E16 | Games | Worker Placement, It Gets the Meeple Going!



We are continuing our series in Mechanics Exploration with Worker Placement! We cover all the classics and hopefully some new names. With a too-spicy bourbon and a sweet ale from the past we are excited to talk through this excellent genre!

What's on our Flight (00:56)

  • Dalton’s drinking: Yellowstone Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Another offshoot member of the Beam family, this bourbon is extremely spice forward, to the point of unpleasantness. The burn is overpowering to put it lightly. After several sips I adjusted to it and picked up some dried apple flavors that were nice, but the overall spiciness left a burnt sugar flavor behind. I would not pick it up again at the $35 price point.

  • Nelson's drinking: Weemac from Sunking Brewing. At a smooth 23 IBU, this scotish ale presents with sweet toffee and caramel flavors, making it easy to enjoy. We once picked up a keg of this beer from the brewery in Indianapolis!

What's On Our Table (05:21)

We both tried out War of the Ring for the first time recently! We very much enjoyed this 1 on 1 war game themed for everyone's favorite trilogy. The game defines different victory conditions for the two players and offers a huge amount of replayability through themed, dual-purpose strategy cards. We are very excited to play this game again (changing sides, of course) and would encourage trying the game if you get the chance! Word of advice, though: do NOT send Strider to the Lonely Mountain!


Nelson also announced a re-ordering of his top 5 board games, based on games he has been playing through in the recent months. You should see some familiar faces on this list!

  1. Terraforming Mars

  2. Gaia Project

  3. Spirit Island

  4. Brass Birmingham

  5. Underwater Cities

The icebreaker question for this episode was submitted by Amram (20:16)


What competitive game do you thing is best for new players? (Note this is similar to a question he previously asked in Episode 10 which was focused on cooperative games)

  • Dalton: Settlers of Catan and Splendor. Both have low decision making on a single turn, which helps simplify the game for new players. They let you feel the fun of building and being rewarded while maintaining some randomness to help reduce competition.

  • Nelson: Between Two Cities. This game offers a pseudo competitive feel as players are working with their neighbors to build the best cities. Experienced players can be staggered with newer ones to help ease the barrier to entry as the game introduces several important mechanics like drafting and "point soup" scoring.

Amram, thank you so much for the submission! If you are looking for us to answer a question, submit your question here.

Discussion starts at 29:23 in the episode


At its core, Worker Placement games simulate action drafting. The players are given many viable options for actions on a given turn and must choose the best one to accomplish their goals. The actions taken must have an element of exclusivity to be considered a true Worker Placement. In other words, there must be some mechanic that prevents (or hinders) players from taking actions already taken by other players. For this reason, Worker Placement games should feel scarcity of actions, meaning the players could always accomplish more if they only had the actions available to do it.


Excellence in Worker Placement games comes from creating multiple valuable actions for a player to take on a given turn. This forces players to think critically about how to use their valuable actions, creating that feeling of scarcity that makes the game rewarding. Often, players will find themselves choosing between an action that directly benefits themselves, and others that they could "block" that have high value to their opponents. A complex Worker Placement needs to find a way to increase the value of actions over time, introducing new and more powerful action options or by upgrading actions that were previously used to maintain interesting and critical decision making throughout the game.


We mentioned several key games to know that define the genre:

  • Agricola (2007) from Uwe Rosenburg, published by Mayfair Games and Z-Man Games

  • Bus (1999) from Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga, published by Splotter Spellen

  • Caylus (2005) from William Attia, (multiple publishers). This game is credited as coining the term "Worker Placement"


Recommendations start at 44:26 in the episode


Low Complexity

  • Dalton: Imhotep. A fun and extremely simple Worker Placement (a weight of only 2.0 on boardgamegeek.com). This game manages to take Engine Building out of Worker Placement, leaving only a simple scoring mechanism. Perfect for an introduction to the mechanic or as a gateway game in general. MEC: M - 6, E - 7, C - 7.5, Overall: 6.8.

  • Nelson: Everdell. A game themed around woodland creature city building; think Redwall. This Worker Placement introduces Tableau Building (laying cards systematically in a personal play area), allowing players to generate new actions for themselves as they build their woodland civilizations. A bit too random for Nelson's taste, but this randomness will benefit less experienced players. The game has multiple expansions out that will allow experienced players to increase the complexity as they become familiar with the game, making it a perfect first-buy in Worker Placement. MEC: M - 6, E - 6.5, C - 9, Overall: 6.6.


Medium Complexity

  • Nelson: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar. Discussed extensively in the episode, this fascinating twist on Worker Placement uses mechanical gears to simulate workers increasing in value over time. Simple turns give way to complex strategy as the game evolves, edging this game ever closer to a spot in Nelson's Top 5! MEC: M - 9, E - 8, C - 8, Overall 8.4.

  • Dalton: Castles of Burgundy. A frequently discussed game for us, this sneaky Worker Placement uses dice as the worker, restricting where workers can be placed based on the value of the die roll. The game looks complex at first, but it really boils down to a complex points soup scoring coupled with a fun dice placing element. As always when discussing this game, it must be mentioned that the theme and components are horrendous. MEC: M - 8.5, E - 7, C - 3.5, Overall 6.8.


High Complexity

  • Dalton: Lewis and Clark: The Expedition. An elegantly executed Worker Placement that has you "Go West" from St. Louis, following the progress of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Your workers are a combination of Native American Meeples and dual purpose action cards, played to gather resources for your journey across the nation. All of the action cards are historical figures drawn from the actual travels of the two explorers, creating a truly immersive experience. The game manages to create complexity without losing its core values as a Worker Placement. MEC: M - 7.5, E - 7, C - 9, Overall 7.6.

  • Nelson: Agricola. Another game discussed extensively in the episode. This iconic Worker Placement has players build the family farm over generations, scoring points for filling the player board and not starving to death over the years. This game is notoriously punishing of mistakes but is rewarding in complexity and extremely high replayability. An experience well worth the time spent to master the game! MEC: M - 8.5, E - 8, C - 4, Overall 7.8.


Thanks for reading! Let us know what your favorite Worker Placement game is in the comments!


Cheers!


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