The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Prowler's Passage
J. Alex Kevern is probably best known for the board game designs he’s published through Renegade Game Studios -- such as World’s Fair 1893 and Sentient. But his latest release from Renegade, Prowler’s Passage, reminds me more of Gold West, a design he published through Tasty Minstrel Games in 2015. Why? Both feel inspired by “point salad” style games, most notably the Stefan Feld masterpiece Castles of Burgundy.
Prowler’s Passage is a two-player strategy game of route building, area control, and set collection that plays in less than 30 minutes. Players will try to outscore one another through a myriad number of ways -- such as controlling the five city districts, earning achievements, stealing statutes, and collecting sets of like items.
The game is set up by placing six hex tiles next to the control track, creating a rough triangle that contains eighteen district sections, with multiples of each of the five districts -- Banking, Political, Market, Residential, and Castle. The 27 passages between these district sections each get an item token, and the four middle nexus points each get a statue. Three random achievement cards are placed at the edge of the control track. Each player is given thirteen passage sections in their color, and the game is ready to begin.
Each turn, players will place one passage section. When placing a passage, two things happen:
The player takes the item token on that space and adds it to their collection. If that item is a shovel, they then manipulate the control track.
The player moves the control markers for both adjacent district sections one step toward them.
This continues on until the mid-game scoring, which is set off by either two statues being stolen or by each player having placed eight passage sections. After mid-game scoring, the play continues until each player has played all of their passage sections -- meaning each player has placed thirteen passage sections. There is then a final scoring, and the highest score is the winner.
I won’t detail every way to score points, considering there are so many, but some of the major ways to score include building a long continuous passage, collecting large sets of like items -- which use triangular scoring, claiming achievements, and controlling districts. Each district has its own special scoring method, so some combo well with other scoring goals or particular achievements. While the statues -- which are worth 1 point each -- are not particularly notable for scoring, unless the statue achievement is in play, they are notable as a way to set off mid-game scoring with an area control advantage, which can allow for some nice timing maneuvers.
To give an idea of how this area control, set collection, and scoring work together, let me give an example: It is your turn. You have been collecting yellow items and currently have four. You know if you get a fifth yellow item, the value of the set will jump from 10 to 15 points. So you want to place a passage section where you can collect a yellow item token. But you also see there is an achievement for having a continuous passage of six sections and you currently have five. Is there a placement that will allow you to grab a yellow item and add to your continuous passage network? If so, what districts will they allow you to pull toward you? Ones that are in contention, or ones that are already solidly in you or your opponents’ control? If you don’t snag that achievement this turn, will your opponent be able to take it on their turn?
Once set up, Prowler’s Passage is 100% open information -- nothing is obscured. The only thing out of the player’s control and knowledge is the moves their opponent will take. While the decision space gets smaller as the game goes on, as each move fills up the board and removes future possibilities, it also gets more tense, as the number of chances to take control of a particular district or take certain items also disappears. While this creates an excellent tactical push and pull during the game, it can also cause intense analysis paralysis for certain types of players.
Pros: A solid two-player experience that plays in under half an hour and fits in a small, portable package. Fits nicely in the niche of two-player games that do not feature direct conflict. No two games will play the same, due to variability in district tiles, item tiles, and achievements. Has quality artwork and nice wooden components. A score sheet is included -- a must in this case, considering the number of ways there are to score and that scoring happens twice a game.
Cons: The game can cause analysis paralysis due to its totally open information as well as the sheer amount of scoring options. The theme feels like an afterthought. The color scheme of the artwork and the wooden pieces don’t match perfectly -- most notably with the Market district, which has a purple area control marker and pink district tiles. The pink and brown districts and the white and yellow districts look a bit too similar to one another, which can create confusion. Coupled with the wooden markers not matching the tiles, this can make the game’s accessibility suffer somewhat.
Prowler’s Passage will be a welcome addition for board gamers that gravitate toward two-player games that play in under an hour, especially ones that do not feature direct conflict, such as Patchwork, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Targi, Seven Wonders: Duel, etc. Despite some graphic design imperfections, the game is an interesting, solid tug-of-war with a nice amount of variability, and can easily slide into a rotation for two players to enjoy for many, many plays.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Prowler's Passage from Renegade Game Studios.