Porta Nigra

Porta Nigra 1

Theme and What is it?

Porta Nigra is a game I really enjoyed. The buildings are easy to use, the design makes the gameplay thoughtful, though not frenetic. And frankly it just was enjoyable.

The premise is simple enough. You are a master builder in the Roman city of Porta Nigra. You cannot be everywhere at once, and you can only order your workers to buy stone when you are in the section of the city that has the stone factory or quarry of the color you wish to have. Moreover, there can be up to three other master builders, all vying for the same beautiful building spots. This becomes problematic because some spaces are worth more than others, naturally.

It is almost a real estate game, but not. It is much more a worker placement game if your workers were stones that could never be moved again, like the meeple farmer’s of Carcassonne.

Gameplay Mechanics

The game is divided like quarter hours on a clock, 4 distinct areas of the city, with 5 different colored quarries, 4 in the quarters, and one wild quarry with white stone, which acts as white or any color. The master builder must requisition stone for towers that must be built around the city. Each quarter of the city has all 5 colors of tower that will be built, therefore in order to build in all areas, your master builder must move from one area to the next, and he can only get the stone in the area in which he currently stands. Each movement costs one coin, and to move in all areas, one must spend one coin, per area passed.
This means that the game is a mixture of forward planning, and economy management.
Where the game is interesting to me, is that once a tower is built, it is done, absent a special ability to add to it. This only matters in one area of the game where height of tower matters at the end of the game.

Initial Impressions

At a glance, I thought the game seemed simplistic. Buy stone, save stone, build tower, rinse, repeat.

This oversimplifies the game because although that is the mechanic, it takes a whole lot more planning than building towers willy nilly. Stone is also a finite resource that is replenished through a card mechanic are varying amounts throughout the game, making each building session quite different. I was drawn to the art, and the building pieces just seemed to fit perfectly for the game.

Quality of Components and Insert

The building pieces, or stone are fantastic tower sections that are just made to build. It’s the tabletop version of building blocks for children. The city is a bit boring, until the towers start taking over. The towers are not an afterthought, they ARE the game and the entire game was built around the ability to grow your city. Once the game starts, as does the artistry.
The blocks are in a separate internal box, that fits them perfectly, and make for a makeshift storage place during the game.

Artistic Direction

As previously alluded to, this game is built around the stone tower pieces. The actual board is open squares, and ground. It is in and of itself, a bit plain. However, if you can get past the opening of the box, this game shines when you start putting the towers down. It really feels like a town is being built, and that you are building it. The game is the art, rather than the game having art, and this is what makes me really fond of the art style, it is reminiscent of Santorini.
Art being the game, is not new. It is however, done in a unique and beautifully crisp manner in Porta Nigra. I’m sold on the art.

Fun Factor

If it hasn’t been apparent, I like this game, and it’s art.

For me, it is just fun, I like the permanent decisions and the locking away of those decisions to yourself, and competitors. As with most games that do this, there are hidden end game points that take a few times playing to understand. However, once you get it, they just make sense.

Difficulty and age range suggestion

The game officially supports 12+ age range.
I would say that there are many kids much younger, possibly down to 8, that could understand and play, if encouraged and helped.
For an adult, the game is not difficult, as with most strategic euro’s the design is clean, and non-confrontational. The difficulty for an adult is not the game, but rather the strategy and learning what works.


The game, as you may have guessed is a game I just like. I cannot pinpoint what I like, apart from the fact that the art is the game. It is not flashy in the box, or even when the game is setup, but it is beautiful when it is played.

You owe it to yourself to play a few times, it just feels nice building the towers, and seeing what your town of Porta Nigra will look like.

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