Portal Publishing and I've been thrilled by almost all of Ignacy Trzewiczek's designs, but I was surprised when I first saw his Prêt-à-Porter – released in Polish in 2010 and due out in English at Spiel 2011 – as the setting is a far cry from the post-apocalyptic worlds one expects to see in a game from Portal. That said, perhaps Portal is savvier than I thought as my daughter and wife were delighted to try a game about fashion shows.
The cover artwork is striking, and the rest of the materials and artwork match the Portal standards exhibited in prior releases. The game includes more than 70 small cards used for buildings, employees, contracts, loans, credits and fashion shows; 50 normal cards for designs; a variety of cardboard counters (Quality, Trend, Public Relation, Star); 60 wooden cubes (materials in six colors); wooden tokens; and money and player aides.
While the theme of the game is style and fashion – surface qualities, for many people – the game itself is a deep economical design, with high interaction and the ability to adopt aggressive strategies. Players run clothing companies and must design and produce the best collections possible by using contracts, buildings and talented employees in order to compete in fashion shows.
The game lasts twelve months (rounds), and each third month is a show (scoring round). During the preparation months, players acquire buildings, get employees and contracts, prepare new designs and buy the materials to complete the collection.
During the fashion show months, they display collections and sell them to earn money, and the player who has the most money at the end of the game wins. What constitutes a collection? One or more finished designs that share a common style: Sports, Boho, Vintage, Kids and Evening. The collections are evaluated for quality, trend, public relation and quantity of design. The order (and the value) of each trait depends on the month and the city where the show takes place. The most valued collections based on current trends in the market receive stars, which both provide additional income when selling the collection that month and earn additional money at game's end.
Each of the preparation months consists of an action planning phase, an action execution phase, a training and development phase, and finally a maintenance phase.
The game board features nine actions available to players, and each action can be selected 2-3 times depending on the number of players in the game. A player can choose the same action twice, but as with all such games you always want to do far more than the three actions per month you are allowed. New contracts, buildings, employees and designs are available each month, and the first player to select an action naturally has first choice to what's being offered
Buldings, employees and contracts (shown above in this order) offer special benefits at a "cost", with buildings and employees staying with you for the rest of the year but requiring a fixed maintenance cost each month. Buildings have construction costs, too, but you want them as you are allowed a maximum of three employees, plus one for each building you have. Contracts, on the other hand, cost only the action itself to purchase, but they last for only one show, so you need to keep going back for more.
The range of possible combinations and abilities is huge, and buildings and employees can be upgraded to provide even more options – but you need to keep maintenance costs under control or else you'll have no money for anything else, and that's not good.
Money is both the key to victory (since the player with the most money wins) and essential for buying buildings, paying employees and lest we forget purchasing materials needed to make the collections themselves. Every design card shows the two colored cubes (always different) needed to complete that design, and unless a design is finished, you cannot display and sell it when the show arrives.
You can purchase materials in three locations: the local manufacturer for cheap one-off materials of low quality, the warehouse for medium-quality materials of all types, and importers, which offer expensive materials of only the finest quality. These quality counters, along with public relation and trend counters, are all placed on the company board that also displays the type of design in which the company specializes, with your specialty allowing you to create trendy designs of that type.
Finally, you can visit the bank to be credited money or the preparation field which offers a sampling of quality, trend, PR or money.
Despite the "light" theme, Prêt-à-Porter is a deep strategic economics game, with a huge number of possible plays and combinations as well as big interaction between players and companies. Walk strong and look fierce, and maybe you can strut to victory on the catwalk...
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