Pret-a-porter has been around for ten years, but was re-published off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2019. The latest version keeps the mechanics of the original, but increases the colour saturation considerably, resulting in a much more colourful playing experience than the previous version. This review relates to the most recently published version.
The Game and Set Up
Suitable for 2-4 players, Pret-a-porter is all about making the most money and/or victory points by the end of the game. Victory points can be earned by winning awards at fashion shows. Cash is earned mostly by selling the designs that you have displayed at those shows. Your final score is simply the combined total of your victory points and cash (on a one-to-one basis). Based on that, you can probably see how important cash flow is going to be…
The vibrantly coloured board is laid out in the centre of the players.
Bank loan tiles are placed within easy reach.
Separate decks of cards are shuffled and placed on the board. The decks represent contracts, buildings, employees and clothing designs. The top three or four cards from each deck are revealed and placed on the board. If the card can be upgraded, the basic version is turned face up.
Each player chooses a random player board (they are all the same apart from the colour).
Each player is given three worker tokens and a couple of upkeep tokens that match the colour of their player board. They then randomly choose a starting clothing type tile. This represents the item of clothing that they specialise in. The back of this tile shows two numbers, which match-up with two design cards in the design deck. The players find those cards in the deck and take the appropriate designs are their initial design cards.
The various tokens are placed in easy reach around the board.
Area 9 (see below) is populated with an initial set of last-minute bonuses.
The various player score markers are placed on the victory point track. As a nice thematic touch, this looks like a material measuring tape.
Everyone is given 40 cash.
After that, you are all set and ready to play!
How to play
The game is played over 12 rounds, representing the 12 months of a fashion year.
There are two basic types of rounds – “Working” rounds and “Exhibition rounds”.
The first two rounds are working rounds, then there is an exhibition round. This pattern is repeated for all 12 rounds of the year.
The first phase of each working round is “Planning”. The second is the “Action” phase, then the “Growth” phase and finally the “Upkeep” phase.
The Planning Phase
In this phase, players take turns placing one worker onto one of the 9 areas of the board. After each has placed their first worker, they repeat the process until they have placed all 3 of their workers.
The Action Phase
In the second phase of the working round, each area of the board is resolved, one after the other. For each area, the players resolve their actions in the order that they placed their workers (if any) in that area.
Each of the 9 areas does something different, as follows:
- Lets the user take a loan from the bank. You pay interest on any loans after each working month and must settle any outstanding loans after every show month. If you don’t have enough money to settle a loan or pay the interest, guess what… you have to take out another loan to pay off the loan you couldn’t afford to pay off.
- This area gives you opportunity to acquire contracts. These give you a benefit each turn up until the end of the next show. The benefit is then reduced up until the end of the following show and removed entirely after that.
- This area lets you rent new buildings. Each building has a purchase cost and a regular rent that you have to pay each month. You cannot get rid of buildings once you have bought them, so you need to make sure you can afford them long term and that they are worth it. You can upgrade buildings to make them more powerful, but the rent also increases.
- This area lets you hire new employees. Each employee has a starting ability and a starting salary. Like buildings, you can upgrade them, but their salary also goes up. Unlike buildings, you can fire employees, but you have to pay them a severance amount if you do.
- This area lets you acquire new designs from the various designers in the market. Each design card has a number of icons and a sale value. The icons show what raw materials are required to make the design. They also show what item of clothing it is (e.g. shirt, trousers etc.) and what style of clothing it is (sportswear, formal wear, rock style etc.). Finally, the card shows where you get any bonuses for including that particular card in your show.
- This represents the local small businesses that produce raw materials. These are the lowest price materials. You can buy one color (type) of raw material, but as many as you can afford. These are basic quality materials so you only get one quality token when you do so.
- This represents the warehouse for raw materials. These are the medium price materials. You can buy up to 1 of each different type of raw material, but no more than one of a type. You get two quality tokens here.
- This represents the import market for raw materials. These are the highest price materials. You can buy any amount of one type of material. You get three quality tokens here.
- This area allows you to choose last-minute small bonuses. These include extra cash, an increase in your quality reputation, public relations improvements or Trendiness counters.
You only have three workers to use each turn. You have to choose where and when to place them very carefully. Each area also only has a limited number of spaces to hold workers. One those spaces are used, you can’t put any more workers there for the rest of the turn.
The Growth Phase
After all workers have been resolved, there is a “Growth” phase. In this phase, each player can upgrade a single employee and/or building (at a cost).
The Upkeep Phase
The last step in the working turn is the “Upkeep” phase. This is when all players have to pay their building costs, all loan interest and all employee salaries.
Exhibition Rounds - Fashion Shows
In the third month, each player selects which designs to actually manufacture and to take to the fashion show(s). Your selected designs must all have the same style of clothing but can be any type of clothing item. You must already own the necessary raw materials and they are consumed in the process of making the designs ready for the show.
At the start of the show round, all awards that you have previously won are converted into victory points. The number of victory points per award increases with higher numbers of players.
Each show has a number of awards associated with it. The shows earlier in the year have a higher number of different awards. As the year progresses, each show offers a decreasing number of awards, forcing players to compete with each other more aggressively (if they want to win awards).
The actual awards given out for each of the shows are determined by the tiles that were randomly placed at the start of the game, so each game is different. Awards are only given (at best) to the designers who have the highest and second highest number of whatever the awarded item is (e.g. the highest number of quality tokens). Ties reduce the awards given to those in the tie and in our first game, a number of awards became worthless as several players tied for first place. This encourages players to diversify their source of awards.
After awards are given out, each player sells all of the designs that they put into the show and gets cash of the appropriate value. The players then discard the designs that she have sold and the materials that they used to make them.
They then have to pay salaries, building costs and must settle all outstanding loans.
The cards on the board are replaced with a new set from each stack.
The first player token is moved on.
The entire sequence is then repeated for each following quarter. The number of fashion shows that you attend increases with each quarter. As each show has a different random tile for the available awards, the player’s strategies are likely to vary with each game.
I’ve glossed over the last quarter, when a new set of cards deployed for each of the areas on the player board, but the overall process is as above.
Final Thoughts on Pret-a-porter
The board and components are all very thematic, with bright colours and crisp designs. We played with the kickstarter version, which includes wooden tokens in place of some of the cardboard tokens in the retail set but the game experience should be the same.
The game purports to play in 90 minutes but my group spent about that time just getting a handle on the 20 pages of rules. This was possibly aggravated by the rules being in a second language for them. However, there were various questions that were raised which had to be checked in the rules. Most of these were about clarifying the meaning of icons on cards. Despite that, after a couple of plays, I can see that the play time would reduce considerably.
Everyone enjoyed their first game but we didn’t actually finish the entire year due to the slow start. One player only bought designs and raw materials. Another went for fewer designs but with a higher quality product. The remaining two attempted to utilise employees and buildings, but both of these ended up taking out bank loans. The winner in our game was the player that went for few designs, with higher quality as they were able to rack up some high value sales quite quickly.
Cash management proved to be a challenge for the players who bought buildings and employees. This highlights the importance of being very careful when buying buildings and hiring employees, something to take forward into future games. Despite this limited exposure, we were all able to see the possibilities for future strategies in the game. As a result, I’ve already been asked to schedule the next game – a good sign for the future.
Player interactivity was mainly limited to the competition for cards in each part of the actions board and for the awards during the fashion shows. The competition for the same award could well reduce with more plays as players avoid ending up in ties for awards.
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Comparing to other well-known worker-placement games; in my opinion, Pret’ felt more like T’zolkin than Lords of Waterdeep. The interconnecting systems (needing raw materials and designs and cash flow) felt more like the wheels of T’zolkin than the reasonably discrete placement in LOW.
The importance of cash is also similar to the importance of Corn in T’zolkin.
On that basis, if you like T’zolkin, you will probably also like Pret’. However, if your experience of worker placement is limited to LOW, then Pret may be a step too far, given the number of questions and clarifications that my group required. I’m not saying don’t make the leap, but be ready for more thinking if you do.