Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Board Games: Portobello Market

Portobello Road! Portobello Road! Street where the riches of ages are sold!
Street where the riches of ages are sold

On my last holiday in the UK, I visited Portobello Road market, one of London's most famous (some might say infamous) street markets. Made famous in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the Paddington books, and the movie Notting Hill, it's a crowded and cramped and tourist-trappy street market, especially on Saturday afternoons when everyone comes out to look for bargains (hint: you probably won't find them):
Who will buy my wonderful wares?

I like Portobello Market, but it gets a little crowded and overwhelming sometimes for a little stuffed bull like me:
"The hawking eyes of an old stuffed bull across the street"

Or, as Cat Stevens sang:

Cuckoo clocks, and plastic socks
Lampshades of old antique leather
Nothing looks weird, not even a beard
or the boots made out of feathers
I'll keep walking miles 'til I feel
A broom beneath my feet
Or the hawking eyes of an old stuffed bull across the street
Working my way through the crowds

My eyes are not hawking, they are sharp and smart. That's why if you're a little overwhelmed by the crowds of Portobello Market, I highly recommend staying safely at home with a hot sweet cup of tea and instead playing a rousing round of Portobello Market, the board game created by Thomas Odenhoven and published by Playroom Entertainment:
Portobello Market board game...it's fun!

I love both London and board games, so Portobello Market the game is a sheer delight for a little stuffed bull like me. It's not so much fun to play a board game by yourself, so I'm enlisting the help of my good friend Shelly the Little Otter Puppet. Here she helps me take out the many, many game pieces:
Get a friend to help you take out all the game pieces

Two to four people (or stuffed animals) can play. It's trickier and more challenging with four, but I'll show you how it's played with two so you get the gist of it. I'm choosing to yellow pieces...
I am yellow! In the game, that is.

...and Shelly is red.
Shelly is red.

It always helps to read the instructions (which, like many high-end board games, are thoughtfully provided in a wide assortment of languages, so if you like, you can brush up on your French at the same time you play). It looks complicated but it's simple to learn.
It always helps to read the instructions

In our house we always play that the last person who took a bath is the first person to go. That means you, Shelly! Shelly is placing the police constable ("bobby") piece on an open square. You can only build on a street if the bobby is adjacent to your street, but you can move the bobby from square to square during your turn.
Shelly places the police bobby on a market square

Each player gets three Action Tokens labeled "2," "3," and "4." Flip one of these over to make two, three, or four moves during your turn. After three turns, when you have flipped over all three action tokens, you can turn them all face-up again. I'm going to make four moves in my first turn:
I am going to make four moves this turn

You can lay down your "market stall" pieces on streets adjacent to the bobby during your turn (one stall per move you're allowed that turn), and you can also move the bobby from square to square, taking point penalties if you move him across a street which is controlled or dominated by an opponent. You have to start building your stalls from only one end of a street at a time, so the first person to start building on a street controls the direction in which building proceeds:
Lay down your colored stalls to claim streets

If you're clever you can strand the other player away from her stalls through a clever combination of moving the bobby and placing your stalls down. Shelly can move the bobby back to where she was, but every time she moves the bobby across a street on which I've got the most market stalls, she loses a score point:
Shelly contemplates her next move

Twice during the game you can use your entire turn to claim a score of an entire square of market stalls. Place either your "two" or your "four" action token on the center of the square and multiply that by the number of stalls you have in the entire square to gain that number of points. I've laid down my "two" disc in a square I have populated with three stalls, so I gain six points.
I am capturing the entire square

Then, take a replacement action token disc from the pile so that you keep a total of three to play the game...
Now I take a replacement disk...

...so that you still have three action token discs to play the game. The replacement discs are numbered from 3 to 1 (stacked downwards), so it could be good strategy to play your "two" disc on the board early in the game and gain a replacement "three" disc, which gives you an extra turn when you use it.
...so I still have three move disks left.

As the game progresses you can use a move during your turn to place a randomly-chosen customer token at the end of any street. When there is a customer at both ends of a finished street, the stalls are totaled and added to each player's score: each space has a specific value labeled on the board, and the color combination of customers multiplies that total. A pink Aristocrat is worth more than a grey Citizen, so the combination of pink and grey or two pinks adds up to more than two greys. (Here the ends of the streets are occupied by one grey Citizen and one pink Aristocrat, so the total street score for each player is multiplied by 2.):
I place a pedestrian shopper

The score points are tallied by moving your colored scoring cube on the numbered spaces around the perimeter of the board. I'm yellow and ahead of Shelly: I have 18 points and she has 3.:
My scoring cube is slowly moving ahead

As the game continues stalls are built, customers are placed, and the bobby moves from square to square...
There is still room to build on this square

...leading to entire blocks being built up with shopping stalls.
Shelly has captured an entire street!

The more finished streets and placed customers, the higher the scoring can rise:
The board is getting busy now

And when Shelly puts down a well-placed action token to score an entire square...
Pondering my next move

...she moves ahead of me in points! Can I catch up in time?
Shelly's scoring cube has moved ahead of mine!

The game is finished when one or more players has no more stalls to place. Highest score wins! I challenge you to a rematch, Shelly!
No where else to move!

Portobello Road is great fun: as they often say, easy to learn, hard to master! It's a very fast-paced game—it takes about 35 minutes or so to play regardless of the number of players. We've played it with two here, but the addition of another player or two can complicate your building strategy until you'll pulling out your hair! Or, fur. It's beautifully produced with a gorgeously-designed and colored playing board and solid wood stall and customer pieces. It looks complicated but you can pick up the rules in ten minutes, and after one practice game you'll be eager to play another. If you enjoy strategy games, you're gonna like this. You can buy it on Amazon by clicking the box to the right, buy it direct from the manufacturer, or find it at your local strategy specialist game store. Just watch out for sneaky otter opponents when you play it!


Anonymous said...

You've gotta go farther north up past the pricey antique malls on Portobello Rd. to find the bargains.

I was there back in February, and found a cool Hawaiian souvenir glass for 50 pence.

SallyP said...

Well this certainly looks interesting. I could also swear that Dire Straits did a song called Portobello Belle that is about your beloved road as well. Good song, too!

Novice said...

I remember when I was there, my friends and I all agreed that none of us were allowed to sing or hum the song from "Bedknobs & Broomsticks". We figured that was how silly American tourists were picked out all the time.

My best friend told me I was humming it very quietly.

I do not recall it.

smatano said...

10 years ago, my shiny new wife and I went to London for our honeymoon. She still has the leather jacket she bought in Portobello Market. She bought it with the money in her backpack that she wore on her front because that's what all the guide books said to do to avoid pick-pockets. I wonder if there were really no pick-pockets and the locals just had a good larf watching tourists walk around with their backpacks on backward.