The Manhattan Project, by Brandon Tibbetts, is a highly interactive worker placement game in which players compete to create the most successful atomic weapons program. Players pursue this goal via the construction of facilities, direction and improvement of their workforce, gathering and refinement of resources, espionage, and even some good old fashion military operations! The player best able to manage all of these various factors will not only be victorious but also become death, the destroyer of worlds!
Players begin the Manhattan Project with a small amount of money, a mostly unskilled workforce, and a minimal air-force. Each game begins with the same six starting buildings available for purchase, although their position on the construction track and thus initial price is random. A seventh building is drawn off the top of the deck and placed in the last position, helping to further ensure a slightly different set-up each game and create greater re-playability. Next, bombs equal to one greater than the number of players are randomly drawn and placed face-up next to the board. These are the first set of bombs available to players. After completing this brief set up, play begins.
On a player’s turn he must choose one of two options before doing anything else:
A. Place Workers: Choosing this option means the player must perform the following in this order:
1. Choose whether or not to place a worker on the main board and immediately perform the corresponding action.
2. Place workers on buildings on his player board and immediately perform the corresponding action. The player may repeat this option as many times as he wishes or until he runs out of workers or available buildings.
3. A player selecting this action may also choose perform any number of bomb actions that he wishes:
- The player may construct a bomb from his hand by paying the appropriate resources and assigning the needed workers.
- The player may perform an implosion test by destroying a plutonium bomb that he had previously constructed, taking the highest remaining implosion test vp token, and gaining the higher amount of vps shown on all future plutonium bombs he constructs.
- The player may load a constructed bomb on one of his bombers by paying the money cost shown on the bomb and lowering his bomber track by one. This action is worth 5 vp and may only be performed once per bomb.
If a player chooses the place workers option he must place at least one worker during his turn.
B. Retrieve Workers: A player choosing this option follows the next three steps in order.
1. Return all of your permanent workers from the main board and other player boards to your personal supply.
2. Return all workers on your player board, bombs, implosion tests tokens to their appropriate supplies.
3. Return all contractors on the main board and in your personal supply to the general supply.
If a player chooses the retrieve workers option he must retrieve at least one worker or choose the place workers action.
These two options and their management drive the entire game. When and how players choose to place workers and how many of them, as well as when they choose to bring them home are among the most crucial decisions they will make. It is tempting for a player to simply place all the workers he can and then bring them home when he is out, but you have to consider what buildings this will open up to your opponent(s) particularly in regards to espionage.
While the construction of buildings and gathering of resources is a pretty standard feature of many modern board games, it is in the two key interactive elements (Air Strikes and Espionage) where The Manhattan Project shines and manages to carve out a niche all its own.
Players may build two different types of aircraft that may perform air strikes on any number of other players: Bombers and Fighters.
Fighters: When a player selects the Air Strike space on the main board he may sacrifice any number of fighter planes to destroy an equal number of opposing planes at a one for one exchange. The player may target the fighters, bombers, or any combination there of that he wishes of those belonging to opposing players.
Bombers: When a player selects the Air Strike action on the main board he may send those bombers on bombing runs against other player’s facilities if that player does not have any fighters on his track. The player may then place one damage marker on a building for each bomber he chooses to sacrifice. Workers may not be assigned to a building with damage markers until it has been repaired.
When a player selects the espionage action on the main board he may, for the remainder of the turn placer a number of workers equal to his current rating on the espionage track on other player’s buildings and immediately perform the related action.
It is by giving players the ability to damage or make use of buildings constructed by other players that adds a whole new dimension to the worker placement genre. Instead of focusing on simply creating the most lean efficiency engine, players must now consider the espionage options being made available to other players when they construct a new building or whether they will be able to defend a crucial building from air strikes if it is too tempting of a target. Adding these considerations to the decision-making process greatly adds to the excitement of The Manhattan Project.
The game continues until a player acquires the required number of victory points to win based on the number of players.
If The Manhattan Project were merely a standard worker placement game about gathering resources and constructing buildings it would still be a very good game. However, the addition of Air Strikes and Espionage create a unique experience that has earned it a place in my collection. Despite my limited number of plays, four as of this review, I feel confident giving it a rating of 8.0 which will land it solidly in my Top 50 Games when I update the list at month’s end. I could foresee this rating potentially increasing with more plays, as I am a big fan of what The Manhattan Project has to offer.
Among the many things that The Manhattan Project does right, besides the aforementioned interactivity, are to capture the theme of the early nuclear age both mechanically and aesthetically. It succeeds in this mechanically through the training and expansion of one’s workforce, the facilities constructed, the resources gathered (yellow cake/uranium/plutonium), and the bombs that the players build. It accomplishes this aesthetically with the artistic style used in every part of the game. It has a very 40’s-50’s nationalistic vibe to it that really helps one get into the spirit of the game. While there is only one true path to victory, the construction of bombs, there are a number of ways that one may approach this goal. One can seek air superiority to keep the opposition down, engage heavily in espionage to use and block your opponents buildings, acquire large sums of money as to purchase the best buildings when they first enter the row, take a balance approach, or focus purely on the most efficient resource acquisition and bomb production possible while hoping the other player(s) are unable to derail you in time. I suppose it is fair to say that there is only one path to victory, but many ways to travel it.
While I fully admit to being a fan of The Manhattan Project, there are a few things that prevent me from rating it higher, for now, and some that may concern a certain segment of the gaming community. My biggest objection was that I did not find it to be particularly strategic. Yes, there are the obvious base strategies above that I described, but many of these options can be greatly affected by what buildings come out and when. Given that this is a random effect, a player must react to what is happening rather than be the creator of what is happening. Sure you can do whatever you want, but without access to the right buildings, over which you have limited control, it is unlikely that you be able to effectively pursue your contrarian strategy. While I am not opposed to highly tactical games, some are among my favorites, I do prefer more a little control over my plan from the outset of a game rather than having it dictated to me by circumstance. Another issue that some players may struggle with is something that I have praised, the high level of player interaction. The Manhattan Project could not be further from multi-player solitaire and if that is something that you are uncomfortable with you may want to skip this one. Personally I love it, but there are a number of gamers out there that dislike games wherein the other players may directly thwart their plans and there is not doubt that The Manhattan Project is full of this sort of activity. Lastly, I fear there is opportunity for a great deal of king making or vendetta tactics to take place in this game. While I have not personally experienced this, an angry player could easily set out to keep one player down through use of his air-force or be faced with situations where his action will result in one player or the other to win while not being in the mix himself. I know that the first one is not necessarily the game’s fault and may mean that you need new friends, but these things do crop up an there is definitely a chance for it to happen. As for second one, it is difficult to avoid in common goal multi-player games. If I am behind and need bombs but the leader will win if I take this action for him I have to wait, however by waiting the second place player is able to get the resources to build bombs that he already has for the win what should I do? Neither scenario leads to me winning the game, but will surely decide who does. These are not uncommon problems in many games, but are worthy of mentioning as I fear both could increase with a higher player count and in a game with this much interaction. All in all these are minor quibbles, some of which may not even become problems for your group and do little to detract from such an excellent game.
In conclusion, The Manhattan Project is one of the finest games that I have discovered in the last year. It follows in the footsteps of many great games and takes a few big strides of its own. The Manhattan Project is what I would call, for lack of a better term, a full production. It is smooth running game with well honed mechanics and a joy to look at with the excellent artistic flavor of its graphic design. The combination of these two factors make for an engrossing game that challenges the mind and engages the imagination simultaneously for a truly unique gaming experience. I highly recommend The Manhattan Project for the group that enjoys a highly tactical game full of player interaction with a cool theme and a ton of re-playability. Truly, it is a great game that is an absolute blast to play!
For those of you interested in purchasing a copy of The Manhattan Project please consider our friends at Circle City Games.