Board Game Review: The Manhattan Project

It’s been a while since I did a review of a new board game.  I think I have to really enjoy the game (or maybe really hate it) to be motivated enough to write the review.  Regardless, I bought this for my husband’s birthday present, and the two of us gave it a go, despite our typical rule of not playing two player games against each other.  This is a pretty lengthy post, so settle in for a long read.


Jesse and I both enjoy worker placement games, like Stone Age and The Village.  The Manhattan Project is a 2-5 player worker placement game with a theme harking back to the development of nuclear weapons, the arms race, and the cold war.  Now that I think of it, this game is nicely themed for this year’s Orkfest … we’re going to Russian River in a few weeks and so Russia is the theme.  More on that soon.

Back to the game, the artwork is very fun and the instruction booklet is also themed nicely (although it did appear really long).  My husband the Rule Mastah ™ did the reading and explaining super well, as he always does.  I will see if I can do it justice here.  The object of the game is to be the first player to a certain point value – for two players, it was the first person to 70 points.  Points are received for building bombs.

We’ll start with the worker pieces for this game.


Each player gets 12 cardboard workers of three different types.  You begin the game with 4 standard workers, and can use different elements of the board to gain access to your scientists and engineers.

Since this is a worker placement game, the next thing you’ll wan to know is what your workers can do on your turn.  Well each turn, players get to do a single action on the main board (shown below) and as many as they want (until their workers run out) on their individual player board (or that of other players).  Let’s talk about the available main board actions.


A:  This is the building market.  A stack of building cards is shuffled and placed nearby, and seven cards are turned face up on the spots shown.  The card all the way on the left is cheapest (2G or an Engineer worker placed) an the right most card is expensive (20G).  As cards are bought, the cards are shifted and new ones are drawn and placed in the most expensive spots available.

B:  The construction zone.  This is where you place a worker if you want to build one of the buildings from A.  Any type of worker can be placed here, but engineers provide a monetary advantage if you are buying one of the first two cards on the left – you can choose one of those two cards for free, instead of paying the 2 or 3 gold monetary value.    There is no limit to the number of people who can use the construction zone.

C:  Conduct an air strike on another player.  This initiates a combat action with your fighters or bombers (which we’ll talk about when we get to the player cards).  Only two people may conduct air strikes at a given time.

D:  The Repair station allows a player to pay 5G to repair 3 damage on the buildings on their player card.  When one person uses the repair action, all other players can opt to also repair 1 ($2), 2 (+ $3), or 3 (+ $5) damage at a much higher rate.

E: The Factories Finance Report area allows you to replenish your aircraft (one space for each type, fighters and bombers) or replenish your cash at 3 different rates.  The first cash trade-in option allows you to trade two yellow cake (the only resource in this game; the “building blocks” of bombs) for 5G.  The second space gets you 5G but also gives all other players 2G.  The third space gives you 3G but you have to use a scientist or an engineer.

F: The bomb fuel scale.  All players have a marker on the P (Plutonium) and U (Uranium) tickers.  This is kind of another resource that goes up and down in the game.  You build it up and move your marker, and then use these resources to build different bombs.

G: The Mines is the location you go when you want to gather yellow cake resources.  The first spot you trade 5G for 4 yellow cake.  Second spot you gain 3 yellow cake and all other players gain 1.  The third nets you 2 yellow cake but you must use an engineer.

H: The university is where you go when you want to add people to your company.  The first slot gains you 3 normal workers.  The second slot gains you an engineer.  The third slot gains you a scientist.  The fourth one you pay 3G and can take either an engineer or a scientist.  If you already have all your workers of any type and you use this square, you get Contractors of that type.  Contractors are a neat mechanic of this game that allows more workers for a single round until the player decides to pick up their workers.  Then they return to the contractor stock pile.

I: Designing bombs.  The person who chooses this option (and only one worker can go here) picks up a number of Bomb Cards equal to the number of players + 1.  That player chooses a bomb card, passes it to the player on their left, who chooses a bomb card, and this proceeds around the table.  When it gets back to the player who designed a bomb, the final card becomes theirs.  Below are some sample Bomb Cards.  The blue ones seem to be built out of Plutonium and the red ones our of Uranium.  Their cost is at the top.  The red one below costs 1 scientist an 3 uranium to build.  You can build bombs on your turn at any time.  Then the card sits face up near your player board, collecting you the points at the bottom of it (in this case 9).  The blue cards are a little special – they have two different point values.  You get the one in gray, unless you have already done a bomb test.  Players do a bomb test by destroying a blue bomb they have already built.  Then they take one of the cards at the top of the picture, which gives some additional points at the end of the game.  From this point on, when a player who tested a bomb builds a plutonium bomb, they receive the red points at the bottom.  Once bombs are built, players can also pay the cost highlighted in yellow to “load” the bomb, which gives them a few extra points at the end of the game.  This is the end game folks.


J: Manufacture bomb resources.  One square for making Plutonium, which requires a scientist and 2 yellow cake.  And one placement spot for making Uranium, which needs a scientist, 2 yellow cake, and 3G.  Using either one of these spots moves you up on the appropriate fuel ladder (F above).

K: The spy area.  A single player may put a worker here, which moves them up the spy ladder.  The player who used the spy ladder this round may place a single worker token on any other player’s building on their player tile.  Since each time you use the spying, your spy number increases, you can eventually have 6 potential uses of other people’s stuff.  You do not need to pick a player if you have more than one spy, you can split your spies up.  Contractors can also be used as spies.  When a player decides to retrieev their workers, any of your workers on their player card return to you at that time (and contractors return to the contract pile).

L: Certain actions on the board have a little red circle with a dollar sign in it.  Mostly the banking actions for E and the most expensive building cards in A.  When you place your worker on an action with this symbol, you must also place 1G from the bank into the bribe pile.  This bribe pile is picked up the next time somebody purchases the left most card in the building area, creating a bit more incentive for people to buy things that have been sitting up there for a while.


Let’s talk about Player Boards now.  Remember up at the top I said you can do one action from the main board on your turn and then any number of actions on your player board?  Well here is what your player board looks like.


Along the top of the card on the “road” or “runway” are two markers.  A green plane marker for Fighters and a red plane marker for Bombers.  You start with one of each at the beginning of the game, and can increase the number of each by taking main board actions, or actions on player cards, which will get to in a minute.  The Air Strike board action (C above) sends your fighters, bombers or both to attack another player.  You choose how many and what order.  Your fighters can attack other fighters and other bombers.  Your bombers can only attack buildings; however the bombers cannot be used unless a player has zero fighters.  When bombers are used, one damage is done to a building of your choice on that players card.  Each attack you do with a fighter, costs you a fighter.  If I have 5 fighters and I attack someone with 2 fighters, I will have 3 fighters left, and they will have zero.  If they have one bomber, I attack them with one fighter and both planes die.  I could also decide once the fighters are dead, to send my bombers to cause building damage.  The damage can be repaired with the Repair station above (D).

Your player card also has 10 slots for building cards that you bought by placing a worker at B and choosing a card to purchase in A.  Even though there are 10 slots, there is no actual limit to your buildings, you could have 12 or 15 or more.  Shown above are 4 different types of building cards.

1. Universities allow you to trade or generate workers.  The one above lets you trade two workers of any kind to get two engineers or one scientist.\

2.  Factories allow you to trade workers for resources.  The one shown above required two engineers but generates 3 new fighters and 3G.

3. Reactors help you make Plutonium or Uranium resources.  They typically require scientist(s), yellow cake, and sometimes money, but they move you up the fuel ladder.  There are two reactors shown above, a gray one for Plutonium and a red one for Uranium.

4. Mines help you generate yellow cake.  The card above takes three workers of any type to use, and provides you with 3 yellow cake.

Once you have done your main action for your turn, you can use as many of your own buildings as you want or have workers for.  Because of spying it is sometimes good to use them all at once.  But depending on how many main board actions you’d like to do, you may save some people.

One thing that is a little different about this game is that while you do take turns placing workers on the board, there is no “pick up phase”.  On your turn, you either place workers or you retrieve them.  It’s your decision on when to place versus when to pickup.

Having played the 2 player version of this, I suspect a game with more players results in:

-Slower speed of generating your worker stash.

-More air strikes.

-Lots of building early on.

The Manhattan Project was a very fun game.  It took about 1.5 hours to play for the first time with two experienced gamers.    It earns high accolades from me, for whatever that is worth.  Stone Age probably eeks out in front as my favorite still, but this has some novelty value since I have played the heck out of Stone Age.  It definitely beats The Village though, in terms of worker placement games.


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