Monday, August 4, 2014

A Study in Worker Placement Deux: Prêt-à-Porter

For the next game in the series, I wanted to try to find a polar opposite to Belfort. Can something have more than 1 polar opposite? With magnets, the answer is no. With board games, the jury is still out.

The game we will discuss today is Prêt-à-Porter.

"Ready to Wear" as they say. A game I have already commented on previously, but so deliciously interesting I had to drag it back out of the word hell I had specially constructed.

Before we dive in, let me emphasize something…it is monumentally difficult to continuously refer to and search for a title containing both hyphens and accent marks. But I did it all the same, time and time again. It's those sorts of sacrifices you can expect to see in this blog.

The Comparison is Made

While Belfort's workers are represented by elves and dwarves taking up resources and visiting buildings, the generic worker placement pawns of Prêt-à-Porter aren't really workers at all. They aren't employees. And you can't get more of them, you always have the base 3. What are these guys?

The choices you make

The worker pawns are opportunities. Moments in the timeline of your company where an appointment is available, where a contract is open, when a future employee is job-hunting or when a lease is on the market.

Instead of sending people out to do work, Prêt-à-Porter feels like an incredibly complicated Choose Your Own Adventure novel. You get 3 choices per month, then the unchosen decisions go away forever. Leaving you to easily go back in your mind and remember the one poor decision you made where your whole business started going in the crapper.

The number of opportunities is incredible, each section has a huge stack of cards. But they are never overwhelming because you always have at most 3 to choose from.

so many things to keep track of

Board but never Bored

While Prêt-à-Porter has a hoary host of tokens, counters and chits to keep track off, one of the big things it has going for it is a more streamlined design.

I spoke a bit about the annoying "micro turns" in Belfort, and its true Prêt-à-Porter still has them. But there are fewer (only 3 workers) plus everything is easily contained on the one single board. A simple rectangle, far better than scanning around 3 different boards to see your action options.

4 Phases of Stuff

This should feel just an inane as Belfort, but each action feels like so much more. In Belfort, you might spend a gold to generate 2 metal. In Prêt-à-Porter, in the same time you can hire an ace employee who is going to positively influence your company for the rest of the game.

Something as excruciating as paying operating costs even feels better. And it shouldn't. Prêt-à-Porter replaces Belfort's cartoony capitalism with a swimming-with-sharks once-you-smell-the-blood-you're-already-dead economic nightmare. Prêt-à-Porter has loans. It has regular bank loans, and then it has the kind of loans you take out to make the interest payments on your other loans. Sick.

This player board tracks your operating costs in a simple manner. 
Of course you always screw up the accountant, don't you?

Prêt-à-Porter more directly connects operating costs with the stuff you sign up for. You can actually play sort of conservatively and keep your costs under control (try to stay away from most buildings) while Belfort taxes you more as you get victory points, regardless of your ability to pay them.

And that's right, there are no taxes in Prêt-à-Porter. Because you are in an special economic development zone, or something. I'll take it!

Pole Position

So lets go back to the poles. One one side, we have Belfort. Belfort workers operate similar to the peons in Warcraft. You tell them to go out and do things, and that's what they do. Prêt-à-Porter is more like opportunities in your life you are presented with.

Do other worker placement games fall between these 2 poles? Or do other worker placement scenarios fit into other poles, strange poles separate and yet infinitely interconnected to this reality we live in.

I will continue to study and report on this issue. This Worker Placement series has already exceeded my wildest dreams, so I may have to move the success goal posts out a little.

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