Release Date: 2022Players: 1-2
Designer: Christopher Ryan ChanLength: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Christopher Ryan ChanAge: 8+
Publisher: New Mill IndustriesComplexity: 2.0 / 5
Plastic (by weight): unknownAir (by volume): unknown

There were signs. As the king’s fortune-teller, you were acutely aware of what the future would hold. As you scatter the sacrifices on the altar, you immediately see your fate. The king would ask for your head. It was all there in front of you in the Portents by Christopher Ryan Chan from New Mill Industries.

A short, sharp introduction to a concise and very cleverly designed game. Even though it’s really an abstract strategy game for two players, with a really good solo mode thrown in, the background story that is reinforced by the wonderful iconographic artwork helps bring this game to life. So imagine playing chess, but being there in the midst of a real battle. Portents conveys a similar feeling, where your soothsaying skills are pushed to their limits in a desperate fight for your survival.

New Mill Industries, who call themselves “a boutique publisher with a punk rock ethos”, were the perfect, if not the only, publisher suitable to produce this game. It’s a rare find indeed, not only because of what the game is, but also how hard it is to get hold of these days. Having been part of a small print run, you will be hard-pushed to find a copy. However, it is definitely worth seeking out, if you love two-player or solo abstract strategy games with a quirky theme.

But let me start at the beginning…

No Sacrifices

As I alluded to, Portents is a very cleanly designed game, where every rule has a reason to be there and everything is intentionally kept simple to allow players to focus on their strategy. It pits the wits of two players, or a solo player and a soothsaying cat called Nekomancy, against each other.

Imagine playing tic-tac-toe, but instead of just noughts and crosses, you push tiles showing bird sacrifices of claws, wishbones, skulls or feathers, each of which can be in one of four colours, into a 3×3 grid. Your goal is to create rows, columns or diagonals where all three tiles are either the same type of sacrifice or the same colour. For example, three claws of any colour or three blue tiles of any combination of claws, wishbones, skulls or feathers.

I said you “push” tiles into the grid, rather than just placing them. That’s the first mechanism that makes Portents so different. You push new tiles in to line up existing ones and make the three-in-a-row patterns you’re after. If you’re clever, you can create two or three triplets that way and when you do, you’re working towards a brighter future very quickly.

For every row, column or diagonal you’ve lined up that way, you collect a so-called Omen. These are along the outside of the 3×3 grid and also come in four different colours with one of four different bird sacrifice types. As soon as you have collected Omens that make up a complete set of four different sacrifices of the same colour or four different colours that are all of the same sacrifice, or if you have two sets of three, then you immediately win.

the altar with the 3x3 grid of sacrifice tiles and the Omen tokens around the outside
the altar with the 3×3 grid of sacrifice tiles and the Omen tokens around the outside

Great Im-Portents

So it’s important that you look at the Omens around the outside and line up the sacrifice tiles in a way that gives you those that you need to complete your set to win the game. Not only that, it’s also very important to try and get several sacrifice tile sets of three, because Portents is a race game. The quicker you are at collecting Omens, the more likely you are to win.

There is one more twist though. All the information in Portents is public. So in a two-player game, your opponent knows what Omens you need and they can see what sacrifice tiles you have to play with. Even if they can’t line up a set of three for themselves, with clever tile pushing, they can stop you from creating your set. In fact, sometimes the game is about pushing tiles out that help you on your next turn, more than it is about creating rows, columns or diagonals of sets of three sacrifices.

My friend, who owns the game, explained it to me, which helped, of course. However, looking at the rulebook myself, I can see that it is pretty good and there are many examples to help you. Even so, the first time you play Portents, it’ll all seem a little confusing. It takes a few turns to get into it, but once it clicks, you can see what a clever game it is.

I absolutely love abstract strategy games. So it’s right up my street. However, if you don’t have someone else to play with, there is a solo version. I haven’t played it myself, but my friend has played it many times and absolutely loves it. In fact, he seemed to prefer the solo mode to the two-player version. That’s high praise indeed.

Look Into the Future

Playing Portents feels absolutely wonderful. As you push new sacrifice tiles into the 3×3 grid of the altar, you keep checking whether your decision is right. If you have a visual brain, you can see how the grid will look after your turn. You will know what tiles you have available on your next turn. You can plan ahead and secretly smile to yourself, thinking you’ll score big when the game comes back round to you.

However, if your opponent is worth their salt, they will see right through you and with the push of one or two tiles completely undo everything you had so meticulously planned. You start to curse them and their offerings. You want to cast an evil spell on them, when you suddenly realize that not all is lost. With a deft push of your own sacrifices, you manage to line up a row and a column of three tiles to take two Omens and get closer to victory.

It’s that constant push and pull, the moments of glee when you think you’ve worked it out and the inevitable despair when your opponent crosses you, that make Portents such a fun game. Like a game of chess played by great players, it is amazing to watch how things go back and forth and how eventually one of you clinches the last Omen they need to save their head.

So, if you like two-player abstract strategy games as much as I do or want a solo game that’ll remain a challenge for a long time, then I’d say, seek out Portents.

Useful Links


Transparency Facts

I feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.
  • I played a friend's copy of the game.
  • At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Sound Effects: – © copyright 2024 BBC

Path Through The Mountains by Scott Buckley |
Music promoted by
Creative Commons / Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)


These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *