Jul 23, 2014

[Games] Prêt-à-Porter

I was rather surprised when Tobie excited picked up a copy of Prêt-à-Porter at Gaming Library's booth at the recently concluded NexCon. And while we do have our share of campy interests (such as faithfully following RuPaul's Drag Race), I didn't expect him to ever pick up a copy of a fashion-related board game. But of course, looks can be totally deceiving.

Prêt-à-Porter is way more than "just a fashion game" (not that fashion isn't awesome for the right people, mind you). In fact, it's a pretty complicated game that has a lot more to do with resource management and the fundamentals of running your own business more than just pretty clothes.

But it still has pretty clothes.

If anything, the game become one of our favorites during game nights and the only real limitation it has is the fact that it's limited to a maximum of four players. Then again, I suppose things would just get too crazy if there were more folks vying to win in such a cutthroat environment.

Prêt-à-Porter is an economic strategy worker placement game created by Piotr Haraszczak and Ignacy Trzewiczek. The game puts you in control of one of several fashion companies trying to make your mark in the industry. The game is good for 2-4 players.

Now note that the game has players playing the roles of fashion companies and not fashion designers. The actual clothes are but a small part of this entire game equation. Thus you need to think about the salaries of your staff, the quality of your materials for your clothes and of course what to put on the runway at the next fashion show. And this is what everything really boils down to since the fashion shows are the primary venues for actually making money.

The game plays out across a 12-month calendar year. In a manner of speaking, each month represents a particular game round where players take turns performing various actions. But the tricky bit is that there are also 4 fashion shows that take place every third month where players can show off their clothes and get a chance to actually sell them for money. Thus you have the core game pattern of 2 months of preparation followed by a fashion show month.

In those two months of preparation, players will scramble to put together a viable collection for the fashion show - although you also have the option to wait out a show and focus on the next one instead. But given money is typically made during fashion shows, you really can't survive for long. Back to preparation, players vie for limited worker slots to come up with designs for clothes, purchase materials for said clothes and possibly hire additional staff or rent new facilities. And the diversity of your preparation options reflect the many ways one can win notice on the runway.

Their are several possible criteria for judging at the fashion show, and these come up in random order based on the cards the represent the various city locations. The March fashion show only involves one city and this steadily increases to four cities come December. The possible criteria are Size of Collection, Trend, Quality, and PR. And given this is a competition, you need to come out first in order to win big - tying does not make you a winner after all. And thus players end up mapping their collections based on the projected cities for the different shows, something which is openly identified at the start of the year when you begin the game. All the tools for your success are pretty much laid out ahead of you as long as you're smart about things.

It's easy to get buried in debt early in the game. You start with only $40,000 and this has to cover the wages of your employees (you start the game accountable for three basic staff members who have no direct game benefits) and the rent of your additional buildings, but you also need  buy the materials for your clothes and determine what quality you can afford in order to break even come fashion month. You could take out a loan, then you'll still need to settle accounts during the next fashion month anyway. And if at anytime you fail to pay your obligations in a given month, you will end up taking a "mandatory loan", which quite frankly feels like an infusion of cash from organized crime. Interest rates get crazy and you can quickly fall deeper and deeper in debt if you're not careful.

Unlike other worker placement games like Lords of Waterdeep, there are a finite number of slots for your workers. There is no option to expand or add additional worker slots to the board - plus each section only offers up to 3 worker slots. Given a four-player game, someone is bound to miss out on key items like more designs or perhaps more affordable materials. In every game we've played, the level of stress in this game is a lot higher than Waterdeep. And that's really part of the brilliance of the whole thing.

Prêt-à-Porter is not a game to get into casually. It requires serious focus and a decent understanding of basic business principles. But when you embrace this paradigm of the game, it can certainly be a lot of fun and pretty occasional, too. Personally, I recommend having a calculator handy to help map out your options month over month. And given all this, I still rate this game as a solid 5 different success factors that one needs to balance out of a possible 5.

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