- As I prepare for yet another year of school, one of the biggest
problems that I know that I'll deal with is following the directions.
Or to rephrase, my students will most likely have that problem; as no
matter what I say or write on tests, someone is bound to do it
differently, causing trouble both for myself and them. Portrayal
(Braincog Inc., 2005 - William Jacobson and Amanda Kohout) is a game
in which players must give clear directions, and follow the directions
of others as they draw pictures. While drawing is the major focus of
the game, it's not how well one draws, but if one draws correctly.
I'm always willing to play a game involving pictures that doesn't
require artistic skill, since I have none. Portrayal has hilarious
pictures that must be described to others. There are a lot of fun
moments in the game - especially when the picture (which is almost
always ridiculous) is shown to the "artists" and compared with their
work. There were times, however, in which the game felt like work
instead of fun. Since the game doesn't last that long, and the
pictures are funny, I'll certainly hang on to my copy; but the game
won't be for everyone.
Each player is given a pad of paper, with one person chosen to be the
first Portrayer. The Portrayer shuffles a deck of scene cards and
places it face down on the table, drawing the top one and placing it
in a concealment folder so that only the picture is seen. The
Portrayer announces the title of the scene and rolls a ten-sided die,
to see which of the ten questions about the picture will be the
"golden criterion", with players circling the number rolled on their
pads. A ninety second time is started, and the first round begins.
In a round, the Portrayer must describe the scene to the other
players, who draw it at the same time. They can say anything they
want but may not show the picture, look at player's drawings, make
hand gestures, or answer questions from the players. This continues
until time runs out, at which point all other players should pass
their drawing to another player to evaluate it. The Portrayer pulls
the card out of the folder and reads each of the criterion on it, one
at a time - with players marking checkboxes on the pads "yes" or "no",
depicting whether the artist got it correct or not. Examples of
criterion from a card include:
- The man is facing the left side of the canvas.
- The man is standing in a sandbox.
- A truck in the sandbox is to the left of the man.
- There are at least four toys in the sandbox.
- The man's shoes do not have any laces visible.
- One end of the golf club is above the man's head.
After all ten criterions have been read, players total the number of
"yes" checks on the sheet and award one point for each one, with three
points if the player got the "golden criterion" correct. The
Portrayer gets one point for each question that at least one person
did correctly, for a maximum of ten points.
All pictures are then shown, with everyone laughing at how the ones
drawn look nothing like the original. The next round then begins,
with the player to the Portrayer's left becoming the new Portrayer and
drawing a new card. Play continues until each player has had the
chance to be the Portrayer once. At this point the game ends, with
the player who has the most points becoming the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: Portrayal comes in a big sturdy box, which is probably
a bit too big, but does hold everything tightly in a plastic insert.
The box art is a bit abstract and wasn't too my tastes, but the
artwork on the cards themselves was great (a lot of it coming from
www.clipart.com). The cards themselves were long and slid easily
into the envelope. The pads, of which many sheets are generously
provided, have two squares on them - for the two pictures, with a nice
series of checkboxes below - including one on each page for the
Portrayer. If a player keeps their sheets together, totaling their
final score should be rather simple. I was a little displeased by the
push button timer in my game, as it didn't work - we substituted
another for the game, but it could have been a fluke game that I
received. Six full-sized pencils and pads are included, along with
over 100 picture cards.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is four pages of black-and-white rules, with
tips and reminders included. I wonder who playtested the game,
because there is a lot of room dedicated to resolving disputes amongst
players during the scoring time. We never once had an argument in our
games, as players knew if they had done something or not - and it was
just a party game! But for those rules lawyers out there, don't
worry, because the booklet covers all the different situations that
might show up.
3.) Pictures: The pictures are silly and are often what I would call
an "indescribable picture" - although this game proves otherwise.
Occasionally we would draw the correct thing by accident; but more
likely than not, if a player doesn't clearly explain how to draw the
picture, players will get many of the criterion incorrect. Some of
the pictures make me wonder about the mental state of the artist, but
that's all part of the fun of the game! Artistic skill counts for
nothing; because if I draw a stick figure with a sword, that's a
knight - and passes the criterion.
4.) Time: The ninety seconds included is plenty of time to allow
players to completely describe the picture. I look at it as more of a
way to keep the game moving, as very few Portrayers were disappointed
because their time ran out. The pictures are usually fairly simple,
with only a few figures on each - with several details, of course -
but nothing that most people can't describe quickly. Since each
player's turn takes about three or four minutes, a six player game is
less than half an hour, keeping the game time to a reasonable length.
5.) Directions: Sometimes one of the criterion is something that
nobody was expecting to have to explain, such as a certain part of the
drawing is bigger than another part. However, a lot of the criterion
on the cards is similar to other cards; so as players get more
familiar with the game, they start to automatically tell what part of
the canvas each figure is on, how big everything is, how many there
are, what facing the figures are in, etc. So in this regard, the
player who goes last might have a bit of an advantage. More
importantly, I think that Portrayal makes an excellent tool for
teenagers to teach them to both accurately describe something and to
follow directions carefully.
6.) Fun Factor: Much of the fun in the game comes from the silly
pictures and the even sillier ones that folks draw. It is a game in
which players are straining to hear every word the Portrayer gives,
and the stress level might be a bit higher than I would like for a
party game. After a full round, I haven't had anyone want to play the
game again, although all agreed that the game was fun. It's a little
too much work, I think - but it is done in a fun way.
Portrayal is a change of pace, a game in which players with no
artistic talents can draw and do well. I'm not sure it has a lot of
staying power; I can see it coming out only every once in a while, but
it is a great tool for kids - both educational and fun. Following
directions is an important skill in life, and probably both the
strongest (educational) and weakest (work) part of the game. If the
above description sounds like something you'd love - pick it up,
you'll probably have a lot of fun. Others, who don't like confusion
and just want to play a funny game, may want to pass.
"Real men play board games"