Best Worker Placement Board Games – Ranked & Reviewed (2019)
Worker placement board games have grown rapidly in popularity over the last few years. This mechanic is heavily featured in Euro-style board games. In a worker placement, players control a pool of workers, usually in the form of meeples. Every round, players will take turns assigning their meeples to various locations on the board. Each spot corresponds to a different action and usually there’s a limited number of spaces for each meeple.
Eurogames, in particular, mesh well with worker placement games and you’ll see some of the more interesting and oddball themes using this mechanic. You could find yourself as the lord of a castle, a tribal leader, a time-traveler, or even just some guy in a village.
What I love about worker placement games is that they give players an open puzzle that needs to be solved. There’s no specific solution to it either. Often times you can find insane strategies that the designers have built into the game, but may not have consciously thought-of. They’re highly-strategic games and make for a very analytical gaming session.
The best part is that the open-endedness of the puzzle allows for tons of replayability. If you think outside the box and attempt a new strategy every time you play, each game will be a completely new experience. In this article, we’re going to look at some of our favorites and give you some great options for your foray into the world of worker placement games.
Agricola (Revised Edition)
If you haven’t guessed from the name of this website, we like livestock. So, of course, we were ecstatic the first time we played. Cows!
Agricola is a classic worker placement game where players are in charge of a small farm. It’s up to you to figure out how to actually make that farm successful. Do you try your hand at raising livestock? Do you focus on crops? Or do you do a little bit of everything?
Agricola is one of the quintessential Eurogames designed by Uwe Rosenberg.
This deceptively simple game is heavy on strategy and is usually the first steps an intermediate board gamer will take. Players can simply focus on their own farms or block off actions, forcing other players to alter their strategies. It especially shines as a 3-player game too.
“Easy to learn, Difficult to master”
The phrase “easy to learn, difficult to master” comes to mind with Agricola. Every player’s farm starts out the same. You get a farmer and his wife, a shack, an empty field, and a tiny plot for animals. The game is completely open to how you deal with your land and that’s part of the beauty of the game. It’s almost like a sandbox experience where players can fill up their farm with anything they can imagine.
Our First Game
My first game Kendra and I immediately both tried to get all the livestock we could (who doesn’t want a farm full of cute cows and sheep?). We both were working on our farms, competing for all the livestock spots, and it may not sound like the most exciting game, but it’s a blast. The next few games we started to get our bearings on the rules and understand the strategies involved, and you can go way down the rabbit hole on strategy in Agricola. After a full day of playing nonstop, we barely scratched the surface on what Agricola has to offer.
Stone Age is one of those worker placement board games that just keeps on giving.
In Stone Age, players control a small tribe/clan of early humans. You’ll start out with 5 workers that can grow in number (up to 10). It’s a Euro-style game, so players will be gathering resources and completing buildings for victory points. There are also cards that can be purchased for a ton of bonus points at the end of the game.
Stone Age has an insane amount of different strategies that can be used in-game and each one is completely valid. I’ve played so many different games and each one I’ve tried to use a different strategy. In every game I’ve played there’s never been one particular way to win. Some games will have players rushing for the same thing every game, but Stone Age is so well balanced that any strategy is valid.
The Swarm Tactic
My personal favorite strategy is to try and quickly build up my tribe to max numbers and swarm the board. There’s an interesting mechanic that if you can’t feed your people at the end of a round you lose 10 points, but you don’t actually lose the meeple. You could theoretically never feed your people ever and try to make enough points every round to counter the -10 point hit every turn. It almost worked when I tried it; I came in second place.
Kendra loves to use the tool mechanic. She is obstinant and completely flouts what I’ve said about trying new strategies every time you play. She’s found a strategy that works and sticks with it. She gets a new tool every turn and doubles down on cards that multiply the tools’ ability. Spoiler Alert: she usually wins.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Based on Defoe’s classic novel, now you too can attempt to survive being shipwrecked on a deserted island.
Robinson Crusoe is a difficult game.
It’s like Australia: literally, everything is trying to kill you. Every single action has the potential to turn into an unmitigated disaster.
The premise is rather simple: You and your fellow shipmates have been shipwrecked, and you’ll need to survive long enough to get rescued. There’s the problem though, you have to survive long enough, and as I mentioned earlier, literally everything in the game can kill you. A simple walk through the woods can have you come across some horrendous wild animal, you could get poisoned, your shelter could completely collapse, you could starve, or you could simply get sad and give up on life.
For such a bright-looking board game, it gets pretty dark.
Your impending doom aside, Robinson Crusoe offers an amazing experience. There is an entire island to explore that never seems to be the same twice. It offers challenges around every corner, where the simplest things take careful planning and strategy to accomplish.
There is only one real complaint that I’ve heard of, and that can be mitigated a bit, depending upon who you’re playing with. If it’s your first time playing, I highly suggest playing with other first-timers. Because the game has such a steep learning curve, it is particularly susceptible to the alpha gamer syndrome.
What is Alpha Gamer Syndrome?
This is a common occurrence in cooperative board games, especially Pandemic. What tends to happen when only one player has experience with the game is the alpha gamer taking control and planning everyone else’s turn out for them. When playing with others of the same skill level, it doesn’t seem to pop up as much. This may not even be an issue depending upon your gamer group. I think it’s a personality difference in my group versus anything actually wrong with the game.
If all else fails, it’s one of the best solo games out there. It’s brutal, challenging, and a heck of a lot of fun. I highly suggest reading the book too. It was one of my favorites growing up.
Alien Frontiers is an interesting take on a worker placement game. For one thing, you don’t really find yourself on a farm, village, or city. You’ll have to think much bigger! Alien Frontiers has players colonizing a moon! I always appreciate a good sci-fi theme and Alien Frontiers delivers.
The workers… are dice?
There’s one aspect of the game that I’m on-the-fence about: the workers themselves. After a few runs through the game, I’m still not entirely sure about how I feel about them. The workers are dice. The mechanics make for a very interesting game. Depending upon your rolls, you’ll only be able to perform certain actions on the board. This definitely adds some tension and you can even make certain spots more difficult by adding your higher dice to spaces. One particular spot on the board allows players to put their dice there as long as it’s equal to or higher than the previous dice. It makes for a very compelling game.
The only thing I’m disappointed with is that they’re just dice. Is it a worker placement game or a dice game? I’m not sure how they could do it, but I still think it’s a missed opportunity to put some really cool spaceship pieces in the game. It’s purely an aesthetic complaint, but it’s still in the back of my mind whenever I play.
The moon is sectioned off into different spaces and, in a stroke of design genius, they are all named after famous Sci-Fi authors, which is a complete thematic win for me. Heinlein Plains… Asimov Crater… come on, that’s cool and you know it.
All in all, the game is beautifully designed and mechanically sound. Simply rolling a handful of sixes won’t guarantee a win. There’s always going to be somewhere to put your dice (it may not be exactly where you want them) and strategies need to be adapted on the fly due to the dice. The board is also beautifully done, and easy to read; it’s definitely not rocket science. Everything is clearly printed and easy to understand.
When playing with the younger crowd, this is always a favorite. It’s got a ton of strategy, fun theme, and it’s easy to understand for kids.
Versions & Expansions:
- Alien Frontiers (2010)
- Alien Frontiers: Factions (2012)
- Alien Frontiers: Outer Belt (2014)
- Alien Frontiers Big Box (2017)
- Alien Frontiers Factions: Definitive Edition (2019)
- Alien Frontiers: Mercury’s Angels Faction (2019)
- (Plus 6 Expansion Packs)
The Pillars of the Earth
“To someone standing in the nave, looking down the length of the church toward the east, the round window would seem like a huge sun exploding into innumerable shards of gorgeous color.” ― Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth
The Pillars of the Earth is an incredible story. If you haven’t either read the book (written by Ken Follett) or seen the miniseries, you’re missing out.
The sheer effort of undertaking such a massive task like building a cathedral boggles the mind (even to this day). And when these massive buildings were built, it was done by hand and without the aid of modern construction equipment. Despite that, the buildings themselves are works of art… in every sense of the word.
Easier Said Than Done
The Pillars of the Earth board game allows players to take part in the construction of one of these great cathedrals.
The goal of the game is simply to have the most victory points by the end of the game, but as you may have figured out, that’s never really as easy as it sounds. Players will get victory points by contributing resources and building sections of the cathedral. Gathering resources and dealing with the ever-present disasters are going to make that much trickier to do.
Randomized Turn Order
Pillars uses a very different mechanic to find turn order. It has a randomized element which turns some player’s off, but it’s not completely random. All of the pawns will be thrown into a bag and 1 gets drawn. That player can then pass or pay the cost of 7 gold to go first. Every time a player passes the costs go down. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it, but it does add for some tense moments throughout the game.
I’ve heard of some players not being interested in Pillars of the Earth, simply because of the religious theme, but honestly, the thematic elements and the story itself (from the book anyway) are about the human element of the people and the story that goes into building such a massive structure during the time period. It’s neither preachy nor derogatory to any particular group, so if that’s what’s holding you back from an incredible worker placement game, then I think you’re missing out.
Versions & Expansions:
- The Pillars of the Earth (2006)
- The Pillars of the Earth: Expansion Set (2007)
- The Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel (2009)
- The Pillars of the Earth: Medieval Challenge (2008)
Village takes an interesting view of worker placement mechanics. Instead of simply placing a worker and getting a resource, each space is intricately melded with each other space. If you gain some resources, that’s great, but now you have resources sitting in the field and you need to find a way to start moving them.
Do they go back to your farm?
Do you sell them for money?
Do you sell them for influence in the government?
Each space performs a specific action but you can’t simply do one thing at a time. You’ll need to perform several actions and go down several paths in order to actually become successful in the village.
So far everything is sounding pretty generic, but here’s the most interesting mechanic of the game: Death.
Stepping away from the norms of death in a game, there are no battles or wacky traps for your characters to encounter. They’re normal meeple-people living their lives as best they can. They’re craftsmen, boys playing in the woods, monks, mothers, and fathers. You get to control and play out the lives of generations of a family. The time tracker keeps track of the flow of time and each passing of the track takes someone with it to the grave.
Your Family’s Legacy
The game ends when the graveyard is full or the village chronicle is full. Is your family full of useless louts that caroused and quickly died, letting time leave them in obscurity? Or is your family from a long line of respected merchants or politicians in the city, their names held up as paragons of virtue?
Very rarely do I feel an emotional attachment to a meeple, but Village manages to do this. It’s an endearing, heartwarming game that you can’t help but love.
Hard-to-pronounce-name and unassuming box art aside, Anachrony is a visually gorgeous worker placement game that tackles an incredibly difficult concept well: time travel.
The world is hit by a massive meteor that nearly destroys humanity in a single night. With the destruction comes the means of salvation. Hidden within the meteor is a new element, neutronium, that has properties which allow for time travel.
As humanity rebuilt itself, the survivors found themselves gathering around 4 distinct ideologies: Dominance, Harmony, Progress, and Salvation. Now, scientists have discovered that a second meteor is hurtling towards the Earth and time is running out.
Time Travel Mechanic
Anachrony is an incredibly cool looking game once you get the box open and has some of the coolest mechanics for time travel that I’ve ever seen. Players work on building up their society in order to avoid destruction from the second meteor and if they need a little help, players can actually send resources to themselves from a different timeline. Players will basically take additional resources that they’ll need to deal with at a future time. It doesn’t sound as fancy as time travel, but thematically, it adds such a fun flavor to the game.
Victory Points FTW
Players will need to manage their resources and activate exosuits to travel around and activate buildings, gather resources and move through time.
As with most worker placement games, the winner is determined by victory points gained from morale, buildings, objectives, whether they destroyed the space-time continuum, and whether or not they survived the second meteor’s impact.
Spring for the Expansion
It’s a very cool game and is visually stunning all on its own without any expansions, but….
There is an expansion that I highly recommend if you’re into aesthetics. It has no real bearing on the game, it’s just cool. When you see pictures of Anachrony, you’ll most likely see highly-detailed miniatures that look awesome.
Those aren’t in the vanilla game.
They’re an expansion/add-on called the Exosuit Commander Pack. They’re very cool. They’re also very expensive and hard to find at this point. Because of the marketing, I originally thought they came with the base game, but after I looked around a bit I realized they’re a separate expansion. The original game just uses tiles to indicate how many exosuits you have. It doesn’t change how the game is played, but if you’re expecting to see minis in the box and you don’t see them, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
Despite that disclaimer, the game has a ton of character, theme, and a lot of in-depth gameplay that will not disappoint.
Versions & Expansions:
- Anachrony (2017)
- Anachrony: Exosuit Commander Pack (2017)
- Anachrony Leader Box (2017)
- Anachrony: Doomsday Enhancement Pack (2017)
- Anachrony: Fractures of Time (2019)
Lancaster: Big Box Edition
“Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin, as self-neglecting.” ― William Shakespeare, Henry V
Historically, ambition has simultaneously driven the world into the future whether it wants to or not. In Lancaster, ambition will become the driving factors of the players.
Every player represents a noble house of England under the recently-crowned Henry V of Lancaster. Each house is tired of simple lordship and has ambitions of becoming the influential power behind the throne. Every ruler needs a go-to house, and why shouldn’t it be yours?
Lancaster takes a very interesting approach when it comes to its workers. Each player will have a supply of knights. As we all know not all knights are created equal.
“But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive.” ― William Shakespeare, Henry V
Fight to place your workers
Like a normal worker placement game, players will be able to place a knight on any spot to perform actions. But what happens when a bigger, stronger knight shows up? It’s time to skedaddle. The larger knight, played by a subsequent player, can force a player to leave and have them pick another spot. One of the issues players have with a worker placement is that it sometimes pushes out the social interaction of the table. It can sometimes seem like everyone is playing a separate game on one board. That is clearly not the case here.
The Importance of Squires
Knights need a ton of support staff, right? Historically, they were basically medieval tanks on a battlefield, but without the subsequent army backing them up, they would get overwhelmed. In Lancaster, knights can bring along some of that support staff in the form of squires. Even the weakest of knights can still push out a stronger knight if they bring enough squires with them. Think of squires as one-shot power boosts and knight levels as a more expensive, but steady form of strength.
The whole knight mechanic drastically changes the strategies of the standard worker placement genre and adds a ton of player interaction to the game.
“He is as full of valor as of kindness. Princely in both.” ― William Shakespeare, Henry V
Big Box Edition
If you need a little more action and you’re lucky enough to find a copy, you can always check out the Big Box version. It comes with the base game and several modular expansions that can be mixed-and-matched however you fancy. There’s several new mechanics added using the court and a bunch of new laws that can be passed in the kingdom.
That’s just one of the major mechanics that Lancaster uses to change up the genre. It gives players a lot more freedom to interact with each other and the board. If someone steals the spot you needed, feel free to overwhelm them and take it over.
Versions & Expansions:
- Lancaster (2011)
- Lancaster: The New Laws (2011)
- Lancaster: Henry V – The Power of the King (2012)
- Lancaster: Big Box (2015)
Lords of Waterdeep
A Dungeons & Dragons-inspired fantasy worker placement game?
Waterdeep is a fictional town within the D&D universe. It’s known for being one of the largest trading port cities in the region and is always full of intrigue, with danger lurking around every corner.
Lords of Waterdeep takes the player out of the seedy taverns and alleys and instead places them in control of one of the Lords, which is where all the real power resides.
Play as the Lords, rather than the Adventurers
Players will build up various spots in the town and hire adventurers to perform quests in their name (for victory points of course).
Each building becomes a permanent fixture in Waterdeep, and every player can then use that new space to perform actions or gain resources. The player who built it will get a bonus resource if someone else uses that space, so building is usually a beneficial choice.
The Adventurers are the Resources
After you have your resources (fighters, mages, clerics, and rogues) what do you do with them?
In true Dungeons & Dragons fashion, you’ll be the one sending them out on quests. Each quest will give you some kind of victory point, but sometimes they’ll also give special bonuses for the rest of the game. The available quests will constantly be rotating throughout the game, so if you see one you really want, grab it!
There are two specific mechanics that push Lord of Waterdeep over the top in the replayability department. The randomized set of buildings that can be played will affect the outcome and what players will be able to accomplish in-game. If during one game you had a space that gave you a ton of specific resources that you needed, it may not show up in the next game, and that can really force you to think outside the box.
Hidden Faction Cards
The second mechanic that really makes it shine is the hidden faction cards. Each player at the beginning of the game will receive a faction leader card, and at the end of the game, you’ll receive bonus points for accomplishing certain goals. Some leaders have an affinity for specific types of quests, like skullduggery or the arcane, and those leaders will get bonus points for each quest they complete. There’s also a builder leader who will receive bonus points for each building they make, which is very powerful in my opinion.
As a D&D veteran and a board game nerd, I love Lords of Waterdeep. It’s a solid entry for the genre and it translates beautifully to worker placement. The resources are all themed too. Instead of getting wood or stone like some other worker placements, resources are adventurers; fighters, clerics, rogues, and wizards. How cool is that?
Versions & Expansions:
Lords of Waterdeep (2012)
Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport (2013)
Le Havre pronounced “leh-av-ruh” is another worker placement game that is a mashup of the seemingly-simple and horribly-complex all rolled up into one. If you can’t pronounce it or forget the name, I’ve also heard it called, “that port-building game that’s kinda like the incestuous offspring of Caylus and Agricola.” That works too.
Every turn players will place resources into a stockpile and then they will perform two actions.
- They can choose a stockpile to pick up and they can use a building.
- At the end of each turn, players will then need to feed their people.
That’s basically all of the actions. It doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but that’s why I called it deceptively simple. What buildings you use and what you do with your resources can drastically alter how the game plays out. For example, if you buy buildings you can get bonuses whenever another player uses them. If you use a building to refine your resources like turning all your grain into bread, you’ll get a much more useful resource that’s worth more food points on consumption. Each resource will have a processed version that improves its effectiveness drastically.
It’s also by Uwe Rosenberg, the same designer as Agricola and Caverna, so you already know that it’s going to be technically-sound and highly-strategic.
Unlike some of the other games on this list, however, it’s almost better with 2-3 players. It’s designed for more, but any more than three and the game begins to drag on.
The game itself looks extremely overwhelming at first glance. There’s going to be piles of tokens all over the place, resource tiles, and multiple stacks of buildings just waiting for you to explore. It’s not the most intricate of games, but it doesn’t have to be. There is more strategy involved in these two actions than most games are able to create with a 50-page rule book… and it’s really something to see.
Versions & Expansions:
Le Havre (2008)
Le Havre: Le Grand Hameau (2010)
Le Havre: The Inland Port (2012)
Fresco: Big Box Edition
It’s with of a heavy heart that I write this section, now. In the middle of writing this article, the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris has been severely damaged by fire. As a fan of history and art, it’s a brutal loss to the word, but hopefully, they will be able to restore and salvage as much as possible for future generations.
Become a Master Painter
Although kind of light on the worker portion, Fresco offers fantastic strategy and is one of my favorite games. Players manage paint resources and attempt to restore the large fresco of the cathedral to impress the Bishop with their mad painting skills.
Players need to fight for time slots to visit the paint market for supplies and manage their workers’ morale. Happy workers can get more things done, after all.
Wait, I have to wake up early?
Every turn players allocate workers on a hidden board, which determines what actions they’ll be able to take during a round. This is where the time your workers wake up in the morning comes into play. The time you wake up determines the turn order, and turn order is key in Fresco.
The first step is getting up and hitting the paint market. At some point in the game, you’re going to be overwhelmed by one color of paint (usually yellow in my case) and if you’re last to the market everything is cheaper, but the choices are going to be extremely limited.
Buying Paint, Mixing Paint
An astute gamer will notice that mixing paints, which is necessary to ensure you have the right combination to restore the fresco, comes after the actual Fresco stage. This can throw everyone’s plans overboard as careful planning for 2 or 3 rounds is completely negated by a player completing the section of the fresco you were going for.
It’s a very sleepy methodical game that becomes a sudden mad dash rush on the last round. Players will always receive one last round that they’ll have to scramble to finish any remaining paintings or to accumulate those last few points (which can win you the game).
Fresco: Big Box Edition
If you’re thinking about giving it a try, I highly suggest checking out the Big Box version. There are a ton of small expansions in the big box. They’re all modular so you can mix-and-match the ones you like and from my own experience, they mesh so well with the game that I won’t play without them at this point.
I love this game so why are reviews so $#!T? The game is fantastic but the box storage is garbage. Nothing fits right. It’s basically 4 generic square slots that are thrown into a weak organizer. If that wasn’t enough when we opened our box we were missing all of the shields that hide resources and meeple boards. They were just missing. Their customer service in fixing that was amazing though. One email later and we had them priority shipped to us at no cost by the publisher.
Kendra received a copy of Fresco from her uncle for Christmas a few years ago, and we ended up playing it all day after we opened it up. It plays great as an introduction to Euro and worker placement games by not completely overwhelming them, and there’s enough strategy and interaction, keeping everyone glued to the board.
The economy has tanked, infrastructure is failing, and the rulers are going to stimulate the economy by unnecessary building projects…
No, this isn’t modern-day America. Instead, we will be traveling back in time to medieval France. It’s 1289, King Philip the Fair wants a castle and he’s going to get one. Caylus is a small town, but not for long.
Luckily, there’s a horde of master builders ready to descend upon the town to exercise their craft and build up the town and the king’s new castle.
Become a Master Builder
Players take on the role of master builders to gain favor (and wealth) from the crown. By building in the town, players will get instant resources and bonuses. Other players will also be able to use the new town buildings in-game (similar to Lords of Waterdeep). This mechanic adds a ton of replayability because strategies and tactics will change drastically depending on the buildings available.
Players can also build up the castle to win favor (victory points) with the king and can even get some larger bonuses that will affect them for the rest of the game.
Now, as any master builder knows, planning and building an entire town isn’t a walk in the park, and the same can be said for Caylus. There is a surprising amount of depth and calculation to be done. The additional buildings will each add a completely different path to building and gaining resources, which can become very overwhelming for some beginner players. If however, you are looking for in-depth strategy in a neat package, Caylus will provide you with hours and hours of entertainment.
Versions & Expansions:
- Caylus (2005)
- Caylus Magna Carta (2007)
- Caylus Expansion: The Jeweller (2005) included in the second edition of the game
- Caylus Magna Carta: The Favors (2009)
The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire
“Mankind invented the atomic bomb, but no mouse would ever construct the mousetrap.” ― Albert Einstein
Is atomic energy evil?
Manhattan Project: Energy Empire is a standalone game from The Manhattan Project. You won’t need the original to experience this gem.
The themes and mechanics in this game are very thought-provoking. Energy Empire takes place in the late 20th century during the aftermath of WWII. With the advent of nuclear energy, the world has access to unprecedented technology.
“I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” ― J. Robert Oppenheimer
With great power comes great responsibility.
Players will be in charge of their nation and guide them into the future. Players will need to manage energy resources and balance out the cost.
“What cost?” you might ask. Well, energy and industry have never been particularly clean, historically-speaking. As demand for energy goes up, so too do pollutant byproducts.
Players will need to manage their economies energy while keeping pollution down. Something that we still haven’t quite gotten the hang of in the real world.
Energy = Victory
Players receive victory points based on the number of “energy” banked, how well you get along with the United Nations and how advanced your technology gets.
Running a civilization isn’t easy and I think my eyes started to bleed after a few minutes of looking at all of the symbols in the instruction booklet. A few eyedrops and an ER visit later, I was ready to play my first game.
There is a lot going on here. You’ll need to juggle building, workers, technology level, political power, resources, energy, and pollution levels. At first, it is extremely overwhelming but once you get into it, everything makes sense and the game world opens up.
I found myself thinking, “Why would I ever use anything other than solar and hydroelectric power?”. About halfway through the game, I found myself buried in pollution and nuclear fallout.
Versions & Expansions:
- The Manhattan Project (2012)
- The Manhattan Project: Nations Expansion (2012)
- The Manhattan Project: Second Stage (2013)
- The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire (2016)
- The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (2016)
- The Manhattan Project 2: Minutes to Midnight (2018)
- The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire – Cold War (2019)
Viticulture Essential Edition
“Wine is a living thing. It is made, not only of grapes and yeasts, but of skill and patience. When drinking it remember that to the making of that wine has gone, not only the labor and care of years, but the experience of centuries.” ― Allan Sichel
Our next stop is wine country.
Viticulture is an extremely cute game about making wine.
That, of course, is a complete oversimplification of wine and the overall game. When I say you’re making wine, I mean you’re going through every possible step in managing a winery.
Multitasking is the name of the game
Sure, you have the dream… but now where do you plant the grapes, who is crushing them, harvesting them, aging them, bottling the wine, marketing the wine, who’s running the winery tours, and… have you thought about hiring a horticulturist?
It goes on and on. It’s not as simple as grapes = wine = profit. The engine-building mechanics here are phenomenal. You may feel like you could actually open up a winery after a few playthroughs of Viticulture.
There are so many interconnecting actions that eventually lead to a massive engine very similar to an actual winery. You can clearly tell that the creators of viticulture put a lot of love and effort into the game.
If your first taste of Viticulture leaves you wanting another round, you might want to check out the Tuscany Expansion. The Tuscany expansion takes everything about Viticulture and makes it better; more boards, actions, visitors, the works. It expands it so much that it’s considered to be an essential expansion and once players try it they usually don’t go back.
“Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the gods to man.” ― Plato
Best paired with a fine Cabernet.
Versions & Expansions:
- Viticulture (2013)
- Viticulture: Arboriculture Expansion (2013)
- Tuscany: Expand the World of Viticulture (2014)
- Viticulture: Complete Collector’s Edition (2014)
- Viticulture Essential Edition (2015)
- Viticulture: Moor Visitors Expansion (2016)
- Viticulture: Visit from the Rhine Valley (2018)
Dominant Species is a daunting task. A typical game could last 3-4 hours.
It almost looks like a game of Cones of Dunshire when the whole thing is set up.
It’s not the simplest game to figure out, but it’s also not the hardest. I will admit that it took me quite a few re-reads before I brought it to the table. It’s like a standard worker placement but the biggest emphasis is on area control.
Deadline to Dominate
Each player will take control of a specific species and will attempt to dominate the land before the ice age sets in. It’s almost impossible to have a legitimate strategy in this game, but at the same time, there’s a ton of strategy. Unravel that, if you can.
I’m making absolutely no sense, but let me clear that up. When players put workers out on the board, they don’t immediately resolve actions. Resolution doesn’t happen until all workers are placed, and you may go into a round thinking one set of actions, but midway through you’ll have to completely shift strategies mid-round. Being reactionary and adapting to situations is much more effective than trying to stick to one strategy.
There’s a lot going on here, and to be 100% honest, this game is a little much for me. That being said if you’re a gamer on a budget and looking for a game that you can replay week after week, getting immersed into strategy (literally any way you can think to play is a valid path to winning) this is going to be a huge winner. I’ve only done a quick run through at the time of writing this, but I can see this becoming a weekly competitive event at my table.
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
There are a thousand moving parts in Tzolk’in… literally… sort of.
There are five massive cogged wheels that take up the board. Any time the board is moved, every single cog will rotate around its respective sections. What’s the point of all of this? Workers are placed on the cogs themselves and as they rotate around the board they’ll be removed to perform the action they’re facing. The longer they’re on the board, the chances of performing a better action, but if you wait too long and they rotate away from the actions you could be left with nothing.
As the Wheels Turn…
Thematically, I’m not at all convinced that the Mayans built giant cogwheels to get to work, but it does make for an interesting looking board… well, it would, but the wheels don’t come colored. They come out a nasty grey color.
Despite the bad aesthetics, it’s still one of the cooler components I’ve seen in a board game. (And you can always paint them yourself!)
In addition to the giant spinning wheels, there are also buildings and resources that need to be managed in order to gain workers, feed workers, block actions, not to mention a technology track.
I wasn’t kidding when I said there were a lot of moving parts here. If you like games where you can play on your phone or wander away from the board for a few minutes before your turn, you’re going to have a bad time. A really bad time.
Tzolk’in requires players to really focus on the board. There’s a ton of strategy, but you’ll have to seriously examine the board to ensure you can perform all of the actions that you want, and part of the beauty of the game is that no matter how much you try you’ll never be able to accomplish everything you want in one game.
Time as they say… isn’t on your side.
I’ll leave now.
Versions & Expansions:
- Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar (2012)
- Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar – Tribes & Prophecies (2013)
- Plus 2 Mini Expansions
Throw on your fanciest hat and monocle and get ready to sip champagne with your pinky out. Gallerist puts players in the high society world of art dealer, curator, and gallery manager all rolled into one.
Become an Art-repreneur
In the Gallerist, players will compete to have the most lucrative art gallery by increasing the reputation of their artists’ work and curating the most interesting gallery. This is determined, of course, by victory points, money, and the number of visitors each player receives to their gallery.
Squash that inner hipster because it’s all about what’s mainstream and what you can sell to the public. If they don’t like what you’re selling, you can always pay to promote your own artists. The public doesn’t really know what they like anyway, it’s up to you to tell them.
So how well does it play?
The Gallerist didn’t have any major hiccups for me when I ran through a game and I really liked the mechanics. When playing, the Gallerist (meeple) will run around the sections of the board; gaining fame, buying art, etc. When a gallerist enters a space, they can leave behind a worker to help them out, which basically gives an extra bonus action. This makes your underlings very valuable in the grand scheme of things.
Try to make all the money
The winning condition for the game is to be the richest gallerist so everything you do should revolve around building your brand and making money.
How do you make money? By attracting visitors and selling art. The interesting thing about the visitors is that they are all color-coded. Different colors will be interested in different art, and if you have a whole set of a type in your gallery you’re going to make much more money than just having a mish-mash of artwork.
Gallerist offers a very competitive game with a creative theme. I always imagine the art world to be pretentious (no idea whether it really is) so I throw out my best Monopoly guy voice whenever we play and take the theme over the top. It’s not hard to learn and it’s a blast to play.
Keyflower is one of the more unique additions to this list. Some of the games like Dungeon Lords or Lords of Waterdeep have a heavily immersive theme, but Keyflower is rather light on theme. There’s no real backstory, the Keyflower is supposedly a ship that’s bringing in workers to work in a village. The Mayflower?? Dunno. That’s basically the whole story.
What I’ve noticed with a lot of worker placement games is that first glance, they are never exactly what they seem. Keyflower, at first glance, looks like a very bland worker placement game, but it’s ruleset and mechanics are pretty unique.
Colors are Resources
Players won’t have a set player color. Instead, meeples colors are like resources. During the course of the game, players will activate tiles to use their abilities, bid on tiles to purchase them, and then place them in their area. Bids and activations have to be color-coded.
The first player to place a meeple will determine the colors. If a player uses a blue meeple to activate a tile or make a bid, then every subsequent bid or activation has to be a blue tile. The green meeple is rather rare in the game, therefore will be much more valuable.
That alone is super unique, but meeples are treated in a completely different way. Normally in a worker placement, you’ll try to amass as many workers as you can, but you can’t really do that here. You really have to manage your workers because you won’t be able to build them up quickly.
The game itself looks really bland, but the bidding system and resource management needed for your workers give Keyflower its spot on this list.
Versions & Expansions:
- Keyflower (2012)
- Keyflower: The Farmers (2013)
- Keyflower: The Merchants (2014)
Have you ever played a game where you went dungeon-delving? Gleefully smashing through traps and monsters to loot the treasure hidden at the end?
In that case, you’re a terrible person. Did you ever stop to think about how much effort went into creating those traps and training those horrifying, deadly monsters to guard those rooms? Bet you didn’t think of that, did you?
Be the Bad Guy
In Dungeon Lords, the roles are flipped. Instead of an intrepid adventurer, you get to be the Dungeon Lord keeping out all of those pesky wannabe-heroes and keeping them from stealing your loot.
Players will be mining their dungeon for gold, building traps, and training monsters to guard rooms.
The very first time I saw this game I was intrigued. I was only starting to dabble into worker placement games and I absolutely loved the theme. There are several video games I used to really enjoy with a similar theme (Overlord, Dungeons) so I wanted to check it out.
First thing you’ll notice is the game is silly looking. I love the derpiness of the monsters and the artwork is fantastic. Don’t let that fool you though. The game can be brutal. Each round players will be planning their few actions using their imp workers, but it’s done in secret. So, for the most part, you have no idea what anyone else is doing until the reveal and if all the spots are taken before you get there, you’re kinda screwed.
With all of the management that goes into a successful dungeon you’ll also have to contend with those adventurers I mentioned earlier and if you’re not prepared, they will smash through all of your hard work.
When I first saw this game I wanted to play it so badly. I’m not going to lie, the instruction booklet was very intimidating. This was when I was first getting into board games and this one took me a while to figure out. After a game, I was golden. It’s not nearly as hard as it seems first glance, but if you’re new to teaching rules are completely new to the genre it’s going to be a bit of a struggle.
Dungeon Petz is a standalone game set in the Dungeon Lords universe.
In Dungeon Petz, players will basically run a monster pet shop. Be prepared to be blown away by amazing artwork and production value because these horrifying monsters are probably the cutest things I’ve ever seen.
All those monsters filling up the dungeons have to come from somewhere and that somewhere is (hopefully) your shop.
Running a Monster Petshop
Players will need to buy eggs, hatch them, feed monsters, pick up poop, manage the shops reputation, and ultimately sell them off to a good dungeon where they’ll be chomping on wizards and paladins in their forever home.
It’s seriously a weird board game version of Tamagotchis (I’m old).
Okay now that all of the cutesy stuff and 90’s nostalgia is out of the way, let’s actually look at the game.
Your Workers are Imps
As a worker placement, players will need to assign their imps all over the place to ensure the shop is running smoothly. To assign workers to a spot, players can actually assign more than one. That doesn’t mean they’ll get more than one action there, it just means that they’ll be more likely to perform that action. If all the players assign 1 worker to a spot the turn order will resolve normally and the last person won’t get anything if all the spots are taken. If you assign 3 workers to a spot and every other player only assigns 1 or 2, you’re guaranteed to resolve your worker first. It’s a nifty little mechanic.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
There’s also a lot of detail thrown into the worker system. If you need to buy a new cage you’ll have to send at least 2 workers to carry it back. If one’s headed off to the store for supplies you better make sure it has some money.
If all of that wasn’t enough you better make sure you leave someone behind to tend the shop. Maybe a monster gets bored and escapes, or maybe you don’t have anyone to play with it. All of these are things you’ll constantly need to juggle to run your shop and it makes for a very compelling game.
In the same vein as Dungeon Lords, Dungeon Petz delivers a gorgeous gaming experience that’s high in depth and detail.
Worker placement games are a heck of a lot of fun and they’re usually the first big steps a gamer takes into the hobby. They’re usually a bit more rule-and-mechanic-heavy than other genres, which can make it difficult for newer players. The most common reaction I see from players after their first worker placement game is the same reaction I had when I wore glasses for the first time: it’s a whole new world.
Worker placement games aren’t without their flaws. These, of course, may or may not be an issue with any one particular game, but by their nature, they have a few universal issues.
Potential Issues with Worker Placement Games
The first issue is that a lot of players feel like everyone at the table is playing a solo game at the same time. Because the main interaction on the board deals with picking places with workers, there may sometimes not be a whole lot of player interaction. I personally think that strategically blocking people and adapting strategies based on other people’s movements is fun, but I’ve heard complaints about it. If that’s the case, maybe try Lancaster. The system in Lancaster is designed to have much more player interaction than a traditional worker placement.
My first worker placement game was Stone Age. It was one of the few times I’ve won a game on the first try. Almost every time I’ve played Stone Age I’ve tried a completely different strategy. Some I lost miserably and others I had a surprising amount of success. I’ve tried to never play the same strategy twice and that I think is one of the beautiful things about worker placements. It offers everyone at the table the same problem and with a 4-player game, you’re going to have 4 completely different strategies and end results.
The Conversation Comes Later
These types of games are very analytical and yes, maybe during the actual game there’s a lot of silence, thinking, and arched eyebrows as players position their meeples. But immediately after and during scoring, the table will explode into conversations. People will be talking about their strategy, who was maneuvering for what, which particular action on the last turn totally screwed me for points (KENDRA!!!).
So maybe during the actual game in game interaction and direct confrontation isn’t readily apparent, but believe me, it’s there.
The best analogy I can come up with is that everyone is working on a giant jigsaw puzzle, but everyone is working to make a different jigsaw puzzle and all of the pieces can go into any puzzle.
I hope you enjoyed this article. If your favorite game didn’t make our list or if you just want to talk about board games, please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.