Today we check out Praetor, a tile-laying, city-building, worker-placement game for 2-5 players from Passport Game Studios. As Roman architects, we will vie for the favor of the great Caesar Hadrian by building up the city, manipulating its markets, and seeing to its defense, all while maintaining the morale (and pay-rates) of our workforce. Come join us as we amass the resources, place workers, raise buildings, and manage pension plans for our retired workers in Praetor!
Jess and I both love worker placement games. Jess is a builder by nature – she loves game systems that are additive, with each piece she develops letting her complete more and more complicated tasks. We both enjoy the indirect nature of competition inherent to most of these games, and I personally love games which focus more on presenting lots of appealing options, rather than making you choose between helping yourself and hurting your opponent.
Praetor meets nearly every one of those points flawlessly.
Ok, let’s back up a few steps, before Jess’s labor union goes on strike or whatever.
In Praetor, each player is an architect of ancient Rome. Tasked by the great Caesar himself with the development of the city and the building of Hadrian’s infamous wall, players will assign workers from their labor pool to locations which help them earn resources, coin, or Favor points.
One of the things that makes Praetor different from most other worker placement games I’ve ever played is that the starting tableau is surprisingly barren. Most WP games give you a large assortment of options to choose from for assigning your workers, and in Praetor, all the classics are there – want some gold? There’s a mine with your name on it. Ready to build a section of wall? Step right up to the wall-building…office, I guess? But that’s it! Instead of giving you all the options up front, Praetor makes the players build the city, and thus the board, for themselves.
Every tile that gets added brings new functionality to the city, providing mechanisms for making money, improving morale, and earning Favor.
What’s cool here is that once you build something, you own it for the game, meaning that anyone else who uses it must pay you for the convenience.
Another neat thing about it is that the tiles are drawn mostly randomly (with more expensive late-game tiles always shuffled to the bottom of the stack). That means that the order new structures are built is different game-to-game and can really make for some engaging early-to-mid game strategy shifts, especially once your most talented workers start nearing retirement.
Which brings us to the absolutely most interesting aspect of Praetor. Your workers, represented by 6-sided dice, actually gain skill as they are sent on laboriously difficult assignments. Send a 3-pip worker to the mines? He comes home with 3 gold coins (one per pip) and increases his level to 4.
There are exceptions (no one ever gained experience from shopping at the market or filling out paperwork at the training camp), but for the most part, each time you assign a worker, that worker will come back with more experience and the job they do will be commiserate with their level. This is awesome because it makes the workers themselves less generic; it’s not enough to choose which building you want to activate, but one must also figure out which workers to use, adding a lot of depth to each placement selection.
So, more-skilled workers are better in every way, right?
Yeah, for sure, but that expertise comes with certain drawbacks. See, when a worker hits experience level 6, they immediately retire. They are no longer available for assignment and all the potency of their experience is essentially gone. Workers earn you big Favor points upon retiring, but continue to collect a pension for the rest of the game.
Jess: You have to pay your workers at the end of ever round, and that includes your retired workers, too. And since it takes 2 rounds (normally) to train up new workers, it’s important to manage how quickly your workers reach that critical 6-pip retirement.
Andrew: It is my favorite part of the game – sometimes it makes sense to send a less-skilled worker to do something, even though you gain less benefit from sending them there. At least they’ll gain some experience. That’s a neat bit of decision-making, rarely seen in WP games
For as interesting as the retirement and city-building mechanics are, Praetor does have some down-sides, though. The game scales fairly well from 2 to 3 players, but up around 5, things start to get a little overwhelming. If your group has been building lots of structures, there will be a huge number of options in the late-game, slowing things down tremendously.
Also, there is this mechanic about matching symbols on the corner of building tiles for bonus Favor points which seems completely tacked-on and otherwise uninteresting (and a few of us had a lot of trouble even seeing the difference between the white and blue corners). It’s otherwise unobtrusive, though.
My biggest criticism stems from the way it seems that, in bigger games at least, it is very easy for someone to run away with the lead. Once certain tiles have been built, there are a few natural, incredibly powerful synergies which allow for tremendous point swings for people who set them up correctly. And since the only way to stop someone from occupying a tile is to go there yourself, you are occasionally forced to choose between letting your opponent get lots of points, or to make a sub-optimal placement, blocking them for possibly little or no benefit to yourself, and that never feels good.
These issues seem to be most severe in the 5-player game, though, which lasts a little too long anyway. I’d say stick to the 2 to 3-player experience to really get the most out of it.
Overall, Praetor is a really solid worker-placement game. The city-building aspect of it is neat, and the worker leveling/retirement system is really cool. The random nature of the building tiles, paired with the fact that the player boards are 2-sided, offering both generic and variable player attributes means you’re likely never to play the same game twice. While it may struggle a bit at higher player counts, for a smaller group, this one is totally worth checking out.
If Roman-era city building sounds like your thing, pick up a copy of Praetor right here!
(Full disclosure: Praetor was provided to us by Passport Game Studios for review. We really appreciate them giving us the chance to review it, but it didn’t influence our opinions on the game in any way.)