[Editor’s Note – Again, some of the writers of the Opinionated Gamers have been fortunate enough to take an early look at some of the upcoming Essen releases. Liga’s Italian-English has been cleaned up slightly by yours truly. I don’t think I’ve changed the meaning of anything… DY]
Preview by: Andrea Ligabue
Here is my review of Pret-a-Porter, the new game from Ignacy Trzewiczek and Portal. This is an extended version of my preview, first published on BGG News. The article will run close to the preview but with some more comments/descriptons due to a more extended play and personal considerations that are not always allowed on BGG News.
I like all the games I’ve tried from Portal Publishing and I’ve been thrilled by almost all of Ignacy Trzewiczek‘s designs, since Neuroshima Hex’s release back in 2006. Stronghold and last year’s hit, 51st State, are both outstanding games. It seems that Ignacy and Portal really like the post-apocalyptic worlds setting and so I was surprised when I first saw his Prêt-à-Porter – released in Polish in 2010 and due out in English at Spiel 2011. That said, perhaps Portal is savvier than I thought as my daughter and wife were delighted to try a game about fashion shows. But be careful: the theme is light but the game is a deep strategic and economic gamers game.
The cover artwork is striking, and the rest of the materials and artwork match the Portal standards exhibited in prior releases. The game includes more than 70 small cards used for buildings, employees, contracts, loans, credits and fashion shows; 50 normal cards for designs; a variety of cardboard counters (Quality, Trend, Public Relation, Star); 60 wooden cubes (materials in six colors); wooden tokens; and money and player aides.
While the theme of the game is style and fashion – surface qualities, for many people – the game itself is a deep economical design, with high interaction and the ability to adopt aggressive strategies. Actually there is not real direct interaction in the common sense, that means you can’t destroy other players companies, but of course you have to run to be the best in quality, trend, public relations and variety so you have to play against other players and watch carefully what they are doing. It is not a game you can play alone and hope to win.
Players run clothing companies and must design and produce the best collections possible by using contracts, buildings and talented employees in order to compete in fashion shows.
The game lasts twelve months (rounds), and each third month is a show (scoring round). During the preparation months, players acquire buildings, get employees and contracts, prepare new designs and buy the materials to complete the collection. After the first few plays, when you almost know all the cards, the games run quickly and you can really play a game in 60-90 minutes.
During the fashion show months, they display collections and sell them to earn money, and the player who has the most money at the end of the game wins. What constitutes a collection? One or more finished designs that share a common style: Sports, Boho, Vintage, Kids and Evening. The collections are evaluated for quality, trend, public relation and quantity of design. The order (and the value) of each trait depends on the month and the city where the show takes place. The most valued collections based on current trends in the market receive stars, which both provide additional income when selling the collection that month and earn additional money at game’s end.
Each of the preparation months consists of an action planning phase, an action execution phase, a training and development phase, and finally a maintenance phase.
The game board features nine actions available to players, and each action can be selected 2-3 times depending on the number of players in the game. A player can choose the same action twice, but as with all such games you always want to do far more than the three actions per month you are allowed. New contracts, buildings, employees and designs are available each month, and the first player to select an action naturally has first choice to what’s being offered. Every action months a full new set of cards will be revealed and the cards left are discarded. In the two final action months (October and November) the building, employees and contracts will be drawn from a special set. There is no way to buy extra actions but many buildings and employees offers you the possibility to buy materials and/or designs without using actions during the turn.
Buildings, employees and contracts offer special benefits at a “cost”, with buildings and employees staying with you for the rest of the year but requiring a fixed maintenance cost each month. Buildings have construction costs, too, but you want them as you are allowed a maximum of three employees, plus one for each building you have. Contracts, on the other hand, cost only the action itself to purchase, but they last for only one show, so you need to keep going back for more.
The range of possible combinations and abilities is huge, and buildings and employees can be upgraded to provide even more options – but you need to keep maintenance costs under control or else you’ll have no money for anything else, and that’s not good.
The first time you play the game you can overestimate or underestimate the cards. You need buildings, employees and contracts to win the game but you have to keep the cost under control. The amount of money each company has is not too much and is important to keep the cost under control.
Money is both the key to victory (since the player with the most money wins) and essential for buying buildings, paying employees and lest we forget purchasing materials needed to make the collections themselves. Every design card shows the two colored cubes (always different) needed to complete that design, and unless a design is finished, you cannot display and sell it when the show arrives.
You can purchase materials in three locations: the local manufacturer for cheap one-off materials of low quality, the warehouse for medium-quality materials of all types, and importers, which offer expensive materials of only the finest quality. These quality counters, along with public relation and trend counters, are all placed on the company board that also displays the type of design in which the company specializes, with your specialty allowing you to create trendy designs of that type.
From a single finished design you can earn something between 3 and 12 money, depending where you bought the materials and the design. Some designs are a bit less gainful but will provide extra Trend or Quality tokens that could be determinant to win the shows. It is important to be able to present more than a single design in fashion months and to do that you have to plan well your bought and start to prepare designs in advance. The materials are actually assigned to design just only in the fashion months so you can change your projects. You can accumulate materials but since the money are really strict you have to think carefully about your boughts.
You should not underestimate the importance of winning fashion shows, since the extra money earned could be determinant. You will get one extra money for each stars earned for each design sold after the show: so winning a first trait, that means something like 4 stars, could be really relevant. Each stars gained will give you also extra money in the end of game.
In the first fashion month (March) there will be only one show and all the 4 traits will be evaluaetd in sequence: the first trait in the list giving much moire stars than the last one. Only the first to collections will get stars so is a race for the first (highly revenued) and second (little revenued) position. The second fashion month (June) will have two distinct fashion shows in two different cities: in each city only the first 3 traits will be evauluated. The third fashion month (September) will have 3 different fashion shows: in each show only the first two traits will be evaluated. Which traits and which city in this first 3 fashion month will be randomly determinated from a deck o 6 city cards with many possible combinations. The last fashion month (December) will always display the same 4 cities, with a single traits evaluated in each city. The set of the fashion show is public since the beginning of the game so it is possible to have a long time strategy.
Finally, you can visit the bank to be credited money or the preparation field which offers a sampling of quality, trend, PR or money.
Despite the “light” theme, Prêt-à-Porter is a deep strategic economics game, with a huge number of possible plays and combinations as well as big interaction between players and companies. You need to plan your strategies and looks what other players are doing. You can build up your strategies in many different ways according to the buildings and employees you have. For me, it will be one of the next year’s best hits.