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Worker Unit
Under-appreciated and really useful.

Ready to work!
—Many Worker Units

The core of every Command And Conquer Economy, the Worker Unit is ubiquitous on the battlefields of most Real-Time Strategy games, and even some Turn-Based Strategy and 4X games. It primarily serves two functions:

  • Collecting Resources: This is usually done either by having the worker automatically cycle between a resource node and a particular structure, or by simply harvesting resources from a node without having to deliver them somewhere else. The latter method sometimes needs for a structure to be built on the resource node before harvesting can begin.
  • Constructing Buildings: This is either done by making a worker(or multiple workers) construct a building directly, meaning it can't do anything else until the building is finished (some games give you the option to put multiple workers on one project, allowing it to be completed faster), or by "summoning" a structure, which allows it to attend to other tasks while the building constructs itself. A third possibility is for the worker to "grow" into a building, with the unit getting consumed in the process.

Some games may have different worker units for each task, some may have the same unit do everything. Often, the worker will also have the ability to repair damaged structures and mechanical units. Usually, it'll be cheap, unarmed or weakly armed, and fairly easy to kill, though some may have the ability to turn into Instant Militia or jump inside Garrisonable Structures to defend themselves. The worker epitomizes the idea of Boring, but Practical, being an essential component of your forces in every game, despite usually not doing much/any fighting. If you lose your workers, and lose the building which makes them, you generally lose the game, unless you already have an absurdly powerful army compared to your opponent (which is unlikely if an Arbitrary Headcount Limit is in place). As such, due to their relative vulnerability and value, they make good targets for hit-and-run harassment tactics. Taking control of an enemy worker sometimes allows you to construct the enemy faction's structures and units.

Usually armed with a Magic Tool of some kind. Allows for Easy Logistics, by allowing tasks that are fairly complex in reality to be performed easily, thus making an Acceptable Break from Reality. Workers are usually included as Starting Units, or at least, can be built without having to research anything.


Examples:

  • Herzog Zwei is the Ur Example of this trope. The game introduced the creation and use of worker units to collect resources.
  • The Warcraft series: As of Warcraft 3, each faction has a distinctly different worker unit. All four primary workers(the Peon, Peasant, Wisp and Acolyte) can repair structures and mechanical units, harvest gold (by cycling in case of Peons & Peasants, or via magic in case of Wisps & Acolytes). All four can construct structures - directly in case of Peons & Peasants, through summoning in case of Acolytes, and through the 'growing' method in case of Wisps. All except the Acolyte can harvest lumber, while the Undead use their basic combat unit, the Ghoul, to harvest it. In emergencies Peasants can also be turned into emergency Militia to defend the base, while Wisps can explode to drain mana and damage summoned units nearby and Peons can garrison burrows.
    • A mercenary worker unit, the Goblin Shredder, is also available. It harvests lumber using the cycling method, but hauls in much larger loads than the standard workers. It's also a reasonable fighter, but using it as one is terribly inefficient due to its cost.
  • Starcraft: All workers use the standard cycling method of resource collection, but use different construction methods. Terran SCVs use direct construction, Protoss Probes use summoning, and Zerg Drones use the growing method. The SCV can also repair mechanical units, and the Drone can burrow to protect itself. In Starcraft 2, an additional temporary worker, the M.U.L.E is available to the Terrans, which harvests resources at a faster rate, but does nothing else.
  • Warzone 2100 has a 'truck' module that can be fitted to any ground-based chassis, as well as the combat engineer cyborg. Both are used to directly construct and repair buildings, and capture oil wells. Repairing units is done by another class of cyborgs/modules.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire: A space-based RTS, it has constructors, refinery ships and trade ships as workers, which construct orbital structures, help generate resources(via refineries) and help generate money(via trade ports) respectively. There are also colony ships, which establish colonies on unclaimed or newly-conquered planets. As of Entrenchment, there are also special worker ships specifically designed to construct Starbases.
  • The Age of Empires series: Villagers act as worker units here, using cycling to gather resources (except in III) and direct construction.
    • In Age of Mythology Greek and Egyptian workers function essentially the same, though only the Greeks are called villagers. Norse peasants only gather (dwarves are peasants that mine faster) while their basic infantry do most of the building, and the Atlantean citizens don't need to cycle while gathering.
  • Civilization: Workers build land improvements and transportation networks, while settlers are responsible for establishing cities. This distinction was introduced in the main Civilization sequence in Civ III; in the first two and all their Spin-Off games (save one), settlers handled both tasks.
    • We say "save one", because the distinction was actually introduced in Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri (transparently a much-modified Civ II spinoff). SMAC was actually the first Sid Meier game to split the improvement and city-building functions, with the improvement function taken by the Terraforming module ("Formers") that could be attached to any land or sea chassis (although some chassis are simply uneconomical) and the Colony Pod to build bases.
    • Additionally, pre-Civilization III games and SMAC all had a separate resource-collection unit: the Caravan in the main Civilization sequence and the Supply Crawler in SMAC. These brought resources from outside a city/base's harvest area to a city/base or transferred one city/base's production of a resource to another, without cycling. These were ditched in Civ III, but workers in that game were permitted to construct Colonies (permanent improvements) to harvest strategic resources outside your empire (strategic resources inside your empire were harvested automatically once you had a road through the square). IV and V scrap resource-collection units altogether, although both require constructing specific improvements in order to harvest a resource (e.g. a Farm to harvest Corn, a Mine to harvest Iron, a Pasture to harvest Horses...).
  • Rise of Nations: Workers are responsible for gathering resources through structures and constructing most, if not all, buildings.
  • Evil Genius: Construction workers, while serving as only Cannon Fodder in battles, are the only minions capable of building new rooms, and are the staple of any world domination plan.
  • Grim Grimoire: Has unique worker units for all four schools of magic. Besides collecting mana and building defense structures, each school's worker unit has an additional ability: Glamour's Elves can heal other units, Necromancy's Ghosts can perform a kamikaze for big damage, Sorcery's Imps can attack, and Alchemy's Blobs can slow enemies down.
  • Dune II used a Construction Yard, a building that was used to build the other buildings in the base a set radius from the Yard or another building. Resource gathering was handled by a unit called the Harvester. A vehicle called the Mobile Construction Vehicle or MCV could also be constructed, and could then deploy into a new Construction Yard at a new location.
    • Most Command & Conquer games used the same interface, with a few exceptions.
      • Command & Conquer: Generals: The GLA's construction unit also serves as the resource gatherer, and is the least efficient of all the factions.note  The American and Chinese armies use bulldozers for construction, and a different unit (the transport helicopter and truck respectively) to gather resources.
      • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3: The Prospector (Allies) and Ore Collector (Soviets and Empire, with different capabilities) move ore from ore mines to ore refineries. The Prospector also doubles as a constructor, since it can transform into a Command Hub and allow new buildings to be built nearby. The Soviets have a separate constructor type (the Sputnik) with the same transforming capabilities as the Prospector (the transformed form is called an Outpost). All of the Empire's buildings are unpacked from Nanocores.
      • Red Alert 2 also has different Ore Collectors for its factions. The Soviet collector is reinforced with extra armor and has a machinegun turret to defend against infantry and light armor. The Allied collector can teleport back to the ore processor after collecting ore but has to drive the normal way to the ore field. Yuri's faction, added in the expansion pack, has a Slave Miner, which is a mobile ore processor with mind-controlled slaves using shovels to dig ore.
  • Galactic Civilizations 2: Colony ships establish new colonies (being consumed in the process) and transfer population to pre-existing colonies (re-useable). Trade ships help earn credits by cycling between one of your planets and another race's planet along a fixed trade route, gaining bonuses when passing through the area of effect of an economic starbase. Space miners set up mining facilities in asteroid belts, slightly boosting the closest planets military and social production. Surveyors harvest spacial anomalies and act as scouts. And finally, constructors build or upgrade starbases, but get consumed in the process.
  • Advanced Strategic Command: Has a lot of these, depending on the unit set, of course. Different transports are required for ammo, fuel and construction materials that all runs out rather quickly. Field repair vehicles, to fix units without hauling them all the way to the factory. Generators to keep your mines and factories running when you don't have enough powerplants connected to them. Bulldozers to construct pipelines, bridges or runways for planes. Builder vehicles to create buildings and turret foundations. Resource prospectors to know where to build a mine or oil platform. Icebreakers. Almost anything requires a proper Worker Unit and some spent resources.
  • Globulation has worker, scout and fighter... uh... creatures. Without workers you cannot collect resources, and thus cannot do anything at all — even keeping units alive requires a worker collecting raw foodstuff and bringing it to an inn.
  • Dawn of War has a different worker unit for every race; all of them only construct and repair structures, resource gathering is handled autonomously by capturing points or building generators. Each one is also slightly different from the others. To wit:
    • The Space Marine Servitor has no special abilities whatsoever, but is one of the faster moving and more durable (read: least paper-mache armored) worker units, and can later make use of the Space Marine's Drop Pod ability to quickly redeploy.
    • The Chaos Heretic can burn its own HP to build faster.
    • The Eldar Bonesinger can fight (but isn't at all good at it), repairs vehicles and structures twice as fast and for less than a third the cost, can be upgraded to temporarily disable enemy structures it can reach, and most importantly, can teleport long distances, for example, to construct a Webway Gate behind enemy lines...
    • The Ork Gretchin come in large hordes that cost virtually nothing, have abysmal combat prowess, but move and build fast and can be upgraded to be invisible, even when repairing your tanks mid-battle.
    • The Imperial Guard Techpriest Enginseer is surprisingly durable and has some combat prowess. They also repair vehicles and structures four times as fast as other worker units, and can man the fairly powerful bunker weapons as well as a full squad of infantry, while costing much less and not taking up unit cap.
    • The Tau Earth Caste Builder ... has nothing special going for it, really.
    • The Necron Builder Scarabs are free (but slow to build) and travel in small squads. They are also the only Necron unit able of capturing control points, and their only detector (but also the best detector in the game).
    • The Dark Eldar Tortured Slave is the frailest of all worker units, but does not have to work on a built structure past starting it (but cannot speed up the construction by using multiple ones). They are also one of only two Dark Eldar units that can harvest souls, needed to fuel global abilities.
    • The Sisters of Battle Ecclesiarchal Servitor is pretty much a clone of the Space Marine one, but instead of Drop Podding it has the ability to deal considerable damage to enemy structures if unopposed.
    • Dawn of War 2 removed workers altogether, with light infantry and tech-based heroes filling in for repair and construction duties, while some other field structures have been relegated to global abilities.
  • This doesn't really effect gameplay at all, but the Iron Legion's Rifle Grunts in Battalion Wars spend their every waking off-duty hour happily digging in the Nerocite mines.
    • In the main Nintendo Wars series, your infantry generally fill the closest thing to a worker role by capturing cities and factories.
  • Battle Realms puts its own spin on the concept. While Peasants from all four clans use cycling and direct construction, they also form the backbone of the military in the game, as they use military buildings to upgrade themselves.
  • Mostly averted in Achron, all units of all three factions are able to fight, some of them are just capable of building as well, usually the infantry. Played straight for resources though, each race collects resources via resource processors that are completely useless for everything else.
  • Imps in both Dungeon Keeper games can mine out rooms, dig for gold and claim land, which coupled with their utter uselessness in combat makes them a textbook example.
  • Both sides in Total Annihilation had multiple construction units. There are construction robots, ground vehicles, aircraft, ships and hovercraft. This allows you to use different units to build in different terrains. On top of that, there are advanced versions of construction units that build advanced structures. One significant difference here is that these units do not perform routine resource collection. The construction units build dedicated structures to gather resources. They also have the option to reclaim map objects and wreckage, but this is on a per-object basis.
    • Spiritual Successor Supreme Commander simplifies that to three increasingly potent and expensive amphibious Engineers per side. The sequel further simplifies that to one per side, with more structures unlocked by research.
    • The Commander in TA and the ACU in the SC series are interesting variations, being Do Anything Robots. They do the first round of heavy lifting in most missions due to being the sole starting unit.
  • Colonization has few non-naval units that aren't supposed to work in a colony, but Pioneer does outdoor job - builds roads, plows fields and cleans forests.
  • Company of Heroes has engineer units. While they are capable of fighting, they're not especially good at it, with the lowest accuracy in the game. They're much better suited to building and repairing. However, they can get flamethrowers, which greatly increases their firepower.
  • In Sword of the Stars colony ships add population and infrastructure to planets, being consumed in the process, in addition to claiming worlds without imperial populations (either because it hasn't been colonized yet or someone nuked the previous occupants). Tankers refuel other ships, refineries refuel and produce new fuel. Mining ships extract resources from uninhabited systems and take them back home. And salvage ships repair damaged ships or reclaim resources from destroyed ones. The expansions introduce freighters that increase income through trade and constructors that build space stations.
  • Certain subsystems in Star Ruler can make a ship a dedicated worker unit, or a Military Mashup Machine. Ramscoops allow ships to generate their own fuel (which can be transferred automatically to nearby ships), ammo generators generate ammo, cargo bays allow ships to trade good between planets, repair lasers allow ships to repair each other, mining lasers allow ships to mine asteroids for ore which can then be further processed on-board via a variety of machining subsystems. Inductors and Inducers allow ships to speed up or slow down other ships, to catapult ships out of orbit very quickly or to slow down a ship low on fuel.
  • Battle Zone 1998 and its sequel have Scavengers, which are large utility vehicles which are described as "vacuum cleaners with engines" - the scavengers drive around, suck up bio-metal scrap, then go deposit it at the Recycler (or instantly add it to your scrap pool, in the sequel). Constructors build base structures such as gun towers and power plants. Tugs in both games can be used lift slow, heavy units off the ground and carry them over rough terrain or water very quickly, though they are rarely used outside of the singleplayer campaigns. All of the worker units can only be built at the irreplaceable Recycler, meaning that destroying the enemy Recycler will instantly win the mission.
  • Netstorm had no less than 7 rather varied worker units for resource collection (construction didn't require units), which your initial choice of temple would limit to 3 or 4 available (counting the always-buildable golems). On some maps, these could pick up spells and also double as the only fully-controllable offensive units (Netstorm was one of the earliest instances of a "tower versus tower" style of gameplay).
  • In the X-Universe series, Transport (Small) and Transport (Large) are the basic workers for the player's empire once it's sufficient built-up. TS class ships (both the player's and the NPC traders) ferry wares between factories, are the only way to mine Nividium, and are the generally the best way to pick up salvage after a large battle. TL class ships are the only way to build space stations, though it's possible to hire a NPC TL to construct your stations for you. Both classes of ships can be armed - and with TLs, often decently - so it's possible to turn them into an Instant Militia if needed.
  • Genjuu Ryodan has mana generator units where they gather mana for the player to summon units.
  • Machines Wired For War has an entire sub section of 'civilian' units. Dozers (building and repairing stuctures), Transporters (carrying raw materials to be processed), locators (find resources sites)and technicians (researching). More advanced versions need to be researched/stolen and built to climb the tech tree and create new buildings and units.
  • Populous: The Beginning: Had the braves who build, collect wood, repair and upgrade buildings, generate mana for your spells and can be trained to become specialist combat units. They could also fight but are usually beaten by every other unit type.

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