Sunday, November 3, 2013

Worker Placement Preview

Designed by Mark MacKinnon
Published by Dyskami
2 to 5 Players (Planned Future Expansion up to 8 Players, Possible 1 Player Variant)

Background  / Introduction
Well, there should be no real question concerning what type of game this is; it is a worker placement game of course! So, if you expected a deductive reasoning game, just reread the title - Worker Placement. Worker placement games are very popular these days but some of them are a little 'heavy' and can take a long time to play. Worker Placement is a 'light' game that offers variable game length and plenty of flexibility in strategy.

Themed well for this time of economic uncertainty, players are running competing temp agencies as they try and improve workers and get them well needed jobs. Doing this, players get better reputation and more importantly, (*in my best Kevin O, Leary voice) "MONEY."

This is a review of the current prototype game which will start its Kickstarter project this week!  So, this review will not review the quality of the components as the pieces used don't reflect the final production quality etc. I will give you a look at how the plays and my thoughts. If you are interested, check it out on Kickstarter.

Rule Book / Learning Time / Components
The all important instruction book. You can't really play a game if you don't understand the rules.  Worker Placement does a great job explaining the theme of the game, the setup, and it provides detailed explanations on how the game plays with nice illustrations. Subtle things (like the rule book being a clipboard of paper and as you go to the next page in the book, you can see that a "page" has been ripped off from the clipboard) make the instructions more theme oriented and easier to understand. These sort of details also reassure me that a lot of thought and fine tuning has already happened to get the game to where it is today. The rule book is just part of the pie, but it shows me that this game is ready for Kickstarter and ready for print.

You can learn or teach this game very quickly. Since I would consider this game to be a "Casual Game," you can have a group of new players easily playing the game in less than 10 minutes. Also, with the simple game play, I did not find myself going back to refer to the rule book (besides re-reading the portion about the Auction phase one more time for clarification during my first play, the rest of the rules stuck and were very clear) although, the back page turn summary is very helpful for the first or second run through to keep track of the order of play.

The game includes an instruction book, game board, 109 game cards, 60 wooden skill cubes, 25 wooden player token sets (including 3 meeples, 1 cash token, and 1 thumbs up token), and 1 hourglass token to keep track of game rounds. 

Quick setup time. Shuffle a few decks of cards, sort out some skill cubes, and you are pretty much ready to go save the world one job at a time. Again, the game is so simple, and with that comes very little setup time. The card decks are shuffled and each player is dealt 4 business cards (these cards are made up of skill cards, management cards, and workers). Players each start with 2 money and 2 thumbs up, the time marker starts on first round mark.

Players should decide on what length of game they want to play (although I guess you could technically end a game earlier or play longer as long as all players agree - you wouldn't want someone thinking you are manipulating the end game to your advantage). Worker Placement allows you to play a short game of 5 rounds, a normal game of 8 rounds, or a long game of 12 rounds. I really like that they included this feature, because it allows for different depth and you can tailor the game to certain age groups or time interest.

The goal of the game is to have the most money at the end of the game. The game ends at the end of either 5, 8, or 12 rounds of play depending on what was decided by the players. Players gain money by fulfilling job postings with adequately trained workers for that position, playing management cards, and by working at the call center. The majority of your money will most likely come from fulfilling jobs. To do this, players will need 1 worker card in their hand and they will need to be able to meet the skills listed on the job card. Only one worker can be assigned to a position, but players will use skill cards or cubes acquired during the game to meet job requirements. Jobs will give different amounts of money and perhaps even a "Thumbs Up" reputation boost.

Besides the money acquired and used in the game, players have a certain reputation which is kept track using the thumbs up scoring track. Benefits of having more thumbs up than the other players include: higher likelihood of being first player, using these to gain money via the call center, and in the result that there is a tie on the money track, the player with the best reputation wins. So, just how does one go about gaining skill, management cards, and reputation? Let's take a look.
  1. Determine Player Order - One does not become first by reputation alone...there is a bit of luck involved too. Player Order cards are shuffled and dealt to each player, then flipped over. The player with the highest number (Player Order card + thumbs up score) places his/her meeple on the 1st player spot, the second  highest on the 2nd player spot, etc. Any tie will go to the more reputable player (via the higher thumbs up score). This is a nice way to deal with having people close together on the reputation track (the random cards). Now, if a player get's a big lead in this area, players may not feel that the thumbs up score is really all that important. In one two player game I played, my wife was  just so far ahead on the track that I actually just started using what thumbs up I had to get some money from the call center. This player order concept seems to work just fine, but there may also be times where the random cards don't really matter at all (more likely this would be of use with more players).
  2. Reveal New Jobs - At this point, you deal out 1 job card out to the top of the board (minimum of 4
    jobs always) and you also place one card on top of the draw pile so you can see what is coming up next. The first round you will be drawing the starting cards and all subsequent rounds you will be filling up the gaps left as people fulfill jobs. The comical descriptions of the jobs are actually the best and most enjoyable aspect of the game's theme. With Clerical Cleric or Dog Food Tester, these cards really provide a fun element to the game. Each of the jobs require a certain number of skill to be fulfilled and they range in rewards giving a certain amount of money and perhaps a thumbs up score too. I would like to see the placement areas of these cards made part of the board in the final version (just as the auction cards have a place).
  3. Draft Business Cards - Each player is then dealt three business cards (again, this includes worker cards, skill cards, and management cards) and decides which card to keep, which to give to his player
    at their left, and what remaining card will go to the Peer Networking Group for auction. This is probably my favorite game mechanic of the game. There may be times where you want to keep all of your cards (they are all really good), but you still have to chose which one you will "gift" away to another player. Then, you can chose to place a card in the Peer Networking hoping that it will come up for auction and you can get it there. You may not like any, and your choice just became easier for that turn.
  4. Auction Discarded Business Cards - This was a little confusing at first, but it made sense after actually
    playing through it once and it seems to work pretty well. You shuffle the face down discarded cards and select 3 randomly (2 player games, you add a random card to the two). Even if you are playing with 3 players or less, you will want to shuffle the cards to keep the identity of the discarded cards safe (knowing what your opponent discarded may give away some of their strategy to early). Players take turns bidding or passing by placing meeples on the auction track. Once all players have passed, the player with the meeple on the highest number selects a card first and pays the amount bid. This continues until all three cards are gone (players still remaining get no card and don't have to pay either).
  5. Place Workers - The true meat of the game is played here. Players take turns as designated by the turn order for that round placing meeples at different locations in order to gain skill, thumbs up, money, playing management cards, changing cards, gaining money, changing skills, and fulfilling jobs.
    Players may need to pay money if placing a worker on location that already has meeples on it. Job fulfillment however does not require payment. Here players must choose what is important to them? Will they fulfill a job they can meet right now? Will they save and hope to fulfill the bigger job next round? Do you sacrifice reputation (thumbs up) at the Call Center for some easy cash? Or do you pay an extra money (since someone already played there) to play a management card that allows you to steal money from the other players (or twice as much money from only one player). You will have lots of different options and multiple good options. Time to chose. You can gain skill cubes or maybe you want to have your luck at the casino by changing in your cards for random ones. The game does well again with matching the theme here and many paths to victory are presented.
  6. Reset - Players reclaim their meeples and they discard down to 5 business cards. Players then will move the time tracking token (if that wasn't the last round already).
I won't go into all the different actions you can take, but let me just talk a little more about the fulfillment of jobs as that is a big part of the game. Jobs can be fulfilled by 1 worker and a combination of skill and/or skill cubes matching what is on the job card. You will want to acquire skill cubes as these are a "sure thing" while the business cards are more random. The Life Coach space seems pretty powerful to me as you are able to switch 1 skill cube for 2 skill cubes of your choice (too powerful?).

I believe that this will be a great Kickstarter project. The worker cards for the prototype did not all have names or descriptions yet and I believe this would be a great opportunity to provide backers with the privilege of naming a worker and/or providing a funny description. There will be great opportunity for stretch rewards to make the game components the best quality possible, and maybe even add more job/character cards.

Final Thoughts
Worker Placement does a great job. The theme and game mechanics work well and the jobs and job descriptions will make you smile or laugh out loud. The game is easy to learn and is a good game to introduce to people who may not have played a worker placement game before. Players are not blocked from placing workers, but may need to pay an additional fee. I like that players have many options to choose from and there really isn't a time where a player is just "stuck." There is always something that a player can be doing to get a little closer to victory.

I think that the game has been well thought out and it can be a fun, entertaining game, for a nice range of ages and game interest. Being able to adjust the game length also helps a great deal with pleasing a wide range of players. I give Worker Placement 3 Fingers Up, or 8 out of 10 Stars. The Kickstarter project itself sounds like it will be successful and if you are looking for a light worker placement game with a well used theme, check out Worker Placement today - and that is How Lou Sees It!

(A big SHOUT OUT to Dyskami for providing this review prototype copy and making this review possible.)

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