Take yourself to Portugal to build the famous riverfront in this gorgeous tile-laying game
All the way back in 2019 before the world went mad, Jess and I were lucky enough to go to Essen Spiel and it was absolutely amazing. We took a few hundred euros to spend on games and went crazy. With our very last Euros we took a punt on Porto, a beautiful and intricately illustrated card drafting and tile laying game (although based on the box itself I thought it would be a ridiculously heavy Euro-game along the same lines as Lisboa!), and it turned out to be one of the best of the 21 games we bought at the event.
Set in the beautiful harbour of Porto, players are building houses that adorn the riverfront in the Ribeirinha neighbourhood, by drafting colour cards from the display and playing them cleverly to score points as the tableau takes shape.
How the game works
The gameplay is ridiculously simple, on your turn you can do one of two things:
Take cards from the display of available cards. As long as the total value of cards you take doesn’t exceed 3, you can take what you want. Value 3 cards are better than 2s and 1s, but only allow you to take one card at a time, so a mix is good.
Play cards from your hand to construct floors on the Porto harbour. Each time you perform this action, you must play two cards from your hand. You use one of the cards as the colour of the floors you’re placing, and the other as the number of floors. For example a Purple 3 and a Red 1 would allow you to place either 3 red floors or 1 purple floor.
The floors you build on a turn have to all be in the same building and you can’t have two buildings of the same colour next to each other. Also you can’t build more floors than there are on the board (otherwise where would the roof go?!) so sometimes you’ll need to use smaller numbered cards to finish off a house.
In theory placing 3 floors is better than 1 as it should get you more points, but how do you score points? Well this is where it gets interesting because points can be scored in a variety of ways and if you strike at the right time the combinations can be pretty devastating. You score points for how many floors are now in the house you’re building, and also for how many floors there are adjacent to the tiles you just placed, and you also score bonuses for starting off a new house and for finishing off houses. Plenty to think about.
The best moves are the ones where you finish off an already high-up building which has lots of floors in adjacent buildings.
In addition to this you can collect points from public contracts. These all relate to you building floors, and you gain them as soon as you complete them on your turn. For example one contract might be to play a yellow and a purple card together (2 points), another might be to build 3 red floors in the same turn (2 points), or to finish off a blue building (2 points). There are always four on offer at any one time, you should try and base your turn off these because generally speaking the more you get throughout the game the better your chances of winning.
The final way of scoring points is at the end of the game through private contracts. These can be pretty tricky to achieve, especially in higher player count games as there are so many people collectively building things and you all need different combinations of buildings! The private objectives sometimes need coloured buildings in certain orders, or one of each colour building, one building on each side of the harbour of the same colour and height, all sorts. You each pick 3 out of 5 at the start of the game and hope to God the other players don’t ruin them for you along the way.
As a group once you’ve completed a certain number of buildings (different depending on player counts) the game ends and at that point you reveal and count up your private contracts and determine the winner (usually me).
There is nothing bad to say about Porto. It’s a real shame that it isn’t available to buy in the UK as Jess and I both think it’s a smashing game. It’s ludicrously simple to learn (you only have two actions for goodness sake!) yet the depth of tactics and trying to second guess your opponents within those two actions is very cool. For example when taking cards, you might take them because you think you can complete a public contract next turn, but what if someone else gets there first and you wasted a turn? Or If you place 3 green tiles on that house, you could finish it off next turn for 15 points but WHAT IF SOMEONE ELSE GETS THERE FIRST?! Brilliant stuff.
Another thing I love is the way it looks. The box art is amazing as are the board & houses, and the cards are very high quality material. The pictures on them really give the feel of a Portuguese seaside town, with washing lines strung out between houses, flowers on the balcony and amazing pastel colours everywhere.
The point scoring will at first seem complex when you learn the rules but it really isn’t tricky, and the little reference cards are super helpful for reminding yourself on the first few turns. I love that it rewards you for building next to already built houses, because players then compete to cash in before the others, possibly sacrificing their own private contracts for that quick buck.
The best thing about Porto (except for perhaps that gorgeous artwork), is the way you’re always invested in the game, even when it’s not your turn. In so many games you take your turn and then you sit back and wait for everyone else to do their thing (and if you’re playing with Joel you’ll be waiting a lifetime), while you plot your next move. In Porto, because you’re constantly keeping an eye on goings on you need to be in the game the whole time. The public objectives (what can I complete on my next turn and will Jess steal it off me etc.), the cards on display to be picked up (I could really do with getting that Green 2, but wait, what is Jess planning to do with that Red 1) and the houses themselves (how can I can get a green house next to a yellow house but also get that 4 bonus point token, and where is Steph going to build with that pair of red cards she picked up last turn etc.), there’s always something going on.
It doesn’t outstay its welcome either, a quick 45 minute game with minimal set up and put away. I even love the very strange selection of player colours which I’d like to see more of in games (you have a choice of white, grey/silver, brown or fluorescent pink!). With a wide variety of public and private contracts there’s plenty of replayability as well and I can’t see you settling on one tactic across all the games you play of it.
I can’t think of anything bad to say about the game itself, so here is my only complaint. Why can’t I buy this game in the UK?! We were lucky to get a copy at Essen in 2019, but for love nor money I cannot source a copy for my parents who love the game. It’s a shame as I think the game would do very well in the UK as it ticks all the right boxes.
Great game, highly recommended!