This year, with the previous release of a Dragonlance sourcebook and the upcoming release of the DnD movie (which looks to mainly concern the SwordCoast and the Thay), I expected to see a lot of games and merchandise tied into those settings. I wasn’t expecting a board game set in the cozy halls of the Yawning Portal, a well-known (but not currently well-used in official publications) locale for adventurers in their downtime.
But one such game was released – The Yawning Portal Game.
Perhaps you’ve heard tell of the Yawning Portal, a tavern in Waterdeep with a portal straight into the dangers and dungeons of the Underdark. There, you can pick up strange quests, hire even stranger adventurers, or simply enjoy a tankard of mead on your days off between saving the realm.
This time, however, you’re neither a plucky adventurer nor a seasoned hero, but a simple tavern keeper. You and your fellow employees are hard at work serving up food to the fighters, rogues, and wizards who have stopped by for a meal or a drink. It’s a tricky job, managing surges of magic, unruly parties, and increasingly difficult orders, but the pay is fantastic!
Yawning Portal is a puzzle placement game, in which you want to lay out several types of food in various arrangements so that you can line up the food with hero cards and win the gems listed thereon.
The board consists of a long series of tables, with spaces to play down hero cards on either side. Each turn, you select from four different sets of actions (you must take each action in the set, in order, when you do so). These actions may allow you to place a food item, play a hero card, draw a hero card, exchange gems, or a variety of other actions that may help you or hinder other players. Once you do so, you flip the tile on which the actions are detailed. To use that set of actions again, you’ll need to flip the tile back over, usually by using the set of actions found on the newly revealed side.
To score gems, the resource you’ll want the most of to win the game, whenever you get to place a hero card, you line up the food icons on the top with the food items that you’ve laid out on the tables. You get a gem for each of the food icons and items that match, plus a bonus for getting their whole order correct. Once a whole order is filled (and it may not be by the person who originally played the hero), the card is flipped over, but remains on the board unless it is removed by an action or a hero ability. Hero abilities are special actions that you may be able or forced to take when you place a hero, written on the card.
Once food items have been placed at the last spot on each end of the board, and you finish the final round, the game is over. You count up the number of gems you’ve earned over the course of the game, multiplying the number of each color gem by the number of matching visible card backs on the board, and adding in bonus points that you might earn for various reasons.
Whoever has the most points at the end of the counting wins!
Luck vs. Strategy
This is very much a strategy game, with some small element of luck. Like many puzzle-focused games, your likelihood of winning depends on your spacial awareness and ability to anticipate your opponents’ moves so that you can interfere with them. You may encounter some good or bad luck in the form of what hero cards you draw, but the manner in which you deal with them is the bulk of the challenge in the game, no whether you draw a particularly useful card.
Number of Players
The standard version of The Yawning Portal plays with 2–4 participants. 3 or 4 are definitely better numbers, though. Having only 2 players can make the play somewhat repetitive, with players going back and forth, interfering only with each other, and trading places for the lead the whole time.
There is a single player version of the game as well, with a slightly different goal, and a greater focus on efficiently matching orders than gathering gemstones.
This is not a board game version of Dungeons and Dragons, despite the franchise tie-in. It’s a low-stakes, focus-needed puzzler, without any of the roleplay, survival, or combat that you might more commonly associate with tabletop RPGs. This means that it isn’t really a must-play for fans of DnD lore or gaming. On the flip side, however, it also means that people who have never played DnD will also get more enjoyment out of it than other DnD board games.
Overall, it has a lively, colorful atmosphere. There are tons of well-made pieces in bright colors and cute designs, including various gems, and small food tokens of different kinds. No need for mood lighting with this game!
History and Availability
The Yawning Portal board game was released in January 2023 (just last month at the time this article is being written and published) with little fanfare. It had almost no advertising outside some boardgame convention playtesting, perhaps because of the simultaneous issues regarding WotC, OneDnD, and the OGL.
Reviews are overall quite positive, at a solid 8/10.
You can buy it from your friendly local game store, or online on Amazon, the Hasbro website, or smaller online shops. It’s usually around $55 (a somewhat high price, likely due to the large number of printed tokens).
Our Personal Thoughts
This is a surprisingly simple, and very cute game. Outside the art and general fantasy aesthetic, it isn’t particularly ‘DnD-esque’, however. In terms of mechanics, you could play it as a waitressing game with little difference. In fact, this makes a great companion game to Red Dragon Inn, another game about fantasy adventuring parties in a tavern during their downtime.
I did have a couple of hangups – mainly that one of the hero cards includes art of a halfling with a beard, which is impossible under Forgotten Realms lore – but none that really impeded my enjoyment of the game. Additionally, the price is a little high for the style and complexity of the game, due to the food and gemstone tokens being 3d instead of simply cardboard cutouts. But if you have a little extra money to spend, and the game sounds fun to you, the quality of the pieces does justify the cost pretty well.