Monday, September 11, 2017

Game Mechanics: Worker Placement

This time, I'm going to go over a game mechanic that is both very standardized, and yet very diverse at the same time. There are a lot of games that use worker placement, and many of them do it in similar fashion, but now and then really unique implementations come up. Images come from BoardGame Geek.

So firstly, let's define worker placement. Boardgame Geek has a great page on it, and states that it is more properly termed "action drafting", as players are taking turns drafting actions from a commonly available pool. Most typically, this is done with meeples on actions spaces.

The image above is from Lords of Waterdeep, a Dungeons and Dragons themed Worker placement game. This game has a very simple implementation overall, where placements get resources, build buildings(add spaces), get contracts, or fill contracts(for the most part). The players are thematically the town's lords who organize groups of adventurers and send them on quests. Worker spaces are exclusive (one person gets to take the action). In addition to the physical version(with an expansion), there's now a digital implementation, available through Steam, and soon app stores(if not already).

Now, if you want something that is a bit gentler themed, how about winemaking? Viticulture plays with 6, and has variable numbers of  action spaces dependent on player count. There's also more steps to the process here, as players have to plant vines, harvest grapes, and the crush them into wine, not to mention building up your vineyard. Then you have to have the right wine(s) to fill the orders you've obtained. The game is divided into years and seasons, with certain actions being available only in season, and each worker being only available once a year.

If you're wanting a game that feels more like you're always scrambling to get it all done, Agricola is a great choice(though I think it was better with its former publisher). As medieval farmers, you have to plow fields, sow vegetables and grain, raise sheep, pigs, and cows, build fences, build your house, have kids, get occupations, and make sure everyone is fed(sometimes those animals just don't last). Agricola has a point salad method of scoring, so you want to get as much done as you can, and you can't focus on any of it, as you lose points for not getting some of these.

Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia is one of a handful of games that use dice instead of meeples for your workers. The value rolled usually has some effect on its useability or usefulness. In this game, your workers also may become aware they're in a dystopia and walk off. But, as far as worker spaces, we have three types here, exclusive, replacement, and additive. Players can hinder others' progress in this game through construction of distopian buildings.

Stone Age uses dice and workers a bit differently. Each resource has a number of spaces available, and other actions have one each(two needed for reproduction). Each turn a player places worker(s) in one area. When all have been placed, each worker in a resource area grants a die to be rolled for that resource, with multiples of a number generating more(total, not on the die). You also want to build huts and collect artifacts with those resources. Below, green will roll 3 dice, blue will roll 2, and red and yellow each one die to get wood.

And for unique implementations, none have yet had the cool factor of Tzollk'in: The Mayan Calendar. This game has clock motion determining when you get things based on rotations. I can't really say more, as this is the one here I haven't played.

And last, I'm going to mention Keyflower, as it is also a worker placement game, in addition to an auction game. Only one color can be used for placement on a tile(determined by the first placement); later placements have to increase; and each tile can only hold 6 meeples. Better buildings from the auctions will encourage others to use your tiles, which will give you more meeples on later turns to use.

There's a lot out there, and many are variants of contract fulfillment or engine building, or both. But the way they do it makes for some decent choices of play, and different opportunity cost calculations.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.


  1. My FAVORITE worker placement game of all time (so far) is Yedo. Doesn't work great in 2 player though, definitely recommend 3+. Heck I'll play with you if you're in the area.

    Also, no mention of Alien Frontiers? (another one using dice as placement) I find that one to be a very good intro for newbies into the worker placement genre because the rolls kind of restrict their options so they feel less overwhelmed with option paralysis.

    1. I played AF once, and it was ok. But Euphoria had a lot of cool ways things fit together. Just personal taste and trying to save a little space. Plus, really cool dice in Euphoria.

    2. Cool, I'll have to check it out sometime.