Porta Nigra: An Essen 2015 smash hit

Porta Nigra

  • Designer: Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling
  • Artist: Michael Menzel
  • Publisher: Pegasus Spiele, Eggert Spiele, Stronghold games
  • Player count: 2-4
  • Play time: 75-120 minutes
  • Mechanics: Area control / Area influence, resource management, action programming, hand management

The largest Roman city north of the Alps in the late Roman Empire was Augusta Treverorum. Founded in the times of Caesar Augustus and built up by generations of Roman architects, this was the Emperor’s residence and a world city during this period. The remains of these most impressive structures can still be visited today. Foremost of these great achievements in the city is the massive “Porta Nigra”, a large Roman city gate located in Trier, Germany that dates to the 2nd century.


In Porta Nigra, players take on the role of master builders who move around the board buying bricks and building parts of 4 great structures in the city of Trier. Each player starts our with a master builder which they place in one of the 4 quadrants of the game board. They also start with 5 workers (out of a total 15), 20 cash and one torch token. Each player has an identical deck of action cards containing 8 cards. Players always have a hand of 2 of these cards available and when it’s their turn, they choose on of the two.porta-nigra  The card shows the possible actions of the card as well as the number of actions a player can choose. With his three action markers he selects an amount of actions equal to the torches on the card. Torch tokens can be used to do extra actions of that card, but never more then the available actions on the card. There are 4 different action types on a card.

  1.  Money: Take the amount of coins equal to the depicted icon from the bank
  2. influence token: Take one influence token from the supply
  3. Build. Build in your current section (or pay one money for each quadrant that you move clockwise.
  4. Buy bricks. If the symbol is colored you can buy that type of brick if you’re in the right area (or move same as above). If ? then buy any type of brick if you’re in the correct spot. White bricks can always be acquired, regardless of your place on the board. If for some reason the colored brick is not available anymore, treat it as a ? symbol.

The brick supply is refilled each time the total available bricks reaches a number lower then 7 at the beginning of a player’s turn. For this you use the 10 supply cards, refilling till at least 14 bricks are in the market.

There is a supply of 12 available honour cards, which can be bought paying the appropriate amount of influence tokens (depicted on the card). These give varying immediate bonuses such as free bricks, extra build actions, money or torch tokens. Some of the cards also function as building cards or offer greater bonuses for completed sets of building cards. I’ll touch on that a bit next.

When you build, it is possible to obtain building cards. The board is divided into 4 quadrants, each representinportanigrag a different prominent building in Trier. You score end of game points by having majorities in each section of the city. In a player’s turn, there are always 6 building cards on display. These show one of the 4 buildings and a colored brick. If you build in that section, using those color bricks, you take the card. There is a set collection aspect, where you can score up to 20 points for a full set of 4 different buildings. Each spot on the board is linked to a color, so you can only build there using that color. White is an exception, apart from white it can be used of bricks in any other color as well. When you build, place one of your workers on the top brick, so you can distinguish who the owner is. Each section also has a bonus action associated. Each time the total of bricks you build in a certain area reaches a multiplier of three, you can take this bonus action.

Once all players used their 8 cards (or 7 in a 4 player game) we have an intermediate scoring round. Players count up their bricks built and double the amount. This can be divided into money and victory points at your own choice. The player with the least points gets to pick the new start player for the second (and final) round. Once the players played all their cards a second time, the game ends and points are scored for majorities, building cards and resources you have left. The game can end in two different ways as well. Either if the bricks run out or one player uses up all his workers. During my plays though, this has not yet occured.

The Review:

I like to start my reviews by talking a little bit about the components and general looks of the game. Porta Nigra is illustrated by Michael menzel and that shows. He has a very recognisable style which I find very pleasing to the eye. This is no exception. I absolutely love the bricks used in the game, it’s lovely to see a whole 3D setup at game end. I am less enthusiastic about the rest of the components though. The money and other cardboard tokens are pretty small and thin. I’ll be replacing the money with some spare parts from another game. I’ve demoed this game during Essen this year for stronghold games and one of the comments we often got was: Why are all the bricks grey. Why not use colored ones? While I understand the sentiment and agree it would have looked cool, I get why they didn’t. The game comes with 90 bricks. If we included all 5 colors, this amount would have been a lot higher. This would have driven production costs through the roof so I think it’s a good decision on the publishers part.

I’m a big fan of the action selection mechanism in this game. It seems you don’t have a lot of choice with only 2 cards in front of you, but the constantly changing board state makes for a lot of interesting decisions. The extra torch tokens go a long way in adding at least a bit of control for the player. The area majority scoring, different in each region, is also a very nicely worked out concept. Especially the Black Gate itself can be a goal in and of itself. I just finished a game where one player built 8 white bricks there for a total of 77 points! As much as I like the collecting of the building cards, I really didn’t care much for the honor cards that increased the point value of complete sets. That might be just me though. Replayability can be an issue I think, as there isn’t much variability in the setup.

The play time on the box seems a bit long to me. Usually we finish a 4 player game in just a bit over 90 minutes. A perfect time for a game of this medium weight.

I’m a big Kramer and Kiesling fanboy, so Porta Nigra was one of the games to watch for me this year. I’m very happy to have picked it up and it will stay in my collection for now. I even got to meet Mr Kramer at the stronghold booth this year, together with his wife. They gave me a very nice compliment which makes the game hold a bit of sentimental value as well. Even though it’s not my favorite of the duo (that would be Coal baron if you wanted to know) I think they delivered a real gem that deserves a bit more attention then it has been getting.

Final Verdict: 8/10

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