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Ora et Labora

Posted by admin On January - 10 - 2012

Who woulda thought? In 2007 (way before I was gaming) amongst the many new games released at Spiel, one stuck out especially. A game where you try to build a well-balanced farm consisting of crops, pastures and growing your family. No, I am not talking about Farmville! (I get that question over and over from newbies….ugh), I’m talking about Agricola. A game that has now conjured up a slew of awards from “Best complex game” by the Spiel des Jahres to even dethroning Puerto Rico’s 5 year running of highest rated game on the Geek.  Uwe Rosenberg, the designer of the now much loved Agricola, has recently released “Ora et Labora” – A hot-off-the-press / sold-out almost  everywhere game that I have very quickly formed an extreme love/hate relationship with.

So the good is the game rocks!

The bad news is, the components do not match the quality of the gameplay.

The Game:
So far the census is, Ora et Labora is a mix between Agricola and Le Havre with a lot of the good bits taken from both. While this is a fair statement, I have an additional comparison as well that i’ll mention further on. Le Havre didn’t really strike my fancy, I found it an unnecessary spin off of Agricola and it didn’t satisfy me in a way that would ever have me choosing it over Agricola. Similar to La Havre, your Ora et Labora board develops consisting of cards. Ora et Labora definitely has the same graphical look of Agricola using very similar artwork. Also similar to both, it has the aspect of resource collection/management specifically with the resources building up to juicy & tempting large stacks. Then using these resources to build improvements or thematically, expand your village. Each addition to your village allows for highly profitable conversions that benefit more and more as the game progresses. One of the things very different to these games, however, is you don’t have to do the damn feeding phase (excuse my French)! It’s soooo refreshing! :o)

Speaking of French, the many wonderful things about Ora et Labora is there are two variations, Ireland and France! Which aren’t really all that different in regards to the game itself, and of course the French have some bread with their wine, whereas the Irish have some whiskey with their ale. So the resources vary as do some different buildings you can build. Variations always seem to keep games so much fresher. There is also a main game, and a short game. But feeling as though the main game isn’t long enough already, I don’t think i’ll ever try the shorter game (However, it would probably be ideal on a lunch break!).

Once you pick your variation and complete the set-up, the game is simple enough to learn.

Each player receives 3 clergymen (with one prior included in the 3). a game round consists of all the following:

Active Player Rotation: . The ative player (starting player) takes ones action, followed by the remaining players. Then the active player takes a second action. The active player then rotates in a clockwise fashion. So each time you are the active player, you get two turns. Being that there are 24 rounds in the main game with a 25th bonus round, there is really no starting player issue in any number of player games.

- Place a clergyman/prior. This can include placing one of your clergymen on your board and taking the action such as gathering resouces or performing one of your building actions. Or you can pay a coin/2 coins/ a whiskey/wine, depending on current game situation, to make one of your playmates place one of their clergymen on their buildings, thereby allowing you to use their buildings action.
- Without placing a clergyman/prior, clear trees, or cut peat
- Build a building. This one is special… if you have your prior pawn available at the time you build a building, you may immediately place your prior on it and take that action. It’s sort of like getting a bonus action.
- Free actions. Once per turn there are some free actions you make take. You can build a landscape before or after your main action by paying the current cost. Or at ANY time you can convert grain into straw or wine/whiskey into coin but not vice versa.

from Z-MAN games

At the beginning of each active player turn, all players must remove their clergymen/prior off their boards but only if all their clergymen occupy their board. If you still have an unplaced clergyman or prior, then you are not allowed to remove the others off.  This can be daunting if you want to build a building because you wouldn’t get to take the bonus action. At the end of each round before passing the active player token, the resource wheel moves. The rotating of the active player and taking actions continues until the a settlement phase.

Resource Wheel: A very unique aspect of the game is the resources. Like Agricola, resources accumulate as time progresses. But instead of piling up a ton of them into a heaping mound, Ora et Labora uses a resource wheel. After each active player round, the resource wheel moves increasing the resource cache.

A, B, C, D, E Settlement Phases: Instead of  ”feeding phases,” there are settlement phases, which is much less stressful. You have the option of building a settlement card, quite few options actually, during this phase. Some costing less than others, and more become available during each phase of the game. Building these are where victory points really come into play, which i’ll explain later. After the settlement phase, new buildings become available for purchase that are specific to the particular phase you are in.

Bonus Round: At the end of the 24th round, there is a bonus round, where each player is allowed to build one additional settlement and then take one additional action. Game ends, scoring commences.

Capital A for Awesome:

So what makes this game so awesome? Aside from the components, pretty much everything. With the brief overview I gave above, there are sooo many things I didn’t go into detail about, such as the complexity in choosing cards that make up your village, placements of settlements and cards, the multiple strategy’s… all sorts of things that make this game really freaking cool. There is very little down time, because you are constantly thinking and planning what to do next. The actions are limited and quick, so it’s your turn before you know it. There is a good deal of interaction from other players with the action of placing other playmates clergymen. And although the buildings that become available come out in a specific order and are set to the particular phase, it doesn’t seem to take away from the game at all. I’m not one who reads strategy articles because I really enjoy coming up with strategy’s myself, but I imagine when strategy articles start coming out on this game, they will be lengthy. But even if someone forms a winning strategy it can be constantly interrupted by other players actions. Which is pretty cool. Even scoring is pretty awesome. Actually, it’s one of the best parts! Seeing how well you build your board and the score it produces. The neatest part is the Scoring of the dwelling value per settlement. If you set your settlements up just right, you can rack in the points!


That said, honestly, I felt the game even had the similar aspects to 7 Wonders. Where you are building your board which is composed of cards, and the best card combinations on their boards wins. However, unlike the simplicity of pure card drafting in 7 Wonders, Ora et Labora has quite a few additional mechanics allowing for a much meatier experience. The main similarity between Ora et Labora and 7 Wonders was the end of game ambience. And what I mean by this is during the game you are collecting and laying down all sorts of cool village card combinations that work well with each other or do certain things or put you in a good position to obtain even more powerful village cards and everything goes by so quickly, you feel as though you are setting your board up for something grand…. (*breath*)… and suddenly….. BAM! It’s the end of the game, time to score points.

The Components:
Now that i’ve totally talked this game up, time for the bad part. The components, they’re terrible. Z-MAN has produced some really high quality games Troyes, Trollhalla…etc., but they went cheap on this one. Upon seeing the outside of the box, i expected it to have the same quality of Agricola. The artwork has a very similar feel to Agricola, and the symbols used are excellent (good symbols always help uncomplicate things) but although the artwork and graphical elements are top notch, the components aren’t.
- The cards are small, making it difficult to see other players cards across the table, especially me, who has genetically bad eyesight – and this was with wearing my glasses.
- The boards are VERY unlike Agricola, they are flimsy and pre-warped for your aggravation pleasure.
- The resources wheel, while innovative, is double sided to accommodate for different numbers of players. It requires you to remove the dial in relation to player number. Which is next to impossible to remove by hand if assembled per instructions. It would have been nice if it came with 2 permanent dials for each wheel. I do remember reading a solution on the geek that if you only use the larger piece of plastic by part-assembling it, the spinner will work just fine. Or you can follow these video instructions uploaded by HoloDoc42. *Note: thumbtack and fork not included in game box.

- The reference sheet and manual has the same consistency as filo paper used in many popular delicate foods and deserts. If you’re not a cook, it makes you cautious to even look at it let alone touch it, and if you are a cook, it makes you want to brush butter on it and turn it into a colorful triangle pastry. I suggest laminating at least the reference sheets.
- The scoring pad is kinda thin and single sided so you’ll have to switch to notebook paper after 30 or so plays. I’ve made a pdf of them if you’d like to print out extras.

Final Thoughts: 
Setting aside the complaints I had about the components, Ora et Labora is a fantastic game. I mentioned earlier that it’s sold out here in the US, so hopefully the second print may fix some of these issues… we’ll see. Regardless, it’s a really great game, and i’m excited to play it again and again in the future.

Final Final Thoughts:
Overall: 9

heavy learning curve and makes you think