Overview: How do you feel about getting a job offer to be a tour guide? This just isn’t your normal tour to guide, though. You are going to need to be pretty handy with a time machine too! The Alpha and Omega Time Traveling Company wants to hire a new time traveling tour guide- and you made the short list! All you have to do is compete with the other finalists for the job. This is the premise of Portals and Prophets.
We were happy to be a backer of the successful Portals and Prophets Kickstarter campaign. The theme seemed engaging and entertaining. Our only hesitation here was that many board games that use Biblical themes seem to lack in the game-play category, and overall aren’t always captivating. Well, Portals and Prophets seemed like it had a chance to defy the odds. What did we think of it?
How We Review: As with any of our reviews, we put the game to the test with no less than 10 play testers, both male and female, as well as a wide age range (teens to 50+). Our evaluation is based on 10 criteria, including clarity of instructions, innovation, artwork, and fun!
Game Contents: This game includes a Game Board Map of the Ancient Biblical World, 1 Rule Book, 98 Historical Event Cards, 10 Bonus Cards, 10 Player Pawns, 3 Portals, 1 Time Capsule, and 1 Fuel Tracker. Of course, this all comes packaged in a nice box.
How To Play The Game: In short, the goal of the game is to be the player with the most victory points at the end of the game. To do so, you must balance your combination of actions between traveling around on the map, traveling through time, managing your fuel levels, drawing and playing cards, and wisely setting up your bonuses for later use. Points are earned throughout the game by playing cards (sighting historical events) at the right location on the map during the right era of time. Portals and Prophets is for 2-5 players.
The game has a continual progression. Each round, the time machine moves forward one era (through the OT eras), until it reaches the NT. Nothing slows down the progression, so the game keeps moving. Once you have entered in the NT era (or possibly before depending on the circumstances) the game will soon come to an end. Even though the time machine constantly moves forward, the right amount of fuel will allow you to hop around to nearby centuries to witness the events that you need to for scoring.
On your turn, you may complete four actions. Once completed, your turn is over. There is moving 1 space, playing 1 card, and drawing 1 card. You may complete any number of either action for a total of four. A lot of strategy comes into play in managing your actions, and planning ahead to the next round. Overall, the game-play is smooth and simple to understand, but there are tons of variation and strategy involved.
An Interview With The Designer:
We reached out to the designer, Andrew Harmon, who was happy to answer a few questions about his game.
Q: What inspired the concept of this game?
In 2014 I visited Israel and saw many of the places I had read about in the Bible, but most sites had become quite touristy. There were so many people and shrines it was often difficult to imagine what the place would have been like at the time of the biblical events – if only I could travel back in time to when those events actually occurred. That was the seed that planted the idea for Portals and Prophets.
Q: Do you consider this game an educational tool to increase Bible knowledge, or mostly just a fun game that happens to have a Biblical backdrop?
Whenever I design games I try to create something I would want to play repeatedly. If a game isn’t fun, few people will play it by choice based on its educational value alone. They certainly won’t play it over and over again.
First and foremost the game had to be fun. However, as a Christian and geography nerd, part of what made the game intriguing to me were those aspects of the game. It was important to me that those elements were also there, and as a result made the game an educational tool that will increase Bible knowledge, whether you know anything about the Bible or not.
Q: How did you determine the point value per card? Some events that seem most pivotal and most familiar have lower points than lesser-known incidents. Are more points assigned for the difficulty of locating the event in the Scripture?
This is a great question. The point value is purely a game balancing mechanism. I came up with an system for assigning point values that I felt best equalized the value of each card. If popular events in the Bible were all given high point values it would make an unbalanced game experience.
Some factors I considered were the location of the event and how many other cards were in or close to the same century that were also in the same or neighboring location. I also accounted for the number of symbols on the card. Cards with less symbols were in general given a higher point value. I also made the older cards slightly more valuable. This encouraged players to activate the fuel boost more often in order to play older cards. I wanted to encourage the fuel boost to be used often because that element of the game provided some of the most memorable and interactive moments in the game.
Q: How long did it take to perfect your game concept and working design? How long have you been developing this project overall, from concept to production?
While the premise of the game was mulling in my head in 2014, I didn’t create the first prototype until the Fall of 2015. I did a lot of preliminary play testing over the holidays, and continued play testing over the next two years. In 2017 I began thinking about how I wanted to produce this game, and in November of 2017 I launched a successful Kickstarter campaign and began production and fulfillment, which was completed in July of 2018.
Q: How did you build interest in this game prior to your Kickstarter campaign?
Several people had play tested the game throughout the design process and were already promoting the game. Facebook was a huge enabler and brought a lot of awareness to what I was doing.
Q: What was the most challenging part of making the game?
The marketing and production side is the area I find most difficult. This was the first game I had mass produced and the idea of working with a manufacturer, shipping company, and multiple fulfillment centers was daunting. Thankfully the manufacturer, Bang Wee Games, was so helpful, as well as everyone else I worked with that it ended up being a much smoother process than I was expecting!
Q: How long did it take you to make the game from start to finish?
The design took place over 2 years and the finalizing of art, manufacturing, and fulfilling of games took 6 months to complete.
Q: Are you planning on making more games in the future, or expanding PNP?
I’m always designing new games, and I’m also working on a cooperative variant for Portals and Prophets which is shaping up to provide an incredible game experience.
Q: What was your favorite and least favorite part of making your game?
Just like many things the first 90% of the design process is the most enjoyable because the idea is fresh, and there are so many things to try and directions to take the game. It’s that last 10% that can be difficult – sticking with a game you’ve played hundreds of times to perfect it, when you constantly have fresh ideas for new games running around inside your head!
Q: Where can you buy the game if you missed out on the Kickstarter Campaign?
Q: Where can I learn more about the game?
Our website has a lot of information about the game. You will find the rules as well as several videos that will help you better understand how to play.
Q: Were there any rules or concepts that you considered that didn’t make the final cut?
Early in the design all the players were traveling through time in their own time machine. It became clear that by putting everyone in the same time machine, player’s actions more directly affected other players, so ultimately we changed this to provide more player interaction.
Q: If you wouldn’t mind, please tell me a little about yourself.
Sure! My name is Andrew Harmon. I’m 29 years old and live in Kalamazoo, MI with my wife and daughter who was born right in the middle of the production of Portals and Prophets. I work as a video editor during the day, and my evenings are usually filled designing games, painting, dabbling in 3D modeling and animation, playing the piano or guitar, and spending time with my family and friends.
Q: Who else, if anyone, helped you with this game?
My dad was the one that got me interested in gaming as a child, and was always happy to talk through my latest game design ideas. We often spent hours discussing what worked and what didn’t in play test sessions. My wife was also incredibly supportive and helpful through the whole process, both in the design stage, and also the crowdfunding and production phase. I’m also very thankful to the dozens of people who took the time to play the game and provide feedback throughout the entire design process.
Q: Is there anything that you want our readers to know about your game?
One thing I love about Portals and Prophets is that it is a game just about anyone can enjoy. It is simple enough a new gamer can get into it, but provides enough strategy to keep avid players engaged. It’s easy to setup and can be played in under an hour.
It is also one of the few Bible themed games that isn’t trivia based, and is actually fun to play. While you learn things about biblical geography and history as you play, the goal was to make a great game, and I think that comes through as you play.
What We Thought:
- The title is catchy, and making the O’s look like portals was a nice touch.
- Gameplay was easy to learn and you can catch on quickly.
- The Biblical history and map were engaging and presented well.
- The various bonuses and other scoring possibilities at the end of the game were a good addition and keeps everyone within an arm’s reach of being competitive.
- Gameplay was smooth, and turns play well.
- Good opportunities for strategy for more “dedicated” players, and still fun and relaxed for more “leisurely” players.
- Some players really liked the artwork, while others were not a big fan. Those who weren’t fans specifically didn’t like a few facial expressions on some of the characters. Overall, most thought the artwork was at least fine.
- One question that some players had was about discarding cards. (In the game you can have no more than 7 cards in your hand). Does that mean 7 cards before or after playing your cards?
- Another question was seeking clarification about playing fuel cards. We assumed, judging by the overall layout of the game, that you can only play fuel cards on your own turn. However, there was some question about when you were and were not permitted to play fuel cards, and when your turn if officially over.
Comments from our Reviewers:
“I love this game. It dynamically combines strategy, chance, and purpose, while educating players on Biblical history and geography. Excellent! I particularly appreciate the focus on each specific century, and the gameboard map. I am concerned that perhaps players may fixate only on the century, location, and point value, rather than to also enjoy the content of each card and Scriptural descriptions of the events. Otherwise, I very strongly recommend this game.”
“This is a great game. The rules are easy to pick up, and the game play is relaxing and smooth. You have plenty of options as a player to base your moves and strategy on. Also, the end reward system keeps all players engaged in the game. You can play as “simply” or as “strategic” as possible.”
“You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to enjoy playing this game. But it does bring the Bible to life in a fun way!”
“Inventive and fun!”