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Portobello Market
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Store:  Family Games
Theme:  Business, Food & Beverage
Format:  Board Games

Portobello Market

English language edition

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Product Awards:  
Games Magazine Awards
Best Family Game Nominee, 2008

Ages Play Time Players
8+ 35 minutes 2-4

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Product Description

London, 1901: Shopkeepers gather at the world-famous Portobello Market to set up their stands in the most lucrative places. Build your booths in the most profitable districts to draw in the wealthiest customers, and snatch the best lanes of your opponents. The Bobby determines where stands can be built, but with a little effort you can put their Bobby where you want it to be!

Product Awards

Games Magazine Awards
Best Family Game Nominee, 2008

Product Information


  • 1 gameboard
  • 96 wooden market stalls
  • 11 wooden customers
  • 1 wooden bobby
  • 20 action tokens
  • 1 bag
  • instructions

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 3.5 in 2 reviews

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Short and Fun
August 10, 2008
I usually like the games from Playroom Entertainment, although I still tend to think of them as a children's game company - due to their excellent Bright Ideas line. However, Portobello Market (Playroom Entertainment, 2007 - Thomas Odenhoven) really surprised me. As we initially set it up and went over the rules, I expected something along the lines of Ticket to Ride (no real connection - the games only looked similar). What I wasn't expecting was a decent medium-weight game that only takes about thirty minutes to play! The co-production with Schmidt Spiele helped, but it's still an excellent addition to the Playroom line. Now this may be too quick for some people - and indeed some complain about the short time frame. But if, going into the game, you know that it will end quickly, then every play counts. There's nothing really new in Portobello Market - and that includes the pasted-on theme - but it produces a very satisfying play. There is little randomness, simple scoring, and some tough decisions on when exactly to score that likely will win or lose a player the game. There is a decent amount of interactivity with other players, and the components are superb. A great game to fit into thirty minutes! The board is made up of various roads (lanes) which have from two to six spots on which to place market stalls (each stall has a value of '1" to "3"). The lanes connect various squares on the board and are set up so that they are arranged in groups of three. These groups form a district, and some lanes are part of two districts. Each player takes a certain amount of market stalls of their color, depending on the number of players, three action tokens (2,3, and 4), and a small reference board. A bag is filled with ten customers - five gray citizens, five pink aristocrats; while an eleventh customer, the black baron, is placed near the board. A stack of neutral tokens is placed near the board, with the "3" tokens on top, then "2", then "1" tokens. Players put a cube on the scoring track, and one player is chosen to go first. This player places a "Bobby" piece on any district and takes the first turn. On a player's turn, they may use any of their action tokens, taking the amount of actions shown on it. They then flip it over and cannot use it until they've used all three action tokens. A player may use their actions to do two different things on their turn.
  • They may place a random customer drawn from the bag on one of the empty squares on the board. Once the last customer is placed, the black baron is placed on the remaining square, and this action is no longer available.
  • They may place a market stall on one of the spaces in a lane that is in the district where the Bobby is present. The first stall must be placed at one of the two ends of the lanes; all following ones must be placed next to the preceding one.
No matter what they do, the player has the option of moving the Bobby for no action points. They may move the Bobby as far as they want, but for every lane that the Bobby crosses, they must pay a victory point. If another player has the majority of stalls in that lane, the victory point paid goes to that player; if it's a tie between two other players, one victory point must be paid to each. On the flipside, if the moving player has the majority of the stalls in a lane, they may cross it for free. When every space in a lane is filled, AND there is a customer at both ends; then the lane is scored. Depending on the citizens at the ends of the lane, a modifier is multiplied by the points on each market stall, and the players receive points accordingly. (For example, if there are two citizens at the end of the lane, the modifier is "x1"; but if there is a baron at one end and an aristocrat at another, the modifier is "x4". A player can forgo their entire turn to "score" a district. To do this, they must sacrifice their "2" or "4" action token and place that token in a district, which does not already have a token. The player (and only that player) scores all of their market stalls in the three lanes in that district, which is multiplied by the action token they've placed. They then take the top action tile in the neutral pile to replace the tile they've used. The game ends after one player has placed their last Market Stall. At this point the round is finished, but unfinished lanes are not scored - EXCEPT those that contain the black baron. After these lanes have been scored, the player with the most points is declared the winner. Some comments on the game...
  1. Components: As with most Playroom games, this one has very high production values. The wooden stalls are very easy to grasp and play, and the customers are tall wooden people (like basketball-playing meeples). The tiles are thick and are faded out on one side, so that players know when they've used them. The board is a top down view of the town with terrific artwork (no surprise that it's done by the greatest board game artist - Michael Menzel). Everything fits inside a quality medium-sized box with more, good artwork. As I said in my introduction, the game looks slightly like Ticket to Ride, with the different colored markets spreading from square to square, but that illusion will be broken once players start up the game.

  2. Rules: The rules are printed on four pages, with full color illustrations and examples. The game itself is very simple. The only parts that might be tricky to new players are the movement of the Bobby and the playing of a tile to score a district. In every game I've played, people plan their move out, often forgetting that they have to move the Bobby adjacent to the lane they are going to place their stalls on. Still, though, this is an easy-enough game to introduce to practically anyone; and even though the game plays quickly, players will understand it even faster.

  3. Customers: There is a variant rule in which all the customers are placed in a random line, so that players can see the customers that they are going to place; but I like the random feel of pulling them from the bag. Customers are incredibly important, and it's not a surprise to see all eleven of them on the board quickly. While putting down stalls is key to getting points, it's a powerful thing to decide which lanes get which modifiers. Since the aristocrats cause the majority of the higher modifiers (two of them give "x3"), placing them is key; but it's just as important to stick citizens at the end of lanes dominated by opponents.

  4. Strategy: The initial thing players will see is that they should place their stalls on spots with a lot of points (i.e. "3" or "2" spaces). At the same time, the game goes a little deeper than that. Sure, there are the modifiers, which really can change up the game to a degree; but the real crux of the game is when a player plays their action tokens to score a district. I would go as far as to say that's the most important decision a player makes the entire game. There certainly is an incentive to do it early, as getting a "1" action token near the end can slow a player's game down to a crawl. And even worse, it's dreadfully annoying when another player takes a district you want to score. This also increases the player interaction of a game. If players allow another player to dominate a district with their stalls, then they will literally score enough points to practically win them the game if they get that scoring token down. Because of this, monopolies on streets will be rare once players know what they are doing, as players will place stalls simply to keep those scoring tokens from being too powerful. Again, for this reason I think the game should be played twice in a row for new players, as they (even if they've been warned) will likely ignore the potency of the scoring tokens - to their dismay. A second game will see them coming back, most certainly wiser.

  5. Time and Players: I can certainly recommend two games in a row if only because the game plays so quickly. The box says thirty-five minutes, and that's likely longer than the game actually takes - especially with two players. Interestingly enough, the game is pretty good with two players, but it seems to really shine with four, if only because there is more interaction and competition for market stalls. The game, because it is so quick, will initially seem like a light, simple game; but there's more to it, and it almost has a medium-weight feel.

  6. Fun Factor: The game could essentially be boiled down to some math computations when placing stalls and scoring tiles, and moving the Bobby. The artwork helps bring the theme across a bit; but since everything moves so fast (there's almost no downtime, and every move other players make certainly effects you!), the game has a high interest factor. It's fun to set up a good scoring district for yourself, or managing to place a stall in a lane with the Bobby. Most of the fun comes from a quickly rising tension about when players will place their scoring tokens. The game can come to a screeching halt, so players have to be quick without jumping the gun.
Portobello Market is a game that, if it took over an hour, would become repetitive, boring, and one that quickly would land on my "outgoing" pile of games. But because it's quick, it has a rapid tension level and is simple to teach others - I really enjoy it. It's a good start to a game night, because it has some real meat despite its short length; and although I may be getting tired of the "market" theme, it works well enough here. I would recommend trying this game out - from a company that has marketed mostly children's games, this one is for everyone! Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
Inch Your Way To A Win!
October 31, 2007

Portobello Market was one of those games that I'd seen photos of and never gave it much thought. I'd always assumed that it was just another railroad game and not being a big fan of that genre, I didn't bother to look any further. It wasn't until I'd seen the game listed in the "Games Magazine 2008 Best Games" issue, that I actually read what the game was all about. Ironically, I was later to read online, that the game was originally designed as a Railroad Game under the title of "East India Railway" when it was in it's prototype stage. Seems as if the publisher felt there were too many railroad games out there and decided to change the name of the game and the look of the board. So maybe I like railroad games after all.

Portobello Market is about setting up Market Stands on the Streets of London and positioning customers in an effort to score the most points by the end of the game. Each player starts out with a certain number of Wooden Market Stands, depending on the number of players. These are placed in the alleyways on the board, which will be 2-6 spaces long and valued between 1-3 points. Each alleyway, is grouped into a sort of triangular pattern with 2 other alleyways and each such grouping is considered a District. In order to place a Market Stand, The Bobby piece must be located in the same district that's adjacent to one of the 3 alleys where you'd like to place your stand. When placing the first Market Stand, in an alley, it may be placed at either end of the alley but all subsequent placements must be placed next to a previously placed stand. Each player gets a cardboard market stand, which they place at the side of the board which has illustrations on them, showing the different combinations of two customers and the amount they are worth when scoring any completed alleys. These comes in handy until you can commit the information to memory. Below these, you place three actions tokens in your color, which have the values, 2, 3 and 4 on them. On each turn, you choose one of the face up Action Tokens and place it face down. The number you turned over, will be the number of actions your allowed on your turn. Once all Action Tokens are face down, you turn them face up again. For the most part, you have only two actions to choose from. Either place a Market Stand on an empty alley space or pick a customer at random from a bag and place it on one of the 11 squares on the board, which are reserved for a single customer. You can also move the Bobby across an alley to a neighboring district anytime during your turn and this doesn't count as an action. When moving the Bobby across an alley that's empty, you'll lose 1 point on the scoring track. If you have the majority of Market Stands on the alley you cross, the movement is free. If it's your opponent that has a majority of Market Stands , you lose 1 point and they gain 1 point. There are 3 types of Customers, represented by little Wooden Meeples: (1) Black, (5) Pink and (5) gray that will affect the value of all Market Stands on an alley, assuming all Market Stands have been placed there and that a Customer stands at both ends of the completed alley. Each Market Stand will be valued between 1-3 points (depending on the value their sit on) and the Customers act as a multiplying factor. So let's say the total value of yours stands are worth 4 points, so you multiply 4 by either 1,2,3, or 4 as follows:


gray/gray - multiply by 1
gray/pink - multiply by 2
pink/pink - multiply by 3
gray/black - multiply by 3
pink/black - multiply by 4

So in the example above, with a pink and pink customer at the ends of a completed market, you'd score 12 points (the value of your stands (4) times 3 as listed above.

Note that the Black Customer piece isn't included in the bag you'll be drawing random customers from but is placed in the last available space, if and when all other customers have been played.

There's one last way of scoring points, but you're only allowed to do it up to two times during the game and it's the only action you can take during your turn when using it:

You can place either your 2 or 4 Action Token into any District that hasn't already been scored using this method. Your score becomes the total number of your Market Stands in any of the three alleyways of the District (not the value of them this time) times either 2 or 4 depending on which Action Token used. You draw the next Neutral Action Token from the stack set-up at the side of the board, to replace the one used. The stack of Neutral Tokens are always set-up from top to bottom as follows: 3,3,2,2,1,1,1,1, so you know in advance the value of the neutral token you'll be getting back.

Play continues back and forth until a player finally uses up all their market stands and everyone has had an equal number of turns.

That's pretty much it. The only luck in this game is the customer draws from the bag, but it's minimal and there's even an option of having all customers randomly aligned at the side of the board, so you'll always know what customer will be next.

The Market Stands, Bobby Figure, Scoring Cubes and Customer Meeples, are all nicely done in wood. The four quad board unfolds to expose all the alleyways, districts and squares, where pieces will be placed. It looks pretty busy, but it's beautiful and it works.

As simple as the game plays, you'll be struck by the great number of choices you have during your turn. Portobello Market is a game where the culmination of all your choices is what decides your fate, as opposed to finding killer moves during a turn. It's definitely a game where you try and get an edge, once inch at a time. I suspect it will take many games to begin to get a sense of what you should be shooting for each turn and personally, that's what I like about it. Portobello Market can be a simple game or a complex one, depending on the amount of thought you put into your moves. In spite of that though, there seems to be very little down time between turns. Many games that supposedly support 2-4 players often fall short when played with 2 players, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

I'm really glad I didn't miss this one. Portobello Market accomplishes something that few games ever do, and that's creating a simple game, with few rules, that offers an assortment of tactics that may lead you to victory, once you figure out how to put them all together.

Arthur Reilly

Other Resources for Portobello Market:

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