Men At Work is the latest dexterity based stacking game from Pretzel Games. Designed by Rita Modl, featuring art from Bernard Bittler and Chris Quilliams, the game sees 2 – 5 players organising, wait for it, men at work. With girders, workers, beams and bricks to balance this isn’t exactly the safest construction site, at least not for the 30 minutes players are in charge. However, will players want to win Worker of the Month or does the game come crashing down? Let’s find out!
While there are three ways to setup the game, by default one player puts down three support blocks. One girder of the four different colours is then balanced between the supports – with a single worker then placed on a girder. Piles of girders, beams, bricks, workers and tokens are then piled within reach. The stack of cards is shuffled with a special Rita card added in approximately a third into the deck. This deck is then placed face down within reach. Each player then takes 3 safety certificates, effectively their three lives.
On a turn a player turns over the top card of the instruction deck. The back of the next card and the front of the card just turned combine. The back of the card features either a girder or hard hat symbol – with coloured girders or gloves respectively. This main symbol tells players which half of the face up card they must follow. This will see the player either placing a girder, of one of the depicted girder colours, or placing a worker onto a girder, which must be one of the glove colours. Regardless of what is being placed players can only use one hand. Plus, players cannot nudge or move anything already placed with their hands – though via a component in their hand is fine.
To make things interesting the text on the face up cards adds extra challenges. This could be transporting a brick, where the player must balance a brick piece on the worker or girder when placing. Another “Strong Worker” means the player must balance the girder on the arm of an already placed worker. None are exactly easy but some are situationally incredibly hard. Sounding simple is to touch the highest girder – which is easy until it is precariously balanced.
If at any point you cause materials of any kind to fall and hit the table, collide with workers or leave something balanced on a workers hard hat, the safety of the site is compromised. Whomever caused this loses one of their safety certificates, with the following player left to clear up the site, before taking their turn. Note that if more collapses during this clean up the player cleaning also loses a safety certificate. Whenever a player loses their third safety certificate they are knocked out of the game.
When the special Rita card is revealed, from the instruction deck, it is placed to one side and Worker of the Month awards become earnable. After this point, whenever a player manages to place something onto the construction site that becomes the highest element they get an award. To win a player needs to either collect a number of the Worker of the Month awards, the amount determined by the player count, or be the last player with safety certificates.
Unsurprisingly for a game from Pretzel Games the components are strong. The colourful wooden beams are large and robust. Coming with enough weight to make them easy to balance one minute but easy to crash down the next. The workers themselves, with their detachable hard hats are awesome – and balancing on them feels special. Even the way both sides of the cards are used feels well thought out, and a great use of a component.
Coming with three unique ways to start the game off is an ingenious way to keep the game feeling fresher for longer. Moving from a table to starting on the box insert ramps up the difficulty. Whereas starting with the crane in play sees unique balancing opportunities available. Better yet, it is possible to combine the skyscraper and crane variants together to see some crazy construction sites. Playing a few games in a row on a table can make the experience can feel a little samey. So, the inclusion of these variants, to spice things up, really improves the replayability.
The cause of the samey vibes is one of the reasons the game is so streamlined. The deck that determines what a player must do is ideal for keeping the game flowing and the objectives clear. However, some extra variety would have been great – despite there already being many different things that could come up. One limiting factor is that in the rules the workers must have both feet touching a girder – but having some planking, handstanding, etc. would have been a minor addition with not much extra rules explanation. The game is almost crying out for a couple user created instruction cards.
The skyscraper mode is surprisingly significantly harder than the others, with the plastic insert not providing much grip for the girders. Even the slightest knock and the base girders shift about, with no supports to hold them in place. As a result of this the skyscraper mode seems to cause the biggest explosions of pieces when the structure inevitably comes crashing down – all in one big chain reaction. This isn’t to say hard hats and more won’t zoom across the table when using the crane or just the table. It seems to be an extremely unsafe construction site no matter the starting conditions.
Going into Men at Work it had a lot of pressure on it to perform as Junk Art, a previous dexterity tile from the same publisher, still hits my gaming table regularly. Despite this almost unwanted pressure Men at Work has thoroughly entertained everyone at the table – though partially due to my inability to balance anything. The replayability is significantly boosted by the extra starting scenarios, though there could be more ways to mix things up. Overall, a fun experience with solid production values. It just won’t hit the table as frequently as Junk Art – though from time to time the construction site will be revisited.
[Editor’s Note: Men at Work was provided to us by Asmodee for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £43.99. It is also available from local board game stores, find your local store here]