Monday, September 22, 2014

To Build A Better Bomb: The Manhattan Project

A few weeks ago, on our regularly scheduled boardgame night, my mates and I were exposed to the radioactive goodness that is The Manhattan Project. Evan particularly enjoyed the game and so he purchased a copy within a matter of hours.

I, too, had a lot of fun. I had been looking over the game for several months, but had not parted with my money for it. I am always on the lookout for a game my sons and I would enjoy, but while this looked good, I was not sure about the play of it.

However, after three games, none of which I won, I do believe the game is a keeper.

The game board is actually quite small, but each player also had his/her own side board, and then there are cards which are used throughout the game play. Looking at the board itself, one sees that it is not only very busy, but also very stylized (a bonus!) and filled with play areas where one places workers.

Yes, it IS a worker placement game. Much in the style of Euro games, one one is eliminated during play. Although, one can become frustrated if an evil player chooses to make one's life miserable (insert evil laugh here).

There are three types of workers in the game, as I don't own a copy of the rules, I will use what I remember and totally make up what I don't remember: Workers, Scientists, and Engineers. Workers can do most anything, apart from design or build the actual nuclear bombs. Scientists can help produce more scientists, design and build bombs, and also create the all-important fissionable materials as ingredients to bomb-making: uranium and plutonium. Engineers get a bonus for building some buildings, help produce industrial goods, and are generally better than workers in most any of the board spaces.

Each player receives four of each kind, in their own color. There are also four of each kind in a neutral gray, which are acquired as temporary workers due to board placement or cards that are in play on a player's board.

When it is your turn, you MUST place a worker on the board OR you may recall your workers. When a recall action happens, your workers, wherever they are and also all the gray workers on the board are removed and placed back in their proper pools. If you place a worker on the board, it may be placed on any open space, subject to certain limitations. For example, some spaces require an Engineer or a Scientist and these are noted on the board space.

Cards are purchased from those available along the top of the board, with card position determining the cost of the card below it. As a card is purchased, the cards to the right are shifted, filling the now empty location, and a new card from the deck is revealed and placed in the far right position. If an Engineer is used to build the building, either of the two left most cards may be purchased at no cost. Also, if there are any funds in the area on the very far left of the cards, those are taken by the player who purchases the left most card for $2 (or for free with an Engineer).

These cards are essential to a player's ability to win the game. Yes, one can play without any cards, but doing so puts one at a severe disadvantage. This is due to the fact that once a player has placed a worker on the board, he can then place the rest of his workers (including any temporary workers that have been gained since one's last Recall) on his cards.

Notice, there are also markers for fighters and bombers on this player card. Yes, you CAN bomb opponents into well, not submission, but surely into a realm of extreme frustration.  If you look at the image above, notice the symbols along the top of each card. These indicate the costs of activating the card, whether this be through worker placement or the expenditure of money, yellow cake, and fissionables.

Uranium bombs are worth more victory points, but are also more difficult to produce, unless you get very lucky with early card purchases.

Some cards produce only one type of resource, where others give a choice between two types, and another gives both. In the image above, placing any worker on the university card allows a player to choose either a Scientist or an Engineer. But the factory in the lower left allows for a bomber and $2 for the placement of any two workers. Notice that the enrichment plant in top right needs $4, two Scientists, and three Yellowcake in order to produce two uranium.

Yellowcake is almost always used in the production of uranium and plutonium. It can be produced via cards or by placing a worker on the appropriate board space. There are quite a few wooden pieces for this, but if you run out of these during a game, you can substitute any suitable items; I recommend coins with the coin value equaling the same amount of Yellowcake.

 If a player has not gotten the needed card, there is a work around; Espionage. On the left side of the board, there is a single space costing $3. Placing a worker there allows a player to move his Espionage marker one greater and also to place his workers on ANOTHER player's cards up to the limit of his Espionage marker. So, if you have been using espionage throughout the game and now have your marker at 4, you may place workers on up to four cards owned by other players...they do not need to be the same player.

 photo Mp1_zps03a893cb.jpg

The above image is from my last game. Although difficult so see, I have seven cards that produce fighters or bombers or can be used to produce money or can do both, depending on the card. I built up my air forces quickly and then bombed two of my opponents....after sensing their frustration, I stopped in a moment of weakness. I wanted to see how this worked as none of the others had used their air forces in any of the three games we'd played.

Each bomber I used gave me a damage token that I then placed on the opponent's cards. The cards could not be activated if damaged, so they needed to then repair, which is not cheap.

 photo MP2_zpsb17377d3.jpg

Also from the last game. You can see the bomb cards, and a few of the yellowcake, in the foreground. On the board, on the right edge, you see the inventory of fissionables for each player. There are numerous bomb blueprint cards, each with a unique name and one or two victory point values. Uranium bombs are worth the most and also cost the most, but Plutonium bombs  have two possible values. If a player builds a Plutonium bomb and then "tests" it, it is removed from his play area, but he then receives the higher value from any of his other bombs. Additionally, not only do the bombs cost U or P, but also workers must be placed on the card in order to build it.

This is a good game! It is one of the "tightest" designs, with the best utilized maps that I have ever seen. Very little board space is wasted and the worker placement mechanisms give players a great deal of control over their tactics. In many other worker placement games, everyone places their workers and then picks them all up at once. In this game, you can pick up your workers as often as you want, depending on your play style.

There is an expansion available, which we do not have (Evan needs to buy it!), that includes personalities, nations, rockets, and another ingredient similar to Yellowcake (it is a slightly different colored wooden block).

There is also an iOS app, but the reviews of that version indicate that it needs some bug squashing to really make it worthwhile.