GC ’15: Portal: The Board Game


Hey Wolfie! The cake is a lie!

Yeah, good one, I love that video game

No, seriously. That cake I said I was going to make. It’s not happening. Someone stole it.

Mmmm, delicious and moist. What? Nothing.

Solving the Puzzle…

Who it’s for: People who really like that thing about the Cake, or who like the novelty, or who want a miniature turret and companion cube for their collection.

Who it’s not for: People who want a Portal board game that involves… y’know… Portal-esque gameplay

Probably not the final box art... I'm pretty sure...
Probably not the final box art… I’m pretty sure…

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’ve played portal. You know all about the cake being a lie, incinerating the companion cube, and the general lack of value placed on test subjects.

You’re probably also hoping that the Portal board game involves solving cool spatial puzzles, using portals to move around the board to reach certain locations, and plenty of dark humor.

Unfortunately, you’d be disappointed. While portal has the familiar white test chamber walls, adorable little miniatures of the turret, the companion cube, and the cake, the aperture science logo (and accompanying test chamber iconography) and even the familiar orange and blue portals, the connection to the video game ends with the surface coat of paint.

Test chambers! So much portal!
Test chambers! So much portal!

The goal of the game is to get all of your cake on the board. Or at least, have the most cake on the board when someone runs out of cake, since your delicious slices might end up getting incinerated. You have a bunch of test subjects running around on a hexagon board made up of three rows.

On your turn, you can play a card for its effect or to activate your portal gun. Cards grant bonus abilities, such as extra movement or moving the companion cube. Once played, they go to the discard pile and have a global effect (such as changing the order of steps in a turn) until another card is played.

You can then move all your guys from one chamber (hexagon space) to adjacent chambers (they don’t all have to go to the same place). You then choose one chamber at the end of the line to be “incinerated” – there is a GLaDOS standee to mark which chamber is chosen, but it’s sort of unnecessary since you immediately pick up the chamber and move it to the other end of the line.

Cake! It's a lie!
Cake! It’s a lie!

When you incinerate a chamber, anything on that tile is destroyed – any slices of cake are thrown into a little container inside the game box, the other pieces are simply removed from the board – and if you happen to have the most number of test subjects in that chamber, you get to activate that chamber’s icons. These icons might allow you to add cake to the board, or more test subjects, or draw cards, or add the companion cube or turret. The companion cube simply blocks movement into a chamber (I think?) while the turret destroys anything in the chamber.

There is one set of portals, which can be moved when the portal gun is activated, and of course you can move between portals.

And that’s it. Really.

Honestly, it’s hard to judge whether or not the game itself is decent; it might very well be an interesting, strategic game. It’s like a weird sort of area majority game where you’re constantly recycling your units, and you’re trying to find the most efficient way of scoring points. At least it plays relatively quickly.

But I just can’t get past how non-portal-y this game is. I feel like there’s huge potential for a crazy puzzle game in the vein of Ricochet Robots with portals, or some kind of huge test chamber with all the Portal gimmicks – buttons, platforms, speed gel, etc. – with a race to get your test subjects into position so they can be the first to escape the room. I mean, something resembling what Portal is really all about.

I dunno, more cake, I guess
I dunno, more cake, I guess

Instead, the game itself (which again, might be a decent game if it had a less iconic theme) is buried underneath throwaway portal references. It’s like that annoying friend that keeps nudging you and reminding you of the hilarious jokes in that one game, but it’s not even telling new jokes. In fact, it’s not even telling jokes at all, it’s pretty much saying “Hey, remember that thing with the cake and the lie? Also, companion cubes! Boy, GLaDOS sure loves incinerating things, amiright?”

It doesn’t add anything to the world of Portal, and it doesn’t even recreate Portal in board game form. Sorry guys, but this was hugely disappointing.

At the very least they could have made it easier to activate the portal gun.

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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