Worker placement games are easily Rachel’s favorite type of board game and they fit into my top three, no doubt. The integrated theme and ability to perform multiple actions that can lead to victory make the games stand out against other mechanics.
To me, the worker placement mechanic tends to be more harmonized with the theme of the game as the actions that are available are typically trade (like the job, not bartering) actions that could be performed by an individual. For example, in Stone Age workers can be used to hunt and gather for food, cut down trees for wood, and use their mining exploits for brick, stone, and gold pieces.
In worker placement games, actions are typically taken one-at-a-time and there is usually a limit to how many times a certain action can be taken a round. To account for this, some games provide bonuses for being placed in different spots (Viticulture) or some introduce mechanics to placate the removal of opponents placements (Euphoria). Generally, not all actions can/will be selected each round and the new round will wipe the board and open up all previous spaces.
Worker placement games typically utilize some type of game piece, such as a colored meeple, to showcase who is utilizing what action space. Players will have a set number of pieces available to them and some games will grant additional “workers” through the actions that they take.
Due to the placement of workers, the strategy involved in such games can be constantly in flux as opposing players swipe spots. This appeals to us as it involves player interaction, either directly or indirectly, and keeps the game fresh. With the limited amount of spaces, players are constantly having to adapt and evolve their play style and what might work for one set of opponents may not work for another.
What are our some of our top worker placement games? In no particular order:
Manhattan Projects – Includes a general board and a player board, where both house worker spots and wrecks havoc on established turn orders.
Viticulture Essential Edition – To us, the quintessential worker placement game. I’ve written extensively on it here.
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar – Such a unique take on the mechanic with the wheel’s dynamic.
Stone Age – An ideal introduction to worker placement games. It does become kind of a point salad but still an enjoyable experience.
Dominant Species – The most complex game listed, this heavy worker placement has players acting as different animal species as they try to evolve and survive. I find this to be brilliant and hope I can get it to the table more often.
The Pursuit of Happiness – A thematic depiction of one’s life from childhood to death.
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small – The only strictly two-player game on the list, this is a short, tense duel to see who is the preeminent farmer.
What are some worker placement games we’re eager to check out?
Raiders of the North Sea – The wrinkle of being able to utilize an opponents worker left on the board is a new facet of worker placement that I really want to experience. It helps that the games theme seems all encompassing and the artwork is top-notch.
Keyflower – I love worker placement games and I love auction games. Keyflower, where you use workers as pieces to bid on tiles, combines both. I have played it once before and it did not live up to my expectations but I want to try it again. Maybe second time is better…
The Voyages of Marco Polo – Besides auction games, I love dice-rolling games. Marco Polo combines the two mechanics. Troyes offers a similar experience that I look forward to.