Dale Yu: Review of Passing Through Petra

Passing Through Petra

  • Designer: J. Alex Kevern
  • Publisher: Renegade Gamers
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 60-75 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Renegade Games

So… Petra has been part of my imagination since about 1989 – that’s when I first saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade… Indy, his dad and Sallah are seen on horses in front of the stone façade of the Treasury of Petra.  I remember the complete disbelief at learning that this was a real historic site and not some awesome movie soundstage in Burbank. I went home, pulled out my trusty Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia (for you young’uns, the encyclopedia is a set of books which is like Wikipedia – except that the subjects are generally actually researched and the words presented on the page are generally considered to be truthful and cannot be edited by anyone who desires) and did in fact discover that Petra is a real city in Jordan.

I was amazed by it, and found a few National Geographic articles on it in the library, and I remember writing a high school paper on the subject as I was so entranced by the idea of a city carved out of the stone cliffs.  It went on my bucket list of places to visit – though that particular bucket remains dry as I’m never quite managed to make it to the Middle East yet. I was therefore quite interested in this new release from Renegade which happens to have the very same building pictured on the cover.  In this game, players are some sort of tribe leader or influential citizen. You are trying to be the most powerful person in the rock-hewn town.

The board is set up on the table.  The canyon is constructed in the middle of the board – representing the Siq – the 1.2km long, narrow and winding entrance to Petra which ends right in front to the famed treasury building (and the game includes a nice cardboard representation of the treasury which sits right at the end of this line of merchant tiles).  This single file canyon has 20 tiles in a row in it – with only the final 6 tiles being in the Plaza area of the Petra. The remaining fourteen are still hidden within the steep walls of the Siq. There is also 3×3 city grid on the board where each player has a merchant pawn – each side of this has an action name written on it.  

There are a number of progress tracks, and each player places a marker on each of those as well.  There are five tracks total on the board. Four of the tracks are hexagonal, and they found near the city grid, and these represent four different foreign traders (Egypt, Rome, China or India).  There is a fifth winding track found on the opposite side on the canyon, and this represents the local traders. Each of these tracks has at least one bonus space on them, and each gives a unique bonus – more on this later.

Each player also gets a private market board.  Six tiles are drawn at random to be placed at the bottom in the Market Row.  Four more tiles are drawn; these are placed at the top to start the Settlement Columns.  There are five colors of merchants, and each color has its own column at the top of your board.

The game is played in turns until someone proves they are the most influential person in Petra (shown by being able to place your ninth influence cube).  The game ends immediately at that point. But until you get there, you will take turns in clockwise order around and around the table.

Each turn follows the same four phases.

1] Move your Merchant Pawn – You must move your merchant pawn one space orthogonally on the 3×3 grid.

2] Take the associated action – each side of the grid is labeled with an action: Plaza, Siq, Market, Village.  You do the action of whichever side you moved your pawn towards.

·         Plaza – You take two of the six trader tiles available in the Plaza area.  These are placed at the left end of your Market row, thus pushing out two tiles to the right.  The two tiles that are pushed out are then placed in their corresponding column above your board.

·         Siq – Take one of the trader tiles that is in the Siq portion of the line and place it to at the left of your Market row.  The one tile pushed out to the right goes to its corresponding column above your board.

·         Market – here you initiate a trade between one of your settlement columns above your board AND a group of merchant tiles from your merchant row below your board.  Place a marker in the space below a column (must be free beforehand) – then multiply the number of tiles in the column with the number of trading partner tiles in your market row to determine the trade value.  Each of your columns has a specified trading partner printed just to the right of the worker space. You now look at the progress track which matches the column that you used and you move your marker clockwise around the track a number of spaces equal to the trade value.  You can choose to spend camel tokens to move an additional space forward for each camel token spent. If you pass bonus spaces and influence spaces, good things happen. When you pass a bonus space, you flip your marker to the active side (which has an influence cube pictured on it) as well as getting a bonus specific to the track (more on this later).  When you pass an influence space, IF your marker is active side up, you can drop off an influence cube and then flip your marker back to the inactive side. You may be able to place multiple cubes on the turn if your trade value is high enough. Finally, discard all the tiles used in the chosen column back to the bag.

·         Village – First, take back at least one worker from your board (though you can take as many as you like).  Then, take a villager card from a slot which has a number above it equal or less than the number of workers that you removed.  Resolve the card, and then slide all cards down away from the Treasury and place a new card from the deck on the 3+ spot.

3] Play influence cards – if you have collected an influence card earlier in the game, and you have since met the criteria for it, you can play it now and place one of your influence cubes on it.

4] Refill the caravan – add tiles to the back of the line to refill the total line to twenty tiles

OK, so let’s get back to the tracks and their bonuses.  For the four foreign progress tracks, you can only score the associated bonus once per turn – no matter how many spaces you move on that turn.  The local track has multiple bonus spots on it, and you will score them each time you pass one (therefore, possible to have multiple bonuses on one turn).

·         Blue (Rome) – place a permanent settler in one of your columns; this tile is not discarded when you use the market action with that column

·         Red (China) – place a building tile underneath one of your columns.  When you place a trader tile in that column thereafter, collect a camel token

·         Orange (Egypt) – place a market extension to the left of your market row – you now have room for an extra trader. Immediately fill this spot with a random trader tile from the bag

·         Purple (India) – Put a wild gold trader tile at the left of your trader row and push one out into the settlement columns. While the gold tile is in your market row, it counts as any color.  When it is pushed out, it does not go to the columns but is discarded instead

·         Green (local) – there are multiple spots on this track.  When you pass a camel space, take a camel token. When you pass a card space, take an influence card – either from the face up display or from the top of the deck.  You can score these in the Influence card phase of your turn.

Again, the game continues on until a player plays his ninth and final influence cube. That player immediately wins. There obviously cannot be any ties.

My thoughts on the game

Passing Through Petra is one of the most eye-catching new games from this year’s Essen crop.  Sure, it’s just a bunch of plastic pieces that form the Siq, but between that 3D formation, the colorful tiles and the stand up Treasury building, you certainly can see and feel the theme from the design.  Of course, as we all know, a game is much more than its physical appearance; and Passing Through Petra provides solid game play to go along with the gorgeous components.

For me, the great thing about the game is the novel action selection mechanism.  I love the way which is gently constrains you from doing the same action over and over.  Lest you get trapped in a single corner, players should always keep their eye out on the different action options – for if they can move back into the center of the action grid, they’ll have more choices going forward.  There is a lot more planning than first meets the eye to ensure that you have the ability to take the actions you want when you want to take them…

There is a definite math-y element to the game as you work to multiply your columns with the tiles in your market row.  In my first few games, I have been struck by the value of the gold tiles (which come from the Purple track) – though you really want to have your market row set up well prior to getting that gold tile.  You must take a Market action to use the gold tile and its extra multiplier, but then you’ll have to Plaza in order to move your action marker back to take the Plaza again. Ideally, you’d like to be able to use that gold tile three times (yes, you’ll need one market extension to make this happen) – and have each one gain you the most movement on the action tracks.

The interaction in this game in indirect – you are fighting with other players for the tiles from the line, but other than beating someone to a particular tile, this isn’t the sort of game where you would take a tile simply to spite someone else (at least I don’t think you would) – as the composition of your own line is important; you really don’t want to take a tile that doesn’t work into your plans as it won’t help your multipliers out at all!  There might also be a little bit of temporal competition for the different villager cards – some of the powers are better than others, and you might be tempted to take a village action earlier than you NEED to take it in order to procure a specific card. Otherwise, you’ve got your own little sandbox of a player board and you simply work at the puzzle of getting the right tiles in the right places.

For me, this is the sort of game that I gravitate to.  Beautiful art and game components draw you into the game, and then a solid game with multiple paths to explore.  For the most part, any successful player will have to solve the puzzle of getting the right tiles above and below the board – but weaving together the special abilities given to you as you go around the different tracks will separate the winner from the others.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, John P
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Passing Through Petra

  1. David says:


    The TLDR is that Wikipedia is at least comparable in accuracy to Encyclopedia Britannica (which has many errors of its own), though you should not use it as your sole reference for research.
    (And I found that Wiki article on its own accuracy surprisingly comprehensive!)

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