Hey heya folks! This week I'm taking a look at some of my favourite worker placement games! There were so many to choose from and as worker placement is one of my favourite mechanisms, it was hard to limit myself to only ten, there are dozens more I would have loved to add, but the rules are the rules. So, let's see if any of your favourites made my list?
10. Affliction - Salem 1692
The Witch Hunts of Salem are a well documented dark period in American history, it was such an outrageous series of events that modern audiences remain fascinated by stories stemming from that time. There have been scores of films, documentaries, books, games and even music detailing the Salem Witch Trials. Affliction - Salem 1692 is a card based worker placement game set during these events. What makes this game stand out is that the characters in the game are based on the real world personalities of Salem, in fact DHP Games Inc markets this game as being “the closest possible simulation of actual events in a game to date”. Players place their “messengers” and then resolve the actions based on the order in which they appear on the main board.
This makes for some difficult decision making as players will be trying to accuse other characters while trying to protect their own interests, the order of action execution determines the outcome each round, so ensuring you’ve placed your messenger in such a way as to achieve your goal can prove challenging. This creates a very real sense of fear, paranoia and suspicion, which perfectly captures the tone the game is trying to emulate.
9. Raiders of the North Sea
Shem Phillips of Garphill Games has proven to be a powerhouse in the worker placement design space. His games frequently place highly in favoured game lists around the world, and with good reason, Shem knows how to keep worker placement fresh and innovative without alienating gamers who are familiar with more traditional games of that style. Raiders of the North Sea is one of his earlier but still one of his most popular games.
Unlike most games that utilise worker placement, Raiders of the North Sea gives players access to only one worker at a time, you place one and take the action, then you remove another one and take that action. Simple, effective and efficient. This method encourages places to make considered choices when playing and often results in players having to switch up their strategy if another player does something unexpected. In addition to the unique mechanics of the game, Raiders adds a healthy dose of style and flourish with artwork by The Mico, resulting in an intensely enjoyable game with plenty of eye candy to keep things interesting.
When it comes to worker placement games people often overlook this gem. The fact that it’s also a deep and satisfying legacy game only adds to its pedigree. Charterstone tasks players with overseeing the creation and expansion of their very own charter, an area of land in a fantastical kingdom upon which the players must develop and build in order to fulfil the Immortal King’s requests and create a rich and prosperous city in order to achieve glory and success.
Taking place over 12 chapters, Charterstone keeps things interesting by frequently switching up previously established rules, expanding players’ options, and, like most legacy games, making permanent changes to the final game state, resulting in a completely unique and replayable board game by the end of the campaign. Designer Jamey Stegmaier infused this title with healthy doses of charm, humour and challenge, the result of which is an original, joyful city building, worker placement game.
7. Dune Imperium
This entry felt like it took the board gaming community by surprise, originally planned to be released alongside the new Dune movie, world events changed those plans but the bright side is, the board game community was gifted with Dune Imperium, a game by Dire Wolf Studios, and if that name sounds familiar, it should. Dire Wolf is responsible for Clank! The popular deck building series. Dune Imperium shares some DNA with the Clank series and this is to its credit. What qualifies Dune Imperium for this list is its well executed combination of deck building and worker placement.
Players are essentially paying to place one of their two starting workers with one of the precious five cards from their hand each round. If you opt to place both workers, then you’re only leaving yourself three cards that round to purchase new cards or use their powers for other effects. Once you acquire your third worker during the game this decision making becomes even more important. The backdrop of the Dune universe is particularly satisfying as faction allegiances can change during play and can have both positive and negative consequences for all players. Dune Imperium is a solid worker placement experience melded with supporting mechanics that results in a powerful Kwisatz Haderach of a game.
6. Viticulture Essential Edition
There’s playing games and then there’s experiencing them. Viticulture fits into the second category for me. Brian has talked about Viticulture a couple of times in the past over on his blog and in his recent video on the Benefits of Board Gaming, I tend to agree that beyond being a solid worker placement game with a few twists, the real appeal is the way Viticulture has recreated the care and gentle complexity of wine making.
Stonemaier Games have distilled the game down to its finest qualities in the Essential Edition and the result is a game rich with theme, evocative art work and high quality components that combine to create a gaming experience with a flavourful bouquet and a pleasant aftertaste of time well spent.
By far one of the best produced, expanded and prettiest games on this list, Everdell has been a consistent favourite among gamers since its release in 2018. In the following years the game has seen multiple expansions and gone from strength to strength with each expansion adding more workers, mechanics, options and board space, growing as assuredly as the critter communities you play in the game. Players begin with only two workers which soon grows in number with each passing season as the game progresses. Tightly constrained choices in the early game soon expand but with it so too to the options as more and more cards are added to a player’s tableau.
Like any good worker placement game, Everdell forces the hard choices, there’ll always be something you want to do but can’t either because someone else has already taken the spot you want or you’ve run out of workers. This is as it should be, keeping the player front and centre of the decision making while providing seemingly endless options for them. Everdell is a standout and one that is sure to see a resurgence in popularity next year when the Big Box is released. We can’t wait for our copy to arrive, I just hope they have foxes this time!
4. Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a cautionary tale of classic gothic horror, what happens when a man tries to play god and what responsibility does he have for the life he creates? Also, big monster! In Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein, players are answering the call of a mysterious benefactor to attempt to become the next Frankenstein.
Set in Paris after the events of the original novel, players stalk the street, morgues and cemeteries of the old city to find body parts to complete their creation and prove themselves worthy of the mantle of the Heir of Frankenstein. Little do they know they are working against the clock. Frankenstein’s monster is the one pulling the strings, trying to manipulate the players into creating the companion his creator refused to make. All the while the ship captain who vowed to destroy the monster is closing in. This race against the clock makes for some tense game play as players see their creations take shape on their game boards.
3. Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan
Worker placement doesn’t always involve meeples, many utilise dice as workers, as is the case in Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan. The advantage of using dice over more traditional meeples, is that dice can have variable results, leading a much wider design space. In Marco Polo II, players place their dice according to the value rolled, with higher numbers opening more opportunities than those of lower value.
Players begin their exploration in Beijing and make their way inland towards Mongolia, along the way they compete to gain rewards and score points by placing their dice on ever changing action spaces. These mercurial rewards result in fantastic replayability and the game itself is a feast of colour and design. The original Marco Polo has always rated well among worker placement fans and Marco Polo II: In Service of the Khan has proven that sometimes sequels can improve on the original. Like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan! Ohh! I think I get it now!
2. Lords of Waterdeep
While it may not be the latest and greatest game on this list, Lords of Waterdeep is a masterclass in core worker placement mechanics. The test of whether a game works is by stripping it of its theme and seeing if the core gameplay holds up to scrutiny, Lords of Waterdeep succeeds here because the framework just works so well. Wrapping the game in the depth and intrigue of the Dungeons & Dragons’ city of Waterdeep only served to solidify this game in the hearts and minds of gamers and is one of the many reasons this game continues to appear on lists such as this one to this day.
If you’re looking to introduce new players to their first worker placement experience, then you need look no further. Sure, some of the artwork is a little dated, and it may not do anything new or innovative compared to more recent worker placement games, but sometimes you just want to get back to basics and have a great time playing a solid, fun worker placement game. Lords of Waterdeep has you covered!
1. Lost Ruins of Arnak
Similarly to fellow entry on this list, Dune Imperium, Lost Ruins of Arnak combines deck building with worker placement, this time in a game of exploration and discovery as players take on the roles of explorers on an isolated island filled with the mysterious ruins of long distant civilisations, and a jungle fraught with danger.
Players are limited to one action per turn and the deck of cards they use is small so exploring the island becomes the only way to expand players’ action options, as the more you explore, the more new action spaces become available to use on future turns. Players compete to gather resources, and find lost treasures until the 5 rounds are complete. So coil up your bullwhip and adjust your fedoras fellow adventurers, there are artefacts to be uncovered, and they probably belong in a museum or some such!
So, those are my picks for my Top 10 worker placement games. How did I do? I'd love to hear your choices in the comments below, so please feel free to share your thoughts! Until next time, take care and see you next week!