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Subject: Can you have too much worker placements? - a Praetor review rss

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Jarek Szczepanik
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I've promised myself (and my special one) that Tzolkin will be my last worker placement. I've tried convincing myself that they are all similar, etc. Unfortunately for my wallet and shelf space in our flat (good bye all the books that we won't read again), I've recently broken my promise. The reasons were Spyrium and Praetor, and the latter will be the hero of the following review.

General description

Praetor is, most of all, a worker placement game, but, after a closer look, it is a blend of several mechanics - you'll find some tile placing and a touch area majority and set collection inside. There are a lot of dice in Praetor. 'What the heck?! Dice? In a worker placement? I'm out of here!' - you may have objected loudly. Do not worry. Although you will use the dice constantly, you won't roll any of them.
Praetor is a game for 2-5 players, and it will take about an hour to finish a 2 player game. It's set up in ancient Britain under the Roman rule. Aside from building the famous Hadrian's wall, the player have to construct the city in its shadow, to increase the glory of Caesar Hadrian. Is that story convincing enough? Praetor could have just as well been about running a coal mine in 1850 (is that Spyrium somewhere in my mind?) or a hospital in 1990. I must admit, that all the components are quite thematic (especially coins), but, what the heck, who cares about theme when playing an euro worker placement? Your brain is too busy planning your moves. Let's talk about the game itself. Enjoy!

In the shadow of Hadrian's wall - the insides of the box

Two-piece scoring track, 5 two-side player boards and 42 city tiles are the bulk of what get in the box. The rest is 40 dice in 5 colours, a lot of player markers, 14 wall tiles, gold chits (there's 105 and not 112 gold, as the rulebook states) and resource cubes. Last but not least, the rulebook and 4 player aids. The components are quite solid - it's a standard euro game quality, everyone should be satisfied with.

Order, act, update, repeat - the gameplay

The main goal of the game is to score the most favor points (FPs). There are several ways to earn FPs, but the gameplay itself is very simple. Each turn comprises of 3 phases: turn order phase, action phase and update phase. During the turn order phase new city tiles (up to 3) and wall tiles (one per turn) are laid out available for building, and the player order for the current turn is determined. The player with least points goes first, the player with most points goes last. Since going first is usually a huge advantage, players must watch their scores to assure a good starting position. Action phase is the core of the game - players in turns use their available workers in order to either occupy an already build building or to build a new one. Update phase is used to return workers to the players, manage them and pay them. The game ends when either all city tiles are built or all wall tiles are used up (hence, the maximum number of turns is 14).

The city and the wall - about the tiles

The city is the main stage of the game. City tiles are divided into 3 groups: starting (0) tiles, age I tiles and age II tiles. The number of city tiles in each group depends on the number of players. It's wise to sort them out based on the player number beforehand. The city starts with an Imperial Outpost (where players can build Hadrian's wall), Worker Camp (one can recruit new workers there) and the Market (which allows for the infinite exchange of money and resources). All these three buildings are public (it costs nothing to use them). In addition, the city starts with some gold mines, each one being owned by one player.

Looking through the buildings, you'll notice that aside from building requirements and FP reward for building it, almost every tile has an action circle at the bottom, and all tiles have mosaic corners in several colours. These two elements are very important. Action circles come in 3 different colours: blue, grey and red. Remember, that only red ones can give experience to your workers at the end of the turn. The mosaic corners are crucial during building itself. When you add a new building to the city, you get additional points, when the corners of the tiles adjacent to the one being built match (you don't count the corners on the tile that is being build, only the corners on adjacent tiles). You can rotate the new tile in order to get the most additional FPs. Remember that each city tile can be claimed only by one worker per turn, so adding a new tile to the city gives you FPs, but puts you at disadvantage - it's the next player, who can use it first. However, entering the building that belongs to another player costs gold or resources (check the costs at the left side of the action circle). Another trick is that by adding new tiles to the city, you leave more mosaic clusters to score for your opponents.

There are several types of buildings. The blue ones have been already discussed (public, no experience; it's worth mentioning that there's a second Worker Camp in a 2P+ game and a second Market in a 4P+ game). Red buildings either generate resources (you get a number of resource cubes equal (or less) to the experience of the worker you put on it) or earn you FPs or morale after meeting a certain condition. Grey buildings are special buildings. The allow you to perform a special action after paying their owner and require no workers on them.

Wall tiles can be build only by sending a worker to the Imperial Office (there's only one such building). Each turn there's one wall tile available to build. After paying resources shown on the tile, the player scores the FPs on the tile and places it face down in their playing area. The cool thong about wall tiles is, that they work as a scoring roller coaster - the more tiles you build, the more you score for the next one. On the back of each wall tile there's a +3 symbol. Adding a second (let's say a 7 point) wall tile to your collection scores 7+3 points, and building one more 7-pointer gives 7+3+3 FPs. If one player monopolizes wall building, they earn a bazillion points in no time.

'These Romans are crazy' - on cubes and coins

There are five types of resources you will encounter in the game: wood, stone, marble, weapons (all four represented by different colour cubes) and money. Each player starts with the same small amount of each type resources. Wood is the cheapest resource, weapons are most valuable. Wood, stone and marble can be generated in certain (red) buildings. Weapons can be obtained from the Blacksmith (which is a red building), by giving up wood (1 wood = one weapon - is it ancient alchemy? Didn't they know transmutation was impossible? - 'these Romans are crazy', as a certain Gaul could have said). The coins can be a little misleading at first - a gold one is worth I and a silver one is worth V. While that can be annoying for some persons, it has some historical grounds (but still, 'these Romans are crazy' - to cite a certain Gaul again). All resources can be exchanged (using the price reference on players boards) between types in any quantity using the Market, what makes it a crucial building.

The dice that no one rolled - player's components

Feld's first law says that there's no worker placement game without workers. In Praetor, each player has up to eight workers in one of 5 colours at their disposal (3 at the start of the game). The workers are represented by dice, but you won't roll even a single one throughout the game. The pips on each die are used to indicate the level of your worker. The more pips, the more experience a worker has. In order to manage their workers, each player gets a player board. The boards have two sides - A (all A-s are the same) and B (these are different). Use A-sides for a balanced game and B-sides to have a different strategic position. Finally, all players get 15 discs in their colour to follow scoring, morale, turn order and the ownership of the city tiles they've built. Now, let us talk about worker management, which is, IMO, the most interesting feature of the game.

I want to retire in Shire - pension benefits in ancient Rome

I've already written that some actions make your workers gain experience at the end of the turn. That's true until a worker reaches level VI - such worker is automatically retired - you have to put it on the lower (orange) row of your player board and it won't be available anymore to do actions (unless someone has built Labour Camp - it allows you to use one of your retired workers). In addition, having a worker costs - that's true both for active and retired ones (each space in the active (blue) and retired (orange) worker row has a cost you have to pay at the end of each game turn whenever that space is occupied by a die. If you don't have enough money to pay, you lose one morale for each gold coin you were short of. Having low morale earns you negative points at the end of the game.

Retiring a worker is awarded with some points. The sooner, the better - while retiring a worker during age I (before all city tiles from age are drawn) gives you by default 12 FPs, doing that in age II scores only 8 FPs. It's disadvantageous if you retire too many workers at the same time. Hiring new ones requires a rare building and takes two game turns (unless Academy, which shortens new worker's training, has been built). Sometimes you'll use a level IV or V worker on blue buildings, earning you no experience, in order to keep him active longer. To sum it up, timing is crucial in worker management. You should carefully plan when to retire which worker and when to grab the new one from your reserves.

Customizable stuff

Game set up is always the same. You get variation only from the order in which city and wall tiles appear. In order to increase the replayability and difficulty, you can play with B-sides of the player boards (they have different maximum and minimum morale values, different worker upkeep costs, different retirement scoring values and different market prices for resources). Each B-side is skewed towards a slightly different strategy, encouraging you to explore different paths to victory. In addition, you can use advanced rules, which score additional points for most city tiles owned, most wall tiles built and most unused workers at the end of the game. If you wish more challenge instead, you can remove all Markets from the game and play without them.

WHAT DO I THINK ABOUT THE GAME?

The components

No serious complaints here. It's a standard euro quality. The only thing I would like to have in the game, are the majority tokens for advanced rules as well as 100 and 200 FPs tiles. Our usual scores in 2P games are around 250-350. Having these two additional components would make final scoring much more easier. Another minor complaint refers to the rulebook. It's not always clear, but it's a problem with many games (and it depends on what type of rules format do you prefer).

Components score: 7/10

The theme

As said before, the game, as most euros, is not thematically strong. However, the components save the situation a little.

If you think about Ancient Rome themed games giving you several scoring possibilities, Trajan is the title that comes in mind. IMO, Trajan (which is an excellent game, btw) is a heavier title. Praetor can give you some premise of a complex game, and can be used as a gateway game at the same time.

Theme score: 6/10

Game mechanics and design

IMO, it's the strongest part of the game. I especially love worker management and the depth that's hidden in how do you plan using your available workforce. Retiring workers for points is cool, but it costs and gives you less actions per turn. As I wrote earlier, timing is a keyword here. The way the Market works is also interesting, but there are some concerns, that it can be an overpowered building (see below).

Game mechanics and design score: 9/10

Replayability

Using B-sides of player boards as well as advanced rules results in a lot of variation. There's also a promo pack for Praetor, which introduces two new Wall tiles, some new buildings and two new B-sides. You can either replace some base components with those from the promo pack or play with the full set. Be careful though, because adding more Wall and City tiles extends the game (up to 2 full turns) - we had situations, when someone run out of workers during the last turn - you have to plan your actions more carefully.

Replayability score: 7/10

Gameplay and balance

Praetor, although a medium weight title, is a difficult game, at least for me. It's very hard to master, what makes it very challenging. To be honest, I haven't won a single game, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I will say it again: timing and finding a correct pace are crucial. You can't allow your opponents to monopolize the wall building, using the Market or Worker Camp. Going first is a huge advantage, especially in a 2P game and during first 5-6 rounds. Some players complain about some buildings being overpowered. While I share some of their concerns, I'm not sure about them. Praetor is very difficult to master - am I not able to win against a certain strategy because it's overpowered or because I'm not good enough and cannot see a way out? I have mostly played 2P games, which are very cut-throat. You have to be an opportunist in a 2P game (especially with A-sides). Using B-sides or more players allows you for more specialization. The thing I love the most about the gameplay is that you have constantly keep an eye on your opponents - some buildings work ad scoring or recource gathering roller coasters. If you do nothing to piggyback that or block other players from earning too much points, you're doomed.

In brief, I find the gameplay very exciting and tense. Praetor plays smooth, but sometimes it can be AP prone, but, to be honest, it's more the player than the game itself, that creates AP (I know people who made Love Letter a 45 min. game!). There may be some balance issues regarding some buildings (Market, Labour Camp, Temple of Mercury, Blacksmith, Worker Camp), but at the moment, it's not sure if the tiles or the lack of good counter strategies are to blame. Overall, Praetor is a nice, innovative and enjoyable game, that we play very often.

Gameplay and balance score: 8/10

OVERALL SCORE: 7.4/10

UPSIDES:

thumbsup innovative worker management
thumbsup tense and rewarding gameplay
thumbsup can be used as a gateway game
thumbsup good replayability

DOWNSIDES:

thumbsdown some buildings may be unbalanced (problem fixed by the designer, at least for the temples)
thumbsdown no 50 & 100 points markers
thumbsdown no scoring markers for variants


P.S. Special thanks to Agnieszka Kopera (who I met at the game promotion in Warsaw), one of the designers of the game for sharing some thoughts on how to play the game. Nonetheless, I proclaim that I have nothing to do with NSKN Games or Granna (the Polish publisher) and this review contains my personal thoughts on the game.

EDIT (28 VI): Added UPSIDES & DOWNSIDES as well as a short comment on Praetor vs Trajan.
EDIT (VIII 2014). The designer has added an errata for temple scoring. You can get a maximum of 22 FPs when you activate the Temple of Mercury or the Temple of Plutus.
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Bijan Ajamlou
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Workerplacement is in essence a way of drafting. Drafting is exhiting when you are figuring out what is the best pick. I was in the same boat and thought Workerplacement is over used. But drafting is key to basically all games. Auction, drafting cards, Workerplacement are all variation of the same core concept where there is a random offer where you pick what you get. I much prefer it over random outcomes. When evaluating games i know look past drafting and look whats more. Drafting is essential to euro boardgames as is the board itself
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Steve Carey
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Svartisen wrote:
The components

No serious complaints here.


Serious no, but enough minor issues to accumulate a concern.

-Wood cubes are orange yet the lumber cards are red.

-The game is a player aid short (4 aids/5 players).

-Not enough resource cubes (we kept running out in a 5-player game).

-The game didn't ship with its KS promos.

-The mosaic corners weren't well thought-out.

Overall, we were generally disappointed with the game - the sum of the individual parts just don't add up to a satisfying gaming experience.
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Jarek Szczepanik
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Steve Carey wrote:
-The game is a player aid short (4 aids/5 players).


There's one additional at the back of the rulebook.

Steve Carey wrote:
-The game didn't ship with its KS promos.


Was this game on Kickstarter in the first place? I haven't seen it there!

Steve Carey wrote:
-The mosaic corners weren't well thought-out.


You may be right about the colours - blue, grey and green can be almost indistinguishable under certain types of light, but there's no problem with the patterns.
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Steve Carey
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Meant pre-order, not KS (thnx for the correction).

The mosaic issue wouldn't have been a big deal if the mechanic didn't seem somewhat forced and unnecessary.
 
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Jarek Szczepanik
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Steve Carey wrote:
Meant pre-order, not KS (thnx for the correction).

The mosaic issue wouldn't have been a big deal if the mechanic didn't seem somewhat forced and unnecessary.


Well, this game is a point salad, which requires it to comprise of several (not always necessary) scoring mechanisms.
 
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Jarek Szczepanik
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Analog_Gamer wrote:
Point-salad...Ancient Rome..... get Trajan!


I have Trajan as well. IMO, Trajan is for more advance gamers. Praetor is more simple and shorter, it can be used as a gateway game. Thanks Tyler, I'll add this comment to the OP.
 
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Henry Ho
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Analog_Gamer wrote:
Point-salad...Ancient Rome..... get Trajan!


Trajan is dry...Praetor is much more fun!
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ozgur ozubek
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nighthawk326 wrote:
Analog_Gamer wrote:
Point-salad...Ancient Rome..... get Trajan!


Trajan is dry...Praetor is much more fun!


+1.
my gaming group's trajan got immediately math-traded (luckily)
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