Saturday, September 24, 2022

Worker Placement & the “Modern” Board Gaming Esthetic

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No Game Mechanic typifies what “serious” board gamers like more than worker placement. From the BoardGameGeek “Hotness” list to the Dice Towers Yearly “Best of”, Worker placement shows up over & over again. Throughout this blog series, we’ve discussed how methods, manufacturing, and merriment led us to the current state of gaming & game mechanics, but what does a “Modern” board game look like? How do you define a “Serious” board gamer?

Good Gamers aren’t gatekeepers; they’re ambassadors. When we discuss “Serious Board Gamer” we’re talking about folks who would use that title to self label. What do the folks who identify in this way have in common? I’d say time, energy & love spent in the pursuit of board gaming. This effort has many forms: curating a collection of titles – for sure, time improving your knowledge & skills – definitely, participating in communities gathering around the fun –  FLGS, convention, or Kickstarter. I identify as a Serious board gamer because not only do I do all of the above, but I want to share what gaming has done for me with others. That’s why I started Sovranti.

Modern Board Gaming

To better understand “Modern” board gaming, we should look at 20th century gaming trends that captured public awareness and became what “serious” gamers played. Bridge was “thee” game to play from 1930-1950, Chess captured the World’s attention as it typified the struggle between superpowers during the Cold War, and Poker evolved with Texas Holdem – cable television & internet. Each had a long history before they caught the public’s eye, each was followed by an evolution in media & media coverage, and each was a “fresher” take on an established game. Board gaming follows this historical trend perfectly: family board games have a long history, crowdfunding, podcasting & consumer generated media spread awareness, and new game mechanics are endlessly reinventing themselves. Sidenote: roleplaying’s push into the spotlight is on trend.

How can one be “serious” about fun? Besides pure entertainment value, there are two driving needs that cause individuals to prioritize gaming. The first is being part of something larger than oneself. That something can be your gaming group, your FLGS, your CON-family, or a specific fandom. This kind of connection has positive effects on one’s sense of well being. The second is being recognized as individuals. Third place theory states that people feel most complete when they have a separate place in their lives where they are recognized as individuals rather than their position in the social hierarchy or by their responsibilities. My life is richer if I have a place where I can be just another gamer rather than a Dad or a Boss; if I can be just another geek and recognized as such.

Worker Placement

But why worker placement? Euro-style board games are at the heart of the modern board gaming esthetic. In general, Euro-style games favor empowered decisions, encourage interaction – but not direct conflict, limit randomness, and avoid zero sum situations – my gain is your loss. Trying to meet this esthetic is tricky for certain game mechanics like roll & move, but easier for things like card drafting. Worker placement tends to fit all these requirements and its familiarity makes it more approachable to folks already initiated in the hobby. Besides game play expectations, Euro board games can also have very historical, industrious or pastoral themes. The worker as the currency of actions makes sense thematically as well.

“Serious” connoisseurs of anything have something to teach & something to say. From Beer to Board games, there are ideals & trends, innovations and local heroes. As a game mechanism, worker placement captures the essence of what modern board game designers try to empower their players with: purpose, opportunity and fun without excluding or punishing others.

Worker Placement as a Game Mechanic

Approachability 3: Worker Placement is at the core of modern board gaming, but is still fairly new to non-gamers.

Depth/Customization 5: Game designers love this mechanism & there are a lot of exciting new takes on how it works & how it fits in with other mechanisms.

Utility 3: Equal access to every action and game play & strategy determining the value of each placement is very powerful, but it points the game design in a very specific direction.

Uniqueness 3: It’s pretty common, but there are new innovations on the mechanic all the time because it is so familiar & loved.

About the Author

Jason Wright – Founder, Sovranti

Jason has been leading IT development organizations for 25+ years and “enabling” his weekly game night group for 15. His wife still hasn’t found all the places he hides the board games. These two great passions collide to form Sovranti, a new online board gaming platform.

This is a repost of original blog article for a wider audience.

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