It is not easy to build a gateway, that shines with respect and simultaneously withstand the onslaught of invaders, even after several days. It needs to be properly high and wide, but the foundation of everything is stone. I am telling you this as a skilled master builder. The most vulnerable element are windows. In the lower floors, you should have primarily loopholes for archers and only higher can we afford to let more light in on the defensive troops. When you follow my advice, maybe even you will build a proper city gate sometimes.
One such was made in second century AD in Trier, Germany. Its name is Black Gate and its title was used also for board game. Porta Nigra in fact means exactly the same thing. Authors of the game is well known and popular duo Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. Their latest opus was published under the auspices of companies eggertspiele and Pegasus Spiele in 2015.
Box with unfinished gate and prancing horse with a supervisor is higher, than we are used in these classic dry euro games. Fortunately, these dimensions are justified, because the content reaches up to the edge and begins with twelve page rules, but there is also game board. Square on plan is full of construction sites, which constitutes of different fourth in a semicircle around the center, where is marketplace. Around the whole map winds victory points meter.
Among contents of the box are also four player boards with five arches, each in a different color to store built columns – each with different amount of coins drawn above it. Boards are distinguished by a small colored icon in the upper left corner. To these colors also belong victory point trackers as well as wooden Romans (fifteen for each) and one master builder cardboard character in a plastic stand. Cardboard figures, moreover, are not alone, because also tokens are made of it: torches, influence, coins of different values and supply tiles. For players are ready action cards, honor and above everything the reason, why the box is so high – stones representing ninety one building floors.
At the beginning of the game, players spread game board and put turn counter to zero. Each player chooses a color and gets his board, with action tokens and five Romans. Remaining pieces will create a supply next to the board.Players then mark zero point gain with one token on the scale and they get even a master builder character, together with a torch, twenty sestertia and deck of cards to draw two starting cards.
Most tokens and cards begin in piles next to the board. This does not apply for building cards, from which are six revealed to the top edge of the board. Conversely, down under the board will be located fourteen honor cards in two rows by seven. Besides the board has to be places pile of stones for construction. Each player puts his master builder into one district of his choice and game begins.
Game has a predetermined number of rounds, that can be two or three, depending on the number of players in the game. At the beginning of each of these rounds, players will replenish stones on the marketplace (if there is less, than seven) and all this according to randomly drawn supply card up to a number of 14 pieces. Stones are then placed in the appropriate space in the middle. Supply has to be done also for buildings and honor cards.
And then will player finally choose actions, whose selection always is decided by a card. There may be located several squares on it, but the number of torches in the bottom row shows, how many of them can player with his action tokens choose. Only by paying torch tokens, even more can be used. During turn, also influence actions may be used any time, but they have to be paid for with others tokens. Once the players takes all the actions he wants, he draws a new card from the deck and next in line starts playing.
But back to actions themselves. It is understandable, that stones added to the marketplace, must be purchased. Even before this trade happens, player must invite their master builder to oversee this purchase. If that character is in another district, he must be moved first and player has to spend one sestertia for each border crosed. With his help, player can then select one color (price is color-dependent as indicated on the player’s boards) and puts it under correspondingly colored arc.
Another action is of course building itself. To accomplish it, players can use already purchased construction segments in the number and combination prescribed by space on the board. Each specifies height, but also the color, that player must place t here. But he himself can choose, which district and space will he spread to. But again, he must first ensure supervision of master builder, who will once again be moved for a fee. Up on the roof of each building, player will put Roman soldier to watch tower for his master. For his efforts, player will be instantly rewarded with victory points depending on the space, but also possibly with some available construction cards, if he meets their requirements.
There is also possibility of supplementing own resources. A player can therefore get new influence token, torch or some coin amount from the bank for an action. As we have already touched, influence can be spent in other ways, for example to take another piece of Roman supplies or buy one honor card, that will add something. But there may also be cards on offer, that will influence final scoring.
At the end of each round, players count their laid building blocks and their number (multiplied by two with more participants) can be divided between sestertii income and victory points. Then, game continues with a second (and possibly third) round. Only at the end of the last one comes final scoring, which will bring rewards for building and honor cards, but also for all the remaining ingredients (sestertia, torches, influence, building stones, Romans). At the very end comes majority scoring in each quarter. Only after taking these points in account is know winner with the highest profit.
Porta Nigra is a game, in which we will build something again, but this time, this building is full of freedom feelings. Rules will not bind you with any restrictions or sequences. Once you get to action, it is simply up to you, in what order and what you want to do. This is not usual in other games.
With that, players can also expect other side of the blade, which already successfully started to carve fun for all of us. Game is filled with difficult decisions and choices. There is really a lot ways to gain points and it is up to the players, to whom and how much will they will pay. And that brings us back in curcuit to once mentioned freedom. Everything you buy, you may immediately use.
This game is simply result of good design. Basis of all are master builders and positional play with them. Without their supervisors, you actually can not do anything important. But because the game is inherently also about majority, you will have to keep pushing them around. And still, it’s also game about placement of workers, in this case actually just tokens (on action cards), because Romans pawns serve only as a marker of your color.
This makes us think about other great feature: action cards are interesting way to go through every round, making it thrilling. You always have a choice of two combinations, but they can often turn into very elegant combos. You can do purchase and immediately use the element to completely surprise opponents. And this is something players will appreciate as a source of great entertainment.
Although the rules are on first pages a little harder to read, as you get to the action part, everything becomes immediately clear. Overall, mechanisms throughout the game are absolutely logical and there is nothing, that should surprise you. Perhaps only more complicated and slower final scoring is the point, where the game may lose some of those positive signs.
The game crammed all this into just two or three rounds, in which participants surprisingly manage to do a lot of things. But this very limited number gives players only room to really focus on what matters. Despite its medium complexity, you can finish this game in four within ninety minutes. This time will not change significantly even with lower number.
Porta Nigra is not unnecessarily complicated and overcomplex. It has a clear meaning and very good gameplay, but there is not much room for direct rivalry. Players must find a long-term plan for the decisive final scoring, but also have to cleverly exploit potential combos and collect points along the way to the finish. Porta Nigra is simply a really interesting and fun game for all strategists.
Porta Nigra is a game about master builders, who have oversight of several buildings at the same time. It is not easy for them to leave their own signature on them and players have to do very good long-term planning to eventually collect most victory points of all. These can be obtained in numerous ways. Main element of the game is action round, where players have free hand in selecting and combining actions any way they like. Their number is limited and offer is bound to card played. Length of games corresponds to demands of the game, but is quite lenghty for two. Overall, however Porta Nigra is very good combination of worker-placement and majority game, that will please every true planner.