Pret-a-Porter has just been reprinted, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, by Portal Games. Designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek and Piotr Haraszczak, this is an economic strategy board game, which features set collection and worker placement mechanics. Originally released in 2010, this edition has kept the fashion theming – with 2 – 4 players running clothing companies for around an hour and a half. Players will hire employees, make clothing collections and try to balance the books. However, is there room for fun in the world of fashion? Let’s find out!
Pret-a-Porter takes place over a year. In each quarter there are two months (rounds) of worker placement and prep before an exhibition round. The two phases play differently but then the quarter blueprint of 2 then 1 is simply repeated 4 times. Each quarter is effectively all about getting designs and fulfilling their resource requirements, before showing them off to score awards and sell them for a profit.
While there is a fair bit of setup, it mostly is shuffling cards and putting tokens within reach. Aside from splitting out the last quarter cards, the decks for contracts, buildings and employees are shuffled and added to the board. The exhibition tiles are shuffled and distributed across the quarterly shows, with 1 in Q1, 2 in Q2 etc. Players claim a player board, coming with the associated coloured workers and upkeep counters to track cash flow. Starting on zero points, each player gains 40 credits and a clothing token. This will be what the fashion brand the player owns is known for, giving trend bonuses at exhibitions, but also two starter designs to work towards.
In the working rounds players will first place their 3 workers onto action spaces on the board, one at a time. There are nine numbered places players can send workers to, each with limited worker slots. At the top is the bank, where credit can be taken. This must be paid back at the end of the quarter and has an ongoing 10% upkeep cost, but sees the player get cash to spend. The next three zones are contracts, buildings and employees. These work in similar ways, all seeing the player take a card.
Which type to take is part of the balancing act of Pret-a-Porter. Contracts are free, with no upfront cost nor an upkeep value. However, they get worse over time before being discarded. Buildings have an upfront cost and an upkeep cost, though they can be upgraded. Employees do not come with an upfront cost, though they do have an upkeep cost – a wage – and it is possible to train them. Each card has an ability that can help the player in some way. It could be earning them money, limiting the upkeep costs of buildings or even a way to pay for awards during shows. Some of these cards even allow players to take actions from zones where they haven’t sent a worker, before the workers that are there. This can be seen somewhat as a double benefit, with an extra action taken and getting ahead of other players.
The fourth card type, design cards, are taken from zone number 5. While players start with two designs they will want more throughout the game. When it comes to shows players can only take items from one style – with the starting two from different styles. Each comes with the two materials it needs, a value it’ll earn after a show and attributes such as the style and clothing type.
To fulfil these items players will need some materials, which comes from zones 6 – 8. At one end there are the cheaper, lower quality, goods from a local manufacturer through to the most expensive but triple the quality materials via imports. Regardless of the method the material token is the same. The final section is the last minute preparations zone. This is sort of a last chance saloon to get a few different tokens, though is often underused until a specific token can swing an upcoming exhibition award your way. Once all workers are placed they trigger in order of zone and the order they were placed.
At this stage each player can choose to pay to train one employee and upgrade one building. This sees the player spend credits as well as increasing their upkeep tracker. The working round ends with players having to pay said upkeep to the bank, with some cards triggering during this stage. At the end of the round all non purchased cards are discarded and new ones replace them from the appropriate decks – the only difference in the final quarter these cards come from a special last quarter deck.
Two working rounds are performed before players choose a style to show during the final month of the quarter, at the exhibition. Firstly, players trade in any prestige tokens from the previous show – usually skipped during the first exhibition – with each worth victory points (VP) depending on the player count – representing the increased competition for each award. For example, in a 2 player game 1VP is earnt per prestige token but in a 4 player game 3VP are gained.
Choosing completed designs of one style the player sends them to the shows. While in Q1 there is only one show all four categories will be judged. In subsequent quarters more shows are put on but each judges less categories, through to the last quarter where there are four shows each with one category being judged. Awards, in the form of prestige tokens, are gained for having the most in a category. These can be the most quality tokens, trend tokens, PR tokens or the most designs on show. Ties are somewhat unfriendly, with tied winners instead getting only the second place award, instead of sharing the spoils of first.
Players then get some much needed income. Multiplying the number of prestige tokens they acquired during the exhibition round with the designs they put forward, players determine their prestige income. Next, players sell their exhibited designs – where the majority of player’s income comes from – discarding used tokens and design cards. Unfortunately, no round of Pret-a-Porter would be complete without paying upkeep, the final stage of each and every round.
At the end of the fourth quarter, the journey is over. One final prestige token exchange for points occurs, then it is time to score. All points earnt through the game are combined with the value of cash the player ends with. The winner is simply whomever has the highest total figures. In the odd case of a tie the player with the most victory points (excluding cash) is the most prestigious and wins.
Unlike many titles where cards can be purchased for various markets the cards in Pret-a-Porter constantly refresh but never return. This adds weight to a decision between cards but also to the choice to not take a card, be it buying a building or hiring someone. While playing it is somewhat frustrating that you might miss out on that ideal card from lack of funds but it is always as a result of a choice – though sometimes a choice by another player. It might be frustrating but it isn’t in a negative way. This is just one of the many thematic elements to the game – employees don’t hang around for that one person to hire them and buildings will get sold.
Another element of good frustration is the 6 actions players get before an exhibition round. It never seems enough, with players constantly wanting that one more action or even round. In reality, it isn’t exactly only 6 action. Players will obtain cards to perform additional actions, though it will have in turn cost them an action to acquire it. There is no getting away from the fact that there are only 24 actions from worker placements in the entire game. Players cannot do everything so you’ll need to pick what is best and try to squeeze out a profit.
Pret-a-Porter is a business simulation game wrapped with a strong fashion industry theme. Players won’t just be making choices of what is best but also what they can reasonably afford. There is a strong emphasis on balancing the books, via the constant upkeep rounds. It is more than possible to fall into a loop of taking out credit from the bank to be able to afford to do anything, before the fear of forced loans. The business angle of the theme makes much of the game easy to understand. Right down to having to let an employee go costing twice their upkeep – like a sort of payout or redundancy.
The fashion theme allows the game to stand out from the crowd, though it isn’t for everyone. There is a reason there are so many games about Vikings or fantasy, those already in the hobby are drawn to them. This isn’t to say there aren’t those out there that love gaming and fashion. However, Pret-a-Porter is often much easier to sell to potential players as an Ignacy title, with strong choices, than a fashion based worker placement game. What the well-incorporated theme does allow for though is a game with gorgeous artwork, which is full of vibrancy.
Alongside the use of colour, the iconography across the cards, tokens and board is clear. There are a lot but not an overloading amount even in an initial game. Plus, there are help cards provided. The strength of the components doesn’t stop there. Having different valued tokens for the likes of prestige is helpful, and there is a good amount of denominations when it comes to the cardboard cash tokens. The wooden material tokens are particularly nice – adding another splash of colour. The only tokens which slightly miss the ball are the score markers. Something a bit special like a plastic button or something similar would have been the step above the fiddly small cardboard tokens used.
Pret-a-Porter looks more complicated than it is. There are many action spaces, four decks of cards and two different round structures. A quarter of the way through players will have seen how everything works, ideal of those that like to play some before resetting to play properly. The rulebook does an adequate job of stepping through all of the information, with overviews coming in handy to paint a general picture before going into detail. One aspect was slightly confusing with contracts explained as “extended” instead of “change to” but with all the components in front of you it isn’t too hard to figure out.
Pret-a-Porter proves that designers can work with uncommon themes and create a unique experience. Some may not enjoy the constant tug of the purse strings, with upkeep always ready to make your company crumble. Fashion fun might not be the right term for the title, as it is more of a brain burning, business like puzzle. Every worker placed is a choice that impacts future decisions, and you can never quite do enough. Pret-a-Porter does do enough and is one of those games that sticks in your head hours after playing, leaving you questioning where a master plan fell apart. For that reason it has earnt the prestige award of a spot on my shelf!
(Editor’s Note: Pret-a-Porter was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores, find your local store here.)