Petra was originally known as Raqmu to its inhabitants. An archaeological city which sits on the slope of the Jabal Al-Madbah. Believed to have been established 11,000 years ago, it served as a major trading hub for nomadic Arabs who came from far and wide to buy and sell goods at the local markets. Petra’s reputation grew over the centuries attracting merchants from even beyond the Arab world.
To enter Petra, you must traverse a 1.2 km long gorge known as the Siq. At busier times, the caravan of traders would form a long line slowly moving forward towards the city where, perhaps, their fortunes could be made.
In Passing Through Petra, you take on the role of a citizen of the market town, looking to welcome the travelling salesmen and make the deal of a lifetime. As your reputation grows, so too will your influence. This game is an amalgamation of a number of different interesting mechanics at the same time, but at its heart, it’s a race to get all nine of your Influence cubes on the board. As soon as one the player does that, they are declared the winner.
By far the most interesting feature of the game board is the 3D walls which make up the narrow gorge of the Siq. It is filled with a line Trader tiles as they make their way into Petra. The last six spaces of the line are considered the Plaza, with everything else considered the Siq. There are four different Progress tracks that are circular in nature and represent your developing influence over traders from Egypt, China, Rome, and India. A fifth Progress track represents the Local traders and can earn you bonuses as you advance along it.
You have your own player board with a Market Row where Trader tiles are added as they come into the city, Settlements where the Traders make deals with their trading partners, worker and building spaces, and your nine Influence cubes.
Each turn in the game, you’ll take one of four actions. The action grid is a three by three square with an action associated with each side of the square. Everyone’s Merchant pawn starts in the centre of the grid, and each turn you’ll move it towards one of the sides, taking the action of the side you moved towards. Once you’ve moved against the wall on one side of the grid, you won’t be able to take that action again until you first move away. It’s a really interesting approach to action selection which I don’t think I’ve seen before.
So, what actions can you take? The Plaza action allows you to take two Trader tiles from the Plaza section of the Siq. They are added to the Market row on your personal board pushing two of the Trader tiles there above your board to the Settlements. The Siq action allows you to take one Trader tile of your choice from the Siq section of the track. You get less Traders this way, but more selection, so a good choice if you’re looking for someone in particular. Just like the ones from the Plaza action, this Trader is added to your Market row, pushing one tile out and up to your Settlements.
The Market action is where you can show off your skills as a wheeling and dealing salesman. When you take this action, you choose one set of Traders in one of your Settlement columns and place a worker below it. Each Trader has a specific partner they want to Trade with and you’ll multiply the number of Traders in the Settlement with the number of their preferred trading partner in your Market row. That number tells you how many spaces you can advance on the influence tracks. Depending on the type of Trader who makes the deal you can advance on their track. If your marker passes a bonus space on the influence track, you can flip it over and the marker to its active side. This allows you to drop off influence cubes when you pass open influence spaces, getting you one step closer to victory.
Each of the regular Influence tracks have a reward to them. For example, Egypt will give you another stall to your Market row allowing for better Market actions, China allows you to construct a building on your personal board which earns you camel tokens, and Rome allows you to take a permanent Settler. On the Local trader track you can earn camels and Influence cards, which are goals for end game points.
The final action you can take is the Village action. You take back workers from below your Settlements (a minimum of one) and then you can hire one Villager from three available cards. Villagers have an immediate, permanent, or on-going effect, like earning you a bunch of camels, taking a Permanent Settler tile, or moving tiles in your Market row. You can’t really build your strategy around Villagers, but they are a nice boost when you have to take an action to bring back workers anyway.
Passing Through Petra is a pretty unique game. It takes a little while to get the flow of setting up your Settlement and Market Row so that they play off each other well, and you can start putting influence down on the board. My initial thought was that maybe the wall pieces that make up the canyon of the Siq were a gimicky, but in truth they serve a function that would be pretty annoying to manage otherwise. I’ve tried other games with an advancing line like this, but never so long and with so many tiles. Learning to manipulate it is key to success.
Give this game a try, in fact, give it a few tries. By the end of your first game you’ll be getting the hang of it and starting to form a deeper strategy, and that’s where I think Passing Through Petra really starts to shine.
Thanks to Renegade Games for providing a review copy of Passing Through Petra for this article.