Portals & Prophets – A Kickstarter Preview

Travel through time and space to visit Biblical events throughout ancient Israel, manipulating the time capsule for your own benefit, or to thwart your opponents as you go.

Disclosure: I was given a prototype version of this game to review.
The theme of this game is Biblical history and I am not a Christian. This review is done from a purely secular point of view.


Portals and Prophets

Designer: Andrew Harmon
Artist: N/A
Publisher: Harmon Games
Type: set collection

Official: 2-5 players, 30-60 minutes, ages 10+
My Opinion: 2-5 players, 45-75 minutes, ages 8+

Takeaway: A fun, gateway-weight set collection game, interesting scoring, art feels dated

On Kickstarter November 1st


In the Box

  • game board
  • 10 pawns (2 each of 5 colors)
  • 3 geography portals
  • 18 Genesis cards
  • 70 Old Testament cards
  • 20 New Testament cards
  • 1 time capsule
  • 1 fuel marker

All of the cards, regardless of what deck they come from, are used the same way. On each card you will find the name of the event it represents, the location and time period it occurrs, the points it is worth, card symbols, and flavor text in the form of a Bible verse. Some cards also have fuel icons on them (see above). These cards can be discarded for time capsule fuel.

I received a prototype version of the game so I can’t speak about component quality. I will say that the general feel of the art was a negative for me. It uses a traditional Christian art style which feels dated to me, giving it a Sunday School vibe. Also, the Bible verses as flavor text were sometimes confusing as we didn’t know how they related to the event. This is, however, merely because we are not knowledgeable enough to know the events. The designer said he is still finalizing flavor text, and this may be remedied in the final copy.

Gameplay

The object of the game is to play event cards while in the same location and time period as the event. Starting in Genesis, the time capsule moves forward every round, putting a timer on when you can play the cards in your hand. Luckily you have some control over the time capsule in the form of fuel boosts.

Time capsule and fuel levels

Players can discard cards that have the fuel icons on them to move the fuel boost marker, giving them the ability to travel across multiple time periods in a turn. For example, if the fuel boost is on 2 and it is the 10th century, you can play an event card from the 12th to 8th centuries. If you get the fuel boost to full, you may play an event from any time period, but it burns all the fuel, returning it to low.

You start the game with 3 Genesis cards. Throughout the game you can draw cards from the face-up row of Old Testament cards or the face-down Old or New Testament decks.

On your turn you have 4 action points to spend between moving, discarding cards for fuel, playing events, and drawing cards. Once someone plays their third New Testament card, you finish playing the round and the game ends.

Scoring is based off of victory points. You get victory points throughout the game when you play your event cards. At the end of the game you will get additional points for every region set (a set of one card from each of the five regions), a point for each card symbol matching a symbol card you’ve collected, and 7 points for each card symbol you have the most of.

Card symbols

Experience

During the game you will be plotting how to play your event cards efficiently while strategizing towards victory. This includes deciding between known face-up cards or gambling with a face down card, discarding cards for fuel, choosing between sets or symbols (or both), and gauging the best moment to start taking those New Testament cards.

I agree with fellow reviewer Plumpy Thimble when he says that the weight of Portals and Prophets is a tiny step above Ticket to Ride. Like Ticket to Ride, you are collecting cards to make sets. There are just a couple extra things in play in Portals and Prophets. That being said, this is still a good gateway weight. It has a satisfying level of light strategy that can appeal to people of varying board game experience.

Symbol cards

There are a few different ways to get points, allowing you to choose your path to victory. Decisions you make will shape the direction you’ll go in. For example, symbol cards allow you to get an extra victory point at the end of the game for every card you’ve played with that symbol on it. If you pick up one of these cards, then you’ll be striving to play more of those symbols. The symbol card also takes up a spot in your hand, which has the potential of limiting your options during the game due to the hand limit of 7. One may be no problem, but if you add a second one or a region wild card (used as a wild to complete a region set), it can get problematic.

A complete region set and wild card

During play you can choose to get in the way of your opponents. Purposely maxing out the fuel boost (forcing a player to use an action point and burn a card for fuel), and standing in their path making them choose between waiting you out or taking the long way around, are both valid ways to thwart your time-traveling rivals. These are annoyances, but not overly powerful ones since all players are going to need to focus on their own goals. Going out of your way to mess with another player isn’t worth the action points, so it will be done only if you were already planning that course of action anyway.

Opinion

Mid-way through our first play through, my 10-year-old looked at me and said, “this game is really cool!”  I have to agree with him.

Yes, I wish the game was more aesthetically pleasing, and that there was more relevant flavor text on the cards. Beyond that, Portals and Prophets is a solid game. It was quick to set up, easy to teach, and satisfying to play. 

I enjoyed the level of strategy involved in this game, considering its weight. I had to plan several moves ahead and be prepared for opponents maxing out the fuel boost levels. Yet it was still light enough to be played by anyone, regardless of gaming experience. I played with an 8 and a 10 year old, and both picked up on the game easily. The youngest prefers games with more action, so he wasn’t as impressed with Portals and Prophets, but the game kept his attention and he stuck with it to the end. Like with any game, know your audience. If your child enjoys games like Ticket to Ride or Catan, they can probably handle Portals and Prophets.

What I enjoyed about this game, beyond the gameplay, was the curiosity it sparked. Because we are atheists, I cover religious studies during our homeschooling for cultural relevance, so this was a great way to have interest in Biblical events sparked in a more organic matter. I’m sure if we knew more about the Bible we would get even more out of it. For any family learning Biblical history, this is a great game to either start those rabbit trails for further research, or to reinforce what has already been learned. That being said, it is a good game on its own. The educational value is simply an added bonus in my book.

Make sure to check out Portals and Prophets on Kickstarter for more information.

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