Via Magica – Powering Patterned Portals

Via Magica board game

INCANTATUM!

Open magic portals through the power of crystals … and bingo?

Head Magister Augustus adjures his sorcery students to study hard. Capture Animus spirits, crystallize their energy, and open portals to the Via Magica. Are you ready for your final exam?

Via Magica is a re-theming of Paolo Mori’s Rise of Augustus. Play this bingo-powered game in about 30 minutes with up to six players. Originally published by Hurrican Games, Via Magica has been brought to the USA by Luma Imports.

Three Via Magica portal cards: cat (3 points, no effect), bats (4 points for each dark Animus), crystal creature (3 points and 2 additional crystals)
A starting set of portals and crystals

How to Play

Give each player six cards and seven crystals; they choose three cards as their starting set and discard the rest. Place five more cards in a central market row.

The oldest player is the “Catcher” for the first round, picking Animus tokens out of a bag one at a time.

As the Catcher pulls each Animus token out of the bag, players put a crystal onto a matching Animus space on one of their cards. You are allowed to move a crystal that has already been placed if your stockpile is empty.

Crystal creature in Via Magica with one crystal placed on the first spot on the card
Place a crystal on an Air animus.

If the Catcher pulls the wild token, each player may choose any Animus space to cover with a crystal. Then, the round ends.

As soon as you have filled all the Animus spaces on a portal card, immediately call out “INCANTATUM!” It’s time to open the portal!

Animus tokens and cards from Via Magica
The portal has been opened! INCANTATUM!

BINGO I mean… INCANTATUM!

You’ve opened a portal by “crystallizing” all of its Animus spirits! Remove all the crystals then immediately use the portal’s effect, if it has one.

Set aside the completed portal for end-game scoring and choose a new portal from the central market row.

Effects

Each portal card has a different effect, but effects broadly fall into four categories:

  • Instant, one-time use effect (yellow lighting)
  • Ongoing effect usable for the rest of the game (blue infinity)
  • End-game scoring effect (green hourglass)
  • No effect, just points (purple crown)

Yellow and blue portals provide instant effects or ongoing modifiers that help players complete future portals faster.

Portal types (left to right): instant, ongoing, no effect, end game point calculation

Bonuses

The first player to open certain portals can claim a bonus reward.

One type of bonuses is based on portal colors. The first player to open three portals of the same color (or one portal in each of the four different colors) automatically claims the associated bonus.

The other type is based on the number of portals open (2-6 portals). Each player may only claim one reward in this category. Each time you open an additional portal, you are faced with a choice: do you grab a bonus now and miss out on the chance of a bigger reward later, or wait for a higher bonus but risk missing it if another player grabs it first?

Game End

Via Magica ends when a player has at least seven portals open at the end of a turn. Everyone who finished a portal this turn may resolve their portal effects, then the game is over.

Players add up the points from their open yellow, blue, and purple portals, bonus rewards, and the calculated score from open green portals. The player with the highest score is the Valedictorian.

Impressions

Via Magica has been a fun game for our family to play together. Reading isn’t required, but there is enough symbology involved that we’d say the recommended 7+ age range is right on.

The bingo format used is easy to understand. Since we play with kids at all different ages, we really appreciate that most player decisions happen simultaneously. It keeps the game moving along so no one gets bored.

We noticed this in (bingo-powered) Ecos as well, but Via Magica is a much more approachable game. It’s less complex and it has fun illustrations.

It’s also very quick. Set-up only takes about a minute, and even with six players, a whole game shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes.

The portal art is wonderful. Fanciful monsters sit side by side with amusing helpful characters, with a peek at the lands that lay beyond each portal.

3 portal cards and the yellow (instants) bonus card
3 yellow lightning (instant) portals means you can claim this set bonus.

Strategy

Understanding probability helps to plan your choices. Each player gets a card indicating the quantity of each type of Animus token in the bag.

Do you go for cards that have lots of high-probability Animus spaces for fewer points, or low-probability Animus but higher points?

The bonus points you get for color sets should also be a clue: you’ll get fewer points for sets that are easier to complete.

I especially had fun planning out my portals to string effects together. It’s a rush if you can open multiple portals on a turn.

Animus tokens, from left to right: Leaf, Wildcard, Water, Fire, Earth, Air, Air, Water.
Some Animus tokens will show up often, some will not.

Not Always Sparkles and Fun

The biggest drawback we found to Via Magica is that starting cards matter a lot. If you start with expensive, hard to fill cards, you’ll be at a disadvantage and have a hard time catching up. A one-time mulligan on starting cards helps with this frustration if it comes up.

The press-your-luck feel on the numbered portal bonuses adds some tension and player interaction. If you’re in the lead, you’re well aware how easy it would be for someone to pass you, and you don’t want to risk not getting a bonus at all. But if you’re already behind, if might be worth the easy win to grab a low-number bonus – or maybe reach for the highest one that hasn’t already been taken?

Portal bonus cards in Via Magica
Four portals open. Go for the 6-point bonus, or hold out and hope for more?

The mechanics to open portals reminds us of the Harbinger mechanics of Ecos, and the varying rewards for opening certain numbers or types of portals reminds us of Potion Explosion. Via Magica does a great job blending and simplifying these elements in a way that keeps it fun for all ages.

Because of this simplicity, Via Magica is great for families. But the probability-fed strategy makes it a fun filler for seasoned gamers, too. Find it on Amazon, get it from Luma Imports, or ask for it at your local game store.

Via Magica board game

The Family Gamers received a copy of Via Magica from Luma Imports for this review.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.

Via Magica
  • 9/10
    Art - 9/10
  • 8.5/10
    Mechanics - 8.5/10
  • 9.5/10
    Family Fun - 9.5/10
9/10

Summary

Number of Players: 2-6

Age Range: 7+

Playtime: about 30 minutes

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