Opening up the ‘TESTING AND SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS’ manual, you’re greeted with a message from Aperture Science (the scientists who constructed the Test Chambers in the Portal series) with instructions to “please read the following in an authoritative and slightly condescending, yet, excited tone to the other players”:
Now that you’ve been awakened from your Covert Hibernation Vault™, it’s time to resume testing. To motivate the best results, you’ve been divided into divisions and assigned a jumpsuit in your new favorite color. The best performing division will be forever remembered in the history book I’m writing entitled: “Team of Rivals: The Scientific Genius of <insert jumpsuit color here>.” Good luck!
A couple of years ago Portal 2 was one of my favourite games. It was fun, it was interesting, it had puzzles, and it had a humour I couldn’t get enough of. So, when given the chance to play the new Portal board game, I jumped at the chance to give it a go.
The box itself is a testament to the humour of the series, as it looks beaten up and weathered, like one of those old games you got for Christmas and just forgot in the attic. The bottom features an image of a rather unenthusiastic ‘family’ playing the game, whilst being monitored by two shadowy figures with clipboards (because as Adam Savage once said, “the only difference between Science and screwing around is writing it down”).
Setup and Gameplay
So, how is it played? Well, first off you set up fifteen Test Chambers, arranged in three rows of five. Players add their Test Subjects to the Chambers (one on top, two in the middle, and one on the bottom). Turn then goes as follows
- If you are in possession of any Aperture Cards, you may choose to play any number of them.
What are ‘Aperture Cards’? Well, as you play you can gain these cards through a variety of actions, such as only moving only one Test Subject. When the card has been used, it gets discarded to reveal a Character Card, which edits the rules of the game. For example, it can introduce a rule that at the start of a players turn, the player can swap one Aperture Card with another player’s.
Or, you can sacrifice a card’s effect to fire off your Portal gun once per turn
- Choose a single Chamber containing one or more of your Test Subjects, and move some or all of them into a Chamber adjacent to the one they are in.
So, you can move one or more of your Test Subjects from one Test Chamber to another connecting Chamber. This can be backwards, or even up or down to a Test Chamber in a different row. What you cannot do is choose to move multiple Test Subjects in different directions.
Additionally, if you choose a Chamber with a Portal, you may move through to the Chamber with the other Portal, skipping sections of the Laboratory.
- Activate any one Chamber on the right-hand edge of the Laboratory (the entirety of the board) by placing a GLaDOS token in it. The player with the majority of Subjects in the ‘activated’ Chamber earns that Chamber rewards. Additionally, you can ‘deliver’ any newly rewarded Test Subjects to one or more of the starting Chambers (left-hand) of the Laboratory.
So, it’s hard to have a Portal game without GLaDOS, who here is used to determine which of the far right Chambers is to be activated. The Player with the most Test Subjects in the ‘activated’ Test Chamber receives the rewards displayed on that panel. You can earn a new Test Subject (delivered to one of the starting Chambers), a Cake Slice (again, delivered to one of the Starting Chambers), and may receive an Aperture Card (a player may only have a maximum of 3 in their hand). If the icons are there, then the Companion Cube or Turret are also activated (more on them later).
- Recycle the ‘activated’ Test Chamber by flipping the Panel over (destroying all Test subjects and Cake slices in that Chamber) and adding it to the new edge of the Laboratory. Place the GLaDOS token near the old edge of the Laboratory.
So, after all the icons in the Chamber have been dealt with, then the time comes to flip the Test Chamber over, and add it to the other side of the board (although you can choose to place the Chamber in a different row, all rows must be at least three Chambers wide). All Test Subjects are collected by their owners for further testing, and all Cake is incinerated and cannot be reclaimed. Other tokens, such as Portals, stay in the ‘recycled’ Chamber’.
If any player has no Test Subjects on the board, or has all 8 pieces of their Cake Slices incinerated, then the game ends. At which point, the player with the most Cake Slices on the board is declared the winner. If there is a tie, then the winner is the tied player with the most Test Subjects in the Laboratory.
If any divisions are still tied, they may appeal their cases in 10 words or less to the other divisions (or anyone nearby) and put it up to a vote. None of these 10 words may contain the letter ‘E’.
Now, in the third part of the turn, I mentioned Companion Cube and Turret.
- The Companion Cube is placed in any Chamber. Because the Companion Cube is designed for optimal friendship, no Test Subject may earn rewards from a Test Chamber that contains the Companion Cube.
- If the Turret icon is activated, then the Turret figure can come into play. It is either placed on one of the far-left Test Chambers, or (if it is already in play) can be moved to an adjacent Chamber. All Test Subjects in the same Test Chamber as the Turret are destroyed.
Additionally, Cake which is placed on the board may be ‘carried’ by Test Subjects. Only one Subject can carry one Cake Slice…and it is worth noting that the Cake Slice you can carry doesn’t have to be your own (which grant you the opportunity to carry one of theirs to the incinerator)
I know my Portal, so I decided that I would be testing with the mindset of a fan who had picked it up because they were familiar with the series. I recruited someone who had no prior knowledge of the series (to the extent that midway through the match they looked up at me and admitted that they were confused about why the game revolved around cake) to test it with the mindset of someone who likes to play boardgames.
At the end of our gaming session, I came to the conclusion that the game does a fantastic job – in both packaging, instruction manual and tone of the game – of emulating the humour and atmosphere of the Portal series as a whole. Through my opponent, I came to the conclusion that although it seems a little confusing for someone with no prior knowledge of the series the game is fun and most definitely has replay value.
There were a few issues coming into the game. For starters, the game seemed a little daunting at the start, and resulted in the rule book remaining open just so we could check it every so often. Another thing is that the instructions at time can be a little vague – when the Test Subjects get ‘destroyed’ by a Turret, are they brought back to the hand or are they permanently dead (we settled for permadeath, as it meant we had to be especially careful with the turret)?
However, one of the main issues we came across wasn’t how the game played, but how it looked. To be more specific, the Testing Chambers interlock like puzzle pieces. However, it is tough at times to get them to fit and can get damaged quite easily. One way to fix this is to keep the chambers separate but in line with each other, so you know which Chamber is in which row (so you don’t make the puzzle pieces connect, but still make the picture).
Another issue we found was that the Portal and GLaDOS tokens are small and could be easily lost or misplaced. In fact, one thing my opponent noted was that it was a shame that GLaDOS didn’t get the same figurine treatment as the Turret or Companion Cube, especially considering how important she is to the game. I guess it’s a small issue, but I do agree a little bit.
Overall, we had a good time. Despite the fact that it starting off slow, we eventually found our stride and had a lot of fun with it. There is definitely replay value, for both fans of the series and those who haven’t played the games before. Just be aware that if you are playing with someone new to the series, all the quotes you’ve stored in your head are probably worthless.
The game also comes with a Steam Activation Code for Portal 2 to play on your computer, so you can get those who have yet to play the game to give it a go.
Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game can be bought for £35.99 here