Ban the bomb? Heck no, build the bomb! That’s your goal in the new worker placement game The Manhattan Project. In this game, each player takes on the role of a country locked in an arms race to build bombs as fast as possible. Through clever use of their workers, players will try to out build, out produce and out bomb their opponents. Is The Manhattan Project ‘da bomb’ of worker placement games? (sorry about that one) Read on to find out!
The Manhattan Project is a worker placement game for 2-5 players that plays in about 90 minutes. The game plays best with any number of players.
The Manhattan Project is a giant arms race that starts in square one. Each player will start their fledgling country with nothing but 4 laborers in and a few dollars. A player must shrewdly manage their resources and workers to optimize their engine of war. As the game progresses, players will construct buildings, collect resources (Yellowcake, Uranium and Plutonium), conduct espionage and even bomb other players if they desire. The end goal is to build enough bombs to hit the victory point limit (based on the number of players). Be the first to do that and you’ll be the winner.
I’ll be honest, I’m rarely impressed by the components of a euro game. Many times they are functional vs attractive. While The Manhattan Project does contain the familiar wooden cube (to represent the yellowcake supply), the game more than makes up for that with its well themed and stellar artwork.
The main board is illustrated to fit the time period of the game and has almost a bulletin board feel to it. I do wish it was a little larger, but its size has never actually been an issue. I’d just think it looks so good, I’d like a bigger version. The game also comes with some of the best illustrated worker tokens I’ve seen in a euro game. I don’t know why, but I just really enjoy the “stick figure” artwork used to represent the 3 different types of workers. It’s clean, modern and simplistic, and it fits the game so fantastically. They are also made out of some very thick card stock I was not expecting. That makes them really easy to pick up and retrieve your workers when necessary.
The game also comes with a number of other tokens, cards and player mats that will feel right at home in a euro game. Overall, Minion Games did a fantastic job with the production quality of The Manhattan Project. The only weird thing is that the yellowcake resource is made up of wooden cubes, but your plutonium and uranium resources are on a track. It’s odd but was apparently done to keep costs down. Personally, I’m fine with it.
How To Play:
The gameplay in The Manhattan Project is delightfully easy to learn. Each player starts out with 4 laborers, a player mat and some money. Starting with the first player, play will continue clockwise around the table as each player takes one of two actions.
On their turn, a player may:
1. Place Workers – A player may play 1 worker on the main board and then any number of additional workers on the buildings on his play mat. Playing on the main board is optional, but a player can only ever use 1 space there on their turn. Players will construct buildings on their playmat during the course of the game. These buildings will, for the most part, recreate main board actions but usually at a better ratio.
Actions a player might take on their turn include: constructing buildings, generating income and planes, getting more workers, collecting yellowcake, manufacturing plutonium or uranium, bombing your opponent’s buildings (or repairing your own) and conducting espionage (using your opponent’s personal buildings).
Also during this phase, a player may take any number of “bomb actions”. These include building a bomb from a player’s hand (that’s how you gain victory points), loading a bomb and testing a bomb.
2. Retrieve Workers – Instead of retrieving workers at the end of the round, as is the norm in worker placement games, a player chooses when they retrieve workers. When retrieving, a player collects their workers from the buildings they occupy to their personal supply. This is the only way for a player to free up both workers and the spaces they occupy. Which, with the exception of the construction spot, can’t be used if occupied. So if you’ve been wanting to use that espionage space, you have to wait until whoever used it last pulls their worker back.
Once a player is done either placing or retrieving their workers, the next player takes their turn. As soon as a player has built a bomb that brings them to the victory point limit, they immediate win the game.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying The Manhattan Project since my first play. One thing I like about the game is that it’s really easy to teach a new player. The hardest part is describing all the main board locations to new players. Everything else is pretty easy. Place or take workers on your turn. Buildings operate on an easy input/output mechanic that works really well. Whatever is on the top of the card is required to produce what is on the bottom of the card. Easy as can be.
While the game is easy to learn, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy game. Far from it. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made in The Manhattan Project. Each turn is a hard decision on which of the main board spaces will get your precious one action. It’s rare for a turn to go by where I didn’t wish I had at least 3 more main board actions. This happens especially a lot of in the early stages of the game where you have very few buildings of your own to use. If you enjoy a game with hard decisions that requires you to shrewdly use your limited resources, then you will love The Manhattan Project.
We’ve also found that the game scales very well. I’ve played with every combination of players and had a lot of fun with any of the 2-5 number. While the 2 player game feels slightly different then the 5 player game, all were enjoyable. As a married person, I am always on the hunt for a game that scales down well to two players.
When I was first reading about the game, I was a little hesitant because of the bombing actions in the game. Sometimes too much attacking can ruin a euro game. But that wasn’t an issue at all with The Manhattan Project. In fact, I’ve found that people rarely use the “bomb someone” action. It may just be that our group of players isn’t incredibly cutthroat, but I would guess that it has more to do with a player’s limited actions. You only get 1 main board action, so if you spend it bombing your neighbor into the stone age, that means you aren’t taking an action to improve your position that round. It’s a hard to choice to make and usually I’d rather spend my action building myself up then tearing someone else down.
Even though we didn’t use the bombing actions a lot, that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a lot of player interaction. The espionage space gets a healthy dose of use. Being able to use opponent’s buildings is pretty awesome, both in the ability to block your opponents from using their own buildings and to be able to make up for deficiencies in your own building supply. In one game I had a hard time getting mines for my country, so I just resorted to using all of my opponent’s best ones. It cost a tad more, but was well worth it.
Speaking of buildings, that brings me to the biggest issue with the game. The building market, and to a lesser extent the bomb market, will be completely dependent on a random draw. Other than the 6 start buildings, all the buildings that come out are randomly drawn from a deck. Some buildings are really powerful compared to others of the same type. If a player gets lucky, they will be able to buy a really powerful building early in the game. This will give them a nice advantage. I only bring this up because some people have issues with too much randomness in a game (or things being decided on luck). Personally, I don’t think it’s a large issue as you can always borrow a player’s buildings with the espionage action. Would the game have been better if the buildings that came out got stronger as the game progressed (a la Power Grid)? Who knows. At any rate, this is my only real caution flag with an otherwise stellar game.
Moving on, one thing we noticed about the second half of the game is that once it gets going, it really moves. There is a distinct ramp up in power for the players once they get a good number of buildings constructed. Players will become a superpower in their own right and less dependent on the main board for actions. At that point in the game it becomes less about developing your infrastructure and more about optimizing your turns to start cranking out bombs. I like this because it allows players to reap the fruits of their earlier labors. Success and smart moves in the early part of the game lead to a well flowing second half of the game. It almost feels like two games in one and I love that.
The Manhattan Project is a really interesting game. There are lot of moving parts and, I feel, a lot of paths to victory. Turns will flow really well and, for a worker placement game, the player interaction is surprisingly well done. This is not a “cube pusher” for sure.
I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed The Manhattan Project. What you have here is a well balanced, smooth flowing worker placement game. Resource management and action decisions form the heart of the game and that should appeal to a lot of gamers.
The rules are easy enough to learn that The Manhattan Project should be accessible to your non-gamer friends as well. While it probably won’t replace Lords of Waterdeep or Stone Age as the go to “gateway worker placement game”, it is a solid game that will appeal to players of all levels.
I’d be hard pressed to find a reason to not bring The Manhattan Project to my gaming table. I’d really recommend it for someone who’s looking for a fun euro game with a somewhat mischievous theme. Just watch out for falling bombs.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $40
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A great looking and smooth playing worker placement game that scales really well. This one should get to your table often.
• Random building draw might be a turnoff for some
• Lots of options may hurt players prone to “analysis paralysis”