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Joe Braun
United States
Pawtucket
Rhode Island
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I decided to pick up Ora et Labora after reading some favorable reviews. Having played Uwe’s Agricola and Le Havre quite a bit, I was excited to see what he had in store for us next. I was a bit apprehensive since some people complained about the component quality and the game had “special” 2-player rules. Since most of my gaming is with my wife, this game had to accommodate 2 players or it wouldn’t be staying with us very long. To date, we’ve played the game 3 times; twice according to the short game rules and once with modified long-game rules (details below).

Overview

I won’t repeat all the rules, you can read them yourself. Briefly, you are give 3 monks-1 prior and 2 lay brothers. At the beginning of the game, you start with a plot of land with 3 basic buildings and some moors/forests. Your goal is to procure resources and then use these to build church and production buildings, lay out settlements, and upgrade resources to fancier resources and victory points. As with every euro-game, the goal is to get the most victory points.

Turns

On a turn, you can use your actions to either: 1) take the number of resources indicated by the production wheel; 2) use a building to acquire, upgrade, or convert resources; or 3) build a building and use the building if your prior is available. You are allowed to use other people’s available buildings, but, in general, you have to pay them for use and they must have a monk available for you to “hire.” You can also buy additional plots and convert your wheat to straw during your turn, which does not cost an action.

Phases

The game is divided into 5 phases that each end after a set number of turns that are tracked with the production wheel. At the end of each phase, you are allowed to lay out one of your settlements, which cost food and energy. You can also buy additional plots of land during this time. After each phase, new buildings come into play.

Novel Aspects

The first novel aspect of this game is the production wheel. At the beginning of the game, all resources start at zero units available. With each turn of the wheel, the units of the resource will continue to increase until the resource is chosen. Once the resource is chosen, the units available go back to zero. Early in the game, you might want to wait for enough resources to build a valuable building, but if you wait too long, your opponent might snatch it up and you’ll be left with nothing. Fear not though! There is a joker tile that can be used as any good. Like all other resources, the units of the joker tile increase with each passing turn.

The second novel aspect of the game is the placement of settlements, buildings, and plots. Each building and settlement is worth VPs and dwelling points (+ and -). The settlements are worth their own settlement points plus the settlement values of the orthogonally placed buildings. So, if you lay out a settlement, but then place low settlement value buildings around that settlement, you’ll lose valuable points. You also must think carefully about how you place plots as buildings can only be placed on specific land areas (coast, plains, hills, mountains, etc).

Like Le Havre, you need to upgrade basic goods (wood, clay, coins, sheep, wheat, and peat) into fancier resources and church related regalia (books, pots, reliquaries, and works of art). This conversion aspect follows the typical euro style and can be a major source of points in the game. However, ignoring careful placement of settlements and buildings makes this only part of the game.

Two Player Review

So, what is it like for two-players? It’s pretty good. However, Ora et Labora is long. Our first game took at least three hours since we were figuring out the rules. The second game took at least 2.5 hours plus two snack breaks. The major difference between the 2 and 3/4 player versions is that the 3/4 player version ends after a set number of rounds and the 2 player version ends based on the number of buildings left. This makes the end of the 2-player game tedious since you are trying to make the most of the remaining buildings/resources to most efficiently generate VPs. This makes the end of the game get a little repetitive and tiresome.

On our third game, we decided to modify the 2-player rules by playing the long version (all the building cards) and have the game end after a specified number of rounds. We ended the game like the 3/4 player version where we each received a bonus action (like Le Havre) and then did a final settlement. This made the game much better and both my wife and I were much happier since the game had a “fixed” end. We were able to finish the game in less than 2.5 hours (including 2 snack breaks). We will continue to play the game this way from now on.

We haven’t played with more players, but I think the game might not be as enjoyable with more since you will often be asking your opponents what buildings they have. With the 2 player version, we can just sit next to each other and see each other’s buildings, which somewhat alleviates this problem. If you like more confrontation, then the 3/4 player version might be more your thing since certain buildings work together and there will be more people taking similar strategies. The 2 player version reduces this tension, which can be a good or bad thing.

Component Quality

There have been some complaints about the component quality. The game includes several hundred chits to represent the 20+ resources. The chits are decent quality and thickness, although a few of them had peeling fronts after punching. The wood tokens and resource wheel are high quality. My biggest complaint is the player mats and plots-they are definitely poorer quality and flimsier than the player/game boards of Agricola or Le Havre. Given that Ora et Labora is about the same price as Agricola and Le Havre, I would have expected similar quality. The only other issue to consider is the size of the cards and card text. The cards are small and so is the text. If you are visually impaired, this might make game play tricky. Luckily, you don’t need to really read the text on the cards since the card actions are all symbolized and pretty easy to understand.


Recommendation

Would I purchase it again? Do I enjoy it? Yes and yes. Ora et Labora is a heavy game full of brain burning fun. Overall, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, but this might drop to a 7 out of 10 after a few more plays.

Finally, I would highly recommend getting a fishing tackle or artist's box to store all the chits. This helps keep the game contained on the table since you have 10+ different types of chits to look through.
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Bob Archer
United States
Tampa
Florida
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Nice review. Good to hear it works for two.

But, you guys should work on going 2.5 hours without any snack breaks. devil

BOb
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Tom
United States
Plainfield
ILLINOIS
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The good news is after two or three plays the game can be finished in a little over an hour if both players cruise in their choices. That being sad, I suspect if one doesn't play it regularly, the time will creep back up to two hours plus as everyone re-familiarizes themselves with the card rules.

 
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Caitlyn Paget
Canada
Toronto
ON
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pilotbob wrote:
But, you guys should work on going 2.5 hours without any snack breaks. devil


Also no bathroom breaks, or talking, or even gazing at each other.

just. game.
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David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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tathta wrote:
pilotbob wrote:
But, you guys should work on going 2.5 hours without any snack breaks. devil


Also no bathroom breaks, or talking, or even gazing at each other.

just. game.

You can gaze at each other if it is a deep mental battle to influence the other's next action.
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Alexander Portland
Germany
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Quote:
Given that Ora et Labora is about the same price as Agricola and Le Havre, I would have expected similar quality. The only other issue to consider is the size of the cards and card text.


You easy forgot the world price inflation from 2007/08 to 2011/2012. Every year the prices increase around 2% to 3 %. So i calculate it with a 2,5% inflation rate and a price of 50$ for a boardgame. We will have to pay 4 years later around 55,20 $ with that inflation rate. But the quality must stay the same for a paid game of 50$.

Quote:
The cards are small and so is the text. If you are visually impaired, this might make game play tricky. Luckily, you don’t need to really read the text on the cards since the card actions are all symbolized and pretty easy to understand

I played a 4 player game and the small cards are there necessary, because the table grows full of cards and chits. But in the end phase of Ora et labora i lost the overview, what my coplayers laid out in their monastry. I recommend a 2 or 3 player game therefor.

 
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