Portal Board Game Review

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How do I being?  Where do I start?  This game did such a wonderful job of being thematic and authentic to its inspirational IP before I even glanced at the rules.

I guess let’s start with the name.  Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game.  What more could you ask for in a Portal product?  Nothing.

Box art: done in the style of the 1970’s board games that I remember so well from my childhood, the box is rather unimposing.  A blue tinted scene of the board graces the front, with the title in white.  Faux wear and tear mark the corners, and the back displays a picture of a family “enjoying” the game- but instead of the saccharine scene of joy one might expect, everyone looks on the verge of tears while being observed by shadowy figures with clipboards.

The teaser text on the back promises a “fast-paced, highly lethal test environment” that will lead you to “compromise every moral you thought you possessed.”  What either kind of board game would GLaDOS preside over?

The instruction book is written in part in-character as GLaDOS, but never to the detriment of learning the rules, which are simple- the entire booklet is in the are of 20 pages, with big text and illustrations.

Here’s a complete board set-up for two players:

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The Aperture Science Lab consists of these 15 interlocked tiles (the game comes with 18- they are shuffled and played randomly, with the remaining three going back in the box).

Each player receives a team of 8 test subjects (4 of which start on the board), and 8 slices of cake.  The lab has a “new” edge (the left edge where the players start, and where things generally enter the lab), and an “old” edge (the right edge, where the portals start).

Every turn the player can play Aperture cards (acquired in several different ways), move some of their test subjects, and then finally Activate a room.  Only a room on the Old edge can be activated, and doing so unlocks the rewards for that room (depicted in traditional Portal warning icon style), though only if a player has test subjects in the room (so the first few turns go by with activation providing no results).  The rewards generally come in on the New edge, and the room is then “recycled”- flipped over (tiles are double-sided) and placed on the New edge, creating a new New edge.  Any test subjects in the Activated room are killed (returned to your supply), and any cake is incinerated (removed from play).

That’s right: you need test subjects in a room to activate it, and activating it kills those subjects, only for more to be brought out of storage to die for you.  How Portal is that?

The fact that ANY room on the Old Edge can be Activated means that the nicely squarish Lab is not likely to stay that way for long:

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Test subjects can carry cake of any color, meaning that you can haul your opponent’s unprotected confections toward their inevitable fiery doom at the old edge of the Lab as a room MUST be activated at the end of each player’s turn.

The every-lovable Companion Cube makes an appearance as an obstacle that prevents an Activated room from providing its rewards (due to distracting the test subjects), while the eager-and-friendly-death-machines that are Turrets also join in the fun, instantly killing any test subject(s) they counter.

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The game ends under one of two conditions: either a player has no test subjects in the Lab, or their last slice of cake is incinerated.  I find that in a two player game, the latter is much more likely to be the cause of the game ending (as it was in this case), as it is too easy to keep your subjects alive.  However, as the winner is the one with the most cake in the lab, someone with lots could easily march their subjects to their doom and avoid putting more on to end the game in their favor.

I can only imagine the chaos that would result from a full compliment of four players.

A relatively simple and straight forward game that has great potential for mayhem, death, and fire, I would definitely recommend this game to anyone who loves the source material.

-Christopher Roberts

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