Worker Placement Starter Games

Good old uncle Geekly likes to put little pawns to work with worker placement games. These games tend to get strategic as players place their pawns on spaces to claim an action during a turn and prevent other players from taking that action for a turn. That’s where the fun of most worker placement games derives. The tension of not wanting someone to take the action you need can get intense, and the ability to choose something you need before someone can block you is a great feeling.

But worker placement games can get nasty as some folks will take actions to keep someone else from taking them, not because they need to take them. These games can get convoluted too when more elements are added.

Fortunately, your good old uncle Geekly has some worker placement games that aren’t as cutthroat–for the most part–and are easy to learn. These are some great starter worker placement games.

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Stone Age

Caylus may be the first game to use worker placement, but Stone Age is by far, more approachable. Players control cave people who are trying to build a rudimentary village in three phases. During the first phase, player’s pawns (or workers) are sent out to various areas to collect stone or wood or make new workers in the local hut. Brown chicken, brown cow.

The second phase has players roll dice equal to the number of workers they placed in areas to see how many of that resource they collected. The more workers in the area, the more dice a player gets to roll. In the third phase, players must have enough food to feed their population or they lose resources or points. Gamers will find feeding workers as a common thread in worker placement games. These designers must be hungry when they’re making these games.

Stone Age does a good job of introducing new gamers to a lot of the core concepts of worker placement—even the use of dice, because dice placement is a thing that we’ll see real soon. The theme is easy to get into and the mechanisms make sense for what the players are doing in the game. I don’t know how many games have me go to a quarry to make bread. Really? How many bread-making quarries do you know?

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Doughnut Drive-Thru

Stone Age may be obsessed with feeding people, but Doughnut Drive-Thru has food as its theme. Yeah, give me a Coated Baby. That’s a glazed doughnut, sicko.

Doughnut Drive-Thru also happens to be the smallest game by far on this list and calling it a worker placement game is a little bit of a misnomer. It’s more of an action selection game, but the challenge of taking an action so your opponent can’t is still at the heart of any worker placement game, and that’s the center of Doughnut Drive-Thru.

On their turn, players are trying to learn new doughnut recipes, preparing a donut, or serving a donut. To take any of these actions a player places one of two wooden doughnut pieces they begin the game with on one of these actions. The trick is to time when you want to take these actions because when an action has no further spaces with which to place a wooden doughnut, players can’t take that action. You’re left with the choice of taking a different one of the two actions or taking all the wooden doughnuts—or taking enough doughnuts so their total doughnuts equal two—and waiting until next turn to take the action they want.

Doughnut Drive-Thru is fast-paced. Very fast-paced. It may even be the better game to begin with for a simple worker placement game. But it is a bit of a cheat. Don’t worry. Uncle Geekly eats plenty of doughnuts on his cheat day.

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Fabled Fruit

Ah. This is another more recent game. I like Friedemann Friese’s style and not just his love of green and his wanting to use the letter F in as many game titles as he can. Fable Fruit keeps things light and simple but also adds legacy and dual-purpose cards to the genre. Players only have one worker in Fabled Fruit, an animeeple (a wooden animal pawn) to place on a group of six action cards. These action cards serve two purposes—they’re dual-purpose after all—and players either complete the juice action located on the bottom of the card (by turning in the fruit required, pictured) or they can claim the action on the top of the card like “draw two fruit.”

Man, what is with all the food in worker placement games?

Players go through a deck of 60 or so unique action cards (four of each action) and as soon as an action card is claimed in any game, it’s taken out of the deck. You’ll have to play the game a second time to ever see that card again and that’s where the legacy aspect comes into play. Prior games affect what happens in future games. Don’t use the “draw two fruit” action as a juice card too many times, or you won’t be able to draw two fruit again.

Fabled Fruit is clever and adds a splash of other popular game types and mechanisms, but also happens to be the easiest game on this list to learn. In short, it’s a tasty blend.

Great. Now I’m thirsty.

Final Thoughts

It’s difficult to come up with easy to learn worker placement games with depth. I had to go with slightly more complicated games than usual, but they still have some wide appeal. Stone Age, Doughnut Drive-Thru, and Fable Fruit explore different aspects of worker placement. I just wished they didn’t focus on food so much.

Know of any other great beginner worker placement games? Hold a rally and tell it to the workers, or you could let us know in the comments.

Tabletop Games for Fall 2018

As you may know, good old uncle Geekly likes tabletop games, so we couldn’t go too long without making a three list of three for board games.

We’ll get the game rolling with Worker Placement games.

The first list of these lists of three took the most time. I started from the bottom of boardgamegeek (BGG) and searched for a game that I liked. It took about an hour to find my first one, so here it goes.

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Underrated Tabletop Games

 Doughnut Drive-Thru (6.25 out of 10 on BGG)

I couldn’t believe Doughnut Drive-Thru was as low as 6096 on BGG. Okay, I can believe it. Die rolls to determine whether you can prepare a specialty doughnut or serve one doesn’t sit well with many modern board gamers, but despite the rampant use of luck, there’s plenty of tactical choices with Doughnut Drive-Thru, and it’s a great, simple game to introduce new gamers to the worker placement mechanism. Plus, I like the fun art. Kawaii!

Starfall (6.36 out of 10 on BGG)

Starfall is most likely 5464 on BGG because it’s less about star gazing and more about finding constellations and somehow purchasing them with stardust. Finally, I have some way of unloading my spare stardust.

The game makes little to no sense with its subject matter, but it’s a solid game. I like it a lot and there may be other games in the overrated list that get away with not holding their theme as closely as they should. Starfall is also another pretty game and at $20-$25, it goes for a nice price. Unless that’s 25 stardust. I’m not sure of the stardust to US dollar exchange rate.

Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game (6.08 out of 10 on BGG)

Yep, there’s a trend. Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game is much lower at 4066 on BGG than it should be because it has a misleading title. Players don’t take on the guise of Batman, they’re members of Batman’s rogues gallery like the Joker, Penguin, and Two Face. That’s not a bad thing. I can do the Joker.

If you listen real closely, you can almost hear Harley Quinn outside my window.

The game can also become too much of a brain burner as the “strategy” in the game’s title alludes to, and some elements in the game step a little bit away from the source material. If a player gets too strong, Batman—who is a non-player-controlled element of the game—will target the leader. It gives the game balance, but players may feel a little less super. Still, Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game is solid, and being evil can put a smile on your face.

Gloomhaven

Overrated Tabletop Games

Gloomhaven (8.97 out of 10 on BGG)

It’s easy to pick the top-rated game on BGG as overrated, but it doesn’t mean that Gloomhaven isn’t at least a bit overrated. It’s certainly not for everyone. It destroys any other dungeon crawl—Descent can hardly be found on many people’s top 10 lists since Gloomhaven’s release—but the hype around Gloomhaven colored the game as having more of a story and being more character-driven than it ended up being. So, I guess I’d blame the hype, even though any game could use a hype man.

Agricola (8.02 out of 10 on BGG)

I liked Agricola when it first came out, but there have been countless games—including Uwe Rosenberg’s follow-up Caverna: The Cave Farmers—that do a better job than Agricola at scratching a worker placement/farming game itch and yet, Agricola is still well in the top 20 of all tabletop games on BGG. My biggest pet peeve is that Agricola insists that everyone play the game the same way and do everything that’s in the game. So what if I want to be the best pig farmer in the game? That’s my prerogative and don’t ask questions about my pig fetish. Squee!

Eclipse (7.97 out of 10 on BGG)

Eclipse is another case of hype and mistaken identity. Many folks claimed it was a short Twilight Imperium, but it’s too much of a Euro game—games that are obsessed with balance and don’t have enough of a “this is awesome” vibe—to be a quick TI. Further still, the game can get needlessly fiddly. There are too many rules for a game that isn’t supposed to take as long as TI. I don’t care what Appendix IX, Paragraph 12, Line 31 says. Help!

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Anticipated Upcoming Tabletop Games

Gen7: A Crossroads Game (TBD)

There isn’t a release date for Gen7: A Crossroads Game yet, but the inclusion of the words “A Crossroads Game” got me excited in a special place—of my heart, you sickos. Plaid Hat Games promised years ago of a gaming series featuring the Crossroads story-based system that originated in Dead of Winter (2014). All they’ve done so far has been pumping expansions for the tabletop juggernaut, but it looks as if there will be a true sequel no later than early 2019. Gen7 is a lost in space game, which could be interesting, and a lot different from Dead of Winter’s zombie theme. Another Crossroads Game would be far out.

KeyForge (Holidays 2018)

While Gen7 is part of a series I like, KeyForge is the latest game by a designer I like Richard Garfield (of Magic: the Gathering fame). Recently, I’ve had a chance to pre-game release demo KeyForge, so this write up will change as a result. I’m still interested in this game, so it qualifies for this list. KeyForge hits many of the same notes as Magic, but players are forging keys, hence in the name, instead of defeating their opponents. The game is also sold by the deck, not by boosters, and each deck is unique.

 KeyForge does its best to streamline Magic game mechanisms as players draw cards and ready (or untap) at the end of their turns. This does enough to make this game difficult for a Magic veteran to wrap their brain around—I had issues keeping things straight—and it cleans up some of Magic’s timing.

KeyForge won’t be for everyone. Preconstructed decks mean that players won’t have the option of building their own decks, but I’m sure the community will push back on this and there may be a way for players to merge decks. And I love the game’s price point. I tend to buy Magic starter decks and a few boosters per set. KeyForge’s business model mirrors this type of consumption. It’s a more cost-effective Magic.

Guardians Chronicles (October 2018)

Ah, we come to one of my favorite game types: shuffle building (combining small decks or pods to form a large one). Come to think of it, I have a lot of favorite game types. Anyway, Guardians Chronicles is another Plaid Hat Games release and I may be just as excited for it as I am for Gen7. I also like the superhero theme—there aren’t enough games with this theme—but I’m a little considered about the game being competitive. So long as the superheroes attack villains, I’m okay, but if the superheroes attack each other, that may defeat the purpose of superheroes. We’ll have to see how Guardians Chronicles plays out, but I’m definitely playing a game or two.

Are there any tabletop games you think are overrated or underrated? Which tabletop games do you look forward to in the coming months? And which ones of those games would you like to lose to your uncle Geekly? Mwah-ha-ha! Let us know in the comments.