Portobello Market won the Hippodice game design competition as East India Railways. Schmidt picked it up, switched the theme and here we have a game set in the London’s famous market street. Lautapelit.fi was quick to publish this in Finnish.
Portobello Market seems to be designed for Spiel des Jahres. It’s family-friendly, easy and accessible; it plays fast, looks neat and simply works quite well. In the other hand, it might feel a bit too safe and familiar, especially if you’re an experienced gamer.
Streets of London
Players try to place their stalls on the streets. Each spot on the streets is worth 1-3 points. Once a street is opened, players must play their stalls in order, so you can’t automatically rush to the best spots. When a street is full and the squares in its both ends have a customer on them, the street is scored. There are three kinds of customers: gray servants, pink bourgeois customers and one lord. The combination of customers determines the factor, 1-4, which is then multiplied with the point value of the stalls.
The main ingredient of the game seems to be lack of time. Each turn one can take 2-4 actions, which are used to placing stalls and drawing customers out of a bag (the only random element in the game). Twice during the game you can use your entire turn to score a whole district, which can provide a huge number of points. You want to save the district scoring as late as possible, but if delay it too much, you might miss it.
You see, the thing is, the game’s over pretty swiftly. Especially with four players, when each player has only a small number of stalls. Once someone places their stalls, the game’s over. You can expect about six turns, and that’s an awfully small number of turns to have. Since unfinished streets only score if you get the lord to score them, it definitely takes some cooperation with other players to score major points.
There are nice ideas in the game. You can only place stalls where the bobby, street police, is. He moves around, with a point cost you have to pay to other players when you cross the streets where they have a majority of stalls. The bobby placement offers some interesting possibilities.
So, what’s good about this? Portobello Market plays fast, has no big random elements, there are some clever ideas and I definitely like the way the game puts on tension by limiting the number of actions. In the other hand, the game does feel a bit like yet another Spiel des Jahres contender. Nothing too special here, really.
While I didn’t keep the copy I had, I still recommend this as a quick family game. Experienced gamers probably won’t be too excited, but if you have less experience of games and are looking for a quick, easy game that’ll still challenge you, Portobello Market is a good choice.