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Subject: Ora et Labora = Le Havre + Powerthirst! rss

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Jeff Forbes

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Ora et Labora is the Bastard Offspring of Uwe Rosenburg's farming/development trilogy turned quadrology. Gameplay-wise, it descends almost directly from Le Havre, and is a more distant relative of Agricola and At the Gates of Loyang. It is the heaviest, longest, most open, and least random of the bunch - in fact, there is absolutely no randomness at all to be found in the game other than the actions of the players. Let's take a look at it, eh?


Some basic rules/concepts:

- You have 3 workers, one of which is special (the Prior)

- If your Prior is available, when you build a building, you gain a free action by then placing on the building you just built (this is optional, you don't need to do it and occasionally may not)

- Each turn, you generally have one action, which involves building a building, chopping wood or peat, or paying one of your opponents to use one of their unused workers on one of their unoccupied buildings, or using one of your unused workers on one of your unoccupied buildings

- Only if all three of your workers are in use do you get them back to use at the beginning of the next round

- "Settlement" rounds occur several times through the game, which are equivalent to the feeding phases in Agricola or Le Havre, only they are optional and you have choices that score less and require less resources.

- After each settlement round (A, B, C, D), the next, more powerful, group of buildings becomes available to build. The old ones remain available.

- Most buildings can be built on different terrain types, but some are restricted - enough to add a significant planning element to the game.

- Scoring in the endgame has a very strong spatial element where settlements are valued based on the buildings that are placed orthogonally adjacent to them. This spatial element is not to be underestimated.


Ora is a Resource Conversion Game. It is mostly about:

10 Getting Stuff And Crap
20 Using That Stuff To Make More Better Stuff
30 Building Crap
40 If (EndOfGameCondition = 1, Goto 60)
50 Goto 10
60 End

For every resource, there is a Chain Of Buildings that improve what you've got, or gives you more stuff, and even a few that let you trade down better resources for more worse ones. Sounds like Le Havre, eh? But wait... There's More!

There is a very strong spatial element to where you put your buildings, due to the way settlements are scored. Some buildings are Really Cool To Live Next To, Like The Castle. Everyone wants to Live By The Castle! But some buildings are really Not So Cool To Live Next To, such as the Slaughterhouse. Yuck. Poor Placement of settlements and buildings will Make Your Score So Small You Might Just Want To Take Those Spam Emails Up On Their Offers.

The game offers two scenarios to start - France and Ireland - which use somewhat different sets of buildings and resources. It strikes me that different variants could easily be made as mini expansions in the future, and each different variant could have a significantly different economy than the ones included in the game. Just imagine the excitement... instead of making wine in France you might be able to make Sake in Japan! Instead of making Whiskey in Ireland, you could make Bourbon in Kentucky! Oh Wow!

The lack of randomness might strike you as a Bad Thing, but there are a tremendous amount of options available for everyone. Groups with a strong sense of groupthink may start seeing the early game play out predictably, but after a settlement phase or two, there will be enough going on to keep things from getting too samey. Unlike Le Havre, the buildings come out at the same time in every game, so while their arrival is predictable, their number is Big.


So. Them's the basics. How does it feel to play?


Let's start with tension. In Le Havre, there wasn't a whole lot of tension once you figured out that you didn't need to worry about feeding - taking loans was not a big deal in that game. The tension was more about optimizing actions, building access, being able to ship some Good Stuff once or twice before the end of the game. In Agricola, there was a lot of tension as the harvest phases came faster and faster as your grew your family, requiring more and more food in fewer and fewer rounds. It also took you a lot of actions at the beginning to get anything done, so you felt like you were spinning your tires, even if in reality you were sowing the seeds of making life easier.

In Ora, there's some tension worrying about the incoming settlement phase, but the cheaper settlement options aren't that much worse, so you will be able to place something. Here, I feel even less pressure than feeding in Le Havre. The main stress here is that there are So Many Choices. You will often be able to build one of 19 Different Buildings, of which about half look great, or use one of 42 Different Buildings one of your opponents has, for a fee, or use one of your buildings that you built for the purpose of doing Really Cool Stuff. And it ALL looks good. If you're overwhelmed by stuff like this, you might want to run away screaming.

Compared to Le Havre, Things are even More Plenty. More Viable Choices, More Resource Conversion Paths, more Available Resources, More Buildings, and More Neat Things. Maybe Uwe has been drinking Powerthirst lately?

There are So Many Options that it can be overwhelming. Steam Will Come Out Of Your Ears for the duration of the game. The game doesn't have loads of interaction, so you will generally be able to think through your next action whenever other people are taking their turns. Only sometimes will people mess up your plans. Ora is a bit more interactive than Le Havre, and a bit less interactive than Agricola - where competition for specific, more limited resources is significantly stronger.

It seems like there is a fairly strong run for wonders in the late game. At 30 points a pop, they're an easy way to rack up your score - and Different Buildings offer Many Ways To Make Wonders too. So anyone that has been doing a Totally Good Job of Upgrading To Awesome Resources will have plenty of chances to build wonders come the endgame. The game can probably be won without them, but you had better have The Best Settlements Ever if you're going to win without 'em!

The game flows relatively smoothly. It is again somewhat reminiscent of Le Havre, where you have "feast" and "famine" rounds where you get more actions sometimes. For example, in the 3 player game, turn order looks like this:

ABCA
BCAB
CABC
ABCA

In each round, resources increase at the beginning of the round, one player gets two actions but the second action is after everyone else is done too. The 2 player long game is slightly different, essentially giving each player 3 actions in a row, but with a round switch in between them:

AAB
BBA
AAB
BBA

In my one 2 player long game, there were some points of confusion where we weren't totally on top of this sequence, which is actually very important to uphold due to the way the game moves on. Explicitly passing the start player marker is something I rarely bother with in a 2 player game, but seems to be a good idea here. The 3-4 player games are smoother as there's an obvious deliniation between whose action it is, and when the dial needs to be moved.

The one other thing I will point out is that there are several different games. The solo game, the 2 player short game, which is closer to the 3-4 player long game in scale, the 2 player long game, which gives access to almost all of the buildings and has no defined end by number of turns, and the 3-4 player short games which are the shortest of them all. So some extra care should be taken when it comes to which version of the game you are playing.

Other than the way turn order goes, there's not too much to be confused about with rules.
There's more to teach than with Le Havre, but there aren't really any niggling issues - once the game starts, there's not going to be much confusion about anything - the rules really do get out of the way in this one.

I really like this game. It is dry and fiddly, But the game is put together with the precision of a fine watch. If the idea of More Stuff, More Buildings, More Resources, More Conversions, A Totally New Spatial Element, and MORE EVERYTHING intrigues you, then you need to buy this game, now.

If you do not enjoy Myriad Choices of Apparently Awesome Things but Having Somewhat Questionable Relative Value and Turning Crap in to Totally More Differenter Crap in a box containing a Totally Awesome Pasted On Theme of Farming In The Middle Ages, well, this is Not For You.

If you haven't played any of Uwe's games, you might want to try Agricola and Le Havre first unless you're specifically looking for spaciality in your games.

Conclusion:

Uwe was playing Le Havre and drinking Powerthirst, and this game was the result.


My rating: Initially an 8, now a very tenative 9 (my ratings go up a lot less often than down). I don't see "10" potential here, but I have 3 10s and my average rating is in the low 5s. In the long term this may land in my top 10.
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Evil!Travis
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Imagine that.
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"You can only become slightly less embarrassing at Werewolf once you realize you are an abomination to the game like all of us." - dbmurph22
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Nice review and a fun read. Thanks.
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Trevor Schadt
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I don't know if you simply missed this while writing your review or overlooked it while playing the game (I hope the former, because the latter would completely change gameplay), but you missed a relatively important point in your "basic rules/concepts" bit:

"- Each turn, you generally have one action, which involves building a building, chopping wood or peat, or paying one of your opponents to use one of their workers on one of their buildings"

should be

"- Each turn, you generally have one action, which involves using one of your workers on one of your unoccupied buildings, building a building, chopping wood or peat, or paying one of your opponents to use one of their workers on one of their buildings"

I imagine there'd be a whole lot less building of buildings if all the building player got were the points (and the one-time possibility of using the Prior) while everyone else got to use it for the rest of the game.
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Ben
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Very nice review!

Quote:
If you do not enjoy Myriad Choices of Apparently Awesome Thingsbut Having Somewhat Questionable Relative Value and Turning Crap in to Totally More Differenter Crap in a box containing a Totally Awesome Pasted On Theme of Farming In The Middle Ages, well, this is Not For You.

Yup, that sounds about right.
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Jeff Forbes

New Hampshire
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ryudoowaru wrote:
I don't know if you simply missed this while writing your review or overlooked it while playing the game (I hope the former, because the latter would completely change gameplay), but you missed a relatively important point in your "basic rules/concepts" bit:

"- Each turn, you generally have one action, which involves building a building, chopping wood or peat, or paying one of your opponents to use one of their workers on one of their buildings"

should be

"- Each turn, you generally have one action, which involves using one of your workers on one of your unoccupied buildings, building a building, chopping wood or peat, or paying one of your opponents to use one of their workers on one of their buildings"

I imagine there'd be a whole lot less building of buildings if all the building player got were the points (and the one-time possibility of using the Prior) while everyone else got to use it for the rest of the game. :)


Simply missed when writing the review. Good catch!
 
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M T
United States
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Nice review. Le Havre is my favorite, so I really like this game.
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Pavel Hammerschmidt
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How does it play solo compared to Le Havre or Agricola?
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Jeff Forbes

New Hampshire
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pvhammer wrote:
How does it play solo compared to Le Havre or Agricola?


I'm not too big on solo board games. Played Agricola once and was absolutely bored with it. I play solo Le Havre sometimes via the computer version, and have played only once solo.

It is a bit different than the other games because it requires the use of a dummy player board, which uses only the starting plot of land. As you get to each settlement phase, you take the unbuilt buildings and place them on to the dummy player board, and you can hire the dummy player pieces to use the buildings. You use all of the buildings. The other significant rules difference is that if you let a good go past the "10" tick on the clock, it goes away for the remainder of the game, which adds a tiny bit of tension.

The game works, but it's a bore for me - I've never enjoyed a solo play of a board game though. It feels even more puzzleish than Le Havre or Agricola, and I think the total lack of randomness in setup is a detriment in the case of the solo game.

If you like Le Havre solo, you should probably be able to enjoy a few plays of this, but it's not groundbreaking and I don't think many people would be interested in repeated play - though I do bet that a few people will love it and try to figure out how to maximize their score.
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Stephen
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jforbes wrote:
It is the heaviest, longest, most open, and least random of the bunch


Regarding weight, I would have said Agricola > Le Havre > Ora et Labora > At the Gates of Loyang, but BGG agrees with you:

Ora et Labora: 3.9
Le Havre: 3.8
Agricola: 3.6
At the Gates of Loyang: 3.2
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Jeff Forbes

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Agricola is significantly less deep than Ora or Le Havre - it has a much flatter economy - there is only one currency and VPs, and you collect the needed resources directly. It is more tense because resources are more limited, however, there aren't nearly as many choices in it, and the means to reach the end is significantly less obscure. Two primary ways to make food with a very straightforward conversion either way - one is more action intensive, the other, more resource intensive.

In Ora and Le Havre, there are deeper synergy levels to be found between buildings. And while you have a bunch of cards, they generally have a pretty straightforwards payout too. So there's more that needs to be sussed out to do well. I'm pretty sure I have Agricola and Le Havre in as "medium", and would probably input O&L as "medium heavy". It really is a game with a resource tree as deep or deeper than Le Havre, and in addition to that you have this spatial thing going on.

The spatial aspect of Agricola is trivial, nonexistent in the rest of the trilogy, but is very, very strong here.



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Loren Cadelinia
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jforbes wrote:

The spatial aspect of Agricola is trivial, nonexistent in the rest of the trilogy, but is very, very strong here.


FotM addresses this. Granted OeL's spatial aspect blows it out of the water, but I have seen some pretty funky farms ranging from awesome to hilarious. This has kept Agricola fresh for me, not to mention the variety of occupations and minor improvements that come into play.
 
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Jeff Forbes

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Ora et Labora » Forums » Reviews
Re: Ora et Labora = Le Havre + Powerthirst!
Even with FotM, there's not a whole lot going on with your player board. You have choices, and you need to be a bit more aware of how it is working for you, but in the end it's just a small element to plan around. You can build things in funny ways, and later fill the missing space in with a stable or field if needed. The added resources in the game made it significantly easier, for me.
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Joost Kleppe
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Quote:
It is dry and fiddly, But the game is put together with the precision of a fine watch.


Wow this sums up Ora et Labora for me!

'It a slightly unappealing, but it'll get you hooked after all.' is another way of saying it.

 
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