Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dice, Hoo Haaa, what are they good for ?

1 of 5 games released this year by designer Andrei Novac, Praetor is a worker placement game where players use dice as workers to perform actions or activate different locations on the board. Workers/dice will eventually grow in experience thereby providing better benefits when retrieving resources but eventually they will retire and may only be reactivated again via special locations. Players can gain new workers by sending them to school in a 2 step process and at the end of a turn, players will need to pay income and pension, otherwise, they will suffer penalties in terms of morale. When the game end is triggered, the player with the most points will win the game.

Nice controlled growing of the city
I have not played any of Andrei's previous games but have not also heard very good things about them. I was eager to give Praetor a try because my gaming group had good reviews about it and some other podcasters have indicated the same. As mentioned earlier, during your turn, you will choose 1 active worker to send to a location on the board to trigger the action. You can also use that worker to build a new building/location. You could also use your chits to activate locations which do not require sending of a worker. Each player will take turns performing this action or passing and once all players have passed, the end of turn upkeep is performed.

There are some nice things about the game. The numerous dice was fun to behold even though they are the small low quality type. Components are also nice quality and the art is average at best. There is a dubious location where you can change 1 good to another that looks like the final battle between Anakin and Obiwan in Star wars which we affectionately called it the Darth Vader location.

Being able to gain experience for your workers is also intuitive as the higher number of pips you have on that die, the more experienced the worker is. When you send a 6 pip worker to a location to get wood for example, that worker will grant you 6 wood. However once a 6 pip worker gains experience, that worker will have retired and now may not be easily used but you still need to pay pension which can prove to be costly. So a balance of gaining new workers or sending workers to areas where they do not gain experience is key to ensuring you are not penalized for not being able to pay them.

The different locations also provide interesting scoring options. You have your standard locations to get the various resources used in the game and market to buy/sell resources. You also have the traders that will convert one good to another as mentioned. Then there are locations that provide scoring opportunities and it is here that some locations seem imbalanced. Some give you points depending on your morale level. Ordinarily in the basic game, this is not a problem as all player boards will be the same. However if you are playing with Side B where players have asymmetrical powers, then some players will avoid this as it doesn't offer as much points as others. This also means that there is not much point in blocking since it doesn't give them too much benefit. There are locations where you earn 2 points for each Black OR Grey resource cube and you can often get more than 15 points each time this location is activated. The designer has mentioned that it maybe imbalanced and is proposing a cap at 20 points but even then it can lead to quite a big imbalance.
Forming all the nice corners give some minor points
One other interesting bit is when you are placing new location, you score points that is listed on them after paying the resources. Each location also has colors in the corners which, if you connect them to other identical colors, you will score 1 point each. So often players can add around 3-5 points each location they build. Building also causes the game to end as when the building stack is empty, the current round will be the last round. We were quite alarmed when we went through the stack pretty fast at the beginning of the game but this slowed down dramatically as we were busy activating all the existing buildings and only those that managed to amass a lot of resources could continue to build. You could potentially bog down the game if you are the only one with resources and want to stall the game to earn more points.

Purple creamed us and almost lapped yellow in the end. He was ahead by about 40 points
So in summary, light-medium weight euro-style game with worker placement using dice as workers; they gain experience, build locations, get resources, assist in scoring points; players have to keep an eye on money to ensure payment else suffer penalties; players sell all remaining goods and every $10 earns 1 point and a final scoring depending on the morale track and whoever has the most points will win.

What did I think of the game? I think some of the locations maybe imbalanced and there is a runaway leader problem. It could be because we played with the expert variant where we had different player boards and there were additional majority scorings (i.e. biggest contiguous location tiles, most unused workers) and that kind of determined the direction in which we are playing the game. For example, my player board required me to have a small worker pool because it is very expensive otherwise. This means though that I am severely limited in the number of actions I can do. Other players did not have this issue and had around 5 workers each round while I had to work with me 2 or 3 workers. I and another player had more points if we score the moral track so that location is pretty much left to us to score at our leisure. Even the market values for goods is different between players and so I am not sure how it was play tested to ensure there is sufficient balance amongst the boards. The majority scorings is ok because it ensured some competitiveness between the players when building locations and trying to maintain a slim workforce. But the imbalanced location really skewed the game for us as the winner 240+ points and almost lapped the yellow player who was 100 points behind! 2nd place was almost 50+ points away. We could not catch up with the leader because blocking that location does not gain us any real benefits and since the winner had SO MANY resources he could easily just go elsewhere to score the game. I would say, TRY before you BUY.

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