Calvin’s Commentaries: The Meeple Guild

When it comes to board games The Meeple Guild has not played many ‘worker placement’ games.

While Lords of Waterdeep found general acceptance – in part because of the theme, Stone Age left a rather bad taste. The mechanic worked fine – too well actually in the sense it mimicked the hardships of Stone Age life – but real life does not always make for an enjoyable gaming experience.

And, then there are times when focusing closely on real-life experiences on a game board makes for a fine time at the table.

That brings us to this week’s game Union Stockyards from designer Duane Wulf and artist Andrew Bosley and publisher Solid Rock Games.

The game is – as you have likely ascertained – a worker placement game.

Why this one works so well is that while of course a player always wishes he had more workers to place, at least here there is always a good place to go in game terms.

That can be a pitfall in worker placement games – like Stone Age – where certain spots to place workers seem to carry more weight game-wise. If you don’t get to the spot you can be in a bind.

Union Stockyards avoids that pitfall nicely.

With good options ranging from land purchase to building facilities, to acquiring livestock, you can do a lot with your limited workers.

The game initially looks complicated on the table but plays surprisingly smoothly once into it.

The game is made more enjoyable by mostly wooden pieces, with buildings large, chunky things that look awesome on the game board.

It helps too there is lots of real history interwoven here. The character cards are real people from the meat industry – like Swift.

The event cards drawn before each round are real events, like the Spanish flu epidemic which of course impacted workers at the time.

History was part of designer Wulf’s initial goals, who explained he wanted to create a non-random supply/demand-driven market that is central to gameplay, with a historical theme based on the great Union Stockyards in Chicago.

Certainly, the stockyards wouldn’t have been a spot I would have considered in terms of being a base for a game – but it does work well.

The game is also rather quick given its scope, which Wulf noted in an email. He said the game was “a relatively quick economic game that has a tight economy and an integrated historical theme. The scores are normally close, so small advantages in efficiency will win the game. Union Stockyards is easy to learn, so I can teach it to casual gamers, but still offers a depth of strategy for more serious gamers.”

So what does Wulf see as the best element of the game?

“You need to be responsive to the actions of other players,” he said. “You will be most successful if you specialize in something that other players are ignoring, but that can be quite challenging if other players are trying to do the same.”

In the process, Wulf said Union Stockyards is “a non-random supply-demand driven market that is central to winning the game.”

Ultimately with Union Stockyards, you get a great game.

While it is only January talk at The Meeple Guild game table after a recent play-through was that this one is an early candidate to be in our thoughts as a top-five game played in 2024. Yes there are a lot of weeks to go, and that means lots of games yet to be played but Union Stockyards was certainly a fine game experience.

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