I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there are a lot of games that look intimidating, yet they still find a way to be easily approachable. The Manhattan Project is this kind of game. It’s also one of the best games I’ve ever played.
As you may have guessed from the title, the game’s theme revolves around a nuclear arms race. You’ll spend your time accumulating points by building nuclear devices. In order to build said devices, you’ll need to make sure you have plutonium and/or uranium available. In order to have those resources, you’ll need to ensure you have scientists, yellow cake, and money. To help with those, you’ll need both engineer and basic civilians, or “dumb-dumbs” as me and my friends call them. All of this done with worker placement.
That’s right; The Manhattan Project is a worker placement game, a genre that’s a touchy subject with some people. To be honest, it never feels like worker placement. Instead, the game gives off more of a turn-based strategy vibe. Your workers are a finite resources. Once they’ve been assigned, they’ll remain at a location until they’re recalled, and recalling takes the place of an entire turn, meaning you’ll have to be careful with your timing. It’s not just about where you place your workers, but also when you place them. Freeing slots on the board creates opportunities for your opponents.
What really holds everything together, though, is the theme. It screams 1940s nuclear arms race. You’re rushing to get engineers and scientists before everyone else, keeping an eye on everyone’s progress, and looking to sabotage whenever possible.
Oh, I forgot to mention the sabotage. Whether it’s spying on your enemies and using their own buildings for personal gain or flat out attacking them, the chances are ample to rain on their parade. But like everything else in the game, it’s all about timing. Choosing to spy or attack will cost a turn. That’s a turn you could have spent amassing more workers or materials. That’s also a turn you could have spend building up your own operation.
Again, just like the 1940s nuclear arms race: building up what you can while worrying about what everyone else has.
The icing on the cake is the fact that no one is really out of a game until it’s over. I was ridiculed in my recent play session for not purchasing buildings of my own, instead opting to spy and attack. I stood quietly, chose my moments, and emerged victorious. It was the best feeling I’ve ever had playing a board game.
It only makes sense that it happened during one of the best board games I’ve ever played. Cheap, simple, and thematically strong, The Manhattan Project is a winner.