Everyone knows work can be hell. But in Demon Worker, published by Japanime Games, it’s the quite-literal Hell! In this review, I’ll be showing you how to set up and play, followed by my likes & dislikes, recommendations, and concluding thoughts on the game.
Overview/Object of the game
Demon Worker is a light strategic worker placement game of resource management for 3-4 demon powerbrokers. The aim of the game is to collect the most Evil Points (henceforth known as EP), earning you the presumably fiery title of Demon King!
In Demon Worker you and your fellow demonic frenemies take on the role of power brokers from the Demon Realm, hiring, paying, and sending capable demon underlings to various locations and carry out nefarious actions to obtain nefarious resources and further your nefarious goal. After five rounds, the player with the most Evil Points (EP) wins.
Gameplay revolves around spending and managing resources to amass more resources, and hiring more evil minions from your hand to collect even more resources, all in a bid to become the next Demon King.
Before getting into setting up and playing the game it’s probably best to know what you get in a copy of Demon Worker:
11 Work Area cards
8 Human Worker cards
40 Demon Worker cards
20 Planning Cards
Four Player Summary Sheets
36 Player Pieces in four colours (nine per colour)
One EP Scoreboard
30 Sacrifice tokens
20 Weapon tokens
10 Magical Stone tokens
Six ‘x5’ tokens
Four ‘50EP’ tokens
Four Turn Order tokens
One Round token
Place the 11 Work Area cards on the table in the order below, with the EP board next to them (for a 3-player game, do not include the Cemetery and Trash Dump cards in the setup).
Row Three: Cemetery, War Room, Trash Dump, Audience Room
Next, shuffle the deck of Planning cards and place it face-down near the EP board with space for a discard pile.
Organise the Sacrifice, Weapon, Magical Stone, and Food tokens into their respective piles and place them within reach of all players. Give each player a Summary card and wooden Player Pieces of matching colour. Place two Human Worker cards face-up in front of them and place one of that player’s wooden pieces on each of them to represent and track these workers.
Place one wooden Player Piece from each player on the ‘0’ space on the EP Board, and place the Round token on the ‘1’ space on the ‘Round Track’ part of the EP Board.
Shuffle and deal two cards from the Planning card deck to each player face-down (do not look at these yet). Shuffle the Demon Worker cards and deal six to each player face-down.
Give each player three Sacrifice tokens, two Weapon tokens, and one Magical Stone token.
The player who has been evil most recently takes the ‘I’ Turn Order token and will play first when the game begins. The remaining players will also take the ‘II’, ‘III’, and ‘IV’ Turn Order tokens in clockwise order from the first player.
The Interview Process
Meow if this is your first game, you’ll just keep your six Demon Worker cards and hire them from your hand as the game plays out. But if you have played before, then do the following:
Review your hand of six Demon Worker cards and keep one that you like. Call out “you’re hired!” as you place it face-down in front of you.
Pass your hand to the player on your left.
Continue steps 1 and 2 until you have a ‘hired’ six Demon Worker cards. These will be the cards you hire when playing the game.
Make Your Plans
Finally, you get to look at the two Planning cards you were dealt earlier! These will score you some big Evil Points if you can pay their listed number of resources at the end of the game. Simply choose one to keep, and discard the other face-up next to the Planning card deck. There will be options during the game to acquire more of these, so don’t worry too much about making the right/wrong choice right now.
Right. Now you’re ready to play Demon Worker!
A game of Demon Worker takes place over five rounds. Each round is divided into three phases: Supply Phase, Assignment Phase, and Clean-up Phase. Players will all play through a phase in turn order before continuing onto the following one.
Each player receives the resources and any EP shown on their Turn Order token. Any EP are scored and recorded on the EP Scoreboard immediately. This is a nice quick phase.
This is where the crunchiness of the game takes place. Players will act in turn order to place a single Demon Worker to various Work Area cards, until none remain and/or all players have passed. To do this, choose which Demon Worker to send forth, pick up the Player Piece that should be resting on that worker’s card, then place it on the Work Area card. Whenever you assign a worker, you gain the rewards from the special abilities listed on the Demon Worker sent first, then from the Work Area where it was placed.
And while nothing in life is free, you’re in luck: nothing is free in Hell either! Wait…OK maybe you’re not in luck there. My bad. So in order to send one of your Demon Workers to a Work Area card, you have to pay their Dispatch Cost. This can be found on the bottom-left area of every Demon Worker’s card.
But wait, there’s more! If there may be Additional Costs in certain situations. If there are one or more other workers there (even your workers), you will also have to pay two food tokens for each worker there. There might be an upside to this though: you’ll receive the rewards for any special ability on your placed Demon Worker’s card before you have to pay any costs or Additional Costs.
Two Work Area cards are exceptions to this rule: At the Trash Dump and the Audience Room Work Areas, you never have to pay Additional Costs (cue: segue into me explaining what the deal is with the Audience Room!).
For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into a full-detail description of all 11 Work Area cards. But for you, dear readers, I will give a quick overview.
You’ve got the first row of cards: Human Realm, Weapons Factory, Fairy Mine Mountain Range, and the Slime Farm. Placing a Demon Worker on any of these four Work Area cards will reward you with the resources listed on the card. No hidden costs or anything, just nice and straightforward.
The second row of three cards is a wee bit more involved: Evil Worship, War, and Increasing Power. These have additional costs printed on top-right corner of the card, but you get some better rewards out of sending your workers here (namely Evil Points).
Lastly, the third row. This includes Cemetery, War Room, Trash Dump, and Audience Room. The Cemetery and Trash Dump are uncomplicated. At the War Room, you draw two Planning Cards then choose one to keep and the other to discard (just like the end of the setup). You may also (optionally) carry out some trading of your resources here as many times as you like, as shown on the card. And last is the Audience Room. Remember those Demon Worker cards in your hand? This is the room where you are able to get them from your hand and onto the table.
Once you place one of your Demon Workers there, you simply pay the Summoning Cost shown just above the Dispatch Cost on the Demon Worker card in your hand that you wish to summon. Once you do that, you put it face-up next to your other workers. You’ll have to wait until the following round to use it as a worker, but for now it’s there.
If you can’t or don’t want to place a Demon Worker anywhere, you’ll have to pass, which means no more actions for you during this phase. Once everyone passes, this phase is over.
The last phase of a round, and it’s a quick one. Firstly, everyone collects their placed Player Pieces from the Work Area cards and places them back onto their Demon Worker cards. If they summoned any new Demon Workers this round, they will need to take Player Piece from their supply (one for each Demon Worker summoned), and place these on the cards of their newest recruits.
Next, everyone passes their Turn Order token to the next player in clockwise order, unless you just finished the fifth round. Then move the Round token to the next space on the Round track, and you are ready to begin a new round!
Unless you just finished the fifth round, in which case there are no more rounds!
End of Game
OK, so let’s say you just finished your fifth round. There are three more things to do before a winner is declared, and it will all come down to this…OK I was being dramatic. It also depends on how well/well-timed and efficiently you gained and hoarded those precious resources throughout the entire game, fine.
Anyhoo, the three things:
Summoned Demons: If you summoned five of your six Demon Workers from your hand (not including your starting Human Workers…those plebs…), you’ll score a bonus 5EP. But if you got all six onto the table, you’ll get a whopping 10EP!
Planning Cards: Or as I like to call them, the big payoff! If you pay the resources shown on one of your Planning Cards, you earn the EP shown on the card. You can do this for each of your Planning Cards gained over the course of the game. If you can’t, you simply don’t get the listed EP, no other penalties.
Paying Your Workers: If you can pay the Dispatch Cost shown on any/all of your summoned Demon Worker cards, you gain the EP value on the bottom-right corner of the card.
How you allocate your resources is entirely up to you. But if/when you exceed 50EP, simply grab a 50EP token, slip it under your Player Piece, and move them both on the score track back to ‘0’ to keep adding up those tasty Evil Points!
What I Liked
I really, really, enjoyed the gameplay of Demon Worker. Like a LOT more than I thought I was going to. The ‘cutesy’ art style of the character art on the Demon Worker Cards belies a well-balanced worker placement game, and it plays in around an hour. Most worker placement games take much longer than that!
There is an index in the rulebook for every single Demon Worker card that explains succinctly exactly what each of these cards does.
What I Didn’t Like
The first thing the rulebook tells you when setting up the game is to place the 11 Work Area Cards on the table “as shown above”. Frustratingly, the image shown above that is so small I can cover it with my thumb (or two five cent pieces). I checked out the size of the individual cards within this image: they were 6x8mm. That’s almost illegible, and way too small.
The box art immediately put me off. It’s a mishmash of nice quality background art coupled with character art that has been blown up to the point of becoming obviously pixelated. There’s also a very jarring gap in the art styles between the two, and they really don’t mesh.
While the rest of the game’s component quality was the good stuff, the same can’t be said of the player reference aids; printed on glossy paper and folded in half, they showed wear after only a couple of plays and they’re too wide to store unfolded to prevent further wear.
It’s only 3-4 players! Most games I tend to play end up being 2 players, sometimes 3, then less so 4. That makes things very specific when trying to get a game with this narrow a player count onto the table at the game night that has that number of people (and I could convince despite their being put-off by the box art).
First-timers: If you haven’t played worker placement games before, this would actually be a good starting point to get into them. This is light enough for newbies to pick up, but just deep enough to have them strategising over carefully-laid plans by the last round.
Family: The box says ‘ages 10+’, but I’m not sure this would hold the attention of a 10-year-old. My 12-year-old nephew who regularly plays hobby board games was able to grok it and it held his attention well, so I would think kiddos from about 12+ would be fine playing this.
Friends: Sometimes you want to play a worker placement game, but you want a bit of a lighter game. This is exactly the kind of game that fits the bill. It plays in about an hour with four players (and a little less with three), with a much faster set-up/pack-up time than your usual go-to worker placements like Everdell or Raiders of the North Sea.
OK let me start by saying that I found Demon Worker to be very enjoyable, despite my concerns about the box art and issues with setup in the rulebook. To me, it successfully trod the path of the worker placement game very nicely, carefully balancing ‘light strategy’ with ‘deep engagement’. The art can take some getting used to if you aren’t a big anime fan, but there is some solid gameplay in this little box. This will be hitting my table again.
BTW Disclaimer: I received this copy of Demon Worker for free from JapAnime Games.
View the BoardGameGeek link here.
View the JapAnime Games page here.
I hope you enjoyed reading my review! If you like it, feel free to leave a comment below!
Josh is a Sydney-based aspiring board game designer and is passionate about all things tabletop. He grew up on classic 90's cardboard like Magic: The Gathering and HeroQuest before discovering modern classics such as Catan, Carcassonne and Dominion. He now designs his own board games, and loves discussing & researching mechanics/themes/etc as much as he does experiencing the latest innovations in board gamery.