Version Reviewed: 1
App Reviewed on: iPad 2
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You can taste the tension in the cigarette smoke-laden air. A dozen men in dark suits listen to the bespectacled scientist who delivers his status report with clipped, precise language. The engineer behind him nods periodically, confirming that the day is rapidly approaching, and with the right connections - and funding - the bomb will be ready soon. The men in the suits grumble at the price, but in the end they will pay, because no price is too high when the prize is total thermonuclear victory.
The Manhattan Project is the digital adaptation of a worker placement board game. Players can face each other or AI as each side commits workers and allocates resources in an effort to be the first to develop and build a stockpile of nukes. Gameplay consists entirely of committing workers to spaces on the board, each of which produces capital, resources, or more workers. Players then spend these to develop and build their personal infrastructure, all towards building bombs that are worth varying numbers of victory points. The player who hits the target point total (based on the number of players) first wins.
The Manhattan Project's strength is its board game heritage. A complete port of its cardboard counterpart, the game embodies a tense, (mostly) indirect competition where players race to build synergies among their resource-generating structures. There are no dice, no hidden agendas, no distraction from the main goal - a truly authentic Euro board game experience. The AI is smart, and the game features both local and online multiplayer.
All the negatives are, ironically, precisely because of how perfect a port The Manhattan Project is. Workers, structures, and resources are represented by cards and tokens in the game. They don't have digital counterparts, nor do they 'stick' to the game board surface - which means that a careless flick can actually scatter your pieces and clutter your gameboard! There are no obvious counters that tell you how many workers you have available, nor is there any warning if you try to end a turn but still have available actions. We accept these limitations in physical board games, but there's no reason a few simple anti-frustration features could not have been implemented. Perhaps the designers valued authenticity over convenience, refusing to take advantage of the positive aspects of digital game design.
Also important to note is that the game is absolutely merciless on new players. There is no tutorial, no in-game help function, and the only instructions are a scan of the board game rules; including setup rules and box contents. Much more could have been done to welcome new players, as well as improve the overall experience.
Despite these inexplicable weaknesses, The Manhattan Project is a great board game port. Though there is obviously room for improvement, the quality of the gameplay ultimately speaks for itself - if only the designers had made it more likely that folks would actually take the time to learn it.