The Manhattan Project is a fantastic, well-balanced worker placement game that is often overlooked, largely because of theme. While gamers are more than content to slay orcs, Nazis, undead ghouls, and everything in between – it gets a little too real when discussing the most dangerous object in the actual real world.
But the game is brilliant and if you can get it to the table, you should. For those that have trouble getting it out, or are looking for a quicker solo experience, Minion Games recently released The Manhattan Project Chain Reaction, a small box card game that takes only 20-30 minutes to play, boiling down the intricacies of the full board game into a short and simple card driven resource management game.
How The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction Plays
The rules for Chain Reaction are very straightforward. At the start of the game, you’ll setup a tableau for everyone at the table (the game plays 1-5). The tableau consists of common Landmark location cards, bomb cards to build, bomb loaded cards, and the resources you’ll be gathering (yellowcake and uranium). It looks like this:
Each player will be dealt 5 cards to their hand and then take turns playing as many cards as they want to their player area. The goal of the game is points of course, which you can gain by building or loading bombs. Each of these cards has requirements listed at the top that dictate what you’ll need in your tableau:
Here’s where the game gets interesting (and the seeds of AP are planted). Each card has three important pieces of information. First, there is the vertical text. This represents specific types of workers (scientists, engineers, or laborers). Second are the workers you need to active the card and gain its output. These will be either scientists, engineers, or ?’s which can be filled by the laborers or the others.
Finally, there is the output, which can be even more workers, or resources in the form of Yellowcake and Uranium.
As you play cards, they can chain together and help you to generate more workers and resources. It’s unlikely to get everything you need in one turn, of course, so you can stockpile the yellowcake and uranium cards for later, and then build up until you can buy what you need in one go. After you are done, you discard any cards you don’t want, build back up to five in your hand and play moves to the next person.
Throw in some special power cards that let you take cards from other players, get free resources, swipe cards, or use Landmarks for free, and you have an interesting and fairly interactive card game that is pretty quick to play.
What We Like About The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction
Chain Reaction is a fast, easy to teach game that has decent depth when you get going, trying to find the most efficient and effective way to generate the resources you need, while slowing your opponents from getting their own bombs completed.
That balance of resource management, sabotage, and action selection works extremely well and leads to different play in each game we’ve run through. The accessibility, the watering down of the theme a bit to minimize the impact of the nuclear bomb aspect, and the carefully balanced way you interact with neighbors works quite well.
I have played this game a good number of times already, and even with the AP threat, it stays under 40 minutes each time, and has thus far been just as good with 3, 4, or 5 players. The two player game isn’t quite as strong as the full game due to the fact that you’re guaranteed to be hitting each other with certain cards, and five players can drag on a bit longer than you might want for the weight of the game, but it’s still quite solid even with those issues.
Some Issues with The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction
As much fun as this game is, it’s not perfect, and the AP issue can become a problem for new players. Keep in mind that you will draw back up your hand each turn, so even if you can’t figure out the optimal chain this round, you’ll have another go the next time around. Of course, if you draw a bad hand of cards, there isn’t much to be done, but the balance in the deck is good and it’s rare to see a hand so bad nothing can be done.
One thing to keep in mind is that the base game only has you play to 10 points and there are some bombs in the deck worth up to 7 points. That means 2-3 cards completed will end the game. That can end things faster than expected for players just getting into the swing of things or who focus on smaller bombs. We didn’t experience it all that much as it takes longer to build the bigger bombs, but it was a noticeable difference of play style for those that did.
The Bottom Line
While the game can run long if people get stuck, luck plays some factor in the draw, and the point spread of cards that can be built make the shorter 10 point game abrupt at times, The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is a very well designed distillation of its big brother – a sleek, fun, and exciting short card game that plays seamlessly from start to finish in most situations. And it’s really quite good as a solo game.
SUMMARY & RESULTS
This is a small box card game that you can pick up for around $10 online and it’s worth every penny. If you’re looking for something small, quick to learn and teach, and decently strategic, this is one to track down.