Ora et Labora Review

“How beautiful was the spectacle of nature not yet touched by the often perverse wisdom of man!”

Description from the Manufacturer

In Ora et Labora, each player is head of a monastery in the Medieval era who acquires land and constructs buildings – little enterprises that will gain resources and profit. The goal is to build a working infrastructure and manufacture prestigious items – such as books, ceramics, ornaments, and relics – to gain the most victory points at the end of the game.

Ora et Labora, Uwe Rosenberg’s fifth “big” game, has game play mechanisms similar to his Le Havre, such as two-sided resource tiles that can be upgraded from a basic item to something more useful. Instead of adding resources to the board turn by turn as in Agricola and Le Havre, Ora et Labora uses a numbered rondel to show how many of each resource is available at any time. At the beginning of each round, players turn the rondel by one segment, adjusting the counts of all resources at the same time.

Each player has a personal game board. New buildings enter the game from time to time, and players can construct them on their game boards with the building materials they gather, with some terrain restrictions on what can be built where. Some spaces start with trees or moors on them, as in Agricola: Farmers of the Moor, so they hinder development until a player clears the land, but they provide resources when they are removed. Clever building on your personal game board will impact your final score, and players can buy additional terrain during the game, if needed.

Players also have three workers who can enter buildings to take the action associated with that location. Workers must stay in place until you’ve placed all three. You can enter your own buildings with these workers, but to enter and use another player’s buildings, you must pay that player an entry fee so that he’ll move one of his workers into that building to do the work for you.

Playing Time

60-180 Minutes

Number of Players

1-4

Best With

3 Players

Complexity Rating

3.89 out of 5

Worker placement games.  Some people love them, others can’t stand them.  I’m firmly in the “love them” category, although I do love many different types of games.  When it comes to a beginner level work placement game, Ora Et Labora is a terrible choice.  It is complicated, with a lot of moving parts to keep track of, and a deep level of strategy to it.  But it is also a game that demands repeat plays, as the different strategies and techniques slowly unfold, and the game simply gets better and better with each play.

The game requires all of your attention, and a lot of brain power.  But instead of feeling exhausted by the end, you feel invigorated, already analyzing your mistakes, and learning how you could do better in your next game.  It’s the kind of game that sticks to your ribs, and makes you want to play more.

Ora Et Labora is a terrible game as an introduction to worker placement games, or as an entry point to more advanced board games.  But, if you have a handful of great games under your belt, you will absolutely love this game.  It is vivid, fun, fast paced, and has a depth of strategy few games can rival.  If you and your fellow gamers are up for a challenging, unique, and deeply strategic that seems to get deeper with each play through, then this is the game for you!

Things I Loved About Ora et Labora

Have I mentioned the depth of strategy?  Many of the worker placement games I’ve played in the past tend to have a single strategy that leads to victory more often than not, and the game simply becomes a race to the top, each player using the same technique.  That is definitely not the case with Ora Et Labora.

The player interaction is just right.  You can really screw up plans for an opposing player, but not so much that you feel bullied, or that there is no way you could have won, because your friends are all giant jerks.

The wheel mechanic makes the game move much smoother.  Unlike other similar games like Le Havre, you don’t have to stop the gameplay to load more resources onto the game so players know how much is available.  Instead you simply turn the indicator, and keep the game moving.

The game rewards forethought and planning more than any other worker placement game I’ve played.  More often than not, the winners of the game are the players who have the most imagination and foresight while developing their monasteries.

There is nothing random about this game.  Once the first player is selected, the actions are laid out on the table, there are no secret events or card reveals or dice rolls.  What you see is what you get, and you live and die by your strategic skill.

Things I Hated About Ora et Labora

The rules are incredibly complex.  There’s no way around it, so the learning curve is quite steep.  But if you’re willing to put the work in to learn the game, and understand you will be bad at the game for the first handful of plays, you’ll be richly rewarded down the road.

It is a time investment, in particular while you are learning the game.  You’ll have to look rules up, feel unsure about what you are doing, and each game will take several hours to play.

It can be difficult to follow what your opposing players are doing, and thus it can be hard to thwart their plans.  This often times means a surprise victory is pulled off, and can be frustrating when you think you’re doing well, only to realize another player laid out their cards much better than you did.

The game definitely rewards sticking to a plan, rather than changing your strategy on a whim.  This can be hard to grasp at first, since most of us like to adjust or plans as the game unfolds, but with Ora Et Labora, that can easily lead to a loss, and decisiveness will only come with experience.

Final Thoughts

This game is hard.  Hard to learn, and hard to master.  I don’t want to sugar coat that fact, and many people will balk when I say I like Ora Et Labora quite a bit more than Le Havre and Agricola (the spiritual siblings to this game).  But a funny thing has happened with my gaming experience.  I’ve found myself wanting to revisit Ora Et Labora, and learn to play it better, while I’ve grown bored with both Le Havre and Agricola.  To me that suggests that there is a depth to Ora Et Labora that the other two games simply lack.

But if you are a casual gamer, then this isn’t the game for you.  It is a commitment, both to learn, and to play.  But if you put in the time and effort, and if your friends do the same, you’ll find a deeply rewarding game that you can pull out on game night, and spend time learning to master.

PURCHASE THE GAME

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