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Placing Workers

Microbrew is hybrid worker-placement / puzzle game.

In Microbrew we use worker placement with something we call “bump rewards”. Unlike traditional worker placement, your opponent does not block an action - you can just knock them off - but if you do, they get their worker back to use again that turn!

So, to be the best at Microbrew, you’re going to have to think carefully:

  • Is doing the perfect action for you, worth a reward for your opponent?
  • Can you get some free actions by predicting what your opponent is going to do next?

Design Notes

Worker placement is a common genre in board games with some superb examples. Games such as Caverna: The Cave Farmers have defined the genre but we’ve reached the stage where unless you are able to do something new with the mechanic (as games such as Troyes and Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar have done very successfully), it’s just not going to be that interesting an experience.

Microbrew twists the genre in two ways. Adding in the puzzle game that we’ve already showcased and by using the “bump rewards” mechanism described above. (We really should think of a better name for it…)

The bump rewards have a number of interesting effects on the game:

1. Round flow becomes fluid. Some rounds, especially in the early game, players will place 2 workers each and the round will end. Other times, particularly in the late game where players have extra workers and are concentrating on similar tasks a single round can go back and forth much longer. This is OK though, in fact it’s great, because it’s entirely driven by player agency!

2. The decision space becomes more interesting. One of the problems with “vanilla” worker placement is, if you can do the maths, there is usually a “best action”. Bump rewards provide instances that where it might be worth gambling on a lesser action because you believe your opponent is going to take that action next and save the best move for later. It is very satisfying to “surf” an opponent's predictability for “free” actions!

3. The game becomes a *positive* experience. Opponent actions in traditional worker placement prevent you from doing things. It’s a *You can’t* response to a player’s desire. Obviously *You can* is better - but then you are in danger of falling into multiplayer solitaire (not that that is necessarily a bad thing - I love me some relaxing Cottage Garden!). Designing around *You can, but…* is harder, but if you pull it off is much more satisfying. Go play Catan and then Concordia to see a different application of this: You can have a great time playing either, but Catan mechanically encourages meanness, whereas Concordia is merely poised to reward your opponents if you do what you *already want to*. I know I am much more likely to have fun in Concordia, and I really believe it’s because the whole game revolves around a “You can, but…”

There’s some more subtle effects too - but I’ve hopefully shown that it’s an interesting mechanic and, even though we know it’s that it makes the game a bit harder to balance than a vanilla worker placement game, I’m frankly surprised more games haven’t implemented it.

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