Worker placement games are some of the most fun types of games I’ve played, and one good thing about it is that it’s a pretty distinct genre, and pretty much any semi-serious gamer knows the meaning of “worker placement”. I’ve played a lot of them, but certainly not all. For me, these rise to the top.
The classic gateway to worker placement games. Each worker you place grants you a 6-sided dice and you allocate them to Wood, Clay, Stone, Gold plus Food and special areas, then use that wood, clay, stone and gold to build special buildings that grant points and bonuses at the end of the game. Still one of the best pure strategy games out there, with just enough luck of the dice (and turn order) to make it interesting. Available on boardgamearena.com.
Take Stone Age, add time with a super-cool set of turning gears, and you get Tzolk’in. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ve never seen a game that so beautifully meshes its mechanics with its theme. It’s not like I’m particularly into the ancient Mayans, but it’s the perfect theme for a game where time is a central mechanic. I’ve also never quite seen mechanics that were so, well, mechanical. The Mayan calendar itself is a central gear that turns other gears, increasing the rewards your placed workers receive and, and… wow. This game is really cool, and strategically deep. Build buildings, climb temples, and collect crystal skulls. To me, this is the best worker placement game out there (other than the one I plan to do at some point). Also available on boardgamearena.com.
One of my favorite games, of any type! Complete review here. It’s not strictly a worker placement game like Stone Age, but worker placement is a key element of the game. Orléans makes you draw your workers out of a bag each turn, a little bit like shuffling a deck each turn and drawing a few cards. It’s just one of many mechanics that make up for a great overall game. I love all the little races for points, all the ways you can progress and advance as well as build. I love the ability to upgrade the components as well, and you can get really amazing ones with meeplesource.com. If you can play it online, I never have, but I wouldn’t really want to play it without being able to reach into my bag and pull out my meeple, that’s really what sets this game experience apart from many other merely good games.
The classic worker placement game by Uwe Rosenberg. I talk about this game a lot because it’s one of the easiest examples of do-something-ability: Win or lose, you’re going to build your own farm! Through placing your workers, you build out your home, enhance it with improvements, add to your family, plow fields, sow them with grain and vegetables, and raise sheep, wild board and cattle, all the while taking on some occupations that grant you special abilities. I’ve played this game hundreds of times on my iPad but just am not very good at.
Caverna is like Agricola, only better. It feels to me like the perfected version of the farm game. You still build a farm, but also carve out a cave, which isn’t all that different than building out your house in Agricola, except that the building and the farming a a little more separated in Caverna. The big difference, though, is that Caverna isn’t such a struggle to survive like Agricola is, so you get to do more: more farming, more building, more interesting worker choices.
Just to be more complete towards Uwe Rosenberg’s work, here’s his more recent one, there’s a lot more going on in this Viking-themed game than worker placement but at its core, it’s worker placement. Everyone has the same amount of workers (and unlike Stone Age and Orleans, there’s no way to get more), so it’s about getting the most out of those workers that determines the game’s winner. Raid villages and plunder valuable treasure that you can use in the “tetris” mini-game and explore new lands like Iceland and Greenland. Plus, the “feast” phase of every turn is a blast and a unique mechanic, as is the Tetris-like way you score points. Review here.
This is one of the coolest worker placement games out there because you don’t just place your workers, you can place them in mechs and then place the mechs! But, you also have other options for your workers, such as buildings, and it has the interesting mechanic of spending your workers and then having to wake them up. Finally, it has the whole thing where you borrow stuff from your future, then in the future you send your stuff backwards. It’s a bit of a contrived mechanic but it’s fun, and I’ve got a review here.
What are your favorite worker placement games?
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