This review is for an expansion for The Manhattan Project. If you haven’t already, you can read the review for the base game here.
A couple of weeks ago we reviewed The Manhattan Project, a worker placement game where each player is trying to build bombs as quickly as possible. In that time, we’ve also had some fun with their newest expansion: The Manhattan Project: Second Stage. When added a big expansion, there is always a worry that the game will get too complicated for its own good. Sometimes I will get an expansion, but than rarely use it because of the added complexity and play time. Is that the case with The Second Stage expansion? Read on to find out.
The first expansion (Nations) for The Manhattan Project was a small, 7 card expansion. The Nations expansion added in a new element to the game that greatly improved the play experience and flowed in seamlessly with the game play.
For their next expansion, Minion Games decide to pull out all the stops and release something much bigger. The new Second Stage expansions provides players with 4 new options to expand the base game. All 4 options can be played in one game or players can pick and choose each of them as they see fit. The four new options are: H-Bombs, Rockets, Personalities and Nations 2. We’ll dive more into each of those in a minute.
In addition to the expanded game play options, Second Stage also includes a number of minor improvements for the base game. My favorite of these are the player aid cards. These are fantastic “cheat sheets” for each player that can make it easier for a player to learn the game. They have a lot of useful information and it’s almost worth getting the expansion just for these. Also included are 3 sheets of general supply boards to hold resources during the game. They are neat, but not critical to your enjoyment of the game.
Finally, the game comes with a new airstrike overlay. This will increase the air strike space from 2 spots to 3 (for those players who like to warmonger). Alternatively, the other side of the overlay will decrease the air strike spot from 2 to 1 space. This is good if you are looking for a more peaceful game.
Game Experience with the Expansion:
Since the expansions really adds 4 different options for the game, I’m going to talk about them each individually. I’m guessing most people will never play with all 4 expansions unless they are die hard Manhattan Project fans. But that’s ok. That’s the nice thing about a multipart expansion. You can choose which pieces you want to add in and which ones to leave in the box.
I’ll start with the easy one. Nations 2 provides more nations to choose from! If you read our Nations Expansion review, then you know that I loved that expansion so more options to choose from is a win in my book. Nations 2 brings in 7 new nations: Pakistan, Australia, India, South Africa, North Korea, Israel, and Brazil. The new nations work the same way as the old ones, but you’ll find some new powers here. For example, If you are North Korea, you can force the other players to give you $3. If they don’t you get a free Uranium or Plutonium. Nasty!
Playing with Nations 2 integrates seamlessly into the game and if you are using the original Nations expansion, there is no reason not to just toss these cards in with the others.
I wasn’t sure about this expansion at first. I adds a bit of complexity to the game and I was curious as to how easily it’d integrate. With H-Bombs, players can upgrade their plutonium bombs into much more powerful Hydrogen Bombs. If they do, their original plutonium bomb is worth double the victory points (basically gives you a win). Included are 5 bomb cards, orange cubes to represent the Lithium Deuteride and 5 Lithium Plant buildings to produce it. So players must get a bomb card, get a LD Plant, and build the expensive H-Bomb. It’s not going to be quick or easy to build those H-Bombs.
In our experience, the H-Bomb expansion is better suited to a 2-3 player game. It takes quite a bit to build a plutonium bomb, test it, build a second one and build the h-bomb upgrade. In edition to all that, you have to get a LD plant and start refining Lithium Deuteride. In a 4-5 player game, the game was usually over before any player even got close to accomplishing all that. However in a game with less players, you have a lot more time to get your engine of war up and running to build your bombs. I actually won one of our 2 player games by building an H-Bomb. I like this expansions, but I probably wouldn’t pull it out if I had more than 3 players. It just doesn’t feel very feasible at the higher player counts.
Of all the expansion options, this one is probably my least favorite. It’s not because Rockets is a bad expansion, for from it. I think that they actually work well for what their purpose is. It’s more that the Rockets aren’t really suited to fit my groups play style. We tend to ignore air strikes when we play The Manhattan Project. I think I can count on one hand the number of air strikes I’ve seen in a game.
With Rockets, they basically act as bombers that can damage your opponents buildings. The catch is, they are immune to fighter screens. So if you build a rocket, you can send it to smash your opponents building and there is nothing they can do about it. They are built from special Rocket Factories that are, curiously, built during the design bomb action (instead of taking a bomb card).
If you want more direct conflict and chaos in your game, then this is your expansion. You can turn a game that’s thematically a giant arms race into a real arms race. Players will start building rockets just to deter their opponents from smashing up their buildings. It makes for an interesting experience, but I feel it changes the overall feel of the game some. I like it as an option for the game though as I think it can add to the replay value. I’ll reach for the Rockets expansion whenever I want to just be mean for a while. But unless you are looking for a lot more interaction and offense in The Manhattan Project, Rockets probably won’t get used too much.
Next to the new Nations cards, Personalities is my favorite. Personalities gives each player a great person from history to use during the turn. Each person has a different special ability that they will impart to the player. Players can keep their person until they decide to retrieve workers. When they do, they have to trade their person out for a different one. The people each do something different, such as making you immune to espionage, airstrike for free or double the output of the main board uranium/plutonium spaces.
Be aware that Personalities may slow down the game slightly as players will have to decided which person they take when they retrieve. Fortunately, that’s all they do after collecting their workers so the next player can take their turn while they are deciding.
I should note that I’m not a big fan of the graphic design for the Personalities cards. The font choices is a very compressed type face that makes it hard to read from even a short distance. I understand why they did it that way, I just wished they would have gone in a different direction. Fortunately, after enough plays, you should be able to tell what each person does just by what color they are.
If you are looking for some more variation in The Manhattan Project, then Personalities is for you. This expansion adds a good amount of variety and flexibly to the game, but changes the game flow very little. Still, it’s very easy to fit in with the base game without too much extra complexity. The hardest part is just deciding which ones you want to use each time.
There was a lot more included in this little box then I expected. I was happy to realize that all the components fit nicely in your base game box if you want to save some shelf space. I think the Nations 2 cards, Personalities and player aids make this a must buy by themselves. The H-Bombs is a solid option for lower player games and Rockets will fit in perfectly for the right kind of group. Overall, in Second Stage I’d say there is something for everyone.
The Second Stage expansion is an interesting one. It lets you adjust The Manhattan Project into a game that will fit your groups style of play. Want more conflict? Check! Want more bomb options? Check. Love the nations and want more options? Check. How about some variety each turn? Check.
If you are a fan of The Manhattan Project then pick up The Second Stage. This expansion is easy to integrate into the base game, no matter which part of it you choose to use. If you are not a fan of the base game, this could possibly address some of your reasons for not like it, depending on what they were.
But at the end of the day, we’ve got a solid expansion for a fantastic core game. Pick up your copy today.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $30
Expansion Score: Buy – Builds on the success of the first expansion and adds in a lot of variety and options.