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Subject: The Manhattan Project - "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of friendships." rss

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Tim Seitz
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The Manhattan Project
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Before this game came out, I had heard about the real Manhattan Project. We had read about it in school, as it is important history, and I knew enough to sound smart at cocktail parties: “Oh, that nutty Oppenheimer, right?” So when this game was announced, I didn’t really know much about it beyond the topic of making atomic bombs. It wasn’t until some art was posted that I decided it was a must have and immediately bought it, or at least pre-ordered it.

The Manhattan Project is a game where you race to build atomic bombs. From the BGG description: A power struggle at the beginning of an atomic age. A revolutionary new technology. Who will use it to build the deadliest arsenal and become the world's dominant superpower?

This game has really taken me by storm recently. Not only is a fun and vicious game to play, it also inspired me to read up a bit on the history of the original Manhattan Project and better understand what the game is about. As I did so, I realized that the theme drives much of the game mechanics. It’s very obvious that the design of the game originated from the theme.

And the theme is nuclear bombs!




The Theme

The theme is tightly wound into the mechanics of the game, so it makes teaching and playing the game very simple. You score points by building, testing, and loading nuclear bombs. Bombs are worth various numbers of points, and the first player to reach the victory point goal “becomes the world’s dominant super power and wins the game!”

In order to build bombs, you will need bomb fuel, scientists, engineers, and designs for the bombs. Like the real Manhattan Project, there are two completely different technologies available to produce bombs: those based on enriched uranium (like the bomb dropped on Hiroshima), and those based on plutonium (like the bomb dropped on Nagasaki). Plutonium bombs will be worth less until you test a bomb (like the Trinity test), and then afterward they will be worth more.

As this is a worker placement game, you will use workers to build up your production capabilities, recruit other workers, and gather the resources needed to design and build bombs. To get bomb fuel, you will need to build enrichment plants or reactors, you will need to mine yellowcake, and you will need to find scientists from universities. You may also want to be build factories to improve your economy and produce fighters and bombers.

Rules are available here: The Manhattan Project rules


Things I like about it

Strong narrative arc. The gameplay has a very strong narrative arc to it as players start from scratch and slowly build up their production capabilities and expand their workforce, initially comprised of only laborers. In the mid-game, you will find yourself “running your engine” to produce the resources needed to complete bomb designs. Near the end of the game, there is a mad rush to get your bombs completed before your opponents, and the threat of damaging air strikes looms larger.

Innovative placement and retrieval mechanism. Unlike most workers placement games that have well-defined worker placement and retrieval phases, TMP lets you decide when to retrieve your workers. On your turn, you have a choice between placing workers or retrieving workers.

• When you choose to place workers, 1) you may place ONE worker on the Main Board, and then 2) you may place any number of workers on your own buildings.
• When you retrieve workers, you retrieve all of your permanent workers from the main board and buildings, remove all contractors from the main board, and all workers from your buildings.

Rulebook example of the worker placement action


Later on in the game, this creates an extra tactical element of tempo management as players alternate placing and retrieving workers, occupying key main board spaces during placement, or opening them up during retrieval. With this innovative mechanism, artificial jockeying for turn order suddenly disappears, and it creates a simpler play experience with no “game phases” for players to remember. Gauging when to keep placing workers and when to retrieve are critical tactical decisions during the game.

Permanent workers and contractors. In TMP, you have a potential for 12 workers in your own color: 4 laborers, 4 engineers, and 4 scientists.


There are also 12 grey contractors available, 4 of each type. Because of the unique worker retrieval mechanism, the contractors provide some very interesting tactical opportunities. Contractors are removed from the main board whenever any player retrieves their workers, so using a contractor on a valuable location means it may open up again for you or another player to use immediately.

Highly interactive. This is a wartime setting, so players can
launch airstrikes at each other to destroy their air forces or damage their production capabilities. Espionage, which is particularly nasty, can be used to infiltrate enemy buildings and use their production for your own purposes.

Each player tracks their level of fighters and bombers, up to 10. Fighters can be used to destroy enemy fighters and bombers, while bombers can be used to bomb and damage buildings, but only if they have no more fighters! Conflict resolution is simple: fighters kill each other on a 1:1 ratio, and to damage buildings, you reduce your bombers by a 1:1 ratio, as well.

There are two airstrike placement locations on the main board, and there are rules addressing negotiation, allowing players to combine airstrikes against a common enemy or to avoid retaliatory strikes.

But possibly, the most deadly interactive element is the ability to
conduct espionage to occupy opponents’ buildings with your own workers. Every time you make use of the espionage location, you increase the number of opponent-owned buildings you can occupy, up to 6. This has two effects: 1) you can make use of your opponent’s buildings, and 2) he can’t use them while your workers are on them.

Even more dastardly, you can exploit an opponent’s desire to retrieve workers by using contractors to perform espionage. A grey contractor placed on the espionage location means that if anyone retrieves, that space will be available again. And if you used placed permanent workers on that player’s buildings, you will get them back, meaning you can immediately play espionage again and occupy their buildings. Again! And if you want to leave his buildings unusable after you retrieve workers, on those buildings that require more than one worker, you can use a permanent worker and a contractor; when you retrieve, the contractors will stay on his board! Ouch!

Combines card drafting and worker placement. The primary mechanism is worker placement. However, the flow of available buildings (factories, mines, universities, reactors, and enrichment plants) is built around a card draft like in Through the Ages. As a new card comes out, it has a very high cost, but as other cards are taken, it moves down the row, becoming cheaper and cheaper, until it reaches the end where a pot of “bribe money” might encourage you to take the building for a net positive payout.

The building card row


This card draft is the primary source of variability in the game. Apart from the 6 starting cards, the deck is randomly shuffled, so you never know the order in which buildings are going to come out. A game might have few mines, so that yellowcake becomes a bottleneck. Or it might have few reactors, so plutonium bombs become harder to build. Factories with fighters and bombers might emerge early making it more likely that players will attack each other. This will make every game slightly different.

Choices are non-obvious. There a so many actions, it can be hard to tell which one is best. When building buildings, you can usually tell that this university is better than that university, or this factory is better than that factory, but it’s much harder to tell if this factory is better than that university. Will a better factory come out later, or is buried near the bottom? There is even tension about choosing the obvious best card: will it make you more vulnerable to espionage if it’s clearly better than all the others? Each move carries a lot to think about.

Hard to gauge who is winning. More so than most other games, it can be hard to see who is winning. Scores remain at zero for quite awhile, and then shoot up rapidly near the end as players complete their bombs. In other games, you might look at their infrastructure and gauge that they are going to win, but in TMP is less clear. Bomb fuel seems to be the biggest bottleneck, so you can gauge progress by accumulated bomb fuel, but that’s not always accurate, either. So the tension remains high and rapidly ratchets up as the game progresses.

Scales well for all player counts. It plays well with 2, 3, 4, and 5 players. Because much of the action plays out on your own board, it feels like it scales well at all player counts. To reduce game length, the victory point thresholds are reduced as player count goes up.

Plays well with others. I feel TMP plays well with both kids and adults. The theme is evocative and tightly married to the actions. My 8 year old fully understands what he needs to gather to put his bombs together, and he enjoys launching airstrikes at people he thinks are leading, or just random opponents.

Art is fantastic. The art in TMP is fantastic and is the primary reason I ordered it. It really evokes the time period and the actions. The iconography is clear and easy to understand, apart from a small nit with the everyone-else circle (that confuses everyone the first game). Some examples:




Why you might not like it

More tactical than strategic. Like most worker placement games, this is more tactical than strategic. In addition, the worker retrieval mechanism increases tactical opportunities even further. However, there are areas when strategy prevails, such as the choice to be strong militarily, or to corner the yellowcake market, or build up large workforce. You also have to choose which types of bombs to build. Usually this is tactical, based on what’s most efficiently available, but because uranium bombs require more cash to produce, low-income strategies will tend toward plutonium bombs.

Potential for downtime. I can foresee complaints of this now, is that with more players, this can have considerable downtime. The beauty of worker placement tends to be the speedy microturns, but in TMP, it's often best to "run your nation" (e.g., place workers), retrieve, run your nation, etc. So, you end up making all these decisions on your turn. I’ve had turns, boosted by contractors and universities, where I placed 21 workers. Even if I am speedy and know ahead of time where they are going, it still takes quite a bit of time. In some of our games, we’ve had players place on the main board, and then begin to place on their own buildings, meanwhile, the other players all took retrieve actions, and it came back to the original player who was still placing workers on buildings. “What? My turn already?”

Might be too nasty. With the ability to conduct espionage and to directly attack a player’s buildings, some players have expressed concerns that the game might be too nasty. This might be an area of concern for some players who like “nicer” games. Because players can negotiate to gang up on a leader with airstrikes, it might come across as “unfair.” If this is an issue, you can always remove airstrikes from the game, but then it would be a lesser game.


Comparisons to other worker placement games

Stylistically, I feel that TMP most closely compares to Caylus, in that it is a low-luck, somewhat vicious worker placement game. TMP arguably has more variability, fresher and tighter theme, and more viciousness. Whereas 2-player Caylus can be very chess-like, TMP is closer to Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, in that optimal play will vary based on the available cards.

Mechanically, it shares a lot with Homesteaders, in that you have a set of buildings that is for your exclusive use, and you have multi-stage conversion workers into resources into victory points. TMP dispenses with the land plot auctions (which is Homesteaders only point of interactivity) and adds in a main board for common actions, with airstrikes and espionage to make it more interactive.

I feel it is superior to Stone Age, Carson City, and The Pillars of the Earth because in those games, a string of bad luck can put you behind. Apart from the variability of the card draft, there is no luck in TMP.


Conclusion:

This is the best new game of 2011 I have played so far.

I rate it 9/10



The B Reactor at Hanford which produced plutonium for the bombs


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Brandon Tibbetts
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Thanks for the awesome review!

The only thing I thought to add is that if players don't like the potentially cooperative (and therefore more devastating) air strikes, there are alternatives to removing air strikes entirely.

One option is to simply block off one of the air strike spaces so that there is only one, and then disregard all of the air strike negotiation rules. A side effect of this is that a player may simply block the air strike space in order to protect his buildings for a couple of turns.

There is a plan in the works to sanction some official air strike variants to satisfy the widely varying tastes that players will have when it comes to this type of interaction.
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Jurgen Koller
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Excellent review. I had pledged for a copy on Kickstarters and can't wait to get it now. whistle
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John Sizemore
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Great job, Tim! I'd give a second thumb, just for the title, if I could.

As one who has expressed some concerns about the airstrike rules, let me agree here that this is an excellent game. And I certainly think removing airstrikes, or lessening their overall ROI, would diminish the game substantially. I'd just strongly advise teachers of the game to spend a wee bit o'time hashing out some of the implications of the airstrike rules before plunging ahead into the game, if you'd like to play the game a second time with the same crowd.
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eryn roston
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I caught a glimpse of this at Essen and was really impressed, but it was too late in the day to really sit down and give it a good look. Thanks for the review!
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boardgamemuse
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I also enjoyed your review Tim!

And I wondered if you have played any of these new games and how do they compare in play and difficulty;

Dungeon Petz
Vanuatu


Thanks much meeple
 
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Tim Seitz
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pratchettfan777 wrote:

I also enjoyed your review Tim!

Thanks, Brett!

I have not played Dungeon Petz - hopefully this weekend at Euroquest!

I am playing Vanuatu tonight and (probably) tomorrow, as well.
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Ken Dilloo
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Thanks for the review. Now officially drooling for this one.
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Jimmy Okolica
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out4blood wrote:
Even more dastardly, you can exploit an opponent’s desire to retrieve workers by using contractors to perform espionage. A grey contractor placed on the espionage location means that if anyone retrieves, that space will be available again. And if you used placed permanent workers on that player’s buildings, you will get them back, meaning you can immediately play espionage again and occupy their buildings. Again!


Is that right? You get your wokers back when the contractor on the main board goes away? I missed that in the rules.

out4blood wrote:

And if you want to leave his buildings unusable after you retrieve workers, on those buildings that require more than one worker, you can use a permanent worker and a contractor; when you retrieve, the contractors will stay on his board! Ouch!


How is that? You placed a worker (contractor or yours) on the espionage space to drop workers on your opponent's building. If the first rule applies, wouldn't you have to bring all of them back?


BTW, Excellent Review! I had originally dismissed this as just another worker placement, but after this review and the other thread, I'm seriously consider getting it. My only concern is the nastiness and the "gang up on the leader" since most of the people I play with will just start the game ganging up on me, as a sort of pre-emptive strike.
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Brandon Tibbetts
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
out4blood wrote:
Even more dastardly, you can exploit an opponent’s desire to retrieve workers by using contractors to perform espionage. A grey contractor placed on the espionage location means that if anyone retrieves, that space will be available again. And if you used placed permanent workers on that player’s buildings, you will get them back, meaning you can immediately play espionage again and occupy their buildings. Again!


Is that right? You get your wokers back when the contractor on the main board goes away? I missed that in the rules.

You don't get your workers back when the contractor on the main board goes away from someone else's retrieval. You could, in theory, place a contractor in espionage and then deliberately save some workers for your next turn. Then, before your next turn, one of the other players might retrieve workers, allowing you to take espionage again, using the workers you saved on your previous turn. This doesn't happen often, as you would usually place most or all of your workers when you use espionage.

Butterfly0038 wrote:


out4blood wrote:

And if you want to leave his buildings unusable after you retrieve workers, on those buildings that require more than one worker, you can use a permanent worker and a contractor; when you retrieve, the contractors will stay on his board! Ouch!


How is that? You placed a worker (contractor or yours) on the espionage space to drop workers on your opponent's building. If the first rule applies, wouldn't you have to bring all of them back?

This is correct. If you use at least one contractor on an opponent's building that you activate with espionage, then the contractor will stay there when you retrieve your workers. Basically, after you use a contractor, it isn't yours any more. It's just floating there waiting to go back to the general supply.

Butterfly0038 wrote:


...My only concern is the nastiness and the "gang up on the leader" since most of the people I play with will just start the game ganging up on me, as a sort of pre-emptive strike.

Would they do that even if it weren't obvious that you were ahead?
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Tim Seitz
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
out4blood wrote:
Even more dastardly, you can exploit an opponent’s desire to retrieve workers by using contractors to perform espionage. A grey contractor placed on the espionage location means that if anyone retrieves, that space will be available again. And if you used placed permanent workers on that player’s buildings, you will get them back, meaning you can immediately play espionage again and occupy their buildings. Again!


Is that right? You get your wokers back when the contractor on the main board goes away? I missed that in the rules.

You get your workers back if the player you occupied retrieves. Retrieving clears all the workers on his buildings, regardless of color. If you also used a contractor for the espionage location on the main board, it goes back, too. On your turn, you can use espionage again to completely piss him off! devil
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Brandon Tibbetts
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That's correct. So, your turns could play out like this:

Turn 1: Retrieve Workers

Turn 2: Activate universities to get contractors, then end your turn (probably with more workers than you started with).

Turn 3: Place a contractor in espionage. Place all your workers on opponent buildings.

...before your next turn: the player(s) you performed espionage on retrieve workers, sending your workers back to you and clearing the contractor from the espionage space

Turn 4: Now you have all of your permanent workers and espionage is available again, on your very next turn.
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Adam O'Brien
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The most important question I got from the review is:

1a)Is this a review of your pre-order copy, or did you get an advance review copy?

1b) Does this mean that my copy is on the way? (huzzah!)
 
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Tim Seitz
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3dicebombers wrote:
The most important question I got from the review is:

1a)Is this a review of your pre-order copy, or did you get an advance review copy?

Pre-order copy. No one sends schmucks like me advance review copies. soblue



Quote:
1b) Does this mean that my copy is on the way? (huzzah!)

I hope so, since that would mean mine is also!! laugh
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Samuel Hinz
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schmanthony wrote:
That's correct. So, your turns could play out like this:

Turn 1: Retrieve Workers

Turn 2: Activate universities to get contractors, then end your turn (probably with more workers than you started with).

Turn 3: Place a contractor in espionage. Place all your workers on opponent buildings.

...before your next turn: the player(s) you performed espionage on retrieve workers, sending your workers back to you and clearing the contractor from the espionage space

Turn 4: Now you have all of your permanent workers and espionage is available again, on your very next turn.


Oh wow we were playing step 2 of the retrieve workers action wrong.
We were playing it that the only time an oppositions workers got removed from your buildings is if they retreived them.

Contractors we played correctly just not the permanents. Wow.
 
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Brandon Tibbetts
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Actually, it's Step 1 of Worker Retrieval that covers this:

Step 1: Return all of your permanent Workers from the Main Board and all Player Boards to your personal supply.
 
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boardgamemuse
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What are those girthy workers made of? Cardboard? Wood? whistle

It's hard to tell exactly in the pictures...
Thanks
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Brandon Tibbetts
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There hasn't yet been a picture of the actual punched workers from the retail box. What you've seen so far has been various homemade PnP versions. The workers that come in the box will be made out of double-sided 4mm chipboard. 4mm is quite thick so they should be very easy to pick up.
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Samuel Hinz
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schmanthony wrote:
Actually, it's Step 1 of Worker Retrieval that covers this:

Step 1: Return all of your permanent Workers from the Main Board and all Player Boards to your personal supply.


That not what I'm saying I'm talking about step 2

When I've just retread the rulebook we have previously missed that when I retrieve my workers all my opponents pemanant workers are also returned to them.

We played that if someone else used your buildings with their permanent workers the only time they would come off your buildings is when THEY retrieved their workers.
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Tim Seitz
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abodi wrote:
schmanthony wrote:
Actually, it's Step 1 of Worker Retrieval that covers this:

Step 1: Return all of your permanent Workers from the Main Board and all Player Boards to your personal supply.


That not what I'm saying I'm talking about step 2

When I've just retread the rulebook we have previously missed that when I retrieve my workers all my opponents pemanant workers are also returned to them.

We played that if someone else used your buildings with their permanent workers the only time they would come off your buildings is when THEY retrieved their workers.

Yea when you retrieve workers, you clear EVERYTHING off your player board.
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Samuel Hinz
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Yep.

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Stephen Mcleod
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In our game, the attack only occurred on the person who had never put anything into defense.

It's hard to tell who is winning.

The way we played it was: Place your worker on the main board. Then deal with your own private nation while everyone else placed their workers on the board. For most of the game, you were busy all the time but usually finished just before it got back around to you.

The only downtime I noticed was from the spy action. It could kill the game for 2 or 3 minutes while the spyer decided where to spy and looked at everything built on everyone's card which wasn't populated.
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Tim Seitz
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maxo-texas wrote:
It's hard to tell who is winning.

Yep. And the game ends rapidly once people start building bombs. The best measure of performance is is bomb fuel built + used (in bomb points), or bomb fuel building capacity + yellowcake supply.
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Tim Seitz
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Now you can get t-shirts!

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I find it interesting that nobody has complained about being uncomfortable with the theme, as commonly happens for instance on games about Jack the Ripper. I realize the enormity of the stakes, and that we were the good guys in WWII, but surely some must find the subject matter sobering.
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