Portal of Heroes is a game where you attempt to summon heroes through a portal by picking up cards of the appropriate number and filling the wantlist of a particular hero.
COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
5 small paper portal mats, 110 cards (characters and pearls)
GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
The middle of the board holds a Character deck (2 cards face-up), and a Pearl deck (4 cards face-up). Each player has a portal mat that can hold two heroes, and can hold 5 pearl cards in hand. On your turn, you get three actions, each of which can be any of:
*Draw a pearl card into your hand (face-up or topdeck)
*Draw a character card onto your portal mat (face-up or topdeck)
*Replace the four face-up pearl cards with four new ones from the deck.
*Activate a hero from your portal mat by discarding appropriate cards.
When activated, heroes will leave your mat and be worth a certain number of points, as well as possibly providing 1-time or permanent benefits. The end of the game is triggered when a player reaches 12 points, which immediately becomes the penultimate round, and then one final round of turns is played, after which whoever has the most points wins.
*Super-fast setup and teaching.
I love that this game is just a tiny box of two card decks, you shuffle each of the two decks and flip a few cards face-up and you're ready to go. The basic rules of the game, as you might suspect from the fact that you've just learned them under the preceding item, are very simple. There's just one rules caveat, mentioned under Bad points.
*Good variety of card abilities
Between the diamonds that let you manipulate values, the red cards that give you a one-shot boost such as extra actions or stealing a card from an opponent, and the blue cards that give you a permanent ability such as increased hand size or a free 8 when acquiring heroes, there are a nice range of character cards to play with.
*Surprisingly robust for a tiny game
Pretty much everyone I've played this with has enjoyed it, and been interested in playing again. The replay value seems pretty high between the various powers, the randomness of what's available, the chance to go straight for points cards or more for infrastructure cards, and the ability to try to confound opponents or just focus on your own board.
*Obscure iconography means lots of looking up abilities.
While the rules of the game are quite simple to learn, the specifics of what the symbols mean isn't. Learning the meanings of purchase requirements, such as == means pairs or that squiggly lines mean odd numbers, is not difficult. But the red and blue special abilities on some acquired heroes have a wide variety of things they do, and while some of them are fairly clear once you've played the game once, a) Nobody is going to understand them in their first game, and b) Some of them are still difficult to remember after the first game. Since thankfully no character cards are ever a secret, this can simply be looked up and announced to anyone whenever a card is revealed, but the necessity to do so is an annoyance.
*Bad Luck can sink you.
The 5-card hand limit means you can't just gather a bunch of cards to cover all possible character needs. You really need to be building towards the specific wants of the available characters, and if your pearl options don't match your character options, you may be in for a rough few turns -- although at worst you can sweep the number cards, then start drawing cards that match the characters on your mat, even if it means throwing others away.
Portal of Heroes is pretty much what I look for in a filler game -- Fast and easy to setup, teach, and play, and yet with enough interest that people are happy to play it on a somewhat regular basis while killing time in those game night gaps -- the fact that it works well at every number from 2p to 5p is just a bonus. This will join Splendor as a nice default option for "game while waiting for the other player to show up".
IS IT FOR YOU?
If looking up arcane iconography is going to bother you, or if you get easily frustrated by the possibility of getting stuck with a useless turn on a bad draw, maybe Portal of Heroes isn't your best option. Otherwise, while I don't expect it to become anyone's top favorite game ever, Portal of Heroes has some legs as a filler game with simple rules but a nice mix of luck and tactical play, with enough variety to offer solid replayability. Worth acquiring.