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Subject: A Cranky Old Man’s Review: The Manhattan Project (8.3 out of 10) rss

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Aaron Bohm
United States
Appleton
Wisconsin
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A Cranky Old Man’s Review: The Manhattan Project
8.3 out of 10


thumbsup Highs:
Grabbing Artwork
Fluid theme/gameplay interaction
A cool, newish mechanic

thumbsdownLows:
Almost too much conflict
Victory comes, slow and confusing


Gameplay in 5 sentences or less:

1. Players begin with money, 4 laborers, 1 fighter and bomber and the main board is set up with starting buildings, starting bomb designs, and all the extra money, counters, and neutral workers on the side.
2. Each turn players can either place workers or retrieve workers: players can place one worker on the main board and/or place a number of workers on their own buildings (or sometimes other players’ buildings).
3. University actions grant you more workers and different types, mine actions give you a resource called "yellow cake," factory actions give you money and/or more planes, reactor/enrichment plants give you fuel for your bomb, the bomb design action gives you bomb cards to build, air strike sends your planes out to fight other players (and the repair action fixes said damage caused), espionage allows you to use other players buildings, and construction allows you to build buildings on your player board.
4. Players will place workers each turn and strategically set aside a turn here and there to retrieve the workers trying to get points by building up the necessary fuel to build bombs, test them and load them.
5. Depending on the number of players, each game lasts until a certain number of points are reached by a player - that player immediately wins.


"Laborer, scientist, engineer? Come on. That’s really just the same guy wearing different costumes.



Review:

Somewhere around June 2011 I heard some buzzing and saw some pictures of an interesting project, The Manhattan Project the board game. Lately there has been an influx of games releasing information sooner, building hype earlier and leveraging sites like Kickstarter and Indigogo to pre-pre-order copies of the game. Without being 100% convinced when I pledged to this game, I have since played it now and can tell you what all the buzz was about.

It is probably fair to say that when I saw the first posted picture I was hooked. The art is not only well done but a spot-on, modern take of a WWII advertisement style. Mad Men, a show of 60’s advertisement and a favorite of my wife’s, would be done proud by the level of artistic representation here. As far as the theme, the feel of the old Oppenheimer race toward nuclear arms is fascinating and so married was the designer to this idea that everything else seems to be built around it like an iron casing.

Now, my first worry was in how much conflict there would be playing the game. Players build buildings and place workers but they can also bomb each other and utilize espionage. Nasty stuff. Furthermore a certain level of interaction is necessary in this game; some people say that bombing should be altered or taken out of this game altogether but I will disagree to my last radioactive, dying breath. This game is not meant to be a multiplayer solitaire. But the level of hostile interaction does come close to being too much, very close.

On the other hand, it isn’t the bombing action that is the issue so much as the slow, crawl towards victory that can be frustrating. Players build infrastructure and fuel in order to play bomb cards. However, victory is achieved usually when only 2 or 3 bombs are built. It is a huge build up to one big bang at the end and progresses in a subtle way that will be hard for beginners to notice who is ahead. In other words expect that you will, at some point, need to attack someone in this game and that you will have no idea who that is. The slow, confusing, almost arbitrary progress to victory in combination with the built-in need to slow a runaway leader makes for this game’s biggest weakness.

The game’s greatest strength lies in a unique use of the worker placement mechanic: semi-permanently placed workers. This mechanic is truly amazing. It seems someone was paying attention to my complaints about all other worker placement games and how I hate the monotony of going through placing and resolving placement and retrieval round after round. Here not only is placement important but also when you retrieve your workers and it is brilliant. Brandon Tibbetts , the game’s designer, must himself be an engineer for how all the gameplay mechanics fit snug together like machine parts.

You will ever-so-often hear a designer say, "this is a game I would play," in a pitch to the publisher. Now I am not a game designer, I just enjoy fun games. I especially like those in the worker placement genre but I can at least offer that if I had to pitch The Manhattan Project I would say "this is the type of game I would design." They found a clever, unique way to streamline the worker placement mechanic and paired it with an irresistible theme and I wish I would have thought of it. It might not be the best fit for those who like fast-paced games or have a dislike for conflict but for me, someone who appreciates uniquely strategic choices, fluid gameplay, and high presentation values, it fits nicely on my game shelf.

"And what should we name this one?"
“Well, definitely not 'Thin Man.'"


Score

Game play mechanics: 9.5
Presentation: 8.5
Playability: 7.5
Value: 8
Bias: 8

Want a session report on this game? Leave a comment and let me know and I'll try and get it in front of my group again as soon as I can.
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Cory Suter
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This was a very helpful and concise review. I really enjoyed it, thanks!
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Eric Williams
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Googong
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Having now played the game, I have to say that the airstrike and espionage actions are two of the best mechanics in the game imo. The fact that in a say four player game, a "good" building can go from unaffordable on your turn to bought cheaply before your next turn. If it wasn't for air strikes and espionage that "good" building "luck of the draw" could be a massive and perhaps impossible to counter advantage. Espionage means "you" can still use that building even though someone else got it.

But it then goes further than the above. Because each player knows espionage and airstrikes are a reality, trying to go about taking the very best buildings isn't necessarily the best way forward. There is a decent chance such a fine array of infrastructure will make that player a constant target. Thus the main random factor in the game - the buildings draw - is mitigated and evened out.

Nice concise review! Thanks.

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Abdiel Xordium
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Never Knows Best wrote:
But the level of hostile interaction does come close to being too much, very close.

What constitutes "hostile interaction" and how do you personally measure the amount of it in a game? I'm not trying to be snarky here. I'm just curious about the metric you are using.

Quote:
The slow, confusing, almost arbitrary progress to victory in combination with the built-in need to slow a runaway leader makes for this game’s biggest weakness.

Is the "slow, confusing, almost arbitrary" nature of the game due to your group's inexperience or is it literally impossible to tell how well other players are doing? If that is the case then being able to attack your opponents is a useless game mechanism. You might as well attack randomly for all the good it will do you. Or players need to collude to make sure everyone gets attacked the same number of times. Either way there's no real decision being made.
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Eric Williams
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abdiel wrote:

Is the "slow, confusing, almost arbitrary" nature of the game due to your group's inexperience or is it literally impossible to tell how well other players are doing? If that is the case then being able to attack your opponents is a useless game mechanism


There are two BIG tells on how well other players are doing. First and foremost is how much nuke fuel they have stockpiled and how much they could potentially create in a turn. The second is the bomb plans are open - face up - before the players get their hands on them. Depending on where you are when a player goes for them gives a "reasonable" guestimation of what they might have and also what their potential VP worth is. Put fuel and potential bomb plans in hand together and you've got a reasonable amount of info to judge how close they might be.

Let's not forget poker tells either! If a player keeps looking at their plans, back to the fuel, back to their plans, to their money, and then starts getting antsy to withdraw their workers it could be ominous...

I actually found that nothing more than "keeping an eye" on the other players was needed. Your focus should be on what you're doing. In each game played, the player who won got their with the most efficiency. They didn't necessarily have the "best" buildings, the most fuel, the strongest work force, or the biggest airforce. They had EXACTLY what they needed and nothing more or less.
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Richard Dewsbery
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The Manhattan Project » Forums » Reviews
Re: A Cranky Old Man’s Review: The Manhattan Project (8.3 out of 10)
The "slow, confusing almost arbitrary" march to victory chimes with me. The last game I played I won by going from something like 10 VPs to 65 VPs in a single turn; players could have spotted my potential, but there was not much that could have been done about it (as bombing raids target buildings, and you don't actually need buildings to build bombs once you've stockpiled enough stuff). But worse, the first hour and a half can drag quite a bit, then in the last hour it's air raids and bomb-building left, right and centre. Early air raids might be more effective, but all they actually accomplish is to slow the game down even more.

Right now MP is a very pretty game, but it's quite long - certainly in the region of Caylus/Agricola game length. And I'm not convinced it brings much new to the party, in which case we might as well carry on playing Agricola and save the £40/$60. I do want to give it one more chance, though.
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Aaron Bohm
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Appleton
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abdiel wrote:
Never Knows Best wrote:
But the level of hostile interaction does come close to being too much, very close.

What constitutes "hostile interaction" and how do you personally measure the amount of it in a game? I'm not trying to be snarky here. I'm just curious about the metric you are using.

Optimal gameplay, imo, requires that players use espionage to utilize the "best" buildings of their opponents as well as airstrikes against the leader. This game is simply not the same without these which could be considered "attack" actions. As far as the term hostile, you have interaction in games like Puerto Rico that is more passive as far as a player might simply pick a role that is less favorable to other players vs. more hostile interaction such as in Carson City where you are actually "fighting" a player for a spot. People who don't like "nasty" games will tend to still like the former type and dislike the latter.

When I say the game becomes close to being "too much" I'm referencing the type of player moreso then the type of game. If you don't like "attacking" or "being attacked" and that might decide whether or not you'll like this game, the level of attacking in this game comes close to too much. (IE it is a negative but even then they might still like the game).

abdiel wrote:
Quote:
The slow, confusing, almost arbitrary progress to victory in combination with the built-in need to slow a runaway leader makes for this game’s biggest weakness.


If that is the case then being able to attack your opponents is a useless game mechanism.

Spot on! Only the sentence you quote is better understood with the preceeding sentence:
Never Knows Best wrote:
will be hard for beginners to notice who is ahead.

Our group actually handled it fine "as a group" but as a beginning player expect for there to be a few "ah ha" moments as you figure out the strategy of the game. For example, in our first game no one bombed anyone since no one knew who to bomb. IE it is a useless (arbitrary) mechanic until you figure out the game, which should only take 1-2 plays on average.
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Mike K
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RDewsbery wrote:
Right now MP is a very pretty game, but it's quite long - certainly in the region of Caylus/Agricola game length.

Well, for my game group Caylus/Agricola/Le Havre/Ora Et Labora don't take all that long, so that doesn't seem like an issue.

Someone's bringing it a week from Saturday; I'm eagerly anticipating my first game.
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Abdiel Xordium
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Thanks, Aaron.
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Stephen Michael Hickey
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With game experience you can tell how far away your opponents are from the big bang win.

To build a wining set of bombs, in one turn, from a near scratch position, will require the ability to build both high scoring plutonium and uranium bombs and the bomb cards to match, which you will have already seen. Seeing a player developing high levels of plutonium and uranium will be enough of a wake up call for an experienced player.

The slow build up feeling that you are experiencing, will disappear as you read the game better and get a better understanding of how far players have progressed behind closed doors.

The need to counter a leaders progress early, via a military and espionage route is critical. Leave it too late and there's little or nothing you can do about it. I prefer this quick blind finish. The alternative is a stalled ending as witnessed in games where the group gangs up to stop the leader from closing out on their turn.

Great review style: especially the High, Low and Gameplay in 5 sentences or less sections.
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