Portal - title

Portal is one of the best and most successful video games ever made. In the current climate of table top board game manufacturers trying to license every property that they can possibly get a hold of, I guess it only makes sense that there would have been a board game based on the Portal video game. But what could a board game designer possibly do with the physics and gravity-bending environmental puzzle-solving concepts of the 2 Portal video games? Cryptozoic's answer was to not even really try. While they did manage to come up with a unique and novel board game design, it's a design that I don't feel really does justice to the title's namesake.

You will be tested, and then there will be cake

Portal: The Uncooperative Cake-Acquisition Game is based around a modular, evolving board concept. 15 tiles are placed on the table in three rows of 5. At the end of each player's turn, one tile is removed from the right edge of the board (the "Old Edge"), flipped over, and moved to the left edge of the board (the "New Edge"). If a player controls a majority of the test subject pieces in the removed tile, he or she is given a set of rewards printed on the tile. This may include being able to place additional test subjects in order to establish more control over the board, being able to place or move a turret or Companion Cube figurine, or placing a victory point token on the board (which takes the form of a plastic slice of cake).

Any player piece(s) on the removed tile are also destroyed. Test subjects are returned to the respective player's supply, but any cake slices (which are victory points) are placed in the "Incinerator", and are removed from the game permanently. The objective of the game, thus, is to place as much cake on the board as you can, while also trying to keep that cake away from the old edge of the board so that it does not become incinerated. What makes this a somewhat challenging puzzle to solve is that the conveyor belt nature of the board is constantly pushing everything towards incineration.

Tiles move from one end of the board to the other, like a conveyor belt.

Each players' test subject tokens can pick up a piece of cake (belonging to any player) and carry the cake with it when the test subject moves. This is how players protect their own cake from the incinerator, but it also allows other players to pick up a rival's cake and move it closer to being incinerated. Thus, the competitive and subversive element is introduced. Players must try to maximize their own resources, while simultaneously trying to minimize their opponents' resources.

Oh, and there's also a couple of portal tokens which allow test subjects to move long distances across the board (and potentially take cake with them). And there's also a GladOS cardboard cutout, which does absolutely nothing except to mark which test chamber tile is being incinerated and recycled. The actual portals in the game's namesake, and the primary villain of the games, thus feel under-utilized. The portals just provide an extra opportunity for long-distance movement, but the game is completely playable without including them at all. They aren't even remotely necessary -- let alone fundamental -- to the board game's design, the way they are in the video game.

Turret and Companion Cube are nice 3-D plastic models,
but GladOS is just a cardboard cutout.

It's also a shame that the GladOS token is not a 3-D plastic model. The turret and Companion Cube are both plastic models and look really nice, so it's a shame that GladOS didn't get the same treatment. If she had, I could easily see this game's pieces becoming part of a nice little display diorama on a shelf somewhere when they are not in use for actual play.

In general, the board game lacks the spatial puzzle-solving element of the video game. The board is constantly in flux, and so a large focus of the game is on manipulating the physical space of the game board, and there is a certain degree of spatial-puzzle-solving present. But from my experience, most of that manipulation feels pretty rote and predictable. While there are certainly the occasional opportunities for really creative plays (especially when ability cards are used to modify various game rules or give the player extra powerful actions), the bulk of the game is pretty straight-forward.

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Star Wars X-Wing: Scum & Villainy

With Fantasy Flight having recently announced a second edition of its X-Wing miniatures game, I thought I'd take one last stab at reviewing content from the original release (first edition). I'm not sure if I'll end up buying any second edition content, since I've already invested heavily into the first edition. There will be optional "conversion kits" that you can purchase for each faction (Rebels, Empire, and Scum) that will make all the first edition expansions forwards-compatible with second edition. That's a nice gesture from Fantasy Flight, as it means that the hundreds of dollars that I've invested into X-Wing won't be rendered moot overnight. I guess my decision on whether or not to purchase will be based on whether the new second edition mechanics, rule changes, and balance adjustments feel worthwhile. Anyway, let's talk about the third (and final) faction from the first edition of X-Wing: Scum & Villainy.

Despite having previously said that I wasn't interested in the "Most Wanted" expansion for Star Wars: X-Wing, we did end up buying it after all. My girlfriend was interested in some of the ships offered by the "Scum and Villainy" faction, so we picked up the "Most Wanted" set along with a couple of extra expansion ships compatible with the Scum faction.

Scum and Villainy repurpose existing ships

"Most Wanted" MSRP: $39.95 USD

Most Wanted acts as a "base set" for the new Scum and Villainy faction. It's still an expansion to the core X-Wing game, and so it does not include maneuver templates, dice, and other core components. Fantasy Flight still wants to nickel-and-dime you into paying extra for those components. A player interested in Scum could, hypothetically get by without investing in this expansion. It includes a variant of the Y-Wing and two Z-95 Headhunters with alternate paint schemes. Both of these ship types are already for sale as stand-alone expansion ships for the Rebel faction, so there isn't anything terribly new or innovative here.

Star Wars X-Wing - Scum team-up
You can't play 1 v 1 v 1, but you could have Scum team up with another faction.

Unfortunately, despite adding a third faction, Most Wanted (and the other Scum & Villainy expansions) do not add rules for a third player. I'm not quite sure how having a third player would work within the game, but it would have been nice to have been able to include more friends. You can, of course, add a third or fourth player using the core set's team rules. This could allow (for example) a 100-point rebel squad to face off against a team of a 50-point imperial squad and a 50-point scum squad (or larger fleets, if you so desire). But there are no rules for a 50-point vs 50-point vs 50-point, three-player free-for-all.

To make things more interesting, you could maybe create a scenario in which Scum are teamed up with another faction, but the scum player and their teammate actually have conflicting goals or objectives. For example, I could imagine a scenario in which the Scum and Rebels team up against a single Imperial player to do something like steal some Imperial cargo pods. While the Rebels and Scum would be working together to defeat the Imperial player, they might also be competing for who steals the most cargo. Or something like that.

Those limitations aside, I actually do recommend picking up Most Wanted if you're interested in the Scum & Villainy faction. Most Wanted is actually a surprisingly content-rich expansion and provides pretty good value for its price. It's the same price as the core set, and includes as many ships and plenty of upgrades (including the coveted "Bomb Upgrade" for Y-Wings). In addition to the three fighters and their associated pilots, this expansion also includes alternate pilot card for other existing ships. You can use the new scum pilot cards with any Y-Wings or Z-95 Headhunters that you may already have in your collection, and you can also use the new Y-Wing and Z-95 models with the older pilots in your existing Rebel fleets.

Star Wars X-Wing - Firespray and HWK Scum
Most Wanted includes alternate Scum pilots for any Firespray or HWK-290 ships you may already own.

This set also goes a little above-and-beyond by including alternate Scum pilots for some other ships, like the HWK-290 freighter and the Firespray (including a pretty badass new Boba Fett pilot). You should have no trouble filling out a 100-point (or maybe even a 150-point) squad with just the pilots and upgrades included in this box, assuming that you already have some of the other Scum-eligible ships available in your collection. And if you don't already have a Firespray (Slave I), then I highly recommend that you pick one up!

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