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Subject: why I didn't like Manifest Destiny rss

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Justus Pendleton
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It has been over four years since the last review of Manifest Destiny. Clearly it is not a game that inspires passion in a lot of gamers. Having recently played it I can understand why.

When it was unpacked from the box, my first thought was that -- as some kind of practical joke -- someone had striven to include every category of game component that has ever been deployed. Of course there is the requisite board and wooden cubes. But you also get massive player mats, dice, cards, AND paper money.

But that's not the problem with the game. There are two major problems, along with a few smaller complaints that in a better game would be easily overlooked.

Theme

Rather, lack thereof. Manifest Destiny's theme is shockingly thin, to the point of being nonsensical.

Most CDGs have a strong viewpoint. You know who you are, who your opponent is, and what you're trying to accomplish. In Successors you are General So-and-so, trying to wrangle your share of the empire.

In Manifest Destiny you are...who exactly? The Fighting Virginians? And you are trying to accomplish what? Conquer America? Fight off the Louisianans? Establish a family dynasty? Create a commercial empire?

I dunno. All I know is I'm Green. I'm started Here. And I'm trying to "expand" for some reason. Why? Because "expanding" is what gets you Victory Points and at some point the game "ends".

In a game like 1960, that "ending" feels natural. The election is over, so of course the game is over. In Manifest Destiny there is no feeling that the ending is "natural". You've simply caught up to modernity, so the cards ran out, so the game is over.

This lack of theme pervades every aspect of the game. It makes it a collection of mere mechanics rather than metaphors.

It's not a "worker placement" game because all you do is buy "tokens" with your money. In Stone Age, it is easy to understand (and remember) how the Love Shack works. Two workers go in, one [edit: new] worker comes out. But in Manifest Destiny you'll find yourself (for instance) needing to allocate 3 tokens to draw one card.

Similarly, it's not a wargame because when you content a region it's not war. Instead it is...well, I'm not really sure. Economic competition? But then why are markets always controlled by a single side?

How is it that circuses are a pre-requisite for pro sports? And how do "pioneers" get me Story Telling? What does it even mean for my "side" to have "Story Telling"? Once Mexicans discover how to tell stories, no one from Quebec can ever figure it out? How does it make sense that the those born in Louisiana are unable to go West until they get the "Westward Ho!" progression?

The whole thing just feels like a jumble of game play mechanisms with no overarching metaphor to tie them together into a satisfying experience.

Card play

One concern I have with CDGs is that they can lead to anti-historical play. In a game like EspaƱa 1936 the game only covers 4 years but gives you 110 cards to describe the events over those 4 years. By contrast, Manifest Destiny has only 64 cards to cover 250 years of history.

I suppose a more imaginative person than me could weave some kind of narrative based on the card play but I found it hard. The cards could have had the historical flavor stripped from them and worked just as well. What does it mean to live in a world where "Security Net" happens before "Great Depression"? Would Lincoln have been the President he was had the Civil War never happened? If we've had Airplanes for several turns (representing decades of real time) and we have airlinks for trade to Australia then the sudden play of the Amelia Earhart card just feels bizarre. My ships can't go from the East Coast to the West Coast until "Panama Canal" is played? Really? Sometime after Elvis Presley, the Second World War, and the Great Depresssion, President Teddy Roosevelt unveils the National Park system?

I found the gaps the cards left too large of a void to assign any kind of meaning to. At no point did it feel like History Was Unfolding Before Me.

Finally

Manifest Destiny has an estimated playing time of 3 hours. We all know that playing times like that are a lie. Sure, maybe 3 hours if everyone has played the game a dozen times before and internalized all the rules, cards, and strategies. Back in reality, you should be prepared for a longer play time. And when I sit down for a game of that length I expect more thematic involvement.
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James Webb
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hoostus wrote:
In Stone Age, it is easy to understand (and remember) how the Love Shack works. Two workers go in, one worker comes out.
That's a pretty brutal Love Shack...

I think there's some nice mechanics in this game, but most things (including the theme) are done better in Age of Renaissance. You'd still have some of the same complaints though.
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Bill
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This review is pretty much spot on with my impressions after one play (years ago).
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Aaron Silverman
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Did you not notice after playing that this game is not a CDG? GMT has admitted that the use of the term on the game box was a mistake.

The game is thematically loopy and not for everyone, but it's not really fair to compare it directly to CDGs as though it were one.
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Richard Young
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Yes, this game actually traces its lineage back to Civilization. The next in line was Age of Renaissance, which was an attempt to streamline the play from Civ somewhat and re-theme it into a later period in history. Streamlining was accomplished by doing away with the commodity trading and method of resolving disasters. A card deck was introduced to supplement play and to help implement a tweaked economic system for purchasing advances which were still the heart of the game. Neither of these games were CDGs but the evolution of the use of the cards foreshadowed what we understand CDGs to be today. It could well be that the card deck in AoR fed into the development of, or helped inspire, the use of cards to drive the action rather than simply supplement the player turn process.

Regarding the use of the card deck in Manifest Destiny, I think of it as a throw back to those earlier games rather than a further evolution. The deck operates in an almost identical fashion to the one in AoR. I believe the "card driven game" description on the box was a blatant attempt to help market the game to those who are fans of CDGs, but who weren't paying strict attention.

MD was intended as a further streamlining of the game system and to "re-theme" it into a more modern North American setting. However, you can refine something to the extent that it becomes almost unrecognizable and that nearly happened here. Several of the mechanics from AoR are still present but it is obvious that the system was originally intended to show the expansion of specific factions or "empires" in a way that can be thought of as combining diplomatic, economic and military elements but having mainly economic outcomes (not all that unrealistic in the abstract). But the OP is quite right to point out that this approach cannot be applied to the map in the way it is portrayed in this game. You have no idea who or what the various factions are in this game other than perhaps the Mexicans. A lot of related thematic problems stem from that basic disconnect.

By expanding the map to the north, and setting the time period earlier, the designers could have had the Russians starting in the far northwest, the British in the northeast, with the French between them in the North, the Americans in the East and the Spanish in the south - with the vast expanse in the middle open for conquest/exploitation. The card deck could keep the same approach to commodities but the events and technologies completely re-jigged to make them more thematic and consistent. The struggle for North America is not a bad theme but you don't really see it here in this game. Whether the title would still be apt is another story. A game such as I've described could easily end up with the map of the New World looking a lot different than it does today...

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Steve Bachman
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Bubslug wrote:
Neither of these games were CDGs but the evolution of the use of the cards foreshadowed what we understand CDGs to be today. It could well be that the card deck in AoR fed into the development of, or helped inspire, the use of cards to drive the action rather than simply supplement the player turn process.
I think it is unlikely that Age of Renaissance (1996) directly impacted the development of CDGs seeing as the "first" one was We The People (1994).

Manifest Destiny is a quick and light game. It may be ahistorical and/or have a light theme, but I find it enjoyable for what it is. If it were a longer game, I think I wouldn't enjoy it even half as much.
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Ben Foy
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You are right but thats irrelevant.

MD (Manifest Destiny) is all about AoR (Age of Renaissance).

AoR was a 1995 Civ-lite game. AoR was fun but it had some glaring balance issues and could be overly random.

MD exists to balance AoR. It was designed by a fan of AoR. And it does succeed in that respect. But it has no point otherwise.

I like MD but I can understand your frustration.
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Jeff
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I would not compare MD to a CDG wargame. The only game I would compare it to is AoR, if I had ever played AoR.

No identity crisis here. Green Company is who I am whenever I play. There is also Yellow Incorporated, Redmart, Purple and Sons, and Blue Manufacturing. Each capitalist faction is powerful enough that it is able to influence world events to it's benefit. If theme had to make perfect sense, I would probably only have 5 games to choose from.

I have fun with it every time I play, mainly because I like the way people react when an influence card or competition roll spoils their plans. Any gamer that is adverse to re-calculating their strategy as a game progresses probably would not like this game.
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Ron Glass
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I'll simply add this...the rule set is the absolute worst I have ever seen. We have a compilation of FAQs, clarifications, and card explanations that is bigger than the original rules. We have also had 3..count em - 3, games end with someone flatly refusing to finish due to rule ambiguity issues. And we are a group of "seasoned" long time gamers that can usually work through the nuances. As much as we used to enjoy this one, it is fast approaching the stage where it will be burned rather than ever brought out again.

Maybe GMT might consider a rules update??? Hmmm?
What? Was that a resounding "NOT!" I just heard?

Ron
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Dean Esam
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Wow Justus, only just realised that you didn't like this one.

While I agree that some portions of the theme seem thin, and the techs aren't particularly well done, it doesn't take much to figure out the starting factions as ethnic colonies from the positions.

Pennsylvania - English/Dutch colonials, later the Union.
Virginia - English colonials, later the Confederates.
Mexico - Spanish colonials.
Quebec - French colonials.
Louisiana - Cajun/Creole colonials.
 
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Richard Young
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twistau wrote:
Wow Justus, only just realised that you didn't like this one.

While I agree that some portions of the theme seem thin, and the techs aren't particularly well done, it doesn't take much to figure out the starting factions as ethnic colonies from the positions.

Pennsylvania - English/Dutch colonials, later the Union.
Virginia - English colonials, later the Confederates.
Mexico - Spanish colonials.
Quebec - French colonials.
Louisiana - Cajun/Creole colonials.
You had me almost nodding in agreement (a stretch but not entirely beyond belief), until I got to your last faction. Good try though...
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Donald Walsh
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Dean has it right, I would call the factions:

Northern French colonies
Southern French colonies
Northern British colonies
Southern British colonies
Spanish colonies
 
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Arthur Field
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My family respectfully disagrees with you. We love playing MD. We find it far more manageable than AOR, which we like, but play less often. We think it is interesting, the cards work and it is fun to interact with others. Historically, it is close enough for the family, who are not as concerned with the exactitude of the game, simply the playability.

The rules are fine if you read them carefully.

We highly recommend this game.
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Brad Miller
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Yes, it's a terrible game. Theme makes no sense, it's incredibly random, it's very long, etc., etc., etc. And I wouldn't call it a CDG either...
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Enrico Viglino
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twistau wrote:
Wow Justus, only just realised that you didn't like this one.

While I agree that some portions of the theme seem thin, and the techs aren't particularly well done, it doesn't take much to figure out the starting factions as ethnic colonies from the positions.

Pennsylvania - English/Dutch colonials, later the Union.
Virginia - English colonials, later the Confederates.
Mexico - Spanish colonials.
Quebec - French colonials.
Louisiana - Cajun/Creole colonials.
That makes sense early on, but as the game progresses,
they begin to feel more like political currents.

Oddly, I find the thematic aspect far more compelling
than I feared, on first glance. Probably better than
AOR's. It's also a bit lighter and more approachable.

The rules ain't great (then again neither or AOR's),
which is a problem because these are games moving on
largely unfamiliar ground to most players.

EDIT: There are a couple places where the rules are either
downright ambiguous, or worse, only contained in the example
of play, compounding their flaws in clarity.

Although this (as with many games even preceding the coining
of the phrase) is a game heavily driven by cards, it is not
a CDG - that's a term reserved for a particular mechanic of
card driven games.
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Richard Young
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Windopaene wrote:
Yes, it's a terrible game. Theme makes no sense, it's incredibly random, it's very long, etc., etc., etc. And I wouldn't call it a CDG either...
LOL! Some people have long memories...
 
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