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Subject: Deep decisions rss

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Sam Carroll
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I've only played Manhattan Project a few times so far. I'm not qualified yet to write a strategy article, but I would like to write about the gameplay a little, to give prospective buyers an idea of the kind of decision-making that goes on here.

Manhattan Project is a worker-placement game in the lineage of Caylus. As the description states, it has mostly open information; the only hidden information are bomb blueprint cards. This works well, increasing the tension during the endgame. It is low-luck, but there are two elements of chance: bomb cards and building cards. Both have several laid out face-up and available to all players. As those are taken, more will be laid out. The bomb cards don't feel too swingy to me, while the buildings have a significant impact on the game.

Several key elements separate TMP from other worker-placements and provide interesting twists to the gameplay:

1) There is a "public" board on which all players may place their workers; each player may also build buildings on a private board, which may only be used by that player.

2) Each turn, you may use one space on the main board, but as many as desired on your private board. You may even use the construction action on the main board to build a mine on your private board, then immediately put a worker on that building to collect yellowcake, then put some more workers on your reactor to turn the cake into plutonium, etc. Many actions on the main board can also be done (usually better) by private buildings, but not all of them.

3) A worker placed on a building will yield a benefit immediately, but then will stay on the building, showing that it is no longer available. So eventually, you will either run out of workers or available buildings to put them on. Thus, instead of placing workers on your turn, you have the option of recalling all your workers. You can do this on any turn, whether or not you have workers left to place.

4) You start with just generic workers (Laborers), but you can hire better workers (Scientists and Engineers) which will work better for you.

5) There are also neutral workers (contractors) that you can hire (via the University buildings) for one job only. They go back to the general supply when workers are recalled.

6) One of the actions exclusive to the main board is called espionage and allows you, for one turn only, to place your workers on other players' private buildings and gain the associated benefits. When you first take espionage, you may only use one enemy building, but each time you take the action, it becomes more powerful, allowing you to use another building. This also means that your opponent cannot use that building until either you or your opponent recalls workers. If you use a contractor to take someone else's building, he stays on until that player recalls - very nasty!

7)Another action only on the main board is Airstrike, which allows you to spend bomber points to damage your opponents' buildings. The buildings then cannot function until repaired. You can defend against airstrikes by building fighter points. This is one element that varies wildly between different game groups. When I played this with a Euro group, we saw a grand total of one airstrike all game (against me, I should point out!) When I played with some friends who like wargames and Ameritrash, airstrike was one of the most popular spaces on the board. I'm sure the best choice is probably somewhere in the middle.

8) TMP has "race" style scoring, in that the first player to a certain score threshold immediately wins the game. It's no good fiddling about getting cool stuff; you need to be absolutely focused on building the bombs you need to win as efficiently as possible.

What kind of efficiency do you need? There are many resources to consider. For example, there is a reactor that needs just one yellowcake to produce one plutonium; another uses eight cake to produce four plutonium. The first obviously makes the most efficient use of your yellowcake, but yellowcake is not as likely to be a limiting factor for you; you can use the mines on the main board or buy new mines to produce more cake. The larger reactor is four times as efficient in terms of turns, which are limited. You might have produce more money or yellowcake than another player, but you will have the same number of turns as every other player, plus or minus one.

Another factor to consider, though, is that the large reactor needs three scientists to run, where the smaller one only uses one. This will prevent you from using the large reactor until you hire enough scientists. It will also make matters difficult later on, when you're actually building bombs, since most plutonium bombs need at least two scientists to build them. Yet another factor is that the large reactor is likely to be a target for enemy airstrikes, and it's expensive to repair buildings.

The resources you have to work with are money, workers, yellowcake, fissionables (U-235 and plutonium), and, most limiting of all, time. (Aircraft points could also be considered a resource, but they're not usually used to get VP - except for loading bombs. Instead you hope to delay other players and thus gain more time, and/or prevent other players from delaying you.) Each game, certain resources will be more plentiful, depending on what buildings come out. The swinginess is not too bad, because there is no building that does anything you can't do on the main board - the buildings just do them more efficiently. For example, you can produce one plutonium by placing a scientist on the reactor space on the board. Of course, you can only do this once before recalling your workers, and then someone else might grab the space. Or you can build several private reactors, each of which might produce more plutonium per use.

As far as turn efficiency goes, the theoretical most efficient way to operate is to have enough buildings to employ all or almost all of your workers, and alternate: placing all your workers one turn, recalling them the next. However, this leaves you wide open for espionage. You won't be so efficient with someone else's workers sitting on your best buildings. Also, recalling your workers might free up a key space (say, the airstrike space) for someone else who wants to take it. In other words, recalling your workers can be a risky thing to do (kind of like taking the Craftsman in Puerto Rico). You will have to do it eventually, but make sure you first consider what opportunities it will give other players!

There's an interesting tension between the two fissionables, uranium and plutonium. Plutonium bombs have slightly higher point values, but only if you test one of them (i.e. use it up; its points no longer count). Within the point threshold of the game, you can probably get more points per unit of uranium than per unit of plutonium. However, uranium costs money to produce, which plutonium does not. You can also load bombs for an extra five points each. You have to spend a bomber point and some money; the larger the bomb, the more it costs to load it. So building and loading a few small uranium bombs is a viable strategy, as is going for large uranium bombs or large plutonium bombs (with a little one to test).

CONCLUSION: So all this to say that there are numerous decisions, both on a strategic and tactical level, which are opaque. There is an element of yomi in some of them, particularly regarding espionage and airstrikes. I think it will take many plays for me to have a solid understanding of TMP, and I look forward to learning it more. My one concern is that the order of the building cards might prove to be too random. It's a bummer when all the uranium enrichment plants cluster together at the bottom of the deck! However, it's my hope that TMP will have the staying power of Caylus.
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Eric Jome
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spartax wrote:
My one concern is that the order of the building cards might prove to be too random.


We put this through the ringer, I assure you.

The starting set, I'd like to think, was one of the things I assisted with when working on the game with Brandon and James. It's intended to smooth out the beginning. The original plan was to do it completely random. Sometimes that was awesome, sometimes rough. It's a fun variant I think.

Another tested variant was to take everything that was a refinery, setting them aside, shuffle the remainder, deal 6, then put all the cards together and shuffle them.

But I prefer what is in the rules.
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Merric Blackman
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cosine wrote:
We put this through the ringer, I assure you.


Possibly the wringer as well.

I'd like to look at this game, but I'm not sure when it will become available in my part of the world.

Cheers,
Merric
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Brandon Tibbetts
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Here's an Australian retailer I found that seems to have it in stock:

http://www.gamesparadise.com.au/manhattan-project
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Merric Blackman
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schmanthony wrote:
Here's an Australian retailer I found that seems to have it in stock:

http://www.gamesparadise.com.au/manhattan-project


I won't buy anything from Games Paradise. And their "in stock" tags are often misleading.
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Mark Fowler
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MerricB wrote:
schmanthony wrote:
Here's an Australian retailer I found that seems to have it in stock:

http://www.gamesparadise.com.au/manhattan-project


I won't buy anything from Games Paradise. And their "in stock" tags are often misleading.


If you cant find the game locally and are willing to make a PnP version, you can find minion games PnP download for Manhattan Project on www.rpgnow.com..... After playing the game at last year's BGG.con, I decided to purchase and make the PnP version just to see if I could do it...The PnP files are awesome quality, however unless you have a cheap color printer you wont save a huge amount over the production version.
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Merric Blackman
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I'm sure it'll get here eventually. (And it's not like I don't have a lot of other games I need to play as well).

Cheers,
Merric
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Eric Williams
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We bought the PnP version. Fantastic! Perhaps we're the only Aussies bulding nukes! arrrh
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Chris Linneman
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cosine wrote:

We put this through the ringer, I assure you.

The starting set, I'd like to think, was one of the things I assisted with when working on the game with Brandon and James. It's intended to smooth out the beginning. The original plan was to do it completely random. Sometimes that was awesome, sometimes rough. It's a fun variant I think.

Another tested variant was to take everything that was a refinery, setting them aside, shuffle the remainder, deal 6, then put all the cards together and shuffle them.

But I prefer what is in the rules.


For the most part I like the way the building deck makes different types of buildings more valuable in each game (because of their scarcity). However, it can be annoying if no reactors or enrichment plants come out for a long time, since you can easily get stuck making a particular type of bomb and then not have the appropriate factory come out. Did you test anything that would graduate the appearance of these particular buildings at all?
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Samuel Hinz
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not quite i also made the pnp quite a while ago.
 
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Adam Skinner
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Thanks for sticking to what's cool about the game, and not harping on a rules blow-by-blow.
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Brandon Tibbetts
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QBert80 wrote:
For the most part I like the way the building deck makes different types of buildings more valuable in each game (because of their scarcity). However, it can be annoying if no reactors or enrichment plants come out for a long time, since you can easily get stuck making a particular type of bomb and then not have the appropriate factory come out. Did you test anything that would graduate the appearance of these particular buildings at all?

I was always very strongly opposed to any deck-stacking setup procedure that would have caused buildings to come out in a predictable manner.

What we tested were the edge cases in the random shuffle. We made sure the game did not take too long if any 1 or 2 types of buildings were concentrated at the bottom of the deck. We also tested situations where a certain type is concentrated at the top.

I've made the point before that the advancement of the game depends completely on players taking actions to advance it. And really, since it's a race, that's want you should be trying to do - advance.

Now, there is a delicate balance here in game design between relying on players to take actions because they perceive those actions to be optimal, and taking actions just because the game isn't moving along and someone needs to chip in to help. Obviously, a game should only require that players make the best choices. If they do this, the game mechanics should take care of moving the game along.

One thing a lot of TMP newbies do is underestimate the value of simply buying buildings. They recognize it is important at first, but they quickly get to a point where they have the 3 of the 4 they think they need ... and the other kind isn't in the market so they stop buying buildings. Why waste resources on a building when it's not the kind you need, right? Here is something that is not intuitive about good strategy in TMP: it is almost always good to buy more buildings, period. If you have double the amount of buildings you really need... then you get to place all of your workers even if someone massively infilitrates you with Espionage. If you have a lot of buildings, you are much less suspectible to air strikes. If you have a lot of buildings, you have options - in case things do not go as planned. Finally, if you have a lot of buildings, then you have a lot of buildings that the other players do not have.

The more players there are in the game that think "I have the 4 buildings I need". Or "I have 3 buildings, but the kind that I need isn't available - so I'll just wait," the longer the game will take. Of course, this issue will be amplified if *all* players think this way, and amplified again if a certain type of building is entirely at the bottom of the deck. But if players realize "I need to keep buying buildings..." the game will speed up. If *one* player realizes this, that player will be in a hugely advantageous position. Either he'll have a much larger and flexible infrastructure when the hot buildings finally do show up, or he'll have managed to collect buildings that have a certain efficiency that deals well with the particular scarcity exposed in that particular session.

Regarding the particular stacked deck you mentioned (ensuring certain building types come out at an even rate), there isn't much need to test it, as something like that happens in most games anyway. It works, and the game will be fun, but it will cast a certain flavor on that session. Personally, I wouldn't want every session of TMP to be subject to that same flavor. I'd want each session to have the opportunity to take on a flavor of its own. The main driver of that is the randomness in the building deck.

Still, if groups want to experiment with deck stacking, it's pretty easy to come up with ideas for what you want to achieve. For graduated enrichment plants and reactors, maybe you could shuffle those 20 cards into one deck and the remaining 24 into another. Deal 4 of the 24 to the bottom of the draw pile so you have 20 and 20. Then deal those 2 decks evenly into 5 subdecks. Shuffle the subdecks and stack them. Or something like that. Just make sure everyone at the table understands how you stacked the deck, and remember that the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the deck will probably not come out at all.

Some players have proposed "A deck/B deck/C deck" solutions where the building market essentially progresses through tech levels. I really wouldn't like that, both for reasons I've already mentioned about lack of variation, but also because cards in deck A would always see play and cards in deck C virtually never would.
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Sam Carroll
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Thanks for your comments, Brandon. I think I'm coming into this with a Power Grid attitude, where you want to buy as few power plants as you can while still getting up to 17 capacity. There, buying a bad plant to move the market along is almost always a bad idea. But the buildings in TMP aren't nearly as expensive as good power plants; if there's money in the bribe jar, you can even get paid for taking the lowest one. You're also not really wasting a placement, since you can still put workers on your own buildings. I guess I'll have to focus on building more.
 
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Brandon Tibbetts
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Yes it can be quite nice to pick up a building and also be paid for it! But even without money on the bribe pile, once every player has an engineer, every player will be able to routinely choose between 2 buildings for 0 money.
 
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Our midgame stall is when everyone wants the $10 building, but no one can afford it. They can't buy a cheaper building because then another player will buy it for the $7 they have.

I'm also curious if the game was tried with a double bribe on the $20, and/or the middle mainboard $ factory being $7 instead of $5.

Or a bribe on espionage.
 
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Adam M
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Ooooh, great questions. I am also curious!
 
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Joe Mucchiello
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It's also easy in your first few plays to undervalue the factories that produce money. Buy them!
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Brandon Tibbetts
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The game was tested to make sure it still had a reasonable playing time when there is a money scarcity. What would cause this would be money-making factories and reactors on the bottom of the deck. (Reactors being on the bottom means everyone will be needing money for enrichment plant operation). I personally wouldn't want to inject more money into the game than it already has, and up until now I haven't heard anyone else say that they would want to either.

Also, as I imagine the situation you are describing... all players wanting the $10 building but none having $10... I can't really see it taking all that long before someone has the $10 and is able to buy it. There are 3 spots where you can make money on the main board (one of which makes money for you passively when someone else chooses the space), 2 factories amongst the starting buildings, and possibly a coin or 2 on the bribe pile.

There are some incorrect rules interpretations and mistakes players might make that will reduce the money in the game. Remember:

* The coin for the bribe pile comes from the General Supply - not from the money that you get from a factory space.

* When you choose the $5/($2) factory space, you do not have to pay the other players $2 each - this money comes from the General Supply.

* Remember to put the coin in the bribe pile whenever any player uses 1 of the 3 factory spaces on the main board and when any player buys the $10, $14, or the $20 building.

* The starting factories give you a choice of aircraft or money (indicated by the "/")... but the other 5 factories that make money always make money when you activate them (no "/").

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Richard Dewsbery
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I've played twice, and the variation in the order of buildings coming out of the deck made a big difference from one game to the next. in the first game, we saw lots of factories quite early, and money wasn't much of a problem (for 3 of the 4 players at least). In the second game, no factories (aside from the starting pair) until quite late in the game combined with more air raids (and repairs) - so everyone was permanently skint.

I suspect it will take a few games for players to realise the relative merits of taking buildings from higher up the line; as it was, we rarely took a building from anything other than the first or second slot (but were playing another rule wrong, making buildings held by opponents more easily used than should have been the case).
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Brandon Tibbetts
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Sometimes the more expensive buildings become feasible when you've amassed a lot of cash and have little else to do with it. If you've gone plutonium, you theoretically don't need cash. If you've gone enriched uranium, you still might not have need of a giant pile of cash if you have enough "income" available from your factories.

When I buy an expensive building, I usually like to make sure I can activate it right away - before anyone else can with Espionage.
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schmanthony wrote:
Also, as I imagine the situation you are describing... all players wanting the $10 building but none having $10... I can't really see it taking all that long before someone has the $10 and is able to buy it. There are 3 spots where you can make money on the main board (one of which makes money for you passively when someone else chooses the space), 2 factories amongst the starting buildings, and possibly a coin or 2 on the bribe pile.


I very carefully explained the stall. None of us can "afford" to let the building become $7 because then an opponent will snatch it. None of us have onhand the $10 for where it is.

We all start playing turns of playing only 1 or 2 workers, because the first person forced to pull back loses that building. The first person who buys a building less than $10 moves the market, and therefore loses the desired building (even if they get the bribe). The $5/$2+bribe option is so bad that it has been used once (and that was so the player could win on the same turn by having the $ to load the bomb as well), even if it was the $7/$2+bribe I questioned about, it would still give either or both opponents the $10 so that they could buy the desired $10. The starting factories and the S/E->$3 mainboard are used early after a pullback so they're blocked when we notice this scenario.

It could very much be groupthink, including the assumption that in most games money comes automatically at the start of a turn. I also wonder if it is psychological, if the $ amounts were all multiplied by 10.

Quote:
I personally wouldn't want to inject more money into the game than it already has

PoV, except the $5->$7 factory change, my other suggestions were keeping money in the game, and therefore flowing normally and greasing the economy, IE they slow the rate money leaves the game. In net the money may then leave faster if people start to buy the $14 building.

Quote:
was tested to make sure it still had a reasonable playing time

Agreed, this is a "dead spot" in the middle, like monopoly has a live spot in the middle. The game itself doesn't last too long, but it is a spot where everybody is playing to not advance the game, hoping for some insight that gives advantage, once someone gets that insight or there's a forced pullback - things hum again.

And this would be much better attached to "Atomic Tempo" or in its own thread than on "Deep Decisions"
 
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