It’s currently available in German, but as it is language independent (there are only numbers and icons on the cards) it is not a problem. The small rulebook is available to download in English.
Designed by Johannes Schmidauer-König, Molthar says for ages 10+ on the box but you could probably go a little lower. The cards do have a variety of special abilities, represented by icons, but there’s not a huge range of them. In terms of game length, its about 30-60 minutes depending on the player count.
The game also hits that ‘2-5 players’ sweet spot for publishers; and I’m pleased to say it does work right across that range. I’d say three to four players is best though. Some of the cards are interactive, so for two it loses something; while with three actions each round – albeit short ones – five may see people losing interest between turns.
As I’ve come to expect from Amigo the card stock is excellent and the artwork is also of a high quality. Sure it’s generic fantasy with everything from Narnia to Alice in Wonderland thrown in, but it fits and is well executed.
Die Portale von Molthar is pretty light on rules. Set up is a breeze: give each person a player mat (or ‘portal’ if you’re getting into the theme), shuffle the two decks of cards separately, put two character and four pearl cards face up, and away you go.
The only cards that go into hand are pearl cards and these are just numbers, so there is no need for an explanation. Some have a symbol, but this does not activate from your hand – it simply means you clear out the current face-up character cards if they’re drawn into the central area.
The character cards are more complicated but are always face up, even if you draw them blind. This means that, as characters are drawn, you can go to the rules and explain them to everyone. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to print out a few extra pages as player aids.
On a turn you get three actions. You can mix and match from four options: take a character card, take a pearl card, clear the pearl cards or play a character from your portal (you can only have two characters on your portal – and five pearl cards in hand).
Each character must be activated from your portal using your pearl cards. These range from exact requirements (a pair of sixes, a five etc) to the likes of a three card run, four even-numbered cards, cards adding up to 10 etc. When you discard the correct pearl cards, you can move the character from your portal to your tableau (scoring area).
Molthar characters do an array of things – from simply scoring you points (you need 12 to trigger the end game) or diamonds (another in-game currency, usually allowing you to change a card’s number); to a one-time bonus (such as three extra actions); to an ongoing effect (increase your hand size, have a ‘free’ number as if you had the matching pearl card etc). Some icons are pretty incomprehensible, but the rules explain them well.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: It’s nice to have a light card game with a bit of theme that really does set up and play fast. The production quality is fantastic with some extra shiny bits on the cards, and while there are no new leaps in game design here everything is put together in a very elegant fashion. The one downside is the end of the game, where everyone gets ‘one last turn’ – I’ve very rarely seen this make a difference and it usually just means a pointless extra round at the end.
- The thinker: Unfortunately while there are several routes to victory (engine building vs straight points etc) you don’t have time to explore them properly, with the person getting the right mix by luck of the draw seeming to win out each time. Having said that, as a light filler it does offer a pleasing amount of decisions to be made and no more luck than you’d expect from this kind of card game. Definitely tactical rather than strategic, but I’d happily play it between two heavier games.
- The trasher: Die Portale von Molthar is a pretty nice filler, but it could’ve been so much more interactive. I understand it’s a family game and it certainly hits that spot, but I’d have been much happier paying a bit more money to have some sets of cards you could swap in for different crowds – more attacking, more engine building etc. But I guess that isn’t what Amigo does as a publisher. Hopefully it will be popular enough that they add expansions – they did it for Bohnanaza after all, but I seriously doubt Molthar will have that kind of following…
- The dabbler: I enjoy the game because it’s simple, fast and fun – it’s just a shame it doesn’t really fully deliver on the theme. The art suggests so much, but the card powers don’t deliver thematically. One plus is that although there are interactive cards they never really hit you hard – you may lose a card, but little worse than that. This is a game I’ll always be happy to play, and will certainly be one I reach for if people like fantasy games/books – but I’m not sure I’d grab it as a personal choice.
Having three actions per turn – one of which lets you clear the face up cards – means you can normally hit the numbers you’re looking for.
There have been comparisons to Splendor, which I can see, as they’re both simple filler engine builders. Splendor is twice the price, but with a little less imagination and replay value. Splendor adds poker chips and is more elegant, but I have more fun with Molthar. Elegance is great, but only if you can achieve it without sacrificing replay value. I wonder how many of the people who gave Splendor ludicrously high BGG scores still play it.
A downside of Molthar’s card variety is having to give the powers icons. The iconography for how to lay the cards is solid, but the powers themselves lead to a lot of rulebook diving – not fun when its in about five-point. The box isn’t full – presumably with expansions in mind. Which means there is NO excuse for not putting some action card player aids in here. It really would’ve helped – hopefully something for the English edition?
There is also an occasional runaway leader problem. I’ve seen several strategies win games, some fast some slow, but if the cards just fall for a player they can run away with it. This problem could’ve been mitigated with more ‘take that’ cards, perhaps, but overall I think the good outweighs the bad – and it’s only a filler, after all.
Amigo has done a great job on its production, it plays well from 2-4 (five at a push), and it always plays in less than an hour in that player range.
You always have decisions to make, there’s a bit of interaction but you also feel that you need lady luck on your side if you’re going to prevail. In a filler game, these are all things I look for.
But it’s also a great way to introduce engine building and action selection to newer gamers. These are key categories in our hobby and as such I also consider Molthar to be a solid gateway game – especially for people into fantastical books but not board games. For example this would be a good step toward a game such as Lords of Waterdeep, which I really don’t think is quite ‘gateway’ material.
Will Molthar change the gaming world? No. Is it a rearranging of the game designer toolbox? Absolutely. But it does it in a satisfying way and serves a purpose on the gamer’s map, so I for one am happy to jump through the portal on a regular basis.
* I would like to thank Amigo Spiele for providing a copy of the game for review.