As I have mentioned many times, Board Game Instagram is a lovely place! I’ve discovered so many fantastic people from around the world that LOVE games and want to welcome more to the hobby. Because of that, I’m started following new accounts when they suggest them. Recently, one friend shared a story from Fablesmith games featuring artwork from their current game project “Passengers” and I just loved the art style so I followed the site. This past weekend, they had an open call for playtesters and I volunteered!
You can find the rulebook for Passengers on the website, but I will do my best to sum up how to play. Passengers is a strategy and social deduction game for 4-8 players. Each player is in charge of putting passengers onto ships headed to the Afterlands but we are either on the side of the souls, those with legitimate claims to seats on the ship, and demons, who are trying to sneak across. After three boats are sent away, the passengers are revealed and scoring is done based on the placement and color of souls and demons.
(There is a special player card, the the Yaesther, who only appears in even numbered player games so we didn’t have him in our game, but it is a mischievous creature, out just for himself, sabotaging the guides mission for his own gains – you can find out more in the rulebook).
At the start, each player is dealt 3 cards – the first card you receive will decide whose side you are on and then you will get a demon and a soul card. Similar to the start of other social deduction games, like Werewolf, all players will close their eyes and then the demons will be asked to open their eyes and signal each other because everyone opens their eyes again.
Now the first round begins and each player takes a turn placing their soul/demon on one of two boats – the wolf or the raven. The cards are played face down, with just the mysterious passenger seated in the boat. This is when the fun happens. Players can try to figure out who else is a demon or a soul. Demons can try to signal to their counterpart(s) which card they are playing, trying to make it so the final combo scoring will work out in their favor.
As Passengers are put in the boats, the player gets to take “voice” tokens for voting at the end and a “gift” card that grants them special powers after the placement round. The gift might allow them to peek at a card a player put on the boat, ask about what color cards are in players hands or change the color of a card in play. Used well, these gifts could reveal the motivations of other players based on what they had said earlier in the round.
After everyone has used their gift, the voting stage happens. Only one boat may cross-over. Based on the discussions during the placement and what was revealed (or not revealed) during the Gifts phase, players boat will best serve their teams needs (so not necessarily the boat they placed their passenger on). Players put down their token with either the wolf or raven face up, then add their collected voices to the token. The boat with the most voice votes moves over the the Afterlands. The passengers are not revealed though! Not until the final ship has sailed.
Scoring for souls and demons are different – souls score based on how many of them are in a boat together and their color. Demons get to score vertically as well and earn points for being next to a soul of the same color.
This was just my first play-through and one player had some connectivity problems which threw off the groove of the game, but Game Designer Joost kept things light, reminding us all that a first game is always just “playing for bacon and beans” and not to stress. But as first impressions go, I really liked it!
I’ll admit, I’m not usually a big fan of social deduction games. Games like ‘Werewolf’ and ‘Human Punishment’ tend to get a bit cut throat, with the goal being to kill/wipe out the other players, meaning halfway through the game, a lot of players are sitting around, twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the next game to start, while their friends begin throwing around accusations. It can be incredibly tense…or really boring, depending on how things go for you.
What I really liked about ‘Passengers’ is that everyone gets to play the whole game. And even if the Guides reveal their alliances, the game goes on! Just because you tell someone you’re a soul/demon guide, it doesn’t mean anyone has to believe you because card are placed face down and the other player would have to make the choice to investigate your claim during the “gift” round to fin out if you were telling the truth, but they might want to use that ability on something else.
Even though I’ve only had one play through, I’m already thinking about the next chance I get to play, things that could happen differently now that I understand the power of the gift cards and what kinds of questions I should be asking other players and we try to figure out who is doing what. I’d also like to try a game with the mysterious Yaesther character to see how it changes the dynamics.
To top it off, Passengers is a gorgeous game with it’s own unique art style, which is what drew me to it initially. I know Joost is still doing some fine-tuning of the game and I really hope I can play again to get more of the experience. Social deduction games do work best around a table, where you can try to read your friends for hints or tell to what they are thinking, but I was impressed with how well this worked just as a TTS mod.
If this game sounds like something you would like, I highly suggest following Fablesmith Games on Instagram for design updates and playtest announcements or join the Fablesmith Playhouse Discord.