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Eric Jome
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Last year, I had the very good fortune of attending a summer Protospiel in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is a game design convention - everyone takes turns helping other people work on their games and prototypes. It was a very enjoyable experience overall, but perhaps the highlight of the entire event was getting a change to get to know this game, The Manahattan Project and the most excellent designer, Brandon.

Right away, we could see that Brandon had some really great ideas - a fantastic, original theme and an innovative use of worker placement mechanics - but the game was still a little rough in action. His enthusiasm for the subject was deep and that's what I think helped craft such a great game out of the gate, but what really made the playtest experience at Protospiel best of all was the real time cycle of tweak and improve we got to go through; I must have played this one 4 or 5 times over the two day event. And I'd happily play it many more; this is easily the equal in terms of strategy for anything in the top 100 on the site.

One of the early things that got cut was a trucking mechanism where ore that was mined had to be hauled before it could be refined into fissionable material. Brandon was keen on this because it was an important element of thematic, historic accuracy for the invention of the atomic bomb, but it was clear it was a lot of motion for not a lot of effect - and to his very great credit, Brandon came around to the suggestion that it be cut carefully but easily. This anecdote really illustrates the labor of love and attention to detail that's gone into making this a great game and something I hope future people who show some interest can learn from this review.

Another thing that was elegant and intriguing about this one was the variation on worker placement. On your turn, you place your workers - there's a general board where players compete for spaces and a personal board representing your national assets in the race. Workers can make more workers, who in turn can work buildings - you just keep placing until you run out. Unlike most worker placement games, you often have more people than you know what to do with... right up until you run out! Then your whole turn is pulling back your workers, resetting for another round of growth. As your workers lock up actions for you or others while they are out, there's tension in deciding just the right moment to pull everyone in and get ready for another burst of development.

And develop you must! Because what's on the line here is creation of the most feared weapon ever produced by mankind - the atomic bomb. You could build quick and reliable uranium bombs, but technically trickier, unproven plutonium bombs have higher yields... of points! Because this is a race game. The first player to achieve a certain number of points will win and each bomb you make will be worth a chunk of points. You'll need to build 2 or 3 usually, maybe weaponizing them aboard bombers to get that little edge to be the first.

And if other's are threatening to pull ahead? Nothing like a good old fashioned military strike to set their progress back while they waste time rebuilding research facilities or economic infrastructure. Or, if you can't build a coalition of the willing to stop the leader, you can infiltrate his nation with spies, using the benefits of his buildings to augment your own research and testing efforts. These diverse strategic elements really make this game worthy of being considered in the pantheon of high ranking games on this site.

The Manhattan Project has the strategic chops to play with the best games, but it's also got a fantastic and original board game theme, a historic lesson in the abstract that's challenging and cool. This is a strategy game in the truest sense, but it's not kings and castles or shipping goods. This is the nuclear arms race. And you don't want to be the one who comes in last!

If you have questions about The Manhattan Project, I'll do my best to answer them.
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Gary Heidenreich
United States
Milwaukee
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Have been looking foward to this one for quite some time.
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Graham Dean
United Kingdom
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Could you talk a little about the playing time. the frontpage says two hours - would you say that was a top limit, lower limit, or about average?
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Brandon Tibbetts
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Oak Lawn
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I think Eric (the OP) is going to respond as well, but for now I will chime in briefly.

Not including instruction, table talk, interruptions, or unreasonable AP, I would estimate the following playing times by number of players:

2 players: 1 - 1.5 hours
3 players: 1.5 - 2 hours
4-5 players 2 - 2.5 hours

Those are the time frames I think you could expect once all players have played the game a couple of times.
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Joe Mucchiello
United States
Edison
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Brandon's description matches my experience with a cobbled together, home-made version of the game. So with the real components I would hope it would be a tad faster.
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Graham Dean
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Thanks for answering. It looks like an intersting game.
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Eric Jome
United States
Franklin
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Uncle G wrote:
Could you talk a little about the playing time.


In my opinion, Manhattan Project is difficult to estimate for play time. It is in many ways like Puerto Rico. That is, there is depth here, enough depth to let someone with analysis paralysis mire themselves in a sea of "you think I think you think". By contrast, as you quickly become more comfortable with the elegant and basic framework of the game, you'll be able to make decisions, good decisions, faster and faster ... your first play might hit 3 hours if everyone is brand new, reading the rules out of the box, but by your tenth play, you'll be under 90 minutes.

It would be fair, therefore, to say I think that the game is mostly 90 minutes to 120 minutes; approximately 20 minutes per player, perhaps, when people already know the rules.
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Graham Dean
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Thanks for these responses. I'm interested in the game, but duration is probably too long for most of the groups I regularly play with. I'll keep monitoring though, because it does look interesting.
 
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Jimmy Okolica
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Washington Township
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Any comments on how well this will play with 2 players?
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Eric Jome
United States
Franklin
Wisconsin
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
Any comments on how well this will play with 2 players?


I have played this game a lot now. Not one time have we played 2 players. I think Brandon has played some 2 players - perhaps he can provide better insight.

Personally, I think it would be fine except for one quirk. The main board is shared by all players but doesn't change shape the more players you have. So, at 2 there will be less fighting over coveted spaces while at 5 it's pretty cutthroat trying to get the right stuff. Both will still work though, because as the game progresses, you play less and less on the shared board and more and more on your own board.

So, 2 player should be pretty good. Might be better to do the classic solution; 2 people play 2 boards each, basically 4 player, alternating turns - A and C for player 1, B and D for player 2. But that shouldn't be necessary; I'd say 2 player is mostly just a special case of the sweet spot of 4 players.
 
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