Board Game Review: Men at Work

Balance and dexterity games are becoming more and more common, but for us at TGR that’s definitely not a bad thing. A mix of straightforward rules and gameplay simple enough for younger gamers to join in mean that most balance games go down well here, with some of our gaming friends and relatives being slightly less hardcore than others. Men at Work fits the bill perfectly: easy to learn, cards that can be read and understood by my 6 year old and a level of difficulty that means nobody is immune to screwing up and bringing a fledgling building site crumbling.

Men at Work is, as you might guess from the name, a game about a group of workmen putting a new building together. And before the wokest of the woke among you get irritated by the insinuation that only men can build stuff, it’s just a name, don’t worry. Building starts with three supports holding up three large girders, and a guy balancing on one of these coloured girders. From then players take it in turns to turn the next card over, and completing the actions outlined on the card. If things fall down you lose a safety certificate and it’s up to the next person along to tidy up your mess without causing any more chaos. Simple.

In practice, as you’l expect from a game like this, it’s anything but simple. Your building can end up incredibly complex and finely balanced, and even just a small nudge in the wrong place can send half the structure crashing to the table and throwing your entire workforce off the building and onto the ground below. That’s not going to impress the boss. You might end up with whole chunks of the structure balancing like a see-saw with the tiniest bit of support. You’ll have workers holding up parts of the building, trying to carry bricks or wooden beams around without dropping them, or standing precariously on the very end of a girder ready to tumble off with the smallest movement.

But it’s the way you’re told what to do that I found quite cool. You turn a card over from the top of the stack, which gives you a worker instruction and a girder instruction, but it’s the back of the next card along that tells you which instruction to follow. So the card you turn might tell you to place a worker near an edge, or position a girder which touches two others, but you also need to see the back of the next card which not only shows you which of those two to do, but also which colours to focus on as well. It’s a neat idea which gives more variety than just the cards alone, and a quick shuffle will give you a new set of instructions with different combinations of colours and which task to complete.

And as odd as this might sound, I definitely enjoyed the moments that everything collapsed. Because of the various ways you can put the building together, girders will spin round sending workers flying, the smallest little motion can end up causing a huge knock-on effect and just as you think everything has settled another small shift will cause another chunk of the game to collapse. The little hook you get to dig out the fallen items is a nice touch, but there’s only so much you can do – sometimes you just have to call it a day and work out who’s won.

There are a couple of other things you can do for added variety too; a crane can be added to the game to let you balance things against it for taller structures, and you can use the box insert itself as a base to give a more challenging and wonky start to the game. Neither are going to dramatically increase the amount of time you spend with the game, but it’s nice to have a couple of ways to vary the buildings a bit.

So while Men at Work could be seen as “just another balance game” (which it is, after all) the theme here is really nice and certainly helps to set it aside from other similar games. The small meeples with their safety helmets are really cool, the way each task is determined by combining two cards is a nice touch, and it’s most definitely family and small-people friendly. If you’re looking for a way into the dexterity games genre, or know it’s the kind of game you’ll like, then you should jump at this. If, however, you’ve already got a few balance games and think you’ve had your fill then this won’t do much to change your mind. A recommended game, but only if you haven’t already got dexterity-fatigue.

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