Our most recent trip to one of the local board game stores resulted in the purchase of a game called Praetor, by Andree Novac. Publisher is NSKN Games and distributor is Spiral Galaxy Games. I’ve never heard of any of these names, but the back of the box sounded promising. The game has both tile placement and worker placement mechanics, plays 2-5, and takes 90 minutes to play. It is themed during the Days of the Roman Empire, and has players building different city buildings and walls to please Caesar and for the glory of Rome.
The game begins with the four light background central tiles in place, as well as four yellow background gold mines. Each player places one of their circle tokens on a mine, claiming it as their own. We played four players, so I imagine with more or less players the number of mines adjusts.
The game is played until one of two things happens – the pile of wall tiles runs out or the new city tiles market cannot be filled.
Each round, players take turns using their workers to do one of three actions:
1). Build a new city tile from the available options, marking it as theirs with a token and placing a worker on it. When you place a city tile, you must pay for it with the resources indicated in the top left, you gain points indicated in the top left, and you play a little corner matching game to score extra points. The more matching mosaic colors on the corners of the tile, the more extra points.
2). Use a city tile by placing a worker on the circle in the bottom center of a tile. Red circles help you gain resources while blue city tiles let you perform actions, such as trading at the bank or training new workers.
3.). Pass. Once all players have passed, the workers are picked up, experience is gained, retirement occurs (if necessary), and workers are paid.
The game has an interesting and unique mechanic involving experience for the workers. Each worker is represented by a small die. New workers start with the number 1 faceup on the surface. Building new tiles always gains workers experience at the end of the round. Using a tile with a red circle at the bottom also gains workers experience (and likely other resource goodies), while using a tile with a blue circle at the bottom does not gain them experience. Using a higher level worker on a resource gathering tile results in more resources being gained. When a level 5 worker is used in a manner that gains him experience, he must be retired that round as he gains his 6th level (which is worth victory points). There are several tiles allowing the use of retired workers.
Below is a sample player board with workers and morale. Note the new workers on the left cannot be used until they are trained, which takes two turns and several potential city tile uses. Active workers sit on the blue spaces while retired ones are on the red.
The more active workers a player has, the more you have to pay them for their services each round. Retired workers cost less upkeep. The experience and salary mechanics add some neat strategies to this game for sure.
Let’s continue talking money. In addition to paying your workers each round, when you use tiles that belong to other players, you must pay the owner to use the tile. The starting tiles on the board can’t be owned, and if you use tiles that are your own, you don’t have to pay.
In addition to the money resource, players can collect wood, stone, marble, and weapons. Also, you can gain or lose morale for your people. You gain these resources by using tiles, or by owning the tiles that people are paying you to use. Morale can be lost by failing to pay workers at the end of the round.
The winner of the game is the player with the most favor points. These points are gained as you build tiles, use tiles, and build walls.
On to the review part, using my new metrics!
Theme – It’s an okay theme, and there are a few temples to honor Roman gods, but there aren’t really a lot of prevalent reminders that we are building Rome. I’m rating this about a 5, just average.
UX – There was a lot of good iconology involved in this game, so it definitely earns points for that. However, there was some confusion surrounding a couple of tiles that used a slash icon – the slash meant gain points “for” your morale level (as an example). In most other games, a slash is an indicator of an “or” operator – gain points “or” morale. This confused us several times, and an equals symbol would have been a little better maybe (gain points = to your morale level). Still, overall the iconology was good, so I will rate this an 7.
Artwork – I don’t have anything particularly bad to say about the art in this game, but it was a little uninspiring for me. Kind of your typical board game style art, no uniqueness or fun colors. I give this a 3.
Strategy – This is a very complex worker placement game and maybe not for an entry level board game player. That said, I really enjoyed some of the unique mechanics, like experience. I did feel like the tile placement point-generating mechanic with the mosaic corners was a bit fluffy – I couldn’t really understand why it was necessary, but it didn’t hurt the game either. This actually rates a 9 for me, only being docked for the fluffy mosaic bit.
Entertainment Value – I enjoyed this game a lot … but it took way too long to play. Even compensating for some drunk chatty players, a dinner break, and the “first time” rule (a game is always longer the first time you play it) … I feel like the game would have taken between three and four hours. As it was, we played from about 6 until midnight. And then quit about a round early because people were tired and conceded. This game may need some house rules to shorten it; we’ll have to see. I rate this about a 4. I really want to rate it higher, but no worker placement game should take that long.
This game has a lot of potential, but I feel like it lacked just a little bit of polish. There are a lot of good and fun things about it, and I definitely intend to play it again. I’d love to see other worker placement genre games mimic some of the experience, salary, and retirement mechanics from Praetor, but not overwhelm players with an excessive playtime. If you have played this game, I’d love to hear what your thoughts were!