The rise of so called worker placement games has been meteoric. Typically originating from Germany, though now increasingly so from across the pond, these games focus on controlling resources and budget management. With never enough time, wood or wool to quite do everything you’d like to, the pleasure comes from the constant plate spinning and denying opponents the resources to achieve their goals.
The grand-daddy of this genre is Agricola, which tasks rival family groups with farming crops and breeding livestock whilst upgrading their wooden huts into a more palatial stone hut. On the face of it, it’s quite simple fare and under its fluffy exterior lies a deep and rewarding game experience. So far, so agricultural, though the biggest challenge facing travelling gamers is its bulk - this game physically weighs in at well over 2kg.
I’ll be focussing in this review on a tightly packaged slimmer cousin of Agricola. Whereas this weighty tome is the John Deere of farming implements, sometimes you only need a trowel.
Enter Province. Originally starting life as a Kickstarter from the American firm Laboratory, it’s now available for around £11 delivered from their website.
Two players vie for power in a small provincial market town, hiring workers, generating revenue and establishing buildings that grant various powers for later turns. Victory points are the currency of success, and are gained from buildings and a random mix of 5 victory point goals that add an element of luck to proceedings.
What's it like to play?
Takes around 20-25 minutes to run through, and probably suitable for gamers aged 10+. Perfect for getting out after dinner, but don't be surprised if one game turns into a best of three.
Here’s a good overview of the game rules from the makers.
What do you get for your money?
In terms of footprint, this game is tiny. All the bits fit easily into a 4 inch square ziplock bag, and as a result can be easily stuck in a pocket, and taken along for a pub lunch.
For such a small package there are a good number of quality hardboard pieces (representing workers, money and buildings) and a square board representing the village in which you’re operating.
On your turn, you generate labour and coins which you need to erect a building. You do this by cycling the workers on the game board (two spaces generate labour and one space generates coins). Labour is lost if unused, but coins carry over from turn to turn.
This provides the basis of the game's clever hook ... generate labour by all means, but you may leave workers open for your opponent to generate coins in their next turn. Getting 'just enough' to achieve that turns' goal, whilst denying resource to your opponent is key to unlocking victory.
Both players can build a building to gain access to its benefits, but only the first player to build it will get the victory points required to win. As such, it’s worth pursuing alternative strategies than your opponent.
The random victory point goals also add a slice of luck to the game, with only one known at any one time. These range from 'have access to x workers', to 'spend 4 coins in one turn'. Bagging 3 or more of these will often be the key to victory. Securing them may stretch you in other areas, so it’s a good risk/reward play.
For around £11 delivered, this is a high quality well thought out strategy game. There's really no reason it shouldn't be in your holiday bag, and given the footprint lends itself well to being played in an airport lounge.