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Do we categorize mechanics too much? Trying to see if "Catan" is a hidden worker placement game

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Rick L
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I enjoy discussing and analyzing all things gaming - there's a lot that we can learn from each other! But sometimes we tend to trap ourselves in our own minds a little bit - we categorize things a lot to make it easier to discuss them, but that can sometimes box in our ideas and concepts, right?

The discussions of worker placement mechanics recently and my personal research of them over the past year or so have made me think hard on that topic as I've been developing elements in my own game project. So part of that process has led me to looking at some of the games I've played from different perspectives, trying to make sure my game feels unique even though parts of it were inspired by those other games.

I haven't played hundreds of games - I'm maybe at around 30 or so. I've never played a game with the "official" worker placement mechanic - that is to say, "action drafting", like Puerto Rico.

Or have I? I was thinking about it, and I think that Settlers of Catan could very well be a worker placement action drafting game - let me explain, then tell me if I'm going too far! This is more of a mental exercise - I don't really care what category everything fits into when I buy a game, I just want the overall experience to be worth the money spent and the time invested. But since we categorize and compartmentalize games and their mechanics for various reasons, it's worth it to me to look at games from different perspectives from time to time.

What if, when playing Catan, I substitute meeples in the place of settlements, and call them "farmers"? Then, instead of upgrading to a "city", you spend the same grain/ore resources (like a city) to place either a second meeple farmer, or maybe put a wagon token under the farmer to indicate that he can now produce 2 resources instead of one.

So now, I'm placing "workers", right? I am also preventing other players from placing workers on the same spot, as well as the 3 spots that are one space away from me on the hex map, right? So haven't I technically "drafted" those spots, since they are no longer available to anyone?

Does that make Catan a worker placement game? If not, why? Is it because you have to "build" your workers? Are there worker placement games that require workers to be hired, built, or bought?

Is it the fact that the workers don't take actions - they just sit there until triggered by a dice roll? Are there any worker placement games that require players to provide something for the workers before they produce or complete an action?

Is it the fact that the workers don't move from turn to turn, as they should be moved, like in Puerto Rico? Are there worker placement games where the workers remain in place permanently? I know in Manhattan Project that workers can stay in place for several turns, until the player is ready to move them, right?

Is it the fact that the "corners" of the land hexes don't really represent "actions" to take? Because all I do when I place a worker there is wait for a dice roll to tell me to collect resources from that area - is that an "action" or isn't it?

What requirements qualify a game as an action-worker placement game? What disqualifies Catan from fitting that category?

Remember, I'm only posting this as a mental exercise - I'm not trying to officially redefine Catan, I'm just experimenting with the edges of the boxes that we tend to place around our game mechanics, and I'm interested to see what others have to say about it, and the flaws and merits that you find in my post.

So have at it!

ssm
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For me it is 'chicken or egg'

For me it is 'chicken or egg' situation.
I think it is fine to think of it the way you do, many others do.
I look at it as it has a number of elements of 'eurogames', but is different. It is like the creators blended a bunch of stuff together and came up with partial systems/mechanics that work well...OR...the creators put it out, and users took mechanics and fleshed them out to make a game of that mechanic, then made games featuring a bunch of these mechanics that all function together cohesively, as separate games within a big game.

I feel that settlements were chosen over people because of the implied size of the space.
I can imagine if people were used instead, there would have been blowback of something like- 'Why no battles? A person is supposed to occupy that land alone?'. Settlements can't fight settlements, people fight people. Settlements mean there can't be war. (I have no idea if war has been added at some point, only played the base version.)

Rick L
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This might be something that

This might be something that has been discussed before - sorry if it's one of those "dead horses"! It was something that came to mind the other day, and I was kind of bored today, so I decided to put all my thoughts on the forum.

It makes sense that a designer would look at the game and reason it out like @ssm surmised - the scale of the map sort of "asks for" settlements, not individual farmers, like in Carcasonne. But that's a theme choice, not a choice of mechanic.

Many games do blend various mechanics, of course - but I'm not sure exactly where Catan sits in the evolution of the Eurogame. While it's a pretty key game in the arise of popularity of Eurogames, I'm not sure what else was there before it to "borrow" from - I thought it was a pretty original game for its time, not a blend of other things that came before.

questccg
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Hmm... That's a very good point!

@ssm: are you saying they are settlements because the designer DID NOT want to have a "combat" mechanic added to the game (in this case Catan)???

That's pretty astute of you! It makes a lot of sense that if settlements were actual workers (or Farmers), then there could be room for "combat"... Something that the designers probably did A> Not want or B> Did not think of.

If it's Option B, well that makes for an interesting VARIANT of the game!

Could someone take Catan and transform it into a more "conflictual" game... For some reason, I think someone might have already designed such a game (Not sure).

http://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/heroes-capitols

Someone more familiar with Catan can tell me IF this is "kind of" what you might be talking about with "People/Farmers"...

Cheers.

ssm
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I don't see it as 'astute'. I

I don't see it as 'astute'. I see it as a game designed by a family in northern europe, for families to play together.

Most families don't usually come up with violence.
Most in north europe oppose war.

I see it as an economic/whatever/whatever game, that has elements of society. I really tend to see it as a way to teach children several lessons that they will learn in society, but taught in a positive way.

BHFuturist
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Wonderful Topic

Rick L wrote:
What if, when playing Catan, I substitute meeples in the place of settlements... Does that make Catan a worker placement game? If not, why?

Here are my 2 cents but I could be wrong...

A game in the most basic sense is an action or set of actions taken by players with or without components within the framework of a set of rules to form an outcome that is not known until that action or set of actions is completed by the player(s).

The very basic anatomy of a game in a simple form:

  • Rules (mandatory)
  • Player Action (mandatory)
  • Unknown Outcome (mandatory)
  • Components (optional)

The way I see it when any of the things above are mixed together to form a specific part of a game we call it a mechanic or mechanism. The truth is, every single unit of anything in a game whether a rule or a component is a mechanism of the game. I don't feel that any mechanism can be anything but abstract in and of itself. The reason this topic is more complicated is the words mechanism and mechanic are many times used for both the parts and the mixtures found in games.

Anytime we are talking about mechanisms in games, to me, they are devoid of theme or are independent of a theme.

When we add theme we do it for two main reasons. First, so we can have names for things in games and those names are used so we can talk about the subjects more easily. These names are imposed purely out of our human need to be specific and differentiate one use of a mechanism from another. Second, we add the theme from our human need for interest and intrigue.

As I have said in another thread "Worker Placement" is a theme designers have added to a very specific scale of tracking actions selection where the overall theme and scale of the actions supports the idea of individual units of abstracted workers. This can be a limited action selection where the first limitation is the number of workers a player has to use and/or how many may be placed on a single action selection by the players.

When we lump a bunch of mechanisms together and they become conceptually larger than the word we are using, we start to call them procedures, systems and the terms and definitions begin to vary more widely.

If we strip off every element of the theme in a game we are left with only the parts, many times this cripples the game and it is no longer fun at all, other times the game is still fun but only for those who like math, strategy, or some other more technical aspect of games. Even many games considered abstract have some very thin threads of theme, the way chess has “kings and queens”. This is not to say there are no themeless games in the world as there are a few out there.

In the case of Settlers of Catan, if we strip off every part of the theme we find that the settlements/cities/roads are not used by the player for the tracking of their action selection. Instead, we find that they are used to track the area control on the game board. Because they are used for this purpose, even if you themed them as “meeples”, rather than becoming “workers” use to show what actions players are taking, they instead become “settlers” who are being used to claim territories on the board. The way a component is used in the game helps to show the mechanical function it has. I would not consider Catan to be a worker placement game. Without any theme, the game becomes an area control lite strategy game with elements of luck mixed in.

Components use for tracking, sits up in one of the top tiers of mechanisms found in games from a hierarchy standpoint. What is being tracked and the why/how the player can manipulate what is being tracked are the thematic foundation layers of many games. The “father” mechanic is just number or state tracking and the children mechanics are action tracking, area control tracking, or health/stat tracking and so on based on the thematic reason for the tracking. In fact, even score tracking is either number or state-based tracking. This is seen as either a number of points and/or a win/lose boolean value for the end state of the game.

However, we should also understand that games are not all that simple to implement in new ways and can encompass much more than just the sum total of a game’s parts. In another sense, games are experiences either had alone or shared with others. There are ideas, feeling, and relative concepts thrown in such as fun, excitement, and challenge that are much harder to nail down.

As always, this is just intended as "food for thought".

@BHFuturist

Rick L
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Blurring the boundaries

I realize that I'm not just trying to think outside of a box, but I'm kind of blurring the boundaries of definitions of our terminology, which may or may not be a useful thing. It's still an interesting thought experiment for me, and I enjoy reading everyone's responses.

So here's one - as BHFuturist said, Catan is about area control - at least in the settlement building aspect. So, does that mean that area control could be just a form of action drafting? I'm occupying a space that no one else can use, so that I may collect resources from it.

larienna
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You managed to point out the

You managed to point out the various modifications you could do to worker placement to make new mechanics

As for settlers of catan:

Is it because you have to "build" your workers?

Workers are a resource. It a bit weird to spend resources to use resources.

Is it the fact that the workers don't take actions - they just sit there until triggered by a dice roll?

That can be acceptable, I would see having a worker placement game where the outcome is not immediate.

Is it the fact that the workers don't move from turn to turn, as they should be moved, like in Puerto Rico?

The fact settlements are permanent is another good reason for not being a worker placement game. Remaining somewhere more than 1 turn is fine. But if you are stuck there for the rest of the game, it fishy.

Carcassonne is another confusing example of placing people on the board tiles permanentlly, while not really being a worker placement game.

Is it the fact that the "corners" of the land hexes don't really represent "actions" to take?

Catan and carcassonne place a good importance on geographic positionning. While worker placement is somewhat about chosing a limited set of actions. Here is 10 actions, but chose only 3. There is no geographic positionning in a list of actions. The result of an action can have a position.

Finally, I would say that most of the time, worker placement are illogical with the theme. Most of the time because I did action A so you cannot do action A. I only have 1 worker placement game "Leonardo da vinci" in my closet, because it the only one I found that makes senses. But most worker placement fans don't like this game.

BenMora
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This is a fun exercise!I

This is a fun exercise!

I think the lines are pretty grey. If you stretch enough you could easily argue that Monopoly is a worker placement game where you have to roll dice to determine which action spot you can place your worker on.

Clue could then be a worker placement game. The rooms represent the actions, the action being making a guess in that room, but you just have to roll dice to have your worker reach the room.

All stretching aside, I would actually argue that Puerto Rico is *not* a worker placement game. Even though thematically you are "placing workers," the workers are really just binary switches on your tableau. They indicate whether the building is on or off. A worker being on the building isn't what triggers you doing something, it's something completely unrelated and even at a different moment than when the worker was placed that you get the benefit of the building.
Example: The building that allows you to gain +1 Plantation during the Settler Phase: Placing a worker on that building does not get you this benefit. It's the action of someone playing the Settler role that allows you this benefit.

A worker placement game is built upon an action drafting game. All worker placement games are action drafting games, but not all action drafting games are worker placement games.

I think the most important factor is that any of your workers should in theory be able to do any of the possible actions, whether at any given moment, or at least at some point in the game. In Catan, your "workers" are not capable of doing anything new the entire game, and I would argue that unlike most worker placement games, you don't stop anyone else from doing the same things because there can be potentially 3 players on any 1 hex.

Rick L
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BenMora wrote:This is a fun

BenMora wrote:
This is a fun exercise!

I think the lines are pretty grey. If you stretch enough you could easily argue that Monopoly is a worker placement game where you have to roll dice to determine which action spot you can place your worker on.

Clue could then be a worker placement game. The rooms represent the actions, the action being making a guess in that room, but you just have to roll dice to have your worker reach the room.

All stretching aside, I would actually argue that Puerto Rico is *not* a worker placement game. Even though thematically you are "placing workers," the workers are really just binary switches on your tableau. They indicate whether the building is on or off. A worker being on the building isn't what triggers you doing something, it's something completely unrelated and even at a different moment than when the worker was placed that you get the benefit of the building.
Example: The building that allows you to gain +1 Plantation during the Settler Phase: Placing a worker on that building does not get you this benefit. It's the action of someone playing the Settler role that allows you this benefit.

A worker placement game is built upon an action drafting game. All worker placement games are action drafting games, but not all action drafting games are worker placement games.

I think the most important factor is that any of your workers should in theory be able to do any of the possible actions, whether at any given moment, or at least at some point in the game. In Catan, your "workers" are not capable of doing anything new the entire game, and I would argue that unlike most worker placement games, you don't stop anyone else from doing the same things because there can be potentially 3 players on any 1 hex.

Great observations about some older games that tend to get overlooked! Part of why I started this exercise and this thread was to try to get past the big focus on specific mechanics, not to intentionally blur the lines more than necessary. There just seems to be such a focus on "this mechanic or that" these days, when it's really your overall "experience" from playing that determines whether it's fun or not.

So I started thinking of certain game mechanics from different points of view, and then it dawned on me that it might actually be your point of view that defines the particular mechanics after all!

To go with what Ben said above about the hexes in Catan - if your point of view is that each hex has 3 possible building locations (leaving the mandatory 2 spaces from the rules), he's right - taking one space doesn't "draft" that option from other players, since there are still 2 more spaces. But from my point of view, it's not a single hex that defines a "space", but the intersection with 1 or 2 other hexes. In that case, each corner is a very unique space that can generate a specific combination of resources from the 2 or 3 adjoining hexes, and by taking that space, you are "drafting" it - keeping it for yourself and making it unavailable to others.

I would also point out that not all worker placement games are action drafting. If each player has their own board of actions to choose, then placing a worker to select an action doesn't "draft" it - meaning it doesn't become yours exclusively. Other players can take the same action by selecting it on their own boards. So this is "action selection", but you are using the "placement of workers" to indicate your actions.

This is something I posted about in another thread, as well as on BGG, because my game project uses this concept for resource generation and for building items. If I'm not wrong, this is also basically the way player boards work in Scythe too, isn't it?

Anyway, the semantics of the term "Worker Placement" tends to include "Action Drafting", but that bothers me because it makes it difficult for me to describe my own game. Players place their workers each turn, but it's not "Worker Placement" because there's no action drafting, just action selection. So you can see why I balk a little at having to label all the mechanics of a game! When I put it up on Tabletopia, they want me to list the types of mechanics that the game uses... same with BGG. I know that it helps to give people an idea of gameplay, but it can also end up giving a misleading idea, or turn people off to a game that they otherwise might enjoy, just because a certain mechanic gets mentioned. Or on the flip side, people might buy it with certain expectations based on the mechanics, and find themselves disappointed.

BenMora
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I would still suggest that if

I would still suggest that if the action selection (whether drafting or not) is completely independent of other players, it is not actually a worker-placement game, even if you are putting tokens on the action, and even thematically those tokens are "workers."

Exhibit A: Pandemic: If you had markers and placed them on your action reference to show which actions you take, would that make it a worker-placement game? I would say no.

Exhibit B: Takenoko: You actually have markers to place on the actions you choose, AND you can't take the same action twice. Is this a worker-placement mechanic? I would still say no. IF the game did not allow you to take an action that was covered up on someone else's action sheet, THEN I would say it's a worker-placement game, albeit one that would need the improvement of everyone sharing 1 action sheet instead of having to cross-reference everyone's.

Rick L
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As it stands, yes, that is

As it stands, yes, that is the accepted understanding of what the term "Worker Placement" defines. It's ​a more "user friendly" term than "action drafting", so I guess that's why it's been adopted as a preferred term. It's kind of inconvenient for me, because I have to find a different way to describe the "placement of workers" in my game, but maybe that's a good thing - maybe since it doesn't quite fit the category, it can be seen as more "unique", and maybe that would help it stand out better.

Well I know I'm not going to be able to change the way people define worker placement, since it's already too established, but I do think that the underlying drafting of actions, or "claiming" of actions, has similarities​ to any type of claiming of territories or areas or spaces on a common board or map. Not the same exactly, but similar for sure.

Isn't it? I could be way off - like I said, just exercising my brain with this!

Now gonna go test something on my "golem-placement-and-animating-resource-gathering/apprentice-build-tracking/combat-challenging/sabotage/press-your-luck-alchemy game!

BenMora
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Rick L wrote:As it stands,

Rick L wrote:
As it stands, yes, that is the accepted understanding of what the term "Worker Placement" defines. It's ​a more "user friendly" term than "action drafting", so I guess that's why it's been adopted as a preferred term.

I still think it's not totally interchangeable. Not all action drafting games are worker placement.

Rick L wrote:
Now gonna go test something on my "golem-placement-and-animating-resource-gathering/apprentice-build-tracking/combat-challenging/sabotage/press-your-luck-alchemy game!

Nice! :)

Another thought, some games might technically HAVE a worker-placement mechanic, but I would dare say should NOT be considered worker-placement games. That leads to another point that perhaps whether any given mechanic is the primary mechanic or point of the game may somehow relate (whether directly or coincidentally) to whether it should be called that mechanic at all.

Star Wars Rebellion has a worker-placement mechanic, but I would personally NOT ever call it a worker-placement game. While I do agree that it has worker-placement, I simultaneously would say that it simply does not itch the part of me that loves worker placement games.

Rick L
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BenMora wrote:Another

BenMora wrote:

Another thought, some games might technically HAVE a worker-placement mechanic, but I would dare say should NOT be considered worker-placement games. That leads to another point that perhaps whether any given mechanic is the primary mechanic or point of the game may somehow relate (whether directly or coincidentally) to whether it should be called that mechanic at all.

Star Wars Rebellion has a worker-placement mechanic, but I would personally NOT ever call it a worker-placement game. While I do agree that it has worker-placement, I simultaneously would say that it simply does not itch the part of me that loves worker placement games.

My cousin plays Star Wars Rebellion - I'll call him to ask about that. Sounds like a cool game, but you got me interested in the worker mechanic, since it sounds like it goes along with the exercise of this thread - which is basically taking a different perspective on mechanics that might blur the lines.

BenMora
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Rick L wrote:BenMora

Rick L wrote:
My cousin plays Star Wars Rebellion - I'll call him to ask about that. Sounds like a cool game, but you got me interested in the worker mechanic, since it sounds like it goes along with the exercise of this thread - which is basically taking a different perspective on mechanics that might blur the lines.

Yes, even though I say it doesn't itch the need for worker-placement in my life (probably my favorite mechanic), I do LOVE Star Wars Rebellion! :D

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