Missing Mechanics: Many Hands Make Light Work

Setup

I haven’t been a video gamer for several years, so I can only speak about the games that I played – the ones “everyone” played – 10-20 years ago. A common mechanic in video games of that era (think Starcraft, Warcraft, Age of Empires, etc.) was to assign a worker to build something. That’s not so different from Worker Placement in board games, right? Well, maybe…

Round 1: What’s Missing

In the video games it was common practice to compound the effort of multiple workers; if you assign one worker, the building (or tech upgrade) would take t seconds to complete, assign two and it would take t/2 seconds and on so the equation would be t (time to complete) = T (time per worker)/w (number of workers). I have not seen this duplicated in any board game. Maybe the mechanic has been used and I just haven’t seen it, but at the very least it can’t be common. I have played and /or studied many hundreds of board games and don’t remember ever having seen it. Maybe it has been done and failed so miserably that it was tossed from the toolkit.

Here are some basic principles of the mechanic:

  • Workers can be allocated singly or in multiples to complete a single action.
  • Workers may remain allocated to the action over a number of rounds.
  • The number of workers directly impacts the time (number of rounds) required to complete the action. Though, in my math above I have all workers contributing equally, this is not necessarily the required case. However, anything else would likely be a complicated mess for a board game.

Round 2: What Exists

It is common in board games to require two workers to complete an action – usually to make more workers. Thankfully, in most games the value of an additional worker closely approximates the biological requirement.  However, the second worker is not optional; new workers must be made the old fashioned way, with both workers engaged simultaneously. This requirement is usually facilitated by the card, tile, or location on the board indicating that two workers are required with two of the “place worker here” icons or circles instead of one.

This mechanic also implies another, more basic mechanic that is not common – leaving workers in place for multiple rounds. In fact, I can only think of a few games off-hand that use this.

Let’s take a look at a few examples to discuss how this proposed mechanic is similar, but different from what has been done before. I have also illustrated some aspects that are “On the Edge” – they could be part of the mechanic, but not necessarily. In increasing degree of similarity the games are: Stone Age, Tiny Epic Galaxies, and Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia. Note: Since these are all popular games, I will assume a high level of familiarity with how they work in the comparison.

Stone Age

In Stone Age players can assign multiple workers to the same action, gaining resources, to improve their odds and degree of success on the action assigned.

What’s Similar

  • Multiple workers can be assigned to the same action.
  • The workers represent a combined strength for the action – they are not resolved separately.

What’s Different

  • All workers are removed from the action at the end of the turn regardless of the result. For their efforts to be combined, they must all be assigned within one turn.
  • There is no minimum number of workers assigned to the action.
  • Assigning additional workers doesn’t guarantee success, it only improves ones chances. The action doesn’t require more than one worker.

Tiny Epic Galaxies

In Tiny Epic Galaxies, ships can be placed to orbit a planet and remain there until the planet has been won (through commerce or by concord), in which case all orbiting ships return to their home galaxies or until the player gives up and uses an action to move the ship somewhere else.

What’s Similar

  • A worker (in this case a ship) can be assigned to a task that takes multiple rounds to complete.
  • The worker remains in play at the action until the action is completed or the worker is called home.
  • The worker shows progress toward completing the action.

What’s Different

  • Additional workers can’t be used to combine their strength and reduce the time it takes to complete the action.

On the Edge

  • The action is really being performed by the dice allocation and the worker is primarily a resource. However, the time value of the worker is still spent on the action even if progress isn’t being made. This is a subtle difference from the base concept, but may be within the realm of the variation within the application of the mechanic. Maybe similar to when workers run out of resources and are idle until the resources arrive.

Euphoria

In Euhporia, there are two places where workers at the same action location are combined in some way: collecting commodities and building markets. At the commodities locations, the workers affect each other by their presence, but don’t really combine effort in the way I have described. However, the market places are more along the lines of this proposed mechanic. Several workers are required to build a market and workers assigned to that action remain in place until the job is done. (Though, the player has the option of returning them home early, there was a resource and time-value cost to putting them there that would be forfeited, so this is not likely to happen).

What’s Similar

  • Workers remain in place until the action is completed. In Euphoria, workers are generally not automatically returned home at the end of a round.

What’s Different

  • Although the workers do not need to be allocated in the same round, the action is completed when the required number of workers is allocated simultaneously. The time-value of workers is not included in calculating their contribution to completion. There is just a minimum of workers present (and resources spent) to complete the action.

On the Edge

  • Multiple players can allocate workers to the same action to share in the reward for completing the action.

Round 3: How Then?

There are many instances where this mechanic might be used – just as in the video game realm – building buildings, upgrading tech, etc. However, I would not suggest it for the case of making an additional worker. Though, some might enjoy trying.

What are the mechanisms necessary, then to employ this mechanic? (See that? “Mechanisms” and “Mechanics” are two different things. See my article on this topic, "Mechs vs Mechs: Mechanics or Mechanisms") Based on the example games discussed in Round 2, I think that most of the challenges of this mechanic: fiddliness, how to allocate workers, how to designate progress, etc. have already been met in at least some implementation. One aspect that I should clarify is providing a means of designating the worker time-value required to complete the action:

  • This can be as simple as spaces for the workers indicating the total effort required: 1, 2, 3, … Let’s use the example of an action that requires 3 worker-rounds to complete.
  • Workers are allocated like so:
    • In round 1, place the first worker on position 1.
    • If a second worker is allocated, place that worker on position 2.
      • At the end of the round, return one of the workers home.
    • If not, move the first (lone) worker to position 2 during the round start-up or worker placement phase.
    • In round 2, another worker could be allocated to position 3 to complete the action.
      • Then both workers can be returned home with the completed action.
    • If not, then the lone worker will have to remain in place for another round to complete the action.

Round 4: Workers Unite

So then, what to call this mechanic? I lead the article with “Many Hands Make Light Work,” which is descriptive, but not succinct and therefore not very convenient. Some other ideas: “Multi-worker Allocation”? “Worker Time Requirement”? “Worker Time-Value”?  Maybe there is a term already for it in the video game world, but I am not familiar with it.

Your Turn

Are you aware of a board game that exists today that uses this mechanic? Would you like to see this mechanic in a board game or would you use this mechanic in a game design? Why or why not? What would you call this mechanic?

Subject: 

Comments

It appears that a new game/import from TMG called Samara has some aspects of this mechanism. I will have to look out for it.