In the heart of the sleeping city, there lies incredible wealth. The city gates are well guarded, but no one is watching what’s under their feet. The dead of night provides just enough cover for you to tunnel your way to untold riches and plunder the city from within. But you must act quickly, because a rival thief has the same plan. In Prowler’s Passage, you and your rival burrow into the city through a network of underground passages to grab valuable items while attempting to gain control of key districts. Steal the best items, create the longest passages, and control districts to become the premier prowler! On your turn, you must (1) place a passage, then (2) collect the tile where you placed your passage, and (3) move control markers for the districts adjacent to that passage. The tile you collect will either be an item tile, which are scored in sets during each scoring phase, or a shovel tile, which allows you to move control markers further. You might also steal statues and/or complete achievements on your turn. Scoring occurs twice during the game. In each scoring phase, players gain wealth in these 5 categories: PASSAGES: Gain 2 wealth for each section in your longest continuous passage. STATUES: Gain 1 wealth for each statue you have stolen. ITEMS: For each set of items of the same type that you have, you gain wealth. The bigger the set, the more wealth. DISTRICTS: For each district you control (i.e., for which the control marker is on your side of the control track), you gain that district reward. ACHIEVEMENTS: Gain wealth for the achievements you have claimed. (Final scoring phase only.)
Prowler’s Passage is a new two-player game from designer J. Alex Kevern and publisher Renegade Game Studios, the combination that created the well-received card-drafting game, Sentient, that was released last year. With one success behind them, how would Kevern and Renegade fair with this latest two-player only release?
Prowler’s Passage is an abstract game with a theme. Each player takes the role of a thief building a tunnel network around a medieval city in order to gain more power in certain areas. In reality, that theme has very little connection to the gameplay. It informs the names of some of the components and the art style of the game, but Prowler’s Passage could be re-themed in any number of ways and still make sense. In fact, I’m pretty sure that removing the theme entirely would make very little difference in practice.
Please don’t mistake this assessment of the theme for negativity. As you’ll see, Prowler’s Passage is a game that I really enjoyed (and I’m someone who normally likes a good dose of theme). But I think it will appeal the most to players who like thoughtful, puzzly abstract games.
Prowler’s Passage Gameplay
The mechanics of Prowler’s Passage are very simple. Everything takes place on a board made up of six hexes, each of which is divided into three equal sections of different colours. On the borders between these sections (including where two hexes meet), you randomly place a token, which will be one of five colours (corresponding to the five different region colours). There are four statues which get placed at the main intersections on the board. You also have an influence tracker, which is a board that has a central section containing five wooden markers that move back and forth to track which player has the most influence in that region.
If that sounds like a lot, the turns couldn’t be simpler. On their turn a player simply places one of their passages on an unclaimed border between two coloured regions and takes the token that’s there. They then move the influence markers that correspond to the regions their newest passage borders one space in their direction.
The game plays out like that until both players have placed all 13 passages. Along the way, there is a mid-game scoring round. You also recount to score points at the end of the game and add this total to your mid-game total. Mid-game scoring is triggered either when two of the four statues have been stolen (i.e. completely surrounded by passages) or when both players are down to five passages left.
Players then score points for their longest connected passage, the tokens they’ve collected – gaining more points for sets of the same type – and the regions they control. Each region scores slightly differently: they tend to give you a bonus for having items of the same colour but will give additional points for other things, like long passages or other items you have, like statues.
The only difference when you add up again at the end of the game is that this time you also score objective cards. There are three objectives open to both players at the start of the game which can be claimed the first time their conditions are met. These are randomly drawn from a larger deck and can help players to shape their strategy for a small points boost.
You might think that scoring twice means there will be a runaway winner, but a lot can change between the mid-game and the end. Remember, you only score for the regions you control and control of these regions can shift pretty quickly over the course of the game. The games I’ve played so far tend to end up with each player controlling one region pretty comfortably, but hotly contesting the other three.
A Simple but Skilful Game
Prowler’s Passage is mechanically simple but strategically deep. Like chess, all the information is available to the players at the start of the game. Once you’ve completed the set-up (which will be slightly different each time) there’s no randomness and no hidden information in the game.
This leads to interaction that feels fairly indirect, but is actually very important. Every move that you make will impact the decisions available to them later on and vice versa. The constant tug of war over different regions ramps up the tension further and makes it possible to seriously hamper your opponent if you can outthink them. A little nudge in the right direction could prevent a player from scoring a lot of points in the mid- or end game scoring.
Prowler’s Passage is undeniably a thinker’s game. While you may get away with a mistake or two, the player who makes the most will likely lose. There’s no randomness to help you claw your way back in – your main chance of catching up if you’re behind is to attempt to swing the game after mid-game scoring by gaining control of key regions. Not every player will like this, but I found that it made for close games in which victory felt deserved.
Working in tandem with the game’s strategic depth is its short play time. Once you get the few rules down, you can play through the game in 20-25 minutes (depending on how long you spend thinking about your turns). It will take a couple of tries to learn what really earns you points and to get the hang of the fantastic tug of war mechanism but after an hour or so you’ll have played through a couple of times and got a good feel for the game.
Prowler’s Passage probably isn’t a game for non-gamers, though if you have a friend who enjoys traditional abstract games like Chess or Draughts I think they would enjoy it. Gamers who prefer thoughtful, puzzle games will definitely enjoy it. Having said that, I’m someone who tends to enjoy more thematic games and yet I found plenty to love. It’s a well-designed, simple game that’s very hard to fault.
Prowler’s Passage is so cheap to buy, easy to learn and quick to play that I would strongly recommend it for most gamer’s shelves. If you like thoughtful, abstract games then it’s a must-have. Renegade Studios has put out a lot of strong games recently and, in my opinion, they’ve smashed it again with
Prowler’s Passage. I can see this game hitting my table a lot in the coming months. It may just be one of the best two-player games of the year.
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