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Subject: I know you've got resources but do you feel like a monk? rss

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Roger Fawcett
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Northwich
Cheshire
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Surprisingly not many reviews have emerged about Ora & Labora although the game has received quite a few plays at our gaming group. As of 3rd January 2012 it has reached 281 in the BGG ranking despite only a handful of ratings and is set to climb higher. This review is not meant to be the long analytical kind of which there is already one posted - The Return of Uwe Rosenberg. Nor is it the comparison between short and long games as there is one of those already (2 player review after both short and long version..). Neither is it pictorial although we will doubtless have one of EndersGame's peerless pictorial reviews and I am looking forward to it.

The aim of this review is just to give the reader a feel for the game and whether or not it might be worth buying and playing. I shall consider three things - the designer, the style and the theme.

The Designer

As the designer of Agricola, Le Havre and Bohnanza Uwe Rosenberg needs no introduction. With his big box games you probably know the deal. Lots of resources. Lots of ways of manipulating resources. Buildings to buy. Action sequences to optimise.

In terms of being a fairly typical Uwe Rosenberg game Ora & Labora hits the mark. There are more resources than any of his other games and a myriad of ways to use them and develop them. The play system has been compared to Le Havre and that is true. The resources are double-sided card tokens and although you can flip some of them to improve them (e.g. clay into pottery, corn into straw). However, many of the resources stand alone and you can buy or produce them in other ways. This means you need to think carefully about how you will develop your stock.

Another aspect that I preferred in Ora & Labora over Le Havre is the way that many of the resources are victory points. The only other way to get victory points is through building. Whereas in Le Havre you have to jump through many hoops to improve certain resources and then sell them using a building, the process is slightly simpler in Ora & Labora it seems. You can collect clay from your clay mound and turn it into pottery for victory points and the whole thing has only taken a couple of actions (more if you have built the building, but you can pay to use other players’ buildings). You can then just sit on those pottery buildings for the rest of the game if you wish, however some buildings will let you combine pottery with other things to receive more victory points. This seems very simple and quite ‘pure’, although there are many things to think about so it is by no means dull.

So it’s all you might expect from Uwe Rosenberg but is it a classic ‘Euro’ game?

Euro-style

Ora & Labora is a straight ‘euro’ style game. Everything that you would expect from a good euro is there in spades. There are limited actions – one per turn unless you are the active player. You never have enough. There are resources to hoard and to spend wisely. Once again Rosenberg uses the trick of take resources or take an action (by occupying a building). The third thing you can do is to build a building. There is a slight twist from Le Havre though in that you have 3 pieces to place in order to take an action – two monks and a prior. The Prior is special in that he can immediately move into a newly built building and take its action. But you only get your three pieces back when they are all placed. So timing is crucial. Having your prior available is especially important when you are the active player receiving two actions. But you don’t always want to leave him as the only piece you have in case someone spots it and forces you to place it into a building.

There is always more to do than you can manage and as more buildings become available adapting your tactics becomes crucial, in keeping with most euro-style games. There is not much down time. In fact, another point in the game’s favour is that it really seems to fly by. It does not feel that you are playing a long game, because the ‘ticking clock’ of the resource wheel in the centre of the table seems to speed things up. Whilst you are not taking your turn, there is a lot to look out for – what resources the other players are collecting, what buildings are built that you might hire the use of, whether the resource you need is going to last one more turn on the wheel giving you that little bit extra.

In conclusion, Ora & Labora really hits the mark when it comes to a deep thinking, resource management euro game, leaving only one thing to discuss, the Achilles Heel of many Euros – THEME.

Theme

You are a member of a medieval monastery developing your land and holdings (and those monasteries really were very rich at the time) and trying to turn your portfolio into ‘nice’ things like reliquaries (fancy boxes that hold dead stuff) and ornaments (fancy stuff that serves no purpose), which all score victory points. This seems pretty well in keeping with the life of a monastery – working the land whilst hording valuable trinkets.

I like the fact that there is a plethora of resources and that many of them are very different to those that come around game after game. If you are playing a building game, sure, you need wood and stone, but Rosenberg takes it further and almost makes you forget that the wood and the stone are there in every game you play because there are so many other resources to get your head around.

In fact I totally agree with Jesse’s (doubtofbuddha) assessment of the theme, in that Ora & Labora does quite well at sticking to its theme and making everything fit. The buildings fit the era and do what they should. There are patterns of buildings which fit certain developments, e.g. near the sea or in the mountains.

I think a good way of deciding whether a theme is pasted on is whether you can suspend your disbelief and really imagine that you are living the life of a monk in the middle ages. True you could lift the mechanics out and recreate the game with another theme. For instance, you could set this game mechanism anywhere, from the oil fields of Texas through feudal Japan or even futuristic sci-fi in space probably. However you would still have to feel that you were an oil baron or feudal Lord. In Ora & Labora the feel of the game draws you in and the mechanics do not overshadow the theme. Yes, you can suspend your disbelief and let the magic take over. Once again Ora & Labora seems to do the trick.

Conclusion

Many may say that it is just another twist on Rosenberg’s usual fare. Some may say that it overshadows Agricola and Le Havre and renders them obsolete. However I do not think this is the case. Ora & Labora uses some of the elements and feel of those two games but is sufficiently different neither to threaten them, nor make it seem as if you are playing the same game again.

Personally, I think that this is possibly the most enjoyable out of the three and is definitely an excellent gamer’s game with a well thought through theme. It will be hitting the table many times in 2012.
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Benjamin Schoenheiter
Germany
Heusenstamm
Hessen
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Now that you said it I would TOTALLY DIG this game in a space setting, perhaps furnishing a space station like Startopia? Great now I can't get that out of my head....

Very nice review btw...
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Ken Dilloo
United States
Bothell
Washington
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Everything is relative to perception, and your perception is limited.
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Thanks for the review. The thumb is for Blind Lemon, though
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Jeff Lingwall
United States
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Well-thought review. Thanks!
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