Game System Analysis – Portobello Market

How the game board can look after a typical four-player session.

How the game board can look after a typical four-player session.

Portobello Market is a strategy game where players strive to earn the most points by expanding their markets to the most valuable positions on the board. Portobello Market is played by two to four players. Each game takes from about half an hour to an hour.

Core Mechanics

The game does not have many parts compared to the previously analysed game; Drakborgen and the following list describes each part of the game in short so you will be able to follow the reasoning better.

  • The Market stalls are what give the player their score, either as soon a street is finished (i will explain how that is accomplished further down) or at the end of the game when a street have an adjacent ruler.
  • The Visitors (pink and gray) are those which determine how much score a player get once a street of market stalls are completed. How much the street is worth depends both on the street value and what kind of visitors are on both ends of the street.
  • The Bobby is the piece which determine where players can build market stalls. It can be moved at a cost whenever the current player want.
  • Action tokens are spent to use the number of moves on the action token each turn. When all action tokens are consumed they are reset by turning them right-side up again. The ones with a multiplier can be used to quickly gain score in a particular district.
  • The Ruler (black) is a special visitor which grants even the uncompleted streets points and the ruler can result in a score-multiplier from three to four.
An action token which have been played to earn quick points for the blue player. In this case the ruler is also connected to blue's streets which give a huge increase to the score.

An action token which have been played to earn quick points for the blue player. In this case the ruler is also connected to blue’s streets which give a huge increase to the score.

Types of actions

The first thing a player does on her turn is to choose how many actions she will execute. This is determined by turning one of the remaining action-tokens upside down or placing one with a combo on a district. If the player chooses to turn the token upside down then he number printed on the token corresponds to the number of moves a player will be able to make this turn. Next the player can choose what to do. Either she can place a market stall on one of the bobby’s adjacent streets, draw a new visitor from the bag (if those are the current rules) and place it on a free market square or move the bobby. If the player chooses to not turn a token upside down but instead, placing one with a combo in a district. Then the special token action gets executed, which I will explain further down.

Market placement

When a player wants to place a market stall, she must follow some rules. Market stands can only be placed consecutively. Therefore when placing the first market stall on an empty street, the player must start the placement on either end of the street. The next player must continue this pattern and must not place another stall on the opposite side of the street where there is already a stall. When there is another stall on the street, the next player must place the next stall next to the one currently being there. Market stalls can only be placed in the district where the bobby is located. This whole placement process costs one action point per placed market stall.

Bobby movement

The bobby can be moved whenever a player wants during her turn, as long as she moves it according to the rules. The bobby can only be moved to an adjacent district across the street where either the player have the majority of the market stalls, another player have the majority or none of the players have majority. The player cvan move the bobby freely through markets where they have the majority. If another player have the majority, she must pay one score point after each movement to that player. If none of the players have majority, then the score point will just be decreased by one each time the player moves the bobby. Moving the bobby does not cost any action points and can therefore be executed between other moves during a players turn.

Visitor placement

Placing a visitor is much simpler and the only enforcement is that there can only be one visitor at each street end. Each placement of a visitor cost one action point. Visitors have two rule-sets, the first being; pulling a random one from the included bag. The second, and more interesting in my opinion, is; at the start of the game line up all visitors so that the ruler is last. And then grab the first in queue every time. This gives the player more information before making a choice of whether to place a visitor or not. This makes visitor placement only happen when needed.

Special token action

But that is not all the player can do during their round. There is one final action which can be executed. If the player feels that she have placed enough market stalls in one district, then she can choose to spend her action tokens permanently. This move can by done only two times during the whole game for each player. Each player have two action-tokens which have a number with an “x” next to it. This number is what the player can multiply with the total value of their market stalls in any district and add that to their score. When this is done the token is considered used and is placed in the district there it was used. The player then take a new action token from the stack of spare ones. This stack is sorted from highest number to lowest, highest being three and lowest, one. This results in the more players that spend their action tokens, the lesser amount of actions they can take each round, due to that the action token values only decrease.

When a player do not have any more action points to spend in their turn, the turn goes to the next player.

The action tokens both in their used and unused state. There is also a cheat sheet for how the score multiples are calculated based on what types of visitors the player have.

The action tokens both in their used and unused state. There is also a cheat sheet for how the score multiples are calculated based on what types of visitors the player have.

The Good

Portobello Market is an overall good game with simple systems, which feel solid and well thought out. Here are some of the things which I think are most noteworthy.

The Action Tokens

I think that the action tokens are a well balanced mechanic of the game because it really lets the player bet on some moves compared to others. Something which I noticed during the play-sessions is that it is not always the best to use the available four-move token right away, but instead saving it for the better opportunities.


Portobello Market is a strategy game with very little random elements. This makes a for a game in which you can plan ahead and feel accomplishment whenever you manage to execute a move, which gives you a large score increase.

The Visitors

Because there are three types of visitors, it creates certain areas on the board which you tend to either want to avoid or strive to build upon. This works well when players are limited to a number of actions per turn. As soon as a pink (more valuable) visitor was placed on the board. Players tend to want to build closer to that area because of the large increase in final score. During my play-sessions it created some areas which were desolated and nick-named as slums, due to the high amount of gray (least valuable) visitors.

The Bad

The bobby which determines where the players can build stalls.

The bobby which determines where the players can build stalls.

There are very few things which I find bad with the game. There are however some things which I feel need some fine-tuning.

Bobby Fee

Whenever a player moves a bobby, she has to pay a fee of one score to the one who have majority on that street. This is a mere single score and I think that players would be more hesitant in moving the bobby, if it meant that the player had to pay the same amount of score as the number of market stalls which the recipient have. This would result in players not jumping all over the board with the bobby, because during the play-sessions, that happened quite frequently.


If you are not proficient in quick math, some score calculation can be a chore to do. I found that during the play-session, we sometimes needed to use our calculators on our phones. Due to the many market stalls which needed to be scored.

Target Audience

The game is marketed towards people aged eight and up, and I think that is a fair assessment. As long as there is someone who is quite good with multiplication in the bunch, it should not be any problem. I would also categorize this as a family game which would mean that, probably, there are some parent present which can help with the math.



Portobello Market is a game which puts the player in charge of their decisions when making strategic choices. Every move can and will be anticipated by the opponents which makes for great fun. When playing, the player positions can change rather quickly due to the multipliers when scoring. As such, players are always on their guard.

I do not have many complaints when it comes to Portobello Market and I think that it is a great game with well play-tested, solid mechanics.

~Per “Gimmic” Johansson

One thought on “Game System Analysis – Portobello Market

  1. Howdy, Per!
    We were assigned to play Portabello Market this week.
    Although you didn’t argue for a single best system (I can’t blame you, I didn’t like this game at all), I would still argue that the same cores that you mention, and the relationship between them (once again, It’d be interesting if you had put all the systems in relationship to each other), are at the very core of the game. The one thing that I’ll agree with 100%, is that strategy plays a huge role, and is, for me, the only interesting part of the game; i.e thinking several steps ahead. As you mentioned, randomness has very little to do with the outcome, although we noticed quite early that starting out first gives a player a huge early advantage. By playing by the rules, the fourth player in our group was not even able to put down his stalls the first round.

    As for the bad sides that you mentioned, I’m a little bit split. Keep in mind that I’m biased, as I did not like this game what so ever. So let’s talk a bit about the bad sides that you mentioned first (of which I totally agree). The bobby fee: The bobby fee serves absolutely no purpose in the mid to late game, as the scores you start gaining at this points are always up towards 20-40, and loosing just one score moving, is like farting in space; it doesn’t matter. The only time it matter was, as a talked about a bit earlier, was when three of us put down our stalls the first round, completely blocking off and gaining majorities of the streets, making the fourth player unable to do anything what so ever the first round.
    Secondly, the score as you mentioned easily adds up fast, and we as a group also had issues (not that bad though, as we had a couple of quick thinkers in our group) adding all the numbers up. It’s not fun, and should be revised; after all It’s a game, not a calculus test.
    As for what I did not like about the game, was that there was at no time any tension, at all. You knew several steps ahead what your POSSIBLE move could be, and it was also quite easy to see during the mid game who would win and who would loose. It’s a negative feedback loop, like the one from monopoly that stems from the early game and then reaches out to the end game in the form of one to two players dominating. Although, I love systems that are easy to comprehend and easy to play, it just wasn’t thrilling to play.
    The visitors are the only random element of the game, as they’re randomly picked up from a bag if I remember correctly. They serve as a score multiplier, and has to be placed with a backdrop strategy of – “Will I be able to connect these streets and gain as much as possible myself? Otherwise I have just spent one of my actions on helping my foes”. But, I just find them to be a the final step of completing your street, none of us never ever put one down before we had completed at least two inter-joining streets; meaning that it could just have well been abstracted into another system.

    I’d argue that the very core of the game is the strategic placement of stalls, as every other actions just reinforces either the value of the stalls you put down, or your ability to put down stalls. As we’re taught by school, the players actions are verbs, and the main verb of the game is to “gain score” really, and by doing this you have to put down stalls, stalls are you main action of gaining score, everything else is, as mentioned, ways of generating a higher score. Your main action is therefor placing stalls. The clocks are also part of the grander “strategic” theme of the game. But once again, they limit or boosts your ability to place down stalls. Ex. Put down a clock to grant a larger multiplier -> or put down more stalls this round. Score Stalls.

    As for target audience, I’m in total agree. The game is obviously a family game, although I’m suspecting that the subject matter is not that interesting for an 8 year old. But the game is absolutely playable for an 8 year old, as long as you have someone who can do a bit of math. It’s a weird little remix of monopoly, and I know for a fact that 8 year old’s understand the concept of Monopoly and can absolutely understand what they are doing (although they’re more than likely shit at the game). It’s as if they took the concept of monopoly and merged it into a shittier 19th century victorian version of the game with new mechanics. I’m not a big fan what so ever of this.

    All in all, your analysis is thorough and informative (and the rest is subjective). You’ve found the objects, properties and behaviors, although as mentioned earlier you could do well by focusing a bit more on the relationships between said objects; I’d like to know WHY you think an object is created the way it is, as in, why does X do Y? Is it because there’s a relationship between them that has another relationship with Z, etc. You’re fluent in English, and I barely found any spelling errors (just small mistakes) which makes your text easy to read. I also love that you add pictures with explanations, it really breaks up the monotonous style of text, which, let’s face it, an analysis is. You’ve also split up the text into proper subtitles, which helps immensely when you want to quickly navigate through the text.

    So! That’s all from me. I hope I was able to give a couple of pointers and that my feedback helps in any way possible. Once again, good work on your analysis, and take care!
    //Oskar “Perk” Lidh Frykmark

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