Thank you for checking review #34 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Note: A prototype of this game was sent to me in advance of the Kickstarter campaign in exchange for an honest review of the game. The Kickstarter launches on November 1st, and a link to that will appear here once it goes live.
An Overview of Portals and Prophets
Portals and Prophets is a game designed by Andrew Harmon and is published by Harmon Games. The box states that it can play 2-5 players and has a 30-60 minute play time.
The year is 2200. The Alpha and Omega time travel company is looking to hire a tour guide and you are on the short list. For your last test, you and the other finalists will be sent back in time to prove you are the best candidate to lead future time traveling expeditions. Players will score points by experiencing biblical events. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
Portals and Prophets is a Bible themed set collection and hand management game that features difficult and meaningful decisions. You must decide which events to attempt to witness, how to manipulate the time capsule to benefit you, and how to plan your travels so that you arrive to locations at the right time in history to experience events.
With a setup time of less than 2 minutes, and a perfect blend of simplicity and strategic depth, Portals and Prophets is a game all ages will enjoy.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
The setup for this game does not change based on player count. Each player gets three Genesis cards, there are five revealed Old Testament cards on the board, and three portals are placed onto the map.
On a player’s turn, you get to do four actions, in any combination, from this list:
a) Move a space
b) Score a card (if you are in the right location and within the proper date range)
c) Draw a card (either from the face-up stack or a face-down from the top of a deck)
There are also fuel icons on some cards, and you can discard a card as a “free” action to increase the fuel gauge by the number of icons on the card. You can discard more than one card, but only one card of each fuel color. The fuel gauge is vital, as it ranges from Low-Full with 1, 2, and 3 in between. The number which the marker is by determines how far around the current round you can visit. For example, if the gauge is at 2 and the round is in the 10th century, you can score a card in the 12th-8th centuries (+2/-2 from the current date). When the gauge is at FULL, you can score any date range on the card, provided you are in the right location, and at the end of your turn the fuel drops back down to LOW.
You will be traveling around the map, collecting cards, and trying to score cards by being on the right place around the right time chronologically. Cards will not only score the points printed on them, but there are two additional methods of scoring at the end. You will get 10 points for every set of five colors you have scored, and there are six different symbols printed in various combinations on cards (such as Ancient, Miracles, God Speaks) where the player who scored the majority of cards with each symbol will get 7 points.
The game ends when one player has scored their third New Testament card and the round has ended (all players get an equal number of turns).
Not only is this a Christian game, which is a rarity in itself, but it is also a surprisingly good one. There is a lot of depth to a game that is short on rules and quick on explanation. There are many variables to consider, such as dates on the timeline, physical location that you need to visit, the collection of sets of all five colors, the desire to win majority in as many symbols as you can, and maximizing your use of the fuel gauge when it is getting high. There is plenty of game here to keep everyone engaged and provide a great experience.
The use of the portals, which can either be placed as you desire or in the recommended locations mentioned in the rule book, is a key element in maximizing your scoring potential. Drafting cards from the board that are located near portals provides an advantage and is something that should always be considered. The portals also make it so the map feels a bit smaller at times, since you can leap across huge tracts of land.
The fuel gauge and time travel aspect is an interesting mechanism. I’m fairly certain there is no way to max out the fuel in one turn if it begins at LOW, meaning if you raise the gauge someone else will get to take advantage of it as well. It also may mean they get it to FULL before it comes back to you, making it a balancing act of trying to figure out when to use those cards for fuel and when to wait and try to let someone else bump it up for you.
As a Christian, I love the presence of Scripture at the bottom of each card. I love the vast array of events in the decks, ranging from the well-known such as the Birth of Jesus or the Parting of the Red Sea and going into more obscure characters and events. This will provide a learning experience for even the more mature Christians, as they may encounter and get to revisit some of the smaller stories and characters in the Bible. Although I have a weakness…every time Joshua Stops the Sun or Elijah Challenges the Prophets of Baal appears face-up I immediately grab them even when it doesn’t make sense to do so. I want to visit my favorite scenes!
In a loosely abstracted way, this game actually does succeed at providing a thematic experience. See the last point: I actually want to go travel to visit certain events as they come up in the deck.
It really surprised me as to how close the games ended up being for points. You would think the person to trigger the end would have a clear advantage in the game, but there are a lot of points to come from the set collection aspect. Which makes it important to not only pick cards for the point values listed on them, but also to grab cards that will mesh well with what you’ve already scored.
There are wild cards in the Old Testament deck, providing a boost either on a symbol or the colors to a player. They seem really powerful, especially the symbol cards because they not only add one to counting majority on that symbol, they also score the owner an extra point for each of that symbol they collected. These cards have been the deciding factor in a game.
Artwork is subjective, and the vast majority of it I really love. There are a few I’m not as crazy about, but the designer has told me there are some which are still being changed before the final production. So this was an issue with what I got but shouldn’t be an issue with the final produced product.
But the one area that everyone commented upon was the board itself. It is a simple map of the area, with various regions shaded in a color that matches the color on the card for that region. It makes a lot of sense for the color-coding on the board and it is usually appreciated during the gameplay, but it really doesn’t appeal to the eye for a first impression.
The New Testament cards are 100% blind draws. You’ll never know the card you are going to get, although you’ll always know the era in which it will be scored. You need to draw them early in order to plan for them, but if you are behind and racing to catch up then your draws could either make you really lucky (if they are all close together) or place the game out of reach (if they are very distant).
Each player gets 3 Genesis cards, and the rest are never to be seen during the game. I almost would prefer it if they got shuffled in with the Old Testament deck, allowing you the chance to get more of them, especially when you need one more Ancient symbol to boost your collection.
I was initially interested in reviewing this game because of the Biblical theme. It promised to be a strategy game, and so I was more than happy to give it a try. When the game arrived, I looked at the board and the rules and was only lukewarm about the experience that I was going to be having with the game.
I’ve never been so glad to have my expectations exceeded.
This game isn’t going to provide a heavy, brain-burning experience. Yet there is ample room for depth and strategy in how you approach the game. Early decisions, even as simple as choosing your starting location, can have an impact on the gaming experience. A poor decision can leave you needing to travel for turns in a row in order to arrive where you need to be for a second scoring card. The presence of other players on the board, and where they end their turns, can force you to reroute for a round or two or to take a complely scenic trip through an area you don’t really need to visit. The multi-use cards provide incentive for grabbing something you might not need. The symbols and area colors provide set collecting, but only for those you score by the end. All in all, there is a lot more going on here than you first expect.
And increasing the player count increases the number of times you might get blocked, which is why some will really prefer to play with two. You can interfere, but not in drastic ways that could leave someone completely boxed in for a round or two. The board state will change, but not so radically that you can’t try and plan a few turns ahead. The fuel gauge will reach full, but not as often which will allow you to build upon and capitalize upon what your opponent has done.
There will be those who read the word “Bible” in the game’s description and move along without giving it a second glance. But if that word doesn’t scare you away, you’re in for a good surprise with this game. It plays well with two, provides an interesting experience for newer and experienced games, would make a perfect next-step game after a gateway game for newer gamers, and would be outstanding when used in a homeschool environment. Churches could place a copy of this in their kid/youth rooms and have it there for teaching and learning opportunities that will arise.
And even the common gamer, who isn’t looking to use this in any educational manner, will find that there is a surprisingly rewarding play experience in this game.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.