Thursday, July 12, 2012

Prêt-à-Porter, Part Deux

Normally it doesn't take several plays for me to wrap my head around a game. Normally, I may not absorb the optimal strategy for a game right away…but at least I can go through the motions until I get to the end!

In my first play, Pret-a-Porter threw me for a loop harder than any other game in recent memory.

not so hot anymore, are you?

On my second play the going was tough at the beginning, with everyone repeating the same rules sections over and over again like a bunch of moon-blinked barn owls. The multiple player aids available on BoardGameGeek did help a little.

But the final breakthrough was the result of calling a time out over the (now multi-copied) rule book, and going to do something else for a while. It was hot outside. My brain full of incomprehensible information, I wandered outside and let the information percolate during a long soak in the pool under a 100ºF sky. Excessive sun drives some people insane, but on that fateful 4th of July my brain received the extra vitamins or whatever it needed and a proper play sequence was finally initiated upon my return inside for dinner.

There are 12 turns, divided into 4 cycles. Each cycle is composed of 2 "preparation" turns during which players take contracts, buy materials, hire employees and acquire various other advantages. After the 2 prep turns is a fashion show, where the scoring happens. So 2 regular turns, followed by a scoring turn, repeated 4 times.

The preparation is (nowadays) classic worker placement. Each position on the board has a maximum number of places, and each player has 3 workers to place as the turn goes around the board. Depending on the spot, you will have to race to place your worker before the location is full!

copied from the rulebook

Contracts are laid down face-up in the gray section, buildings in the red and employees in the blue. Materials are purchased from your choice of 3 different suppliers: a local merchant, a warehouse distributor or a fancy (and expensive) direct importer. The middle column is where you lay out the all-important designs you'll be trying to complete for the next fashion show.

During my first turn, I placed a worker on Contracts, Design and Materials. I was then able to acquire a design (to add to the 2 designs I started the game with), shop at the warehouse to buy materials for two of my designs (to complete the two that made up a collection), and attempt to pick up a contract. Unfortunately, the contract I wanted was scooped up by another player, leaving me with picking up a Contract that didn't help me very much (Sales Rep).

During my second turn, I managed to snag another design for my growing collection and also buy materials for that design.

When the first fashion show came around (London), I was sitting pretty with a vintage collection containing 3 fully completed designs. The judges were concerned mostly about quantity and quality (the judging standards are different for each city) and at the end of the show I was in the lead and raking in the dough.

And like many members of the nouveau riche, I unfortunately became distracted by my wealth and lost a bit of my focus.

Instead of attacking the design pile like a junkyard dog going after a bone (as I had in the first cycle of turns), I hired an accountant to manage my money. I purchased a building to help expand my empire.

These were all good things, but when the next fashion show rolled around I had only 2 designs in my collection (using 1 I had earned and the other design card I started the game with). I still made some stars with my collection ("trendiness" was what the judges were looking for this time around), but I had a smaller bank roll to start the third cycle of turns.

My accountant was doing good work, mind you. The books were indeed cooked. Of the 8,000 I was paying to maintain my fashion company, 7 of that was getting funneled right back to me, leaving a net loss of only 1,000 every turn.

To the right of me, the next player over had misjudged his finances during the game and things were getting about as bad as they could get. He ran out of money at the end of a preparation turn and received an emergency loan (the kind where a guy drives out to your house in the middle of the night with a briefcase full of cash). Then the next preparation phase he had to take out another emergency loan to pay the interest on the first emergency loan. So I was feeling ok.

But to the right of HIM, that's were the problems were brewing. This upstart player directly across the table from me was starting to get the hang of things.

I should mention at this point that not all fashion shows are weighted the same. The first fashion show of the year visits one city and awards one city worth of points. But then the next fashion show of the year visits 2 cities, then the next 3 and finally the last show in December visits an awesome 4 cities (and scores 4X the points).

So the fashion show I did really well on was actually the lowest scoring fashion show, worth only 1/4 of the points of the last fashion show.

Well, by the last turn of the game he/she had accumulated a few buildings and employees to get a solid lock on public relations, as well as help secure a large collection of designs that put the "me" of the first turn to shame.

You see, each design has a style: children's, vintage, boho, sport and evening wear. A collection presented at a fashion show has to be all of one style. My opponent had discovered a building that let him/her (husband/wife team, always dangerous) restyle designs to all one style (vintage).

sports design

boho design

vintage design

Scarfing up a bunch of designs, magically making them the right style, and saturating the market with positive PR, ended up cementing the win for them. But, to tell you the truth, I was having so much fun it didn't really matter all that much.

I really had my doubts after the horrible experience the first time around. But this is actually a really fun game with a really different theme. It's hard. If you can play this game with someone else who has played before once or twice, it could mean all the difference.

But if you can get over the hurdles, there is a reward on the other side.

Game reviewer Tom Vassel gave the game a mostly positive review. For negatives, he was a little worried about how the rest of his gaming group would handle the somewhat feminine card designs and the overall fashion theme.

I say, if they can't handle the theme you need to find some people who do! If there is one thing Pret-a-Porter can do in spades, that is filter out the riff-raff. If you are too cool for fashion, that is often a warning sign to a host of other problems.

And the game was undoubtably made with love. The designer of Pret-a-Porter is Ignacy Trzewiczek, who is more known for his games taking place in post-apocalyptic wastelands.

Fact is…fantasy and fallout and the two things that "sell" in the board game hobby market. If you are going to go out on a limb as design "science fiction" or the ultimate horror of horrors…a fashion show economic engine…you have to really like what you are working on. You have to have a vision.

This is the video of Ignacy demoing his game at Essen 2011, and you can see the enthusiasm coming out of every pore.

I made it all the way through one game of Pret-a-Porter after about 24 hours of sweating, brain-busting rules discussion. The actual game, for the most part, was as smooth as butter. After I was done, I wanted to play the game again. What better endorsement can a game receive?

The variety of choices available, and the fact that you are only seeing a small fraction of the game when you play, means the next time things might be entirely different. The fashion shows will be in a different order. I will have different employees, buildings and contracts to choose from. Regardless of what happens, there is no greater joy than watching your fashion label flourish as the game progresses.

I will tell you, there was a dark time when I questioned my purchase. But now that dark spot on my heart is healed, probably thanks to the TV spots I ran in cycle 3 of my fashion empire. If he ever reads this, thank you Ignacy!

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