Hello [reader name here], and welcome back to Boter Reviews Something, where each week we engage in testing for the betterment of SCIENCE. This week’s test is Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game by Valve and Cryptozoic Entertainment. I’m Boter. Let’s review something.
“Before re-entering a relaxation vault at the conclusion of testing, please take a moment to write down the results of your test. An Aperture Science Reintegration Associate will revive you for an interview when society has been rebuilt.” — The Announcer
Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game, released in September 2015, which is surprisingly recent considering Portal 2’s April 2011 release. I was also thrown off by the printed “weathering” on the box making it look older than even the original game’s 2007 release. Perhaps its recent publishing is an attempt by Valve to overcome being unable to count to three in their sequels. (Think about it.) Curiously, it comes with a code for a free copy of Portal 2 on Steam, as if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t have it. (Wait, you don’t? Comment below and we’ll figure out how to get you the copy that came in my box.)
Three paragraphs in and I haven’t even said what kind of game Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game is. Well, it’s a board game. Up to four teams of Test Subjects traverse an ever-changing board of Test Chambers to acquire and protect Cake while sabotaging the other teams. Along the way you’ll be distracted by the Companion Cube, shot by a Turret, and have countless little Test Subjects incinerated. Which is fine, that’s what they’re there for. But don’t let your cake get incinerated! That would be bad.
“Welcome, gentlemen, to Aperture Science. Astronauts, war heroes, Olympians–you’re here because we want the best, and you are it. So: Who is ready to make some science?” — Cave Johnson
The board has fifteen interlocking, two-sided Test Chamber tiles. At the end of each players turn, they activate a chamber on the right edge. Whoever has the most Test Subjects in that chamber gets the rewards printed on it (new Test Subjects at the left side of the board, a slice of Cake on the board, rights to place the Companion Cube or Turret, or an Aperture Card). Then, the Chamber is Recycled: all Test Subjects are incinerated and placed back into a pool to draw new ones from, and any Cake slices are incinerated and taken out of play, placed into the Incinerator on the accompanying play mat. The tile is then flipped over and re-added to the left side of the board, resulting in a conveyor belt sort of action that continually moves everything towards certain destruction. The game ends when a player no longer has any Test Subjects on the board or when a player’s Cake slices have all been incinerated, and the winner is the one with the most Cake left on the board.
Test Subjects can carry cake with them, allowing you to move your own cake further away from the “old” edge of the board, or to carry an opponent’s slice for immediate sacrificial Incineration. Aperture Cards each have different actions that you can take, or can instead be used to use your Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (“Portal Gun”) to place portals on the board, making two distant Test Chambers effectively adjacent. Once used, you flip each Aperture Card and placed it on top of the Discard Pile, and a different character faces that changes to the rules of gameplay. Example rule changes involve rearranging turn order, allowing an extra Test Subject to move, and even allowing Cake slices in recycled Chambers back into your pool instead of immediately Incinerated.
“Actually… why do we have to leave right now?” — Wheatley
Gameplay is fun and easy to grasp once you get going. There are revelatory moments during your first playthrough (immediately realizing that the recycling mechanic makes your placed portals useless, the a-ha moment when you realize you can move other players’ Cake slices and sabotage their game) and there’s a lot to keep track of. The right edge of the board isn’t recycled uniformly; there are three rows and some may end up much longer than others, resulting in different pacing of the game played on each of the three rows (though with movement still allowed between them). Aperture Cards were probably my favorite mechanic; the initial effects are usually good – though I’m still trying to figure out why I’d want to use an Excursion Funnel to push my test subjects towards the old (aka ready to be recycled and Incinerated) edge of the board – and even if they aren’t allow for board-changing portal placement, but I love the mechanic of the rule changes on the back of each card. That and the conveyor belt reshuffling of the board at all times were likely my favorite things about the game.
I also really enjoyed the pieces. Test Subjects, Cake, and the various special tokens all read very easily and are pleasing to touch and play with. The play mat with spaces for Aperture Cards and the Incinerator aren’t strictly necessary, but are pleasing, especially when you recycle a Test Chamber with an opponent’s Cake slice in it and drop it in the Incinerator’s gaping maw. What might be especially fun is placing the Play Mat on a low platform (or a few decks of cards) so Cake is satisfyingly dropped through it, instead of simply sitting on your table just inside the cardboard cut-out hole. It may even become necessary as you get more players and even more Cake is crammed in.
On the downside, while it states being able to be played with 2-4 players, with two players the game was just alright. When you can move every other time a Chamber is recycled, there’s much less urgency to get your test subjects in place and save your Cake. It was obvious that more people would make the game more hectic and chaotic than it already was with two, and there are some Aperture Card actions that make absolutely no sense with just two players. Additionally, and a bit more nitpicky, the Test Chamber board pieces are meant to interlock so that the board can be moved as a unified whole (as one side is recycled and the other rebuilt). However, the cardboard pieces fit so tightly that it’s not always easy to piece together. They also interlock top-to-bottom but not side-to-side, so they don’t always hold together well while sliding. What might have worked better would be Catan-style hex frames that you could place on either side and slide the board along with.
“This was a triumph / I’m making a note here – HUGE SUCCESS” — GLaDOS, “Still Alive”
Counterpoint: “…perché non passi lontana, sì lontana da Scienza?” — Prima Donna Turret
So here we are, at the end of Testing. Please wait while the Review Score Associate generates the score for Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game.
Great game with easy-to-learn rules that can cause a lot of mayhem. I especially appreciated the randomization mechanic of the Aperture Cards. It’s not too terribly complex a game, but it’s not trying to be. Biggest issue is the (relatively) sedate gameplay of the two-player game; not bad, just different and not living up to the game’s full potential.
(That’s out of nineteen because that’s how many Test Chambers the original game had. 17 is the actual score, I didn’t just put that in because that’s the Companion Cube level.)
Still waiting on a third… ANY game, Valve.