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Subject: Delightful highs and tolerable lows: My review of Ora et Labora rss

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I only started playing board games a couple of years ago, but I have come to fall in love with the worker-placement, resource-management genre. Agricola, the 2007 Uwe Rosenberg instant classic, was my gateway game. I bought it two years ago. In that game and its expansion, Farmers of the Moor, the player is a farmer charged with clearing a plot of land, collecting and breeding animals, sowing and harvesting crops, and expanding your home. From there, I bought Rosenberg’s next innovation, Le Havre. In that 2008 game, the player is a shipping magnate who must develop raw materials at the factories and retail outlets he builds or buys and, thereafter, ship the finished goods for cash. As these were the only two German board games I owned, it seemed only natural that my next purchase would be Rosenberg’s Ora et Labora (OeL), conceived from some of the best elements of Agricola and Le Havre.

In OeL, the player runs a monastery, a task that requires her to clear land for newly constructed buildings where, by activation through worker placement, food, fuel, and other valuable items are produced and refined. The buildings and some of the goods are worth victory points and, to severely simplify the related strategy, more is better. Even casual player of Agricola and Le Havre can immediately recognize the best elements of each.

The player’s other duty is to develop settlements, which are built by expending food and fuel, and intersperse them among the buildings within the monastery. This element of the game distinguishes OeL from Agricola and Le Havre because the victory points attained from these settlements are almost entirely derived from values ascribed to their neighboring buildings; a settlement next to a valuable building is worth more points than one neighboring a worthless building. OeL winners typically demonstrate the most imagination and forethought in the placement of settlements and the overall development of their monasteries.

Thematic descriptions and strategy aside, I would be remiss if I did not mention two intelligent improvements Rosenberg brought to OeL – two improvements that I believe would have made Le Havre much more fun and manageable. First, instead of subjecting players to constant interruptions to restock a game board with chits, OeL has a wheel-and-dial device referred to as the production wheel. By simply moving the dial 15 degrees or so, all players are now on notice that there is one more of each kind of resource than there was before. No prolonged stoppages to reload. No “did you restock the clay?” The game keeps moving. Second, there are two versions of the game. Just when you master the Ireland strategy, there is a France variant, complete with different buildings with different constraints and a couple of different resources. So, not only does the game keep moving, but it stays fresh.

OeL is not without its flaws, however tolerable and surmountable they may be. If you only gave OeL a try because you were a player of Agricola and Le Havre, as I did, you may be disappointed with the quality of the components, which are made of a comparatively feeble cardstock rather than the sturdier pressed cardboard used in Rosenberg’s previous games. This issue, however, has nothing to do with game play and can possibly be ignored.

It is impossible, however, to ignore the complicated rules. After I opened the OeL box, I discovered the eight-page detailed rulebook, the four-page general rulebook, the one-page game set up page, and the eight (four for France, four for Ireland) one-half-page game play guides. The presence of all these smaller rulebooks is a tacit admission that someone, somewhere, recognized that the detailed rulebook was a poorly translated – or worse, poorly written – document that could not adequately explain basic concepts like how to play a two-player game, a commonly misunderstood rule on these message boards. The twelve-page explanation of the buildings, however, is incredibly useful, user-friendly, and worthy of particular praise.

A game as deep and rich as OeL almost necessitates complex rules and these rules are not unlearnable. After a few hours of game play and careful study, the complexities do begin to unravel. If a player can apply such effort, OeL is certain to reward her with an exciting time with friends. The time flies while playing this game and that was, after all, the hallmark of the other Rosenberg games.
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Jay Sheely
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I thought the rules were fine. And I totally agree with you in that I prefer it handily over Le Havre.

Nice write up!
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Ryan M
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It's funny about the rules. I've heard people say they are great, and others, l'île myself ste with you. Ithe Game us fairly simple to explain to others. But I found myself wondering if I was using the right wheel or the right production bar. How many round for the different player numbers vs Lo.g or short game. That doesn't even count the different end conditions.

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I tend to focus on the positives of the game. Really, once you've learned this game, my opinion is that it is entertaining.

With that said, the creation of a series of smaller rulebooks to explain what the larger, poorly-written rulebook could not is such a colossal waste of effort I do not know where to begin. I would expect a game so focused on efficiency to eliminate such redundancies and attempt, instead, to make the larger rulebook unambiguously clear.

I am perplexed as to how creating several smaller rulebooks even gets suggested, not to mention executed, as a solution to the problem of the larger rulebook. I mean, they must have done this to address what they realized was a problem. It's not like it is a standard practice for a game to have four or five manuals explaining the exact same material at varying levels of depth.
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Jon Prichard
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Good review - have a thumb.

Have to say though, after playing Agricola, Le Havre and Ora, I prefer Le Havre.

Still really like Ora and Agricola though
 
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