Published on January 27th, 2014 | by Nicole Jekich3
Worker Placement Lite: Spyrium
Bet, Buy and Build an Industrial Age
This worker placement game takes place in a parallel 18th century and players are influential businessmen and businesswomen looking to capitalize on the industrial revolution fueled by the discovery of Spyrium: a neon-green, multi-faceted energy source. Spyrium is a Euro-style worker placement and auction game that is more approachable by casual gamers than many other games of the genre. For those new to the genre who are interested in venturing into the realm of Euro games, I highly recommend beginning with Spyrium.
To start, Spyrium isn’t made up of one giant, intimidating board with unknown symbols and iconography. Instead the play area features one medium sized board used for victory point tracking and phase markers; and the other one is a bidding area which is made up of nine tiles. That bidding space is modular and is built from 9 random tiles and markers which are pulled out of grab bags kept at the side of the table. My favorite pieces of Spyrium are in fact the mini-Kryptonite rock pieces used to represent Spyrium. All the remaining pieces are tha Eurogame staple of meeples, wooden pieces and cardboard chits. The art style on the tiles, cards and board features steampunk inspired designs with Edwardian motiffs, gears and wrought iron. Now that you are envisioning a world of steam, rust and gears- get ready to play!
Players pick a color, grab some money and prepare a space in front of them to grow their business. As in most worker placement games, players will participate by placing one meeple on the board at a time in turn order until everyone has finished their actions. These meeple placements will help determine what actions, buildings and patents are up for sale on a players turn and are more expensive the more meeples that are around that product of interest. Patents are green-colored cards that give players direction as patents offers bonus points for collecting things or offers incentives towards a certain play style such as encouraging a player to build more buildings by making those buildings cheaper. Buildings are cards which take workers but produce a product for the player like Spyrium, money or additional workers which will help grow the business and increase a player’s victory point total.
Many worker placement games that I have played in the past had turns and rounds that took way too long because there weren’t enough restrictions on what actions to take. In Spyrium, players are just placing meeples and removing meeples and there isn’t a more complicated action than that. The resulting purchase and decisions will help grow a player’s business and Spyrium collection. Best of all, the game consists of just six rounds before you determine the winner!
I remained skeptical of Spyrium from the first turn of my first game. It was about halfway through my first game when I started to realize that there is not a ‘most optimal strategy’ for this game because what cards and abilities are the best changes from game to game. Since the tiles are always randomly selected the games will always be different. Spyrium was the first worker placement game that I have ever won and that was a really important win to me because I followed a strategy that I found to be the best for me and my situations. It is very rare in worker placement games that I find a ‘winning strategy’. I think that Spyrium feels this way because it is easier to formulate a strategy for game with limited options and a game that takes less time to play. After playing Agricola’s FOURTEEN grueling rounds of farming, I was lost– I didn’t have a great farm and couldn’t focus on keeping to a single strategy for all that time. Spyrium is a much shorter game than Agricola, it allows new players to wade into complicated strategy and players are willing to take more risks with different strategies because of the lesser amount of time investment.
Spyrium’s goal must have been to make a less complicated Eurogame; however, I feel that much of the theme was sacrificed. Beyond the glowing, green pieces of Spyrium and expanding large, chugging factories there doesn’t seem to be much interaction with the steampunk or industrialization theme set out by the game. The placement and bid system uses the workers as labor, the patents improve the business and the buildings expand the businesses; which makes Spyrium a bit dry and secluded from interacting with other players. For worker placement games that really embrace a theme I generally stick with Euphoria and Bora Bora. Spyrium may not be the best execution of a worker placement game; however Spyrium has proved to be an important gateway game option for those looking to dabble into more complex board game play.