I’m sitting here thinking about theme. Looking through my collection I see plenty of science-fiction stuff, lots of fantasy games and – Tom from The Dice Tower will kill me for this – even a couple of trading in the Mediterranean affairs. Us gamers like to stick with what we know and designers are often happy to give us what we like. Sometimes though? They love to surprise us.
Ignacy Trzewiczek is one such chap. You may recall the interview we did with him on the Little Metal Dog site recently where he mentioned a game that he developed in conjunction with the National Bank of Poland that would hopefully give players an insight into how finance works. And the setting for this game? Why, the high-flying world of fashion, of course!
Theme, as we all know, is important. A game may be as solid as anything but if the theme doesn’t grab players a game may well flounder. With Prêt-à-Porter proudly fashion based it may well lose a few players from the start – but if you disregard this game just because you think it’s about making clothes? More fool you because Prêt-à-Porter is pretty damn good.
You’re actually running fashion houses over the course of a year in this cut-throat industry. The game is divided into four phases, each one representing a three month period that culminates in one or more fashion shows. By opening new offices, taking on better staff and establishing new brands and outlets, you’re able to take on contracts to bump up your short term profits to keep you going.
During the first two months of each phase, you need to concentrate on a two pronged attack. Yes, improving the status of your company is important, but so is developing your staff and buildings. The down side is that these will cost you more and as you have to pay wages and bills at the end of each month it can become quite the battle to balance your books. Thankfully you have the option to take out a loan as an action during your turn – if you screw up though, you’ll be forced to take one at a higher rate.
The fashions shows are what you’re really aiming for, though. The choices from your collection that you decide to show at the end of each of the four phases will be graded and hopefully awarded stars – and these are what you’ll fight your opponents for. Stars will gain you more money than the opposition, allowing you to improve your company and leave the others in your wake. As the year moves on, your company grows, hopefully earning more money and expanding your staff and holdings. At the end of the game the stars you’ve gained are converted into points and added to any special features that you’re able to score – and whoever has the most is the winner. Nice and simple.
Well… I say it’s simple, but Prêt-à-Porter isn’t. Though it’s relatively straightforward, there’s a wealth of options for you to choose from on your turns. As there are so many different ways in which you can expand your company, each one granting bonuses but also causing issues that you’ll need to cope with. It’s very easy to overstretch yourself and spread yourself thin, so you’ll need to give it a couple of plays before you work out the strategies that really work for you.
Prêt-à-Porter may well be set in an industry that some will claim isn’t interesting to them but do not be deceived – this game is hard as nails and will punish anyone who treats it lightly. This is the kind of eurogame that will require concentration from the off and lots of forward planning. You’ll need to have a solid idea of what you want to do for each of the seasons and just go for it – however, on the flip side you’ll have to be adaptable in case your opposition scuppers your plans… and they will. What happens when the other guy gets the building or materials that you wanted? You’ve always got to be ready to change your plans but thankfully the game offers you alternative routes to your ultimate goal – it’s not always easy, but hey! That’s business.
You’ll notice I’ve not talked about the production quality… well, I can’t really. My copy of the game is an English language prototype – the full version will be released at Essen 2011. However, this is 90% of the way there and I can safely say that graphically everything is nice and clear. The board in particular is very well laid out and the whole game has a clean, modern look that really conveys the sense of style. Iconography is clear and crisp throughout which really helps in a game that has a lot going on.
It’s not an easy game to win. In fact, it’s not an easy game at all, but there’s an incredible level of satisfaction when you just manage to plan everything well, hold it together and break even from month to month. Actually winning the game? It’s like being visited by unicorns delivering platinum cupcakes filled with cash.
The unicorns have never come to my house. They will one day, but until then there’s this incredibly challenging game that rewards players who throw themselves headlong into it. Here’s hoping that Portal get the success it deserves from this fantastic game.
Prêt-à-Porter was originally published in Poland in 2010 by Portal. Designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek in conjunction with the National Bank of Poland, the English language version of the game will be available from October 2011 following its official launch at Essen – pre-orders can be placed right now. Work it!