#014 Passtally (2018)
Designer: Masaki Suga
Artist: Saori Shibata
Publisher: Analog Lunchbox (アローンランチボックス)
Player Count: 2-3
Time: 40 minutes
Before you get into arguments on how to say "passtally", please be aware that its name is a portmanteau. In order to score in the game, you must count (tally) the number of times you cross (pass) a placed tile--passtally. It took me until my third game to realize that, so don't feel too bad. Hey, it took me over a decade to discover that the fairy "Navi" from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was short for "navigation"; she guides you through the game, remember? Yeah, that took me over a decade. Now, let's play with our rupees!!
The quality of the packaging and components is top notch. The cardboard components are thick and sturdy. The player markers have difficulty stacking on top of each other due to their round surface. This makes tied scores on the score board mildly annoying. The level markers and level ruler were completely unnecessary, but they made the game flow so much smoothly. Take note publishers! Those tiny attentions to detail really make a difference. Gamers really appreciate it. I do!
The rule book is only 4 pages. That includes examples. That includes the cover. Page 2 is dedicated towards game components and how to set up the game. The rules for this game are longer than this review. The rules to this game are easier than the first dungeon in Legend of Zelda. Take the road to the left, read the PDF rules, and skip to the next section (or mosey and adventure down below).
Set up. Players will take turns placing each of their four player markers (the beginning and end of their routes) around the edge of the board--one marker per side. The tiles will be placed into three stacks face down. Flip over the top tile of each stack, so players will have three tiles to choose from.
On your turn, must perform two actions. You may play one tile on the game board OR move your player marker up to two spaces around the edge of the board. You may perform the same action twice.
(1) Playing a tile. Take one of the three face up tiles and play the tile on the game board. There are some rules regarding this, but they're not difficult and are completely intuitive. Just remember that tiles played on the second level or higher must be played on two tiles of the same height. After playing your tile, draw the top tile from its stack and place it face up in front of its stack.
(2) Move player marker. You may move one of your four player markers clockwise or counterclockwise up to two spaces around the edge of the board; you must skip over any occupied spaces you encounter.
Scoring points. After your two actions, you score points if you are able to complete an unobstructed route (or line) between any two of your player markers. If your remaining two player markers are also connected, then you score both routes. While following the route from one player marker to the other, you tally (count) any tiles you pass over. If the tile is on the first level, you tally one pass. If the tile is on the second level, you tally two passes. (Third level tallies three passes. Fourth level tallies four points. Etc.) If the same tile is passed twice, it is tallied twice. After you have calculated the sum your passes for both routes, consult the chart at the bottom of the score board to convert your passes into points. Score your points.
Play until one of the following three conditions is met. (1) One player reaches 50 or more points. (2) Any of the three stacks of tiles runs out. (3) A tile cannot be placed on the board. Play then continues until all players have had an equal amount of turns. The player with the highest score wins passtally!
Abstracts are a very interesting breed of game. All games can be stripped down to their base mechanics; however, most of the time abstract games come to party buck naked. So you're left with only judging the game on two things: aesthetics and mechanics.
Aesthetics. Passtally not only has table presence but is super photogenic. It will rule your twitter or instagram feed if you let it. There was a stretch in the aughts where abstracts were rather bland looking. Thankfully, those days are long ago. Thankfully, passtally is here. Not only does its aesthetics jump off the table, it also sits loudly on your game shelf. The six bright colors of passtally lure your attention and focus with every passing glance at your game shelf. It shouts loudly and clearly: Play me!
Mechanics. I understand why many fans of 18xx (the hardcore series of the hardest of hardcore economic train games) love this game. Beneath the deep layers of every heavy economic train game, beats the heart of a route efficiency game. Welcome to Passtally. Like most economic train games, if you desire healthy profitable routes, then you need to be ruthless and cut throat. Passtally is no different. After all, why go through the hassle of developing your own route, when you could simply steal your opponent's? Passtally is a game of trade offs. Through out the game you will constantly be asking yourself agonizing questions. Do you sacrifice consistent points now for a larger route in the future? Do you sacrifice developing your route for rerouting your opponent's highly lucrative route? Do I extend my route or build up for even more points? These tense questions are the game. Remember game board real estate is small. You'll be off in your own worlds at the start, but that will quickly change. The interaction between the players and the route planning is delightful torture. Each tile packs a punch and has the potential to drastically alter the game. You'll be tempted to help your opponent. You'll cheer when they don't block you. You'll feel incredibly fulfilled as your route grows horizontally and vertically. These highs and lows and the push & pull between players make passtally leap off the table. While you're calculating your route's passes, you'll be singing the all too familiar passtally tune: 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 11, 15, 20, 23... For a game with 2 pages of rules, the depth of gameplay was completely unexpected. That's a good thing.
There is an elephant in the room and her name is Analysis Paralysis (AP). She invites herself into the room for most abstract games; however, in regards to Passtally, she might as well be sitting on the table and staring at you. The degree of AP is so bad, that I am hesitant to recommend this game to children. They may have so much trouble calculating their routes, that the game could quickly devolve into you helping them with all their turns. You have been warned.
For the longest time, my favorite abstract game has been Taluva. It's gorgeous to watch the game and the island unfold, the rules are quite simple, the decisions carry weight and consequences, and the game play is tight. I once won a four-player game where each player would have won on their next turn. It's a mini vacation to an island of intense thought and deadly volcanic activity. I love it.
For the last decade, I had refused to buy another abstract game unless it was as good as or better than Taluva. In those 10 years, I only bought two more abstracts. Azul was as good as Taluva. Passtally is better. While Azul has been fun and playable among almost all age groups and gaming groups, it has never seared my brain the way passtally has. Passtally is diabolically beautiful in its elegant viciousness. The rules are incredibly simple, but the gameplay is filled with wonderfully agonizing decisions that melt your brain. I hadn't had a mental workout like this since my last game of Go. Yes, AP can be a problem; however the game play is intoxicatingly fulfilling.
It only plays up to 3. It is a rather strict player count, but I completely agree with it. It scales just fine with one problem. In a three player game, the end game is usually triggered by a tile stack running out. When this happens, the next two players only have two tiles to choose from and not three. In fact, it is entirely possible for the third player to have only one tile to choose from. That doesn't sit well with me. Optional House Rule #1: Draw the top tile of the tallest stack, so every player always has three tiles to choose from.
I usually suggest lighter games for family time; however, the rules are simple enough for children to grasp. She's your kid. You know her better than I do. If she's expecting a loud, energetic game filled with take-that mechanics, do NOT suggest this game. Quiet game time is a thing. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are playing mahjong with my dad and his friends. If you are capable of sharing those quiet intense gaming moments with your kids, I recommend this game for you. We'll both thank you for it.
Boy, this is really expensive! As of August 2018, if you aren't currently located in Asia, this game could be quite difficult and expensive to find, but just like that blue ring in Legend of Zelda, it's worth it. If you're budget is tighter and you're living in North America, fear not! Pandasaurus Games has licensed passtally and should be bringing it to you in the spring of 2019! If number crunching spacial abstracts are your cup of tea, this is an exclusive tea trade deal with China. Passtally is an abstract route efficiency game that has stripped away the non-essentials to give you one of the smoothest and memorable gaming experiences in Hyrule. I can't be the only one who sees Hyrulian rupees, can I?
Cardboard East highly recommends passtally!
Gamer: Cardboard East highly recommends passtally but beware of gamers with AP.
Family: Cardboard East recommends passtally but for those quiet intense gaming sessions.
Party: Cardboard East does not recommend this game due to low player count and intensity.