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Subject: What was the first worker placement game? rss

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Simon Dorfman
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I'm curious to learn about the history of the Worker Placement mechanic. Does anyone know what game used it first?

A friend suggested Caylus might be the first.

I started thinking about this because I'm a huge fan of Dominant Species (which uses the worker placement mechanic) and I read on the Dominant Species forum that the designer of the game (Chad Jensen) designed it in 2002 (and did a lot of playtesting and refining until its release in 2010). I wonder if he came up with the worker placement mechanic 9 years ago, or if it was already used in other games around that time.

Please educate me on the subject. Thanks in advance.
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Matt Davis
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One early WP game that's often overlooked is Bus. You place cubes on a display of available actions - then when no one wants to place any more, they're resolved in a certain order. It's not exactly standard worker placement as we know it today - people can share actions, but the first to claim an action does it either better/more than everyone after them, or in a more advantageous spot in the order for that action. (I suppose a la Dominant Species - first person to do the Dominance action gets first pick of the cards, etc.)

The other interesting twist is that you don't have a certain number of cubes for each turn - you've got 20 for the whole game. You must place at least 2 a turn, and when they're gone, they're gone.

Edit: in a thread about Bus-as-worker placement, this post: (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/3381211#3381211) points out an earlier possible example - Keydom, which became Aladdin's Dragons.
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Christen
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I also have heard Caylus, but I'm not sure. It sure is the grandaddy though, even if it wasn't the first.
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Tim M-L
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The oldest game with a year published and labeled as a worker placement game in the database is Valley of the Mammoths. Maybe I don't really understand worker placement, how is it different from the much older Tic-Tac-Toe or Go? What makes them not worker placement?
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Mark McEvoy
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The earliest listed here is Merlin Valley of the Mammoths , but that may not be an accurate description (for either one).

Keydom is probably the grandaddy. And its most obvious descendant Aladdin's Dragons. Bus came around the same time too, though, and i'm not sure how independent a design it was.

 
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Nate Straight

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It's definitely not Caylus.
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Scott Nelson
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Antiquity has worker placement and that was before Caylus. Odds are unless it is the central function of the entire game, it was not recognised as a main mechanism, though many games did it before Caylus. It was coined because of caylus though,
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Matt Davis
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timlillig wrote:
The oldest game with a year published and labeled as a worker placement game in the database is Valley of the Mammoths. Maybe I don't really understand worker placement, how is it different from the much older Tic-Tac-Toe or Go? What makes them not worker placement?


I don't know Valley of the Mammoths at all, but to me, Worker Placement is about choosing several actions from a number of possibilities, in such a way that your choices restrict the choices of others. Whether no one is allowed to re-choose an action or it just hampers others, I'd still call it worker placement. Of course, we could get into arguments about whether this is its own thing or if worker placement is just a fancy way of selecting actions like in Citadels or Puerto Rico. But somehow the ability to draft multiple actions is important, as is the sort of limited ability to plan and predict throughout the drafting process - think about how a round of Dominant Species goes - you're constantly trying to plan for what people are going to be doing with their actions, how you can respond, and what action is most vital to you at that point. And all of those considerations are very flexible as the action drafting goes on. There's nothing quite like that in Puerto Rico, but it's very present in Agricola, Caylus, and Bus.
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Bob (he/him)
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I've gotta go with Chess which is dated 1475 here in the BGG database.

You place your "workers" on the board and then you move the "workers" to a new location where they capture or threaten other's "workers".

BOb

PS I win!
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Gabe Alvaro
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Pretty much agree with Scott.
ropearoni4 wrote:
It was coined because of caylus though,

I dunno if I'd say "coined", but maybe. Certainly responsible for bringing it to the forefront in a game and popularizing the term on BGG.
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Matt Davis
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ropearoni4 wrote:
Antiquity has worker placement and that was before Caylus. Odds are unless it is the central function of the entire game, it was not recognised as a main mechanism, though many games did it before Caylus. It was coined because of caylus though,


Interesting.... I don't know that I've thought about Antiquity in that context before, but it feels borderline to me. I think it's because, while you have to choose what your workers are doing each turn, a lot of the options are available only to you and don't affect the other players at all. So to me that feels more like allocating your colonists in PR - it's tweaking the way your engine is running, not selecting from a common pool. But maybe that's not a distinction others would draw.
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Nate Straight

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thatmarkguy wrote:
Keydom is probably the grandaddy. And its most obvious descendant Aladdin's Dragons.


I've got an unplayed copy of Aladdin's Dragons that I've been itching to play before deciding whether to shuffle it off to the trade-pile, Simon.
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Железный комиссар
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In the last year alone, I have seen the following games discussed in earnest on this site as examples of worker placement:

Carcassonne
Tikal
Power Grid
Puerto Rico
Dungeon Lords
Power Struggle

That's just off the top of my head. I know what the term meant originally in the wake of Caylus (which is indeed the reason it was coined). But to be honest, I don't think many people have any idea what it meant originally. If it's a game where you place pieces on a board, and those pieces can be called workers, guys, or whatever, then it's "worker placement." There's a reason people tried to have the mechanic dubbed "action drafting" for use in the database.

You can't really expect people to retain the specifics when the name of the mechanic only requires that a "worker" is "placed."

Caylus is the game that created the trend. Bus is a good example that predates it. This question is pretty much doomed to confusion as people answer based on a multitude of unstated criteria.
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howl hollow howl
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Way Out West used action drafting, and inspired me to work on my own Caylus-ish design prior to Caylus' release. Caylus only started the trend in that it became popular.
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Scott Nelson
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True, worker placement doesn't affect others abilities to take that action in Antiquity, so maybe it won't count as such. Maybe this would be worker allocation.


What about earlier Neuland?
 
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Matt Davis
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ropearoni4 wrote:
True, worker placement doesn't affect others abilities to take that action in Antiquity, so maybe it won't count as such. Maybe this would be worker allocation.


What about earlier Neuland?


Oh, good one. But the DB lists Neuland as 2004. Certainly before Caylus, but not by much....
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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I'm not sure I totally agree with the "limiting other players" part of the definition. To me, Antics is very clearly a worker placement game even though you don't limit opponents at all (though it's easily possible to limit yourself...).
 
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Ed
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I created a Geeklist on board game "firsts" a few months ago. The answer that came out of that list was Bus.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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pilotbob wrote:
I've gotta go with Chess which is dated 1475 here in the BGG database.

You place your "workers" on the board and then you move the "workers" to a new location where they capture or threaten other's "workers".


I was thinking along the same lines, but I can't rationalize enough to make me actually believe that Chess is "worker placement".


Monopoly (1933), on the other hand, feels to me like worker placement now that I think about it:

-- you've got your token, which is a special "worker" moving around the board, getting chances to earn or lose points (money) at various spots.

-- you've got houses and hotels -- more "workers" that can potentially earn you more points ...


Mancala (550?) (I'd argue that it is probably older than 550 AD) is arguably a better precursor to worker placement than the arguments for Chess. The workers, in this case, are the little beads/stones -- moving them about and placing them correctly earns you points.
 
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Mark McEvoy
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Eh, but in Monopoly you have no choice where your worker goes.

At least with The Game of Go you have a choice of where you place your 'worker'. And once you place your 'worker' somewhere your opponent can no longer place his worker there.
 
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The term "worker placement" is indeed much abused. The definition I've seen cited most often is a game where player pieces can temporarily be placed in areas which are open to all players, that yield a benefit, and where a maximum number of pieces can be placed in each area. Players have multiple pieces to place on a turn, restricted by their supply that turn. Usually, the benefit is non-positional (that eliminates Tic-Tac-Toe), but this is sometimes relaxed. That's a hell of a lot more specific a definition than you're liable to see, but if you want to eliminate the games that most people would agree aren't worker placement, you've got to use something that elaborate.

Under this definition, the game that is most often cited as the first worker placement game is Richard Breese's Keydom (1998). Two years later, it was redesigned as Aladdin's Dragons, which I'm sure more players are familiar with. Proponents of this choice include Uwe Rosenberg, the designer of one of the most famous WP games, Agricola. Rosenberg vociferously declares that Keydom is the father of the WP genre. And as I've said, the majority of people who've considered this agree with him.

As it happens, I'm not one of them. Keydom just doesn't feel like a true Worker Placement game to me; the main mechanic seems more like a simultaneous auction IMO. The first game that I've found that I'd characterize as WP is Splotter's Bus (1999). Very soon after that, Martin Wallace released Way Out West, which is also unquestionably a WP game. The two games were released so close together that I'm almost certain that their similarities are a case of parallel development. So to me, those two games are the first WP designs. This is definitely a minority viewpoint, though.

Regardless of which game came first, there's no question about which game made worker placement popular: Caylus. In fact, before William Attia released that title, I'm pretty sure the term "worker placement" didn't even exist, nor was the genre recognized. Caylus was so staggeringly popular and influential that people had to come up with a term to describe what exactly was so different about the game. They came up with "worker placement" and the rest is history. So Caylus may not have been the first WP game, but it was the first one to be called "Worker Placement".

Edited to add the multiple pieces sentence to the definition
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Matt Davis
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Larry Levy wrote:
Usually, the benefit is non-positional (that eliminates Tic-Tac-Toe), but this is sometimes relaxed.


I very much like your definition, but I'm slightly confused as to what you mean by "non-positional". I presume you mean that all that matters is what the space does, not where it is in relation to the other spaces? That seems reasonable, although in my gut I can't really think of any WP games where I'd say the advantage of the space WAS positional. So I might want to require that the benefit is non-positional.

Obviously, the order of the buildings in Caylus is ridiculously important (same for the actions in Bus), but that doesn't feel like what I'd call a "positional" benefit - just a mechanical fact of the way the game works. Maybe they're temporal benefits. Probably I'm being too much of a mathematician trying to pin down definitions here....
 
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Larry Levy wrote:
The term "worker placement" is....

Somehow, this post should be linked to the Worker Placement mechanic page.
 
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Anthony Simons
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I completely agree with Larry's point about Keydom; definitely not worker placement, and IMO closer to Raj than Caylus!
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Tim M-L
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Larry Levy wrote:
Usually, the benefit is non-positional (that eliminates Tic-Tac-Toe), but this is sometimes relaxed.


Wouldn't this also eliminate Agricola? The animals are placed and give benefits based on position. Or are they somehow not workers? If not, why? The "sometimes relaxed" exception is particularly problematic. It gives strong sense of subjective selection as to what is and isn't in the category. This makes the category itself essentially meaningless. You might as well just say, "Usually, the benefit is non positional, unless I like the game."
 
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