Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Portals and Prophets

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).

My Thoughts

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.

Final Verdict

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.

Board Game Lists · First Impressions

New-to-Me First Impressions 9/21/17-10/15/17

I began this last month and really enjoyed going through and providing these impressions. The thought was to give some coverage to those games that I may not play enough times to review, or which may never quite make it to a review due to the number of games played and the time it takes to review a game. So here are some brief first impressions of games I recently got my first plays with. I’m also including a “Replay rating” for each game on a scale of 1-10. 1 would be “I’d rather sit out and watch others play games than play this again” and 10 being “Save me a seat, I’d gladly play this any time!”

And, as a special bonus, when you see the meeple below that means the next thoughts are from my lovely wife on those games!

Night of Man – meeple This game seemed simple from my one play of it but has potential to get harder. The board art was boring though, and I disliked how some cards didn’t apply with the scenario we were doing.

Honshu – meeple Hate the name, but it was a fun filler game and I liked the building aspect with the card overlay.

Harbour – Tried it with two players and discovered a few things I had played incorrectly solo. This game became much better as a result, and we played it a lot over two days. Enjoyable and compact worker placement game. (7)

meeple I was so frustrated with this game at first because my logical brain didn’t like the buying process. Once we realized my husband was teaching it wrong it became a lot of fun and I wanted to keep playing.

Zero – A simple filler, with potential for fun. Probably much better at a higher player count. A strong starting hand can really decide this game early on. (4)

meeple Easy. Resembles Uno, only harder. Good filler game.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms – Great artwork, interesting concept behind the game. Wasn’t a huge fan of my solo play but could see this being great with more players and as a sort of gateway game for newer gamers. Better roll-for-resource system than Catan. (6)

Android: Netrunner – An LCG getting a reboot in the very near future. Really enjoyed the asymmetry between the two sides, and can’t wait to try playing as the Corp as well as exploring each of the different Runner and Corp factions. This killed the Destiny bug for me, being a deckbuilder where gaining the card pool isn’t up to luck. (10)

Aeon’s End – One of the better cooperative games I’ve played. Can be crushingly tough, but also can be relatively easy depending on card draws. Really like the deckbuilding aspect and the no-shuffle concept. Would gladly play again but may not want to own. (8)

meeple Wasn’t bad for a cooperative game. Not really my style of game but it helped that I could decide on my actions with my cards instead of someone tellimg me what to do.

Seven Dragons – This game was made by the creators of Fluxx? A very simple card-laying game with a few curveballs thrown in for good measure. A filler I’d definitely play again. (5)

meeple Easy filler. Wish the art was brighter colors. Needs more manipulating cards.

Custom Heroes – My wife isn’t a fan of trick-taking games and it has never been a big thing for me. That said, this is easily one of the better trick-taking games I’ve played, and I enjoyed the card crafting mechanism in this one. It isn’t quite as good as Mystic Vale, but this game brings some nice effects with that system. (6)

meeple Disliked at first because I didn’t understanding it until most of the way through and was playing with someone who is great at trick-taking games (**Note from husband: she is not referring to me, but a friend who was playing with us. He’s really, REALLY good at these games)

Neverland’s Legacy – I expected this to be the game in the Lynnvander/Jasco’s Legacy series that I didn’t enjoy. Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised at the difficulty presented along the way as well as the system itself in the game. Each of the three plays very different from the others, in spite of having some shared mechanics and similar component design. Probably still likely to be ranked third of the three games, but not because it was a bad game. (8)

Lignum – Oh man, this game is so intense. I’ve played it a few times and every time I can’t wait to get it back to the table. I’ve played a lot of worker placement-style games in the last year because it is my wife’s favorite mechanic. I’ve enjoyed quite a few of them. And now I think I have finally found my favorite one. (10)

meeple Not my favorite worker placement but a lot of fun. I thought the game would be lame because its just about trees, but the challenge to it kept me wanting more. The thing I do not like is how the process of drying lumber takes too long to be worth it unless you have a really good card.

Zoo Ball – This was a review game that showed up without solicitation, which meant it stayed really low on the radar to try it. I had a buddy stop by for a short while and pulled this out to try. We both thought this would be a really fun one to pull out at 2 in the morning, after a long night of having fun doing or playing other things. And let me tell you, it is a lot harder trying to position these things via flicking than you’d expect. (6)

Portals and Prophets – A biblical-themed game that was fairly light. It will be a perfect gateway game, as well as the type of game you can play when you want to have something to do while maintaining conversation. It won’t tax you mentally, for the most part, but there is enough strategy here to make it a game worth playing and owning. I really enjoyed the artwork, Scripture on the cards, and seeing the various events as they flipped out through the deck. Shouldn’t be any issues getting this one back to the table. (8)

meeple I did not like how the board looked and some of the art, but I loved the concept of the game.

Sellswords: Olympus – For what this game is, it really succeeds. It plays fast (15-20 minutes), presents some interesting decisions, and has some nice powers on the cards. I like that you will always end up building a 5×5 grid with these, and the scoring on this is interesting. (7)

Guilds of London – My enjoyment of this game was higher than my wife, mostly due to having a little familiarity with the icons and symbols from reading rules, etc. I thought this was a fun one, and next time I will probably be a little more cutthroat in my choice of actions and the usage of those Neutral guys. (8)

meeple I hate the symbols and having to refer to the reference sheet. Would have preferred the text on the cards.

Jaipur – With all the praise I have heard over the past year for Jaipur, I was very disappointed. This was a fine game, one I’d gladly play again, but I can find well over a dozen games already in my collection that I find to be as good or better with 2 players only. I did, however, find the use of the camels to be an interesting mechanism. (7)

meeple This game bored me just because it was too easy. Just matching colors.

Kingdom Builder: Marshlands Expansion – Okay, so I saw only one new board/power for the game. But, this expansion feels like it really transforms the game. It adds a new terrain type, which also means you remove one of the other five from the game. Its power tiles give you an ultra-power if you manage to collect them both. And palaces score points only for the player with the most settlements around it. The game is still the Kingdom Builder I know and love, but this seems like it would really add variety and depth to the game. (9)

Century: Golem Edition – Everything I had grown to enjoy about the Century: Spice Road game but with better artwork and cooler components. This is definitely the version we must get, as I really enjoyed those chunky gems. I find that I do enjoy this game a lot, as there is some serious engine-building that goes into the game along with hand and resource management. Unlike Splendor, my play isn’t restrained by what my opponents do or take. (8)

meeple Loved the art and fantasy theme. So much better than the original because of the art. I wish the gems were not so chunky.

Dragon Run – An interesting filler. Even though everything in that game went against me, being the ONLY one to take damage (and die) and the ONLY one who had to discard down to four treasure cards (twice!), I still enjoyed it. Next time, I will be the Warrior and do battle with that Dragon…although it was fun being the Scout. (6)

meeple It is a fun filler. Perfect for older kids.

Longhorn – Variety seems to be the name of this game, which is a good thing. There are some interesting concepts in this simple 2-player game, and that makes it one I’d gladly try again. The decreasing value of the cattle as you take them makes this one have a delightful puzzle. (7)

Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City – Oh how I dislike the roll-for-resources mechanic when it is in its purest form. What was an otherwise fine, if light, game was soured by the inability to roll what I needed. Or, rather, to avoid rolling the numbers that gave me absolutely nothing of value. (4)

The Blood of an Englishman – Wow, this one surprised me. I love trying new 2-player only games. I love asymmetrical play. This takes a really simple concept and executes and interesting and elegant design. I’d really love to teach this one to my wife. It might not be one we add to our collection, but it might be one we play to kill time between games at our local FLGS during game days. (9)