What makes worker placement games tick?
I figure we’ve got a fair number of worker placement games to look at: Caylus, Manga Carta, Pillars of the Earth, Stone Age and Agricola. This doesn’t count some minor games that also use the mechanism, and I’ve got a vague feeling I’m missing one or two big games I’ve played.
In any case, while I like the mechanism I’ve been pondering what makes it work and what makes it dangerous. Vague thoughts at this stage.
- Each player should have an equal number of workers, or each placement should have a cost. All the games get this right, to a certain extent. Extra actions are powerful. In fact, all of the games suffer slightly from a “one true path” in that getting the resources to support extra workers is the primary key to victory (money in Caylus, family growth in Agricola, etc)
- Player order should be tightly constrained. Caylus does this best; Agricola’s “around from the start player” is mildly unsatisfying. Pillars random order makes the game unpalatable, even with decreasing costs for going later. The heart of worker placement games are competition in the action-selection, so players should have choice. (Pillars is the “Roll and Move” of worker placement games). [Incidentally, we just saw the Agricola card that lets someone buy the start player each round (the "taste tester", I think). Powerful, but didn't win so I'm reserving judgement].
- The best games manage the number of available places well. Caylus & CMC have the number grow (as players get more money to buy extra workers) and then shrink. Agricola uses the variable setup to add spaces appropriate for the number of players, then adds the one space per round (which roughly covers the offspring). Stone Age is the weakest in this regard.
- So far, all of the games seem to have a variety of resources that are all required to do various things. Just happen stance, or required? Is it possible to build a good worker placement game with a single resource (like, money?) I don’t think so. Is it possible to build one with two resources? Perhaps. This says less about worker placement games than my like of complex economic systems.
- Are games worse if multiple workers can go in one space? I’m not sure. Stone Age is an outlier because it treats people as variable group sizes, and has size limits on most spaces. I’m tempted to say that multiples can work, assuming the limit is relatively small or costs escalate with each additional worker (an idea that has not been tried yet).
What else have I missed?