Punchboard Media: The Big List of Games (Worker Placement Games)
The Punchboard Media Big List is an ongoing series highlighting some of the many board, card, and tabletop games that the contributors at Punchboard Media feel are important enough that everyone should experience playing, with some insights into each title from various contributors as to why they are notable.
Agricola, designed by Uwe Rosenberg
Nominated by Brandon Kempf, Joe Sallen
Joe Sallen (The Good, The Board, and The Ugly and The Long View): Worker placement may have first debuted to a wide audience in the castle-building Caylus, but it found its stride with Agricola. Agricola places players in the role of the farmers that worked to rebuild northern European agriculture in the centuries following the Black Death. Starting from a tiny two room hut and two family members, players take actions to plow, sow, fence, improve, and populate their farm with animals and additional family members. Agricola forces all players to compete for limited resources and a tight action economy. Look around at other players' farm boards to intuit what they are lacking. If it's something you both need, beat them to it or your family will be tightening the belts to fight hunger pains. Speaking of pain, Agricola's begging cards contribute to its ominous nickname: Misery Farm. Designer Uwe Rosenberg created a mountain of content in the form of cards for occupations and farm improvements that gift Agricola with longevity. An avid community that creates and tests new cards has formed online at playagricola.com. More than a decade after its release, Agricola has taken root as a classic of modern tabletop. Now who took that grain?
Brandon Kempf (WDYPTW): Agricola wasn’t the first worker placement game, but it is probably the best, at least in my book. In order for games to feel like games, they need tension. Agricola has that covered. There are limited worker spaces to gain those limited resources, so a game of Agricola is tight and tension filled. There are only so many ways to go about getting accomplished what you want to accomplish. With the cards -- the many, many, many cards -- you gain some flexibility, but yet still have that tension of never really feeling comfortable in doing what you need to do. The ability to do whatever you want and move forward is a new tenant in game design, a tenant that weakens games in my opinion. Even Uwe has fallen prey to it with his myriad of worker placement follow ups to Agricola, where the tension is lost because if someone takes what you need, you can always just do it somewhere else. Give me the brutal competition and the beggar cards any day of the week.
Chris Marling (GoPlayListen): I’m often up for a game of Agricola, but sorry purists - I prefer Caverna. Both games are great examples of worker placement, but the learning cliff created by front-loading the card choosing decisions takes the shine off this classic for me. In Agricola, you’ll be dealt (or will draft) a set of cards pre-game that will largely influence what you do during it. And poor decisions will leave you little chance of winning what can be a long game. Caverna is more forgiving, moving the choice of how to fire your engine until later. But again, it’s horses for courses - and both are BGG Top 50 games for a reason.
Links to PBM Reviews of Agricola:
Raiders of the North Sea, designed by Shem Phillips
Nominated by Eric Buscemi
Eric Buscemi (The Cardboard Hoard): This is my favorite light-medium worker placement game. I love how smooth and intuitive it is, and the shared "give a penny, take a penny" twist on worker placement gives the game a unique feel in an otherwise crowded field (Coldwater Crown also does something similar). I love the theme of the game, which may in part be due to being given a Norse name, and the artwork by The Mico is fantastic not only because it is stunning, but also because it manages to be bright, colorful, and be clearly stylized, without being either too cartoonish or too serious and bloody. The two expansions, Hall of Heroes and Fields of Fame, both add interesting elements to gameplay without overcomplicating the experience, and Hall of Heroes is close to must-play-with status, in my opinion. The digital implementation, for anyone looking to give it a go without committing to buying the physical game, is very well done.
Chris Renshaw (The Dirtbags of Holding): This game has become my wife and I’s favorite game to play together. Since she has fibromyalgia, she often doesn’t have the mental energy to sit through heavy games, but the simplicity of the mechanics and the theme really make Raiders of the North Sea shine. The game revolves around placing a worker, taking the corresponding action, then pulling up another worker and doing that action. After a round or two you start to understand the symbology and it becomes really easy to remember what each space does without having to constantly look it up in the rulebook. Plus, I’m always a sucker for gorgeous artwork and METAL COINS!
Scott Bowen (Open Seat Gaming): I’ve owned the North Sea trilogy since Explorers fulfilled from Kickstarter (I had gotten Shipwrights and Raiders as add-ons), but the OSG crew just recently got them to the table, and I can definitely see what all the hype is about regarding Raiders. The put-down-then-pick-up twist on worker placement creates really interesting choices and sometimes makes you take roundabout ways to what you’re trying to achieve, which ends up causing a really dynamic back and forth as other players take their turns. It also means that generally a spot you want is never truly blocked because even if someone else places their worker there you can take a different action and then pick up the worker where you wanted to go and still take that action. Multiple paths to victory is always good in worker placements and, while building up supplies to go on raids is the primary way to accrue victory points, there are still plenty of other things you can do to increase your score (especially with the expansions). I loved the game so much after just our first play that I immediately picked up the digital version for Switch.
Links to PBM Reviews of Raiders of the North Sea:
Brew Crafters, designed by Ben Rosset
Nominated by Chris Kirkman
Chris Kirkman (The State of Games): First off, I absolutely love Brew Crafters. It is one of my favorite Dice Hate Me Games titles, and I have taught it to countless Euro enthusiasts and beer connoisseurs over the years since its release. Full disclosure for those who don’t know however - I helped develop, did most of the graphic design and a fair bit of the art, and even published Brew Crafters. And with even more full disclosure, it was the game that almost killed me. To say that there’s nearly an endless amount of variety and choice in Brew Crafters would not be hyperbole; I spent countless hours figuring out exactly how to fit all the various components and options that we dreamed up over the years into that box. And, in true Dice Hate Me Games fashion, it almost doesn’t fit back into that box. But even though it was one of the most trying projects I’ve ever tackled (I can’t help but laugh now that I’ve spent so many sleepless nights making Legends of Sleepy Hollow), I never regret all those hours when I look back proudly on a game that so many have enjoyed as it’s graced their tables. I’m one of those people, and I will continue to be for many, many years to come - with a good, dark, craft beer in hand, naturally.
Oscar Gonzalez (El Doc Logan): I have wanted to write a review for this game, but haven’t had the time. I first got it because a friend was brewing his own beer, and that convinced me it would be interesting to play a game of a hobby he had. As a worker placement, I found it really interesting, even when it was hard for me to remember which did what or was what. I like all the different options the game has to offer, because you can play it in hard mode with lots of extra stuff, or light mode and still enjoy the game. You can cooperate and get stuff together or just mind your own business. This is a game with a lot of components, and they can make for an interesting variable, because no two games will be the same as per what you can do and how you can do it -- you can improve your working area, and how the worker placement works -- which felt very different from what I was used to in other games.
Marti Mahood-Wormuth (Open Seat Gaming): As an almost hilarious disclaimer - none of the three of us drink beer. Sarah and Scott are lovers of cider, and I just enjoy wine every once in awhile. But, I find the processes behind making alcoholic beverages absolutely fascinating, and that definitely comes through in Brewcrafters. There are so many good, interesting choices in the game, and your player board is about the coolest thing ever. The upgrades on your player board are awesome, and those choices are meaty as all get out. And, who doesn’t like having tons and tons of chits? So much beer. We just added it to our collection as a part of the Homebrewers Kickstarter campaign, and I can’t wait to dive into all of the cool extras that are in there. Variability is amazing, and having ways to make changes and adjustments is always fantastic.
Links to PBM Reviews of Brew Crafters:
Stone Age, designed by Bernd Brunnhofer
Nominated by Patrick Hillier
Patrick Hillier (WDYPTW): I’ve always considered this the quintessential entry level worker placement worker placement game. No wonder it is the fourth most owned game of this type in the BGG database. I still love the game starting with the Michael Menzel painted art, all the way to the jokes about the ‘love hut’. The push your luck style of resource collection be a challenge but is mitigated by tools. There are several paths for points between buildings, collecting card symbols, and card multipliers giving you choices. The only negative of the game is the standard moves of fighting over the agriculture and tool spots that seem to occur. I have yet to play the expansions and the new 10th anniversary edition is worth getting if you don’t have a copy but not just for the upgrades. I still enjoy the game recently playing with friends at a convention and online.
Chris Marling (GoPlayListen): Stone Age has a lot going for it. The worker placement is relatively simple, making it a good gateway game; which is further helped by a friendly theme and lovely presentation. But there’s also something there for the gamer, with several routes to victory and rewards for clever play. And I like the luck element, despite myself: it’s fun to put one worker in gold and flukily roll a six, or groan as you just come up short for a tile you need. I have more than 50 plays (half live, half Yucata) and am always happy to play again.
Marti Mahood-Wormuth (Open Seat Gaming): I love Stone Age. We played it for the first time when we attended PrezCon in 2018, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I loved the simplicity of play combined with the big choices that you have to make in regards to allocation of workers. Having 5-10 workers sounds like a lot - but when you realize you may need to use 3, 4, 5, or 6 workers at a spot in order to actually get that gold you need - it really adds a lot of strategy to what you’re trying to do. It’s simple enough for anyone to get the hang of, but the choices are what make it shine. I got the Anniversary edition for my birthday in March. You don’t necessarily need to get the Anniversary edition - I just loved the game so much that I wanted it and we didn't have a copy already. It’s got some upgraded components (like screen printed meeples, male and female), a wild animals mini-expansion, and the winter side for variability.
Links to PBM Reviews of Stone Age: