10 Great Worker Placement Games (Article by Chris Wray)

Worker placement games have a prominent place in the gaming hobby, but the mechanic is only about 15 years old.  Caylus, designed by William Attia of France and released at Spiel 2005, is commonly referred to as the first “worker placement” game.  That point is debatable, as a few games before Caylus used the mechanism. But Caylus is undoubtedly the game that popularized the worker placement genre, and it quite possibly is the reason the phrase “work placement” was coined.  Since then, there have been hundreds of new worker placement games.

Today’s article is part of our “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory.  I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc. In this case, I picked a mechanic.  We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria.  We’re aiming for an article a month, and I’d love your suggestions about future lists.

As a heads up, today’s list might as well be called “The Opinionated Gamers Absolutely Love Uwe Rosenberg,” since 5 of the top 10 games are his design.  

The Methodology

For purposes of this project, I simply asked everybody to vote for 10 games that represented great worker placement games.  Anybody could add to the list assuming they were going to vote for it. Each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 10 games, and they could give one game 15 points, one game 14 points, all the way down to giving one 6 points.  We all put our votes into a spreadsheet. We then added up the points for each game and picked the top 10.  

We had 18 OG-ers vote, and 47 different games received votes.  

To get on the list took a minimum of six writers rating the game decently well.  That wasn’t a rule, but rather how the breakdown naturally worked out. There’s actually great consensus towards the top of our list.

Below you’ll see designations for gold, silver, and bronze.  Those represent the number of voters that put a given game in the #1, #2, and #3 spot, respectively.  

Without further ado, here are 10 Great Worker Placement Games!

Honorable Mention (Games That Barely Missed the List): 

15.  Lorenzo il Magnifico (1 Gold)

14.  Stone Age

13.  Caylus (1 Bronze)

12.  Orleans (1 Silver)

11.  Nusfjord (2 Bronze)

#10 – The Colonists

64 Points, 1 Gold, 2 Bronze

Designed by Tim Puls, Released 2016

#9 – Dungeon Lords

66 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Vlaada Chvátil, Released 2009

#8 – Fields of Arle

70 Points, 1 Gold, 2 Silver

Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, Released 2014

#7 – Voyages of Marco Polo

74 Points, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, Released 2015

#6 – Le Havre

81 Points, 1 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, Released 2008

#5 – A Feast for Odin

82 Points, 3 Gold, 2 Silver

Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, Released 2016

#4 – Tzolk’in

89 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver

Designed by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, Released 2012

#3 – Caverna

93 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Bronze

Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, Released 2013

#2 – Russian Railroads

94 Points, 1 Gold, 2 Bronze

Designed by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard “Lonny” Orgler, Released 2013   

#1 – Agricola

162 Points, 4 Gold, 5 Silver

Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, Released 2007

Agricola was the runaway winner in our voting, with 12 of our 18 writers voting for the game.

—-

Thoughts from Opinionated Gamers:

Chris Wray:  Agricola is my all-time favorite game, so I’m happy to see it at the top of this list.  Uwe Rosenberg’s masterpiece shows how flexible and tense worker placement games can be!

I was a bit surprised by how many of Uwe Rosenberg’s games made our list.  5 of the top 10 games were Rosenberg’s designs.  

The games I voted for that didn’t make the list include: Alchemists, Fabled Fruit, Mombasa, Underwater Cities, and Viticulture.  

Matt Carlson:  Worker placement is probably my favorite mechanic, so it is no surprise to me that almost all of these are favorites of mine.  I love Agricola, although have played it out quite a bit in solo play on my phone/tablet. I’ve enjoyed Russian Railroads but not enough to rank it in my top 10.  Caverna is solid, but I find the commitment to learn the first time (since all the tiles start out in view, often making it overwhelming) keeps it from getting to the table.  As I mention in our decade article, I’m a fan of Tzolk’in so it would probably be my #1. The way the gears delay worker payoffs along with the “tech tree” is the attraction there.    Le Havre came in when I was out of country so it got played out in my group while I wasn’t around. Starting “from behind” in experience ended up hurting my enjoyment of the game. It looks like I need to get some of the others to the table (Marco Polo keeps coming up, Colonists is on my radar but I know its a long one.)  I’m also glad to see Orleans and Stone Age on the list as they’re both solid titles. While I knew it wouldn’t make the list, worker placement fans should at least give Belfort a shot at some point. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary, but it is a solid title that works great with five players (since the board is a pentagram.)  It’s art and theme (of building a fantasy city with elven, dwarven, and gnome workers) is lighthearted which may be a turn-off for some but I like it.

Greg S:  While our tastes in games are often similar, we diverge quite a bit on worker placement games.  For example, I am not as enamored with Uwe Rosenberg’s designs as Chris, finding that he rehashed old ideas over and over again in the series.  Indeed, I found A Feast for Odin to be an overload of mechanisms that included the kitchen sink and all the plumbing. I didn’t care for The Colonists (I think I had two birthdays during game play) or Dungeon Lords, and am one of those rare birds that MUCH prefer Caverna over Agricola, finding the latter too unforgiving.  Any of his “Honorable Mention” games could slot into the Top 10 in place of these. I would also recommend Yokohama, Architects of the West Kingdom and Coimbra (if that qualifies as “worker placement”).

Brandon Kempf: I used to think that I was a big Worker Placement fan, but when we took our time voting on this list I kind of realized, I’m really not a big fan of the mechanism. Agricola is a fantastic representation of the worker placement genre though and probably my favorite of the list by a long shot. It’s one of the few that manages to have great tension and appealing game play over repeated plays. I’m just happy I don’t see Lords of Waterdeep on this list.  

James Nathan:  Ahhhh, sliding in just 1 hour and 16 minutes before commenting closes.  But we’ll get to why that is. 

I’m mostly in the same boat as Brandon: for years I thought I loved Worker Placement games, but over time, I’ve realized, well, I’m a big Agricola fan.  I too had trouble filling all of my voting slots and (…goes to check the spreadsheet) I only used 65% of the points I was allotted to assign. 

What did I vote for?  Agricola and Dominant Species are clear frontrunners for me. Down my list I did vote for Marco and Lorenzo. Further down my list I voted for OWACON/Code of Nine.

But my “Bronze” went to Fauna. Yes, Friedemann’s animal trivia game. We’ve left out of our discussion at the top any sort of definition of worker placement.  For me, it’s about denying or restricting access to certain locations/actions once they have been used; and having a limited number of pieces to place. Fauna has all of that!  (Yes, that’s putting the wax paper at the top of a slide that ends at tic-tac-toe as a worker placement game, but I have arguments for that.)

Fauna _feels_ like a worker placement game, as I have the tension of do I choose this space now, or can I wait until next turn?  I really need that 3 wood to build an extra room, but if I take “tail length, 6 to 9 feet”, will it still be there next time it’s my turn? 

Anyway, huzzah, for being last.  Mostly I was busy, but also hopefully that shuts the case and we can all agree Fauna is a great worker placement game! :p

—–

Past Articles in the 10 Great Series:

10 Great Games by Reiner Knizia

10 Great Roll ‘n Writes

10 Great Ticket to Ride Maps

10 Great Games of the 2010s

This entry was posted in Best Of and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to 10 Great Worker Placement Games (Article by Chris Wray)

  1. toucanas says:

    I think there are too many Worker Placement games out there that are half way decent to merit consideration. This category is tough to peg down.

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  3. Steve Walker says:

    After receiving Italy and Japan for Christmas I think both of those maps could make this list – both do what the best maps do – tweak a little for a big change in tactics – this is why I don’t rate rails and sales as this is the only map that to me felt like a more of the same expansion and just added duration ( I know there are boats and trains but the taking cards decision space is all that changed and it was not enough for me)

  4. Steve Walker says:

    Oops wrong tab was reading the 10 best TTR maps in another window

  5. Jacob says:

    I never thought of Orleans as a WP. In the future, I’d love to see a top ten Civilization game list.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      I never thought of it as Worker Placement either but I voted for it and I think it fits.

      Civ games would be a tough list, will definitely ask Chris to add that to the list. :)

  6. Steve Walker says:

    Interesting breakdown, having just come back from Handycon in the uk where tzolkin was my first play and Russian railroads my last gam of the weekend – I agree with a lot of the list and Russian railroads is my personal #1. However was very surprised not to see a few entries crack into the uwe stronghold – most notably Carson city, raiders of the north see, and Manhattan project all of which took worker placement in variant directions.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      Carson City was my #2 game on my list. I think the hybrid styles were kind of left out as folks went with more “pure” worker placement. I still haven’t played any of the Raiders/Architects/etc titles, will have to remedy that this year.

  7. ccog says:

    Hi Chris,
    Do you consider our 1982 Borderlands game ‘worker placement’, if so that’s 38 years.
    Regards,
    Peter Olotka

    • huzonfirst says:

      Peter, as you probably know, I’ve been a huge fan of Borderlands ever since you guys released it. But I don’t see it being close to a Worker Placement game. It’s a game of conquest with resources and production. It was enormously ahead of its time, but WP, it ain’t.

  8. There are a lot more great worker placement games not mentioned. I was surprised not to see any Garphill games on the list. Architects of the West Kingdom and Raiders of the North Sea are almost pure worker placement and are fantastic games. Another of my favorites that was also missing was Five Tribes. I am not an Uwe devotee like the OPs so that might explain the differences. None of my fave WP games are Uwe or Uwe-like.

  9. Bryant K Hudson says:

    I thought Dungeon Lords was an unexpected entry. I really thought everyone regarded Dungeon Petz as the better game. That’s the one that I always see on lists like this.

  10. Zack says:

    Colonists is underrated, probably because it is so long.

    Did no one consider Keyflower to be worker placement? That’s the only reason I can think why it wouldn’t be up there.

  11. huzonfirst says:

    I think those who are wondering why Game X didn’t make the list are forgetting is that there are an enormous number of WP games out there. I can’t imagine any top 10 that would make the majority of gamers happy. Maybe a top 50 would have been more appropriate!

    WP isn’t my favorite genre (it’s truly been done to death), but there are some great games that use it. My top vote went to Ora et Labora (yet another Uwe game! And in my opinion, his masterpiece), followed by Marco Polo, Russian Railroads, Lorenzo, and Tzolk’in. Considering that my next three votes went to games that made our top 10 (Agricola, Caverna, and Fields of Arle, Uwe games all), my preferences aren’t too far removed from the group’s. Honestly, I’d be fine playing any of the top 15, even if Ora has effectively fired Le Havre for me.

    Oh, and James Nathan, Fauna is in no way, shape, or form a Worker Placement game. Last word FTW! :-)

  12. Jimmy Okolica says:

    Not that anyone asked, but if I had to make a list, it’d be (in order):
    Agricola, Vinhos, Pret-a-Porter, Barrage, Nusfjord, Little Town, Age of Empires 3, Automania, Terramara, and Voyages of Marco Polo

    Unsurprising that I put as many economic games in as I could. Also, not surprising that a couple of Italian designs are on the list. What’s a bit surprising to me is that 3 games from the last year made my list.

    I did think about Keyflower and Spyrium but think of them more as auction games than worker placement.

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