Portal of Heroes is a game that checks a lot of boxes on my ‘I’m a sucker for’ list. It’s a small-box game with minimal components that cleverly makes use of cards in multiple ways. The art is vibrant and the gameplay is quick and easy to pick up, featuring a good mix of strategy and randomness. Add to that the fact that it’s portable and filler-length, and what you have is a no brainer addition to my standard game night load-out.
Portal of Heroes is a card game that focuses on set collection as its primary mechanic. There are two kinds of cards – Pearl cards, which show number values between 1 and 8, and Character/Diamond cards (depending on which side they are face up). Pearl cards are used to activate Characters, while activated Characters give victory points and often powers besides. We’ll get to Diamonds later.
Setup is simple enough – shuffle both decks separately and place a few cards of each face-up in an offer. Each player gets a titular portal mat, with space to hold 2 Characters, and a handful of Pearl cards to start.
The goal of Portal of Heroes is to be the player with the most points, with 12 triggering the end-game. Each turn, players will take 3 actions, selected from a list of 4 possible choices:
- Take a Pearl card from the offer, replacing it immediately
- Wipe the offer of Pearl cards, replacing them all
- Place a Character on one of your two Portal spaces, reserving it for your use
- Activate a Character on your Portal by spending Pearls
Each unique Character card has a combination of Pearls which are needed to activate it; sometimes, these are specific numbers, while other times they are types of card combinations (3 even cards, 2 pairs, a straight, etc.).
By gathering and spending the right combination, you can activate one of the Characters you’ve moved to your Portal. This moves the card off your Portal, flips it 180 degrees, and activates the lower half of the card. Most cards give you points once active, while many also give you either immediate use or persistent powers, or possibly Diamonds.
The immediate powers might be extra actions or extra cards, while the persistent powers are fairly varied, like using a given Pearl card as wild, increasing your hands size, giving you a discount of a Pearl value for future card activations, or even permanently increasing your number of per-turn actions.
Diamonds, which are just Character cards face-down, can be spent to increase the value of Pearl cards when you are activating a Character. That can be incredibly useful when luck just isn’t on your side and you can’t seem to draw that number you so desperately need to complete a set.
Getting a persistent power can be integral in forming your strategy going forward, though there are certainly occasions when you may get a power that does nothing to aid your immediate situation. However, as the game goes on and your extra actions or discounts start to stack up, it can be really fun to see how big plays happen that wouldn’t be possible in the early game.
That said, Portal of Heroes does have one or two minor shortcomings worth noting. First is the endgame itself – it sometimes comes on very quickly, especially since Characters which give good persistent powers generally don’t give points, so it is possible for one player to fill up on the empty calories of easy-to-score Characters and barrel toward the end of the game while everyone else is till setting up their engine. Of course, this is mitigated by the fact that the available Characters are limited, so all players have to form their strategies on the current offer, rather than go in with a decision of how they will play.
Another your-mileage-may-vary criticism is that, despite what we just said about strategy, it is entirely possible that a combination of bad luck and bad Character options will leave you stalled for a bit while you shuffle your hand, sweeping the board of Pearls while you hunt for the cards you need. We found this to be particularly frustrating at high player counts, as players would mill through the Pearl deck looking for an 8 while the rest of us sat there and watched cards we wanted get discarded.
Lastly, until you learn the iconography, you will find yourself referencing the rules sheet. But the symbols are fairly intuitive and there are relatively few of them, making this a note more than a critique.
These points aside, I think Portal of Heroes is an excellent little filler. It’s simple and engaging, providing a good helping of fun despite its small size. For a filler on the go, Portal of Heroes is just right.
(Gameosity received a review copy of this title. We were not otherwise compensated.)