The English translation of Prêt-à-Porter doesn’t really work, does it? I mean, ‘Prêt-à-Porter’ sounds sophisticated, intriguing, stylish, exotic; Ready-to-Wear on the other hand…
So, having played this economic strategy game from Ignacy Trzewiczek a couple of times now, which name does the game stand up to?
Well, it’s a bit of both really. The artwork is certainly stylish, the engine-building aspects of the game intriguing, and yet, unlike some of Trzewiczek’s other works (Robinson Crusoe I’m looking at you!), it’s an easy game to learn and play. let’s face it, if the title were Ready-to-Wear, I doubt it would have been as successful as it is – I have the third edition and only successful games make it past the first.
‘What’s it all about then?’ I hear you cry. Well, obviously, it’s about the fashion industry. More precisely, consider yourself a managing director, just setting out on your journey to build a fashion empire. You’ll need buildings to grow your business, high power contracts to get the things you need, designs to make and quality materials to make them with, and, of course, staff to do all the real work. It’s all here and getting everything working together to keep the prestige and money rolling in, is the main part of the game.
The game takes you through a year in the fashion industry, where you’ll have the chance to build up your company with the aim of hitting it big when showtime comes. The season is broken down into four quarters, each with two working rounds followed by an exhibition round.
It’s predominantly a worker placement game, with each player having three workers to place in each working round. Once all players have placed their workers then they start to activate them. This is done in a set order, Bank, Contracts, Buildings, Employees, New Designs, Local Manufacturer, Warehouse, Import, and Last-Minute Preparations, and first worker placed acts first.
When it comes to the exhibitions, you want to be on trend, have good PR, and have lots of designs to display all made using quality materials. You’ll be competing against your rivals in a number of categories, with the player holding the most tokens/cards in the category taking the glory.
Anyway, without making this a full review and harping on about how you do all that, let’s concentrate on my thoughts after just a few games. For starters, I played this with my daughter, just the two of us, and I’ll come back to that shortly. As with Robinson Crusoe, Trzewiczek has done a great job of integrating theme into a Euro game. Everything here, from the staff and contracts to the quality of materials, is taken into account and immerses you into the world of fashion.
Everything made sense thematically. Take for instance the Major Retail Outlet you can build, which brings in money based on how much prestige you gained from the last exhibitions – the more well-known you are, the more people will buy from you – or the Sales Rep who enables you to buy local materials without placing a worker and if you train her up she’ll negotiate a lower rate to pay. Ah! it’s a delight to see and holds the game together making it fun to play.
My favourite part was getting an engine going. The buildings you buy, the people you hire, and the contracts you form, can all boost your options during a turn, and I found those that allowed you to take actions without placing a worker the most useful and fun to play. If I had cards that enabled me to draw lots of new designs, then I could concentrate my workers on getting the materials I needed to make them. As the game progressed, the better my engine became, as I’d be able to activate more actions without workers and increase the number of things I could do. Of course, I still needed to think through the sequence of things and make sure I’m not wasting a worker somewhere, and the fact that anything gained from the board comes into action straight away needed to be remembered. For example, if I grabbed a Sales Rep, I could then gain something from the Local Manufacturer in the same round, so it’s possible to work that into your strategy when placing those workers.
The working phase, for me, was the best part of the game. It made me think, especially in the early rounds where what I could achieve was limited. As the game went on, I was doing so much more and my plans worked out quite well, as I put out a lot of designs come the exhibition rounds. However well I did, though, I still felt more was achievable if I just got the sequence of cards right – staff, buildings, contracts, etc.
The exhibition round, I thought was the weakest part of the theme. It didn’t feel like I was displaying on the catwalk and putting on a performance. It was simply the culmination of what was achieved in the working rounds. Whoever had the most tokens/cards in the current category being exhibited won the most prestige. After it was all done, the designs were sold off and tokens returned to the box to start over with the next round. It was a bit of an anti-climax.
In between all these rounds the players have the chance to grow their company – train staff and upgrade buildings – making them a little bit more useful. They also have to pay for the upkeep of their business, which, in the early rounds, can be a struggle, especially if you go over the top in purchases – don’t fret, though, a loan is easily obtained from the bank… at a cost!
Overall, we both enjoyed playing Prêt-à-Porter and I only came away from these first games with one criticism – the scoring. You can score huge amounts of points in this game, but this isn’t so obvious during play. At the start of an exhibition round, all prestige tokens held by the players are converted to Victory Points, and then returned to the box. In a 2-player game, each Prestige token is worth 1-point. Here you’ll find your score jumping up by a small amount, say 12-points. The main scoring, however, is cash, and at the end of the game you tot it up and add it to your score – this is where you’ll suddenly find everyone is boosting their score by a few hundred points or more, and this, for me, caused a few issues.
Firstly, and it does state in the rules, cash is public knowledge, so anyone can ask how much of it you have at any time. But, when you’re in the game, keeping tabs on who’s got what isn’t easy and more to the point, takes time if you get busy trying to work out what people have and what their likely to earn in the next exhibition round; it slows things down. That isn’t my main issue though…
In a 2-player game, during the exhibitions, other than for the first category of a show the runner-up doesn’t receive any prestige. A couple of times I won all the categories in an early show netting me a minimum of 16-prestige points compared to Yasmin’s 1. These prestige points are then multiplied by the number of designs used in you used in the exhibition. This then, gained me 64 or 80 if I had four or five designs. On top of this, everyone’s designs are then sold, so if I also had the more expensive designs my cash glut just grew bigger.
So, you could say that good play is rewarded, which in some circumstances is fine, but in a 2-player game this caused a bit of a rift. Winning all categories in an early show gives a large advantage. With all that cash you can afford to invest in buildings and upgrades, take on more staff and train them, and buy all the materials you may need for your designs. This then places you in a good position to win the majority of the next exhibition round’s categories, and so your advantage grows.
You could, of course, just hoard all that cash, investing just enough to have a fair bash at the exhibition round, and it is a viable strategy, as, remember, cash equals Victory Points at the end of the game.
Either way, it puts a dampener on things, with the player on the receiving end feeling out of the game at an early stage, and we found it really difficult to catch up.
This could simply be down to us both learning the game at a different pace. I played my game differently to Yasmin and I think we both learned a little from each other. I played quite aggressively from the start, going for things to grow my company and give me advantages in those first few exhibitions, practically blowing my budget. Yasmin, on the other hand, played to build up a large cash pile, and whilst she did quite well in the later part of the game, by that time it was too little too late – the last game we played I won by around 300-points!
I’d like to play at a higher player count, as I think the game would balance itself for player experience slightly better, but at the end of the day I believe this to be one of those games where experience and skill level is going to make a big difference, so big that you’ll only want to play with equals… except, thematically, it’s really fun to play, so if you don’t mind getting drubbed you can still have a good time!
Prêt-à-Porter is a game that will see plenty of play from us, as it has been both strategical and fun to play. It will be interesting to see how our different play styles develop and if they can be competitive against one another. I’ll also be looking to get a couple of games in at higher player counts ready to write up a full review.