English language edition
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(Worth 3,199 Funagain Points!)
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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!
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:
CUSTOMERS AT ENDS OF COMPLETED ALLEY BEING SCORED
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.