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Review: Portal of Heroes

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There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?

No, it’s not The Force, but an awakening of heroes and creatures from myths and fairy tales, summoned to save the land of Molthar from the evil wizard Ulfried.

Can you be the hero that Molthar needs to pry itself loose from Ulfried? Or will your opponents be the ones who claim the fortune and glory?

How To Play

In Portal of Heroes, your goal is to be the first to score 12 or more points through the activation of character cards. Each player begins with a small sheet representing their portal, which can hold two character cards. Once character cards are activated, they are removed from the portal and the player gains any abilities and victory points on the card.

The game’s bridge-sized cards come in two decks: one deck of pearl cards used as currency and the other deck of character cards used for special abilities and victory points.

A Portal with Character cards on it. Pearl cards above.

On your turn you’ll perform three of four actions:

  • Take one pearl card
  • Remove and replace all four pearl cards
  • Place one character card on your portal
  • Activate one character

As you gather pearl cards, you’ll soon have the right combination to activate one of the character cards on your portal. For example, you must play two pearl cards with the value 1 on them to activate the Dwarf card. Play those two value 1 pearl cards and activate the Dwarf card by turning it upside down. You’ve now scored 1 victory point and you also gain an ongoing special ability (explained below).

Play two 1-value Pearl cards to activate the Dwarf card.

Other character cards require you to have pairs (or three-of-a-kind or four-of-a-kind) of specific numbers, a sum of 7 or 10, three even or odd values, or a straight (three or five consecutive values) to be activated.

Once activated, character cards give you special abilities that affect game play. Continuing the Dwarf example, once activated he becomes a 1-value pearl for your use during the rest of the game. Some abilities are permanent (increasing hand size or number of actions) while others are one-time immediate actions (such as discarding one of your opponent’s characters from their portals).

Now that you have a Dwarf activated, you can use it to activate other cards.

Certain character cards also contain a diamond icon, which means a player will draw a character card from the deck, but keep it face down (showing the diamond). On a later turn the player may cash in this diamond to increase a pearl card by one. Thus, a player can turn a 3-value pearl card into a 4 by playing their diamond.

Unicorn has been activated. Player draws a diamond card from the character deck.

After a player has taken their three actions, the next player proceeds with their turn. Play continues until someone has activated a total of 12 or more points worth of character cards, then one final round is played. The highest total score wins.

Jump in the Portal or Pass?

Portal of Heroes is reminiscent of the modern classic Splendor with its simple engine-building mechanism and set collection, but it adds a little take-that for good measure. Both games share a familiar starting point: in Splendor players begin by collecting different colored gems to use for purchasing victory point cards and qualifying for bonus points. Likewise, players in Portal of Heroes start off by gathering different valued pearl cards to activate their characters from their portals, which ultimately result in victory points.

Splendor is more of a pure engine-builder, though, as players collect cards to help them gain victory points; Portal of Heroes adds special abilities so that players have a few more options each turn and aren’t simply accumulating victory points. For example, activating the Flying Monkey card increases your hand limit for the rest of the game, giving you better chances that you’ll soon hit that perfect combination of cards to activate your characters.

To activate the Flying Monkey, play three pearl cards whose sum is 10. Turn it over upon activation and your hand limit is now six instead of five.

There are also a few cards that give you a chance to perform a little take-that sorcery on your opponents. Activate the Medusa card, which allows you to immediately discard one character from an opponent’s portal, and watch as your opponent groans in frustration when you take away their chance at big points or new abilities.

These special abilities were what I liked most about the game. One-time and permanent abilities such as extra pearl cards, extra actions, or allowing you to look at the next character card were simple ways to add options without making things complicated. I never felt overwhelmed by the abilities I was adding and they usually helped me get closer to the final victory point total.

Unfortunately, the iconography isn’t entirely intuitive so you’ll be referring to the rulebook more often than you’d like to figure out what each character does. After a few games everything’s easier to understand, but it may be a barrier to new players.

The iconography takes some time to understand: Play three even-numbered pearl cards to activate the card on the left. Play three odd-numbered pearl cards to activate the card on the right.

Like other card games, the luck of the draw may influence your opinion of Portal of Heroes. Players with a bad run of cards will bemoan their fates, especially when their opponents are seemingly taking all of the pearl cards they need to activate their character cards. You can always draw a new character card to replace the one you’re working toward, but sometimes there’s no denying that your opponent is simply outdrawing you.

Thankfully, the game is light and there’s barely any down time, thanks to its quick and simple turns: you take three actions, usually drawing cards and using any abilities you’ve acquired through your activated character cards. It’s a solid little game at the two- and three-player counts and takes about 30 minutes to play. I wouldn’t recommend the game for four- or five-player counts since it’ll overstay its welcome; once you hit 45-minute mark you’ll be wishing for the game’s end.

Portal of Heroes is a good choice as a filler for two or three players. It’s easy to learn and has just enough meat on its bones to keep you engaged. It’s a bit clunky as you learn the iconography, but its low price point makes it something that could fit into most gamers’ collections as an easily transportable title to start or end a game night. 

iSlaytheDragon thanks Mayfair Games for providing a copy of Portal of Heroes for review.

  • Rating 7
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Summary

Pros

Easy to learn
Great as a filler or gateway-plus game

Cons

Iconography can be confusing at first
Overstays its welcome at higher player counts

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