Praetor Review

Praetor is an upcoming worker placement game from NSKN Games set in ancient Rome. Players assume the role of a Roman engineer tasked with building up the Eternal City. Caesar will reward the engineer who can improve Rome the most!

The starting workers for the blue player. The dice on the right are available workers. The dice on the left are villagers, and not available.

Praetor is a worker placement game where your workers are represented by dice. The number of pips on each worker, represent how experienced that worker is. The more experienced a worker is, the more effective it is at performing many of the game's actions. At the same time, many of the actions players can send their workers to do will increase that worker's experience, but when workers get to 6 pips, they retire and are no longer considered active.

Building the wall tile to the right costs 2 marble and 2 weapons and would yield the player 10 favor points. This player would also get a bonus 6 favor points for having already built 2 wall tiles. 

Players can gain favor points in a variety of ways, but the main two are by managing their resources to build buildings or to build parts of Hadrian's Wall. The game ends once either the available building deck or wall deck is empty. On her turn, a player can choose between two basic actions (with a third option being introduced once certain tiles are built): build a new building or place a worker on an unoccupied building.

To build a new building, the player selects a building from those available, returns the required resources to the supply, and places the building into the city grid. Each building tile shows how many points the player receives for building it, and the player can also earn bonus points if she can place the tile in such a way that the color of the plazas in the corner of the tile match the tiles that have already been placed. Building a building requires a worker, and whichever worker is used to build, will gain an experience at the end of the round. Not only does the player building the building get favor points, she also is adding a new tile to the board - and one that she can get a benefit from even if other players use it.

If the blue player wanted to activate the Temple of Plutus, she would have to pay the yellow player 3 gold. She would then receive 1 point for all of her wood and stone - and her worker would return to her at experience level 5 at the end of the round.

To use a building, a player simply places one of her active workers onto the tile, and immediately receives the benefit. If the building was built by another player, she might have to pay an entrance fee to that player. If the city tile has a green circle, the worker used to activate that tile will not gain experience - only tiles with a red circle will grant a worker experience after being activated.

Most active workers (which are kept on the green spaces) cost 1 gold each at the end of each round, though they become more expensive once a player has 5. All retired workers (kept on the red spaces) cost 1 gold at the end of each round.

Obviously the most interesting thing about Praetor is that the workers in the game gain experience and eventually retire. This mechanism is made even more interesting by the fact that each worker a player has costs (at least) 1 gold at the end of each round. This includes retired workers. So having a worker gain experience is great, because they get stronger and can perform more powerful actions. It is also good because once a worker retires, the owning player gets bonus favor points (the earlier the better). But, having to pay for workers who are now retired can be a major drain on a player's economy. Figuring out the timing of when to retire workers is a lot of fun.

This balancing act is further complicated by the building tiles. I mentioned before that the red tiles will grant a worker experience, while green tiles will not. So one might think a viable strategy might be to level workers up to 5, and then use them on green tiles. This will certainly work - but not as well as one might think. The green tiles' activation abilities are not affected by a worker's experience. The market tile (which is green), for instance, allows a player to interact with the market - regardless of the experience level of the worker placed there, the action remains the same.

The awesome but AP inducing Market. The exchange rates on pictured on each player's personal board.

Speaking of the market - it is probably simultaneously one of my favorite and least favorite parts of the game. It is one of my favorite parts of the game because activating the market tile allows a player to interact with the market as many times as she wishes. None of this "one sale and one buy" nonsense! A player could sell all of her weapons and buy 20 wood - and get the rest back in gold if she wanted! The market is also one of my least favorite parts of the game for the very same reason. Having the ability to exchange money and resources to basically any equal combination of resources and money is very powerful, but involves a lot of calculation and planning - which slows the game to a halt. This introduction of a little analysis paralysis does not hurt Praetor too much, however, since aside from the market, the game flows at a rather nice pace. 

Praetor is a fantastic game. I think its biggest strength is while it does change things up a bit, it doesn't reach too much. It innovates just enough, while keeping the core ideas of worker placement intact. This allows players who speak the language of games to get into the game easily, while making the experience mechanism accessible and easily enjoyable - without having to jump through too many mental hoops to get there.

I would absolutely recommend Praetor to pretty much anyone who is reading this. I don't think it would be a good first worker placement game, but as a second or third game with this mechanism I don't think there are many more innovative, accessible, or interesting worker placement games to be found. I give it an 8.0/10. 

Jim would like to thank NSKN Games for providing him with a review copy of Praetor.

If you like Praetor, you might also be interested in: Bruxelles: 1893, Viticulture, or Lords of Waterdeep.

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