Guest Post: How to Teach Worker Placement Games

Guest Author: Jim Cohen from What Board Game (WBG)
Instagram: jim.gamer

Jim runs the brilliant website What Board Game where – you guessed it – he’ll tell you all about what board game you should be playing next! His website is filled with game reviews, interviews, videos and competitions. Last month we asked Jim if he had any advice for people who are looking to teach a particular game mechanic to children and he wrote a great article on how you introduce the deck building mechanic to younger players and uses the amazing Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle as its feature game. You can read his article here.

This month he continues his series with a new article explaining how you can teach the worker placement mechanic to new players. His below article is an informative view at this game mechanic and includes a number of games Jim recommends for you to start with and ones you can advance to!

Jim Cohen, WBG – Have you ever wondered why you cannot learn certain games as well as others? Or felt confused why some people picked up the strategy in new games quicker than you? Perhaps it is as simple as this: some people already have a fundamental understanding of the mechanics of the game from playing similar games. This could enable them to move beyond the rules and background workings of the game. They are able to think about their moves and tactics instead. 

Let’s get to work!

Last month, we looked at how Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle can help you teach the concept of deckbuilding to your friends and family. Once you understand the playing mechanic you can then all move other more advanced games that also use deckbuilding within its ruleset. This month, we are going to continue the theme of games that help teach mechanics, but this time, we are focusing on worker placement. A mechanic that sits at the core within some of my favourite games of all time but, with some games, can be a tricky part of a seemingly complex game. Once the fundamentals of the core worker placement mechanic is understood, I am able to teach and play many advanced worker placement games with ease. This is about learning mechanics, not just rules. The building blocks of games are the mechanics. Understand them all and you will pick up new games a lot quicker. 

Worker placement is such a fun mechanic in games. I love the idea of sending out little meeples into the world to do things. The simple pleasure of placing something down on a certain spot and immediately gaining that bonus I have chosen is very rewarding. It feels very immersive to me to physically place something in a certain part of the world and they get the resource that is made there. See that big tree, well place a worker there and you can get the wood they have cut down from it. It’s intuitive, thematically satisfying and absorbing. I like being sucked into the world of the games I play. Worker placement does this with the pure form of the physical attachment of the location you need to place your workers. 

This is about learning mechanics, not just rules. The building blocks of games are the mechanics. Understand them all and you will pick up new games a lot quicker.

Targi Teaches Technique

So, what game teaches worker placement to younger or more inexperienced gamers the best? Well, many fit the bill, but for me, none do it better than Targi. It is one of the best two player games, period. So, learning this is no bad thing on its own. It’s a fantastic, highly rewarding game, that always delivers a phenomenal game experience. What I have found when playing Targi is how easy it is to explain because it focuses on one main mechanic and, once you have explained that, the rest flows very quickly. The simple mechanic of placing your workers onto two spaces to gain the benefits of those cards is all you are ever doing. Of course, like all worker placement games, there are other parts to the game but this is the main action. The key addition in Targi being that you gain the benefit of the intersection point between your two workers too. But this just fuels to make the game even better, not more complex.

As the game comes in a small box and has no board, just cards, it looks less intimidating than other big box games. Especially those that come with a busy looking board. People find it hard when looking at a large board full of different symbols and pictures. I sometimes struggle to encourage them to only look at one part at a time. Personally, I love worker placement games with a large complex board with a sprawling world my workers can visit but I can see how this may look, at first, very daunting to a new player. Especially one not overly familiar with the worker placement mechanic. Targi is the exact opposite of this. No board. Just cards, laid out with large, clear symbols on them that say what you get if you place your worker there. If you want money, put your worker on the big gold coin. Perhaps you want pepper this time? Well look here, it’s a big clear picture of time pepper! Zero words. Clear images. Limited options. Very accessible gameplay.

And as I said, Targi a brilliant game! I have found with Targi that I can teach this within five minutes and play in under 45 minutes. And as it is so good, players will generally really enjoy the experience, win or lose. But as well as enjoying the game, which of course is the main thing, they have become familiar with the worker placement mechanic. A win-win situation!

OK, great! So what’s next?

Lost Ruins of Arnak and Everdell are great games to try after Targi. They both utilise worker placement as core mechanics, but with other elements too. Hand managements and deck building for Lost Ruins of Arnak and engine building for Everdell. But both games will be a lot easier to teach if you can fly through the worker placement part in the teach. When I taught these games to my eight year old, I said to him, here you place your workers much like in Targi and they can then bring you this benefit. He immediately understood and we could then focus on other parts of the game. It made the rules explanation much less overwhelming for him and, in truth, me also. It meant we were playing both games within ten minutes. Games I would wager could take triple that time to explain to someone not as familiar with at least one of the core mechanics. 

So, Targi can lead to Lost Ruins of Arnak and Everdell. What’s after that! Well, you may then want to try out the legendary classic that is Agricola. A game currently ranked on Board Game Geek as a 3.61 for difficulty. Both Lost Ruins of Arnak and Everdell are under three and Targi is just over 2. Agricola is also ranked at 31 and listed as the fourth best worker placement game so worth trying out. It is a little more complex, but with your understanding of the worker placement mechanic now secure, it should prove less of a mountain to climb. 

And if all this talk of worker placement has made you excited for more, well be sure to check out Viticulture. For me, this game is the best implementation of this mechanic. It is such a brilliant and smooth game, with a beautiful board, art style and theme. The way to gain points is so varied and each game feels unique. There is also a brilliant two-player only version of Caverna that is worth checking out. Caverna: Cave vs Cave. All brilliant games, and now hopefully, looking very accessible to you to learn and teach to your fellow workers!