Portals and Prophets Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 10 and up
  • For 2 to 5 players
  • Approximately 60 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Travel through time to witness history and faith unfold

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Jamaican-born political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator, Marcus Garvey, said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Suggesting that to know who you really are, you must also know from where you and your family came from. What if you could travel through time to see the past in the present? In this game you can, connecting dots and faith through the centuries.

Portals and Prophets, designed by Andrew Harmon and published by Harmon Games, is comprised of one game board, 10 pawns (in five different colors, two per color), 3 Geography Portal discs, 18 Genesis cards, 75 Old Testament cards, 22 New Testament cards, 5 Portal cards, 1 Time Machine marker, and 1 Fuel marker. The game board is  made from sturdy cardboard. The cards are as thick and as durable as your standard playing card. The pawns, discs, and markers are made of wood. Illustrations, also by Andrew Harmon and adapted from previous work, do a good job of furthering the game’s theme and narrative.

Prepping for [Time] Travel

To set up the game, first place the game board in the middle of the playing area.

Second, take the Genesis cards, shuffle, and deal three to each player face-down. Any remaining Genesis cards are returned to the game box. These cards go into the player’s hand.

Third, take the Portal cards and deal one to each player face-up. This card does not go into the player’s hand. It should remain in front of the player on the table until used. Any remaining Portal cars are returned to the game box.

Fourth, take the Old and New Testament cards, shuffle each deck separately, and place face-down on the game board on their designated spots. These are the Old and New Testament draw decks for the duration of the game. Draw the top five cards from the Old Testament draw deck and place face-up on the five spaced found on the game board.

Fifth, take the Time Machine marker on the Genesis space on the timeline track found on the game board and place the Fuel marker on the “Low” space on the Fuel Boost track found on the game board.

Sixth, place the three Portal markers on the game board (suggested spots are provided) on any geographical area and have each player select a pawn color. Each player places one pawn on the “Start” space of the scoring track found on the game.

Seventh, determine who will be the first player and have that player place their second pawn on any geographical space on the game board, including a spot with a portal. In turn order sequence, have each player place their pawn, as well. No two pawns can occupy the same geographical location.

That’s it for game set up. Time to travel to the past and watch history unfold.

Past-Present

Portals and Prophets is played in rounds and turns with no set number of rounds per game. On a player’s turn, they can take one of four actions. The available actions are summarized here. Players can repeat any of the actions and take them in any order.

Action: Draw a Card

This action allows the player to select any of face-up cards on the game board or draw the top-most face-down card from the Old Testament or New Testament draw deck. The deck the card can be drawn from is determined by the current Time Machine marker location on the track. The card drawn is placed in the player’s hand. If a face-up card is drawn, it’s immediately replaced by a card from the appropriate draw deck.

A player’s hand cannot exceed seven cards. If the player draws a card that takes their total hand size to eight or more cards, they must discard down to seven cards or play a card from their hand to create fuel before taking their next action or ending their turn.

Action: Move Pawn

This action allows the player to move their pawn on the game board to any adjacent geographical location on the map or from one portal to another portal.

Pawns may not pass through or end their turn on any geographical location occupied by an opponent’s pawn.

Action: Play a Card

This action allows the player to play cards from their hand. However, a card can only be played if the player’s pawn currently occupies the noted geographical location and the Time Machine marker is occupying the right century. The player can optionally spend Time Machine fuel to reach the required century noted on the card.

A) Century/Testament
B) Time Machine fuel earned if discarded
C) Geographical location and Symbols
D) Points earned from playing the card

If the player does, they play the card in front of them, announce the card’s required location and century, giving their opponents an opportunity to verify the card is being played correctly. If the card has been played correctly, the player scores a number of points equal to the points noted on the played card. Points are tracked by moving the player’s pawn on the Score track. Played cards stay in front of the player for the duration of the game.

While moving a pawn from one geographical location to another is obvious, the time machine deserves a bit more explanation. Time will move the Time Machine marker forward at the end of every round. Players cannot stop this from happening (time marches on), but they can travel forward and backwards in time. To do so, they require fuel.

The Fuel Boost track starts at “Low”, meaning a player cannot travel forward or backwards in time. Players can discard cards from their hand to add fuel if the card they are discarding provides fuel. Exchanging cards for fuel is not considered an action and can be taken anytime during the player’s turn. For every point of fuel added, the Fuel marker is moved to the right one space. If the Fuel marker occupies a numbered space (one through three), that means the player can travel to the century that is an equal number of spaces backwards or forwards from the Time Machine marker’s current location. For example, if the Fuel marker was on the two spot, that means a player could travel to the 15th, 14th, 12th, or 11th century if the Time Machine marker was on the 13th century space. When the Fuel marker is on the “Full” space, the player can travel to any century.

Returning Home

When a player’s turn is over, the Fuel marker is returned to “Low”. The next player in turn order now takes their turn using the actions noted above.

After all the player’s have had a turn, the round ends. The Time Machine marker is moved forward to the next century, making it harder for players to travel to the past, but easier to travel to the future.

History, Relived

The endgame is triggered when any player successfully plays their third New Testament card. The round is completed, ensuring that all players have the same number of turns. Players now count their points.

  • Ten points are earned for every successful region set, where a set is considered one card from each of the five regions for a total of five cards.
  • Seven points are earned if a player has the most symbols of a specific type (players who tie for the most symbols get the full points).

A number of cards can be collected during the game that cannot be played, but are used at the end of the game to gain additional points.

Points earned are added to whatever points the player earned during the game. The player with the most points wins.

Game Variants

There are two additional ways to play the game. The first is to play the game in teams, where players combine their scores to determine which team wins the game. The second way removes the requirement to fuel the time machine. Players can travel through time effortlessly without restrictions (meaning players only need to have their pawn on the correct geographical location to play a card). However, the game ends when the Time Machine marker moves to the New Genesis space.

To learn more about Portals and Prophets, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks enjoyed the game, but didn’t grasp the game’s intent to “teach” while they played it. This element of the game play is so subtle that it requires someone to point out the religiously historical importance of events to the younger players before they even took notice. That being said, their total focus was on moving through time and space, allowing them to play cards to complete sets and gain points. Which they loved. According to one Child Geek, “I like how easy you can travel through time, but you have to make sure your time machine is gassed up or you’ll never go anywhere or see anything.” Another Child Geek, who was clued in on the religious historical significance of the events they were traveling to in the game, said “I like the fact that I can travel to these places and pretend to see the things I’ve heard about at church.” When all the young time travelers returned home, they voted to approve Portals and Prophets.

The Parent Geeks also found the game enjoyable, with those looking for more family friendly and religious-based games being the most excited. According to one such Parent Geek, “I normally find games that focus on religious themes to be subpar at best. It always feels like the game is an afterthought as the primary focus was marketing the Christian message. I found that not to be the case here. The game is a lot of fun to play, made me think strategically and tactically, while at the same time giving me many opportunities to discuss our faith with my children and family.” Another Parent Geek took a different approach, suggesting that “The game is good, but I don’t think it would work for those who are not religious or are not of the Christian faith.” Well, maybe. That is a personal choice. For example, I wouldn’t mind playing a game about Hinduism even though I don’t subscribe to its religious doctrine. I’d learn something in the process and might have fun if the game is entertaining. Which Portals and Prophets was, thus earning the Parent Geeks’ approval.

The Gamer Geeks didn’t take into account the game’s religious theme and instead focused on the game play. They found the rules of the game to be tight, the game play swift, and the strategy and tactics needed to win to be at an appropriate level. They also found the game to be too light, straightforward, and repetitive. According to one Gamer Geek, “The game is fine, just fine. It’s just not a game that I think has enough depth to be of interest to me past one play or to gaming elitists. There is not enough going on and the only real challenge is setting yourself up to play a card, which ultimately feels like more work than play.” Another Gamer Geek said, “Games like this were a lot of fun for me when I was first getting into the board gaming hobby. I would even suggest that this game is slightly more complicated than gateway game. For me, now, and the games I like to play, I found it to be too formulaic.” All that being said, all the Gamer Geeks agreed that Portals and Prophets was a well designed game, professionally produced, and did a good job of playing off its theme without making it super heavy-handed. They also agreed that the game was not for them.

Religious games tend to be more “miss” than “hit”. The only explanation I have for that is that either the game is putting too much emphasis on the game’s theme and not on the game play or the game designer just hasn’t come into their own yet. From what I have learned from my game designer friends and acquaintances, designing a game with a really strong theme is very easy. You just have to make sure the mechanics support the theme and narrative. However, just because it’s easy to match the guts of the game to its surface does not mean the game play is entertaining. For example, consider Candy Land. A game with a strong and easy to grasp theme. You are traveling in a land made fully of sweet confections. The rules to travel though this imaginary world are perfect. Roll and move, with a few choices to make along the way. The game play itself leaves a lot to be desired, despite the fact its mechanics work very well with the game’s theme.

Portals and Prophets is no Candy Land.

I was very impressed with how well the rule book was written, the mix of strategic and tactical game play that was there to be explored, and how the game was finally won through smart set collecting and resource management. It all points to a game designer who knew not only what experience they wanted their players to have, but also how they were to go about it. To me, this game is a good one. It’s not a challenge for me, but that does not and should not suggest if the game is “worthwhile”. What makes a good game is how it makes the players feel. Does it challenge them? Does it encourage them to take risks and explore? Does it require thinking?

Yes, Portals and Prophets does and it does it well.

If you are in the market for a religious-based game, you should take the time to play Portals and Prophets. For new and casual gamers, it’ll challenge and entertain. You might even learn something in the process.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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