I’ve long been a fan of The Manhattan Project. Ever since my first play of this great worker placement game, I’ve always been up for a game of it. I think that The Manhattan Project has also only gotten better with each expansion, which not every game can say.
Which is why I was excited when I first heard about the digital version of The Manhattan Project. After it had been in development for over a year, The Manhattan Project went to Kickstarter looking for funding to give the app some polish and to make it an overall better experience. Ultimately, the funding for the Kickstarter failed. The Manhattan Project was released anyway this past summer, so fans of the game can still get their digital fix in. Did developer Domowicz Creative Group still put out a good product despite the failed campaign? Let’s find out.
The Manhattan Project is a worker placement game where each player is trying to build bombs during the cold war era. If you’d like to know the full score on the game, check out our review here (Spoiler: Great game). Anyway, the main action of the game takes place on a shared central board. This board houses a number of worker actions which include: buying buildings, collecting resources, bombing opponents, conducting espionage, and gaining bomb blueprints. As players buy buildings from the market on the main board, they will be open up new action options that are housed on a player’s personal board. Eventually they will be able to combine their one main board action with their many buildings on their personal board.
Eventually, through a combination of main board and personal board actions, a player will acquire enough resources and workers to build a bomb. Each bomb gives a number of victory points based on how hard it was to craft. The first player to reach the victory point total wins.
To quote Dr. Sam Beckett in the TV show Quantum Leap…”Oh Boy”. To say I was let down by the game’s interface would be a colossal understatement. While I can say that it is a faithful representation of the game board and components, that’s about all I can say. Clunky would be a generous word to describe how the interface works.
Players are presented with an image of the game board, with the standard tokens and workers laying about. To place a worker, you simply drag it to the appropriate spot. Unfortunately, this is rarely as easy as it sounds. Many times the game has issues telling what you are grabbing and where you want to drop it. You also can move around just about anything on the screen; cards, workers, components, even things that aren’t your own! I was able to take a worker off an opponent’s building and fling it somewhere else. I still couldn’t use the building, but it allowed for some confusing situations.
When you retrieve your workers, they come back to your player board in a big jumble. You then have to try and grab each one and position them in a way that you can even see what you have. It’s a maddening and frustrating experience. Speaking of, I know it’s a minor gripe, but when it’s your turn, your player box on the bottom of the screen constantly bounces. It’s an annoying animation that drove me nuts.
Then we get to the tutorial; it’s nonexistent. To make matters worse, the only way to learn the game is by reading the rules, which in the digital version of The Manhattan Project is a scan of the tabletop rulebook. Now, the tabletop rulebook is actually quite well done, but the scan is a 100% scan, meaning there is setup instructions and terminology that doesn’t apply to the digital version. This must have literally been the easiest way the developer could think to include the rules in the game. You are better off just downloading a PDF of the rules on the web and reading them. At least you can view full screen. In the app you can only view half of the page at once, meaning you are constantly scrolling up and down.
Finally, the screen constantly seems to be at the wrong viewing size. When it’s not my turn, I almost never have any idea what my opponents are doing. There is a console box in the upper left of the screen that tells you what actions happened, but it’s far from a user friendly experience. And don’t even try this one on the iPhone, there is way too much pinching and zooming and precise positioning that will likely give you fits if you try.
The digital version of The Manhattan Project has already dug itself a deep hole with is mediocre interface, so I’m sure you’re not surprised that the game experience in general is fairly lacking.
The game technically has two play modes, offline and online. But in reality, you are only going to be playing offline. To play online, there is no matchmaking service. The game has one server with a lobby system. You can either create a game or join a game. To join a game, you have to enter the name of the lobby. No select screen, no options, just type the name in. Basically, you and your friends must all prearrange a game if you are hoping to play together. At that point, you may as well just bust out the board game.
I suppose the lack of online play could be forgiven if at least the offline was a good experience. It’s not. The AI only has one setting which I can best describe as challenging a small toddler to play the game. I consider myself a decent Manhattan Project player, but even still, I was a bit surprised when I completely obliterated the AI on my first try. The AI is dumb, makes suboptimal moves, or even ones that are just downright baffling. Honestly, the only way I could see losing to the AI in this game would be if I slathered peanut butter on the screen and let my dog have a go at it.
At the very least, the game technically works as a digital board game…at least in the most barest of sense. You can actually play the game in this digital adaption, so that’s good. But I think you have to be a die-hard fan of The Manhattan Project to fire this one up. I played it a few times and was able to get through a few games. The rules are there and I didn’t see any game breaking issues.
It might seem like I’m being overly harsh on the digital version of The Manhattan Project, and I might be as the game does function. I think I just had much higher exceptions for a tabletop game that I really enjoy. This digital version could have clearly used more time in the cooker.
I’m on the fence of whether the developer should have still released this app after the failed Kickstarter campaign. On one hand, I can still played The Manhattan Project when I’m traveling or just want a quick fix. On the other hand, digital board game apps have come so far these days (thanks to awesome apps from Playdek and others) that the holes in this version of The Manhattan Project are downright glaring.
I actually held off posting this review for some time in the hopes that the developer would release an update to the app to give it a bit more polish. However, its been over three months since it’s release and not a peep has come from the developer. Short of a major update to this app, I’d be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone but the most die-hard fans of this game. I find this unfortunate, because I really enjoy The Manhattan Project and was hoping to convince all of you to buy this one today. Sadly, I can’t.