Reviewed by Herb Levy
PORTAL OF HEROES (Mayfair Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 45 minutes; $18)
The kingdom of Molthar has fallen prey to black magic and its resulting darkness. Players, as heroes, enter the home of a magician and, by crossing through a number of portals that reach into the kingdom, collect pearls and recruit creatures to lift the cloud that envelops the kingdom. Such is the world created in this card game by Johannes Schmidauer-Konig: Portal of Heroes.
Portals of Heroes is a fantasy card game that centers around two decks: Characters (recruited to gain powers and Power Points) and Pearls (used to gather those creatures to your cause). Each player also receives a “Portal” (play mat) with room to hold two Character cards at a time.
Pearl cards are shuffled with four placed in the center of the table. Then, from the shuffled Character deck, two Characters are displayed. On a turn, a player may do 3 actions from a menu of 4 possibilities (repeating the same action more than once if so desired):
Take one Pearl card (which is then immediately replaced).
Remove and replace all four Pearl cards currently on display.
Put one Character on your Portal.
Activate one Character on your Portal
Pearl cards display a number from 1 to 8. Character cards display either specific numbers (such as 6688) or symbols indicating a specific configuration (such as a pair, three of a kind, Pearl cards adding up to 10 etc.) to indicate what cards needed to be discarded to activate that specific Character. Activated Character cards are moved from the Portal to the side and will, most of the time, give a player Power Points. They may also grant special powers (which may be immediate or permanent) such as increasing a player’s allowable hand size (all begin have a hand limit of 5 Pearl cards), granting extra actions and more. When you can use these permanent actions is shown by moon symbols on the card. Characters will sometimes, grant the activating player diamonds too.
The reverse of all Character cards shows a diamond. A player may use a diamond to RAISE the value of a Pearl card by one. (Only 1 diamond per Pearl card is allowed.) So, if you need that 6688 for a Character and you are holding 6687 and a diamond, you can use that diamond to raise that 7 to a second 8 and activate that Character.
The game continues until one player has managed to amass 12 Power Points. That round is completed so that everyone has an equal number of turns. Then, the final round commences where everyone gets one last turn. At the conclusion of the final round, the player with the most Power Points wins! (Tied? Then the player holding the most diamonds is the victor.)
The artwork here captures the otherworldly feel well. Numbers on the cards are large and the centers are uniquely colored for each number. It would have been a good idea, though, to carry that unique coloring to the numbers on the card edges so they can be easily seen when you are holding a hand of them. Many icons are used in the game and, while they are well explained in the rules, some of them seem counter-intuitive. (The symbol for a pair, for example, is used twice to indicate NOT two pairs but three of a kind.) It would have been nice to have a play aid for each player to minimize rules sheet consultation.
Although the game will play with the specified number of five players, card displays can (and do) shift radically from turn to turn. As players are added, more chaos is introduced and the balance between skill and luck skews more and more towards luck. This may not be a bad thing if you’re looking for a family friendly free for all but those preferring more control would do better to limit players to no more than three. In face, we have found Portal of Heroes to be superb for two players. – – – – – Herb Levy
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