. There’s a nice, medium weight to it that just feels right.

Players Who Like:
I would definitely recommend this to anybody who likes a game with good, meaningful decisions and great table presence. Or to anyone who just likes a good game, for that matter. If you like set collection or worker placement, there’s definitely something here for you. Or, if you’re simply a fan of historic places and good-looking games (minus all the brown), then do give this one a go.

Check out Passing Through Petra on:

                




Benjamin Kocher - Editor and Reviewer

Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Kocherb, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

See Benjamin's reviews HERE.

Passing Through Petra Review Passing Through Petra Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on January 18, 2019 Rating: 5

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