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Carl Talks Mechanics #2: Worker Placement Top 5

Everdell

Hello reader. This is the second entry in my countdown series talking about gameplay. In each article I will discuss one mechanic, explain what it is and why I like it. I will also shine a light on five games I particularly enjoy that utilise the mechanic in an interesting way. For this article I've selected worker placement.

You can click here to view the previous article on Tile Placement.

What is Worker Placement?

Worker placement is also known as action drafting. It is a mechanism wherein players select actions one at a time, usually from a shared pool. Players will often have a limited number of tokens (workers) to assign to actions. Typically each action will have a limit on how many times it can be used each turn. The limit may make the action more expensive to use in the same round. More often, once selected, the action will become unavailable until the next round of play.

Why do I like it in a game?

Nostalgia could go some way towards explaining my enjoyment of worker placement games. My early gaming experiences were with worker placement games such as Stone Age, Agricola, and Lords of Waterdeep. I like the strategic element in a worker placement game. Players have a limited pool of workers and a limited (shared) pool of actions. To be successful a player needs to find the most efficient use of their workers. Sometimes the most effective move might be to block an action from an opponent. Other times one or more actions may be overlooked, and offer another path to victory. I find that worker placement games have a nice balance between accessibility and strategy. Whilst I enjoy a heavy game, many of my gaming groups do not. A worker placement game is often an ideal middle ground.

Games that utilise Worker Placement

Worker placement is a popular mechanic, so I could easily have formed a top ten list. However, I've limited myself to five that I play regularly and personally enjoy. I should note that my aim here is only to provide a summary of each game. Full reviews can be found on our Reviews section of the blog.

Everdell

Player Count: 1 - 4 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2018

Everdell could win an award for cuteness, but it's not just a pretty face. Behind the nice, but unnecessary, cardboard tree and cute artwork, lies a decent worker placement game with high replay value.

Each player leads a band of woodland workers: Hedgehogs, Mice, Squirrels, or Turtles. Workers will be deployed  to locations in the forest to gain resources or claim bonuses. Players will then utilise the resources to play cards, building up a personal woodland city comprised of critters and constructions. So far, so simple, but there are some restrictions. A city cannot contain more than fifteen cards, or more than one copy of a unique card.

On a turn, a player will take one action; deploy a worker, play a card, or prepare for the next season. Everdell does not have game rounds in the traditional sense, players will progress through seasons individually. The game begins in Winter and ends in Autumn. This is a mechanic I like (Great Western Trail employs a similar mechanic to control the flow of the game).

A player moves to the next season when they have deployed all workers and played all cards that they can/wish. When a player reaches this stage, they prepare for the next season by taking back all of their workers. Players will often find themselves ahead or behind opponents in terms of progress through the seasons. This mechanic opens the door for some tactical gameplay. A player's workers remain on the board until they prepare for the next season, allowing them to block actions. Spotting the most beneficial time to progress to the next season can be the key to success.

Once all players have passed through Autumn, the game ends. The player who has collected the most points from cards and bonuses will win.

Champions of Midgard

Player Count: 2 - 4 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2015

The Jarl of Trondheim is dead, his once prosperous port is now the site of catastrophe. Trolls attack the walls, Draugr plague the outlying settlements and more terrifying monsters lurk on the horizon. The people need a champion to rally behind!

In Champions of Midgard (CoM) players are Viking chieftains vying to become the next Jarl. They will deploy workers to gather resources, recruit warriors (represented by dice) and gain glory. Gaining glory is the aim of the game. After eight rounds, the player with the most glory wins, becoming the new Jarl and champion of the people!

Glory is obtained, primarily, in combat. In each round, players can deploy workers to one of three combat areas. A player can tackle a Troll, a Draugr, or load up a ship and sail to fight a monster across the sea. However, taking a ship requires provisions; players will need food for any voyage.

Taking on the troll won't offer much glory, but defeating it has an interesting effect. The player can give a blame token to an opponent, calling them out for failing to defend the walls. Blame tokens will cause players to lose Glory at the end of the game. The penalty is cumulative, so the more blame a player holds, the higher the loss to their glory.

Combat is resolved by rolling warrior dice assigned to each monster; both the player and monster deal damage simultaneously.  If the player scores enough hits, the monster is defeated and the player gains glory and any other reward.

I really enjoy CoM. Thematically it's fun and gameplay is straightforward without being boring. I particularly like the combat, and the decision players face - Do I go for the troll or try for bigger prey? I would recommend this to new players.

Agricola

Player Count: 1 - 4 | Complexity: Medium| Released: 2007 (Revised in 2016)

For me, Agricola is one of the cornerstones in modern euro-style games. I think it's a well designed game that provides interesting, challenging gameplay, without being unnecessarily heavy. It's the game that first opened my eyes to a level of tabletop gaming beyond the lighter gateway games.

Agricola is set in the 17th century. The plague has been overcome and civilisation has been revitalised. Players are central European famers. Each player begins with two workers and a personal farmyard that has fifteen spaces. The aim is to improve your farm in multiple areas to maximise end game points and minimise penalties. Players can extend and upgrade the farmhouse, plough fields, sow and harvest crops, build pastures, and acquire livestock.

After fourteen rounds, points are awarded based on progress in each scoring area. Players will incur penalties for any unused spaces on their farmyard. Players may also incur a penalty in each other scoring area, if they have not progressed far enough. For example, ploughing  less than two fields incurs a penalty, ploughing two or more will score points.

As with all worker placement games, part of the challenge is making best use of a shared pool of actions. Challenges specific to Agricola are deciding how and when, if at all,  to make progress in specific areas. There is also the matter of the harvest. A harvest occurs at the end of rounds four, seven, nine, eleven, thirteen, and fourteen. During the harvest the player must pay food resources in order to feed their workers. Players who fail to feed their workers are given a begging marker, worth minus three points, for each missing food. This penalty can be costly and often catches new players out.

The player with the most points after fourteen rounds wins.

Village

Player Count: 2 - 4 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2011

Village is a fun strategy game with interesting mechanics. The idea is that players each control a family within the village. Players aim to secure prestige points, enabling their family to rise to prominence, and victory.

The gameboard depicts the village which is divided into several areas. Craft buildings allow players to create goods. Goods, along with grain (generated on the farm), can be exchanged at the market for prestige.  The church will generate prestige for the player, and the council chamber will generate prestige and privileges. Players also have the option to send family members travelling, which will generate prestige, money, or influence.

Influence is a key resource. It is represented by wooden cubes in four colours, denoting skill, persuasiveness, faith, and knowledge. There are also black cubes, representing the plague - try to avoid those! Influence is one of two resources typically used to pay for an action. The other is time.

Time is important in Village. Whenever a player pays time, they move a marker along the time track on their gameboard. For every ten time periods spent, the player must lose a worker. The worker is moved to the village chronicle, which generates prestige, or the anonymous graves. Game end is triggered when either the chronicle or anonymous graves are filled.

What I like most about Village is how it incorporates the concept of time into core gameplay. Using time as a method to pay for an action, and to drive end game scoring is really cool. Players need to consider where to place their workers and when to lose them. In most cases players will be aiming to secure places in the village chronicle. However, some strategies might call for an early game end by filling the anonymous graves!

Lords of Waterdeep

Player Count: 2 - 5 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2012

Lords of Waterdeep (LoW) is a quintessential worker placement game. Thematically, the game is set within the fictional city of Waterdeep from the Dungeons & Dragons campaign, Forgotten Realms. The gameboard depicts the city and locations therein that players may visit. The aim of the game is to score victory points, typically by completing quests. Quests are represented by cards obtained from a location on the gameboard.

At the start of the game, players are secretly dealt a lord character. Each lord provides end-game bonuses for completing actions in the game (usually for completing quests of specific types).

During the game, players will take turns sending  agents to locations in Waterdeep to gather resources. The main resource in LoW are the adventurers, of which there are four types: Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric. Adventurers are key to completing quests; different types of quest required different types of adventurer. Other resources include the quest cards, money, and intrigue cards. Intrigue cards can be a useful, if sneaky, tool for a scheming playing. An intrigue card may force a low scoring mandatory quest on an opponent, or remove adventurers from their pool. Alternately, some intrigue cards are simply an aid to the active player.

To complete a quest, the player must pay the required resources to the bank. The player will score the points stated and gain any additional reward, which may consist of points and/or resources. The game ends after eight rounds. The player with the highest score wins.

LoW has been popular in my gaming group for years and we've not yet gotten bored of it. It's simple to setup and teach, and it's fun to play. I'm a big fan! As a bonus, the expansion, Scoundrels of Skullport, adds more content to raise the replay value.