The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game publisher’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.


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The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
  • For 1 to 5 players
  • Approximately 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Fear and paranoia is a powerful motivator

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Your nation’s greatest fear has been realized. Reports have come in that suggest neighboring countries are making weapons capable of total destruction. Without losing another moment, the highest powers in the land charge the workforce to make weapons. Mining operations and factories appear overnight, scientists refine formulas, and the labor force marches to the beat of war.

The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction, designed by James Mathe and to be published by Minion Games, will reportedly be comprised of 108 cards. As this is a review of a prepublished game, I cannot comment on the component quality. The artwork provided as examples of what will be made available are clean and fit with the game’s theme very well.

Note: If you are familiar with The Manhattan Project (a board game), you’ll be interested to know that this is not an expansion. This is a standalone game that is played only with cards. No board or bits needed.

The Makings of a Bomb

There are several different types of cards in the game, each playing a specific role, that a player must learn in order to build their bombs. Luckily for the player, what there is to learn is intuitive, but that doesn’t make the game any less challenging. Each of the card types are summarized here.

Industry Cards

This card type makes the majority of the cards in the game. These cards depict mines, factories, reactors, and universities. Methods to hinder opponents and sneaky tricks can also be found. “Mine”, “Factory”, “Reactor”, and “University cards all have “inputs” and “outputs”. That is, the card requires a specific type of resource to be played. Once played, it can provide a specific type of output. Using these, a player builds a series of inputs and outputs to create what they need, but more on that later.

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The “Design a Bomb”, “Double Agent”, and other “sneaky” cards found in the Industry deck (explained below) do not play by the normal game rules and give the player a slight advantage.

Resource Cards

These are double-sided cards that depict “Yellowcake” (in values 1, 3, and 5) and “Uranium” (in the values 1, 2, and 3). These special resources are the elemental cornerstones of the bombs the players will attempt to make. Further more, they also act as a sort of currency, which allows the player to “bank” (keep) and “make change” (exchange) when they pay for a card using a resource that contains more “Yellowcake” or “Uranium” then what is needed.

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Bomb and Load a Bomb Cards

Bomb cards display the necessary resources that are needed to create it and the point value it’s worth once a player claims it. These cards remain face-up for the entire game once they are revealed and even after they are taken by a player. The one exception to this rule is when a player “Designs a Bomb”, which allows them to take a look at the Bomb cards and place them face-down in front of them. This Bomb card is worthless until the player can complete it.

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Load a Bomb cards allow the player to attach additional points to their previously created Bomb card. While the points are significantly less than most Bomb cards, the amount of resources necessary to claim a Load a Bomb cards are much less, as well, allowing the player to tack on points and capture the lead.

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The Prelims to War

To set up the game, first separate the Resource cards and divide them into 3 piles with “Yellowcake” facing up. The piles should be organized by the number of “Yellowcake” symbols resulting in 1 pile showing 1 “Yellowcake”, 1 pile showing 3 “Yellowcake” and 1 pile showing 5 “Yellowcake”. Place these piles in a row in the middle of the playing area.

Second, shuffle the Bomb cards and deal 1 per player face-up in a row above the Resource piles. Leave the remaining Bomb cards face-down on one end of the row. This is the Bomb draw pile.

Third, place the Institution cards (which look very much like Industry cards, but are double-sided) in a row above the Bomb cards and place the Load a Bomb cards in a pile next to the Institution cards.

Fourth, shuffle the Industry cards and deal 5 to each player, face-down. Players should look at their cards, but keep them hidden until played. Place the remaining deck of Industry cards face-down next to the Resource row. This is the Industry draw deck. Leave room for a discard pile.

Fifth, decide who will go first. This player marks the start and the end of a round.

That’s it for game set up. Time to build some bombs.

Brains, Bombs, and Building Things That Go Boom

The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is played in rounds and turns. There are no set number of rounds per game and each player will have 1 turn per round. A player’s turn is summarized here.

Step 1: Play Cards

Game play is very straightforward, but never the same way twice. The goal is to claim the Bomb cards, but this can only be done by provide specific resources.

  • Personal: Laborers, Scientists, and Engineers (making up a player’s labor workforce)
  • Elements: Yellowcake and Uranium (provided by the Resource deck)

These resources are earned by “chaining” Industry cards together. Recall that I mentioned “inputs” and “outputs”. That’s how this game is played. You place 1 card that doesn’t require any inputs, but can provide an output. You then place another card below that uses the outputs of the previous card as its input. Which, in turn, provides its own output. And so it goes until the eventual output is what the player wants. Most of the time this is going to be “Yellowcake” when the game begins, followed by “Uranium”, and eventually being able to provide enough resource to build a bomb.

chainreaction_chain

Chains cannot be started using a card that requires an input, as that would suggest the player is getting something for nothing. In The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction, nothing is free, but players always have options. The same Industry card noted above can be used as a starting point if it’s rotated. This removes the card’s ability to provide “Yellowcake”, but it does give the player the ability to possibly produce more. All a player need do is rotate their card so it shows the personnel noted for labor is at top. Cards provide lots of different types of labor, including labor that can be used for anything.

chainreaction_labor

One “Engineer” ready to go!

Labor will come from two different sources in the game. Players will either obtain labor by rotating an Industry card (as shown above) or as an output. Labor derived from a rotated Industry card can only be used to help the input of 1 Bomb card. In contrast, laborers derived as an output can be used to activate multiple Bomb cards. Players can also use the Institution cards (available to all players) to train and educate their labor force, thus changing a “Contractor” into a “Scientist”.

Labor earned during the player’s turn is used or lost. Players cannot bank labor for later. “Yellowcake” and “Uranium” are the exception and are kept until spent. If they are spent, players can collect “change” if the total number needed was over paid. On the back of each “Yellowcake” Resource card is a “Uranium” Resource card, making it easy to quickly make change as needed.

The player’s turn is not over until they have played all their cards or they announce their turn is over. The player is also welcome to arrange and rearrange their cards as often as they need to if they feel it necessary.

Step 2: Play Spies

While the goal of every player is to attempt to collect points by building bombs, there are several cards in the player’s hand that can be used to disrupt opponents. These can be played at anytime during the player’s turn and are not part of the player’s chain if used for their special effects. That can, however, be used as labor.

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Step 3: Complete Bombs and Load a Bomb

If the player has the available labor, the correct personnel, and the essential elements that meet the requirements of a Bomb card, they can claim it as their own. A new Bomb card is then flipped over to fill in the gap. If the player already has a Bomb card, a Load a Bomb card can be acquired and attached to any Bomb card the player owns that does not already have a Load a Bomb card attached.

Step 4: Cleanup

The final steps of a player’s turn is to discard everything in play in front of them except “Yellowcake”, “Uranium”, Bomb, and Load a Bomb cards. Any cards still in the player’s hand can also be discarded at this time. Then the player draws back up to 5 Industry cards. Reshuffle the discard pile if necessary to create a new draw deck.

This completes the player’s turn. The next player in turn order sequence now goes.

Winning the Arms Race

The game continues until one player has earned a total of 10 or more points. Points are determined by counting the number values on Bombs that have been completed and any Load a Bomb card attached to them. The game does not end, however, until the round ends. This might give some players enough time to score just a few more points. After all players have had the same number of turns (the round has been completed), the game ends and everyone announces their total points. The player with the most points wins the game.

Going Solo

The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction can be played by 1 person. The game is set up and played liked normal. Where applicable, a small number of cards list how they are used if being played in a solitaire game. The goal for the player is to earn as many points as possible before the Industry draw deck is depleted. After that, the player’s goal is to beat their previous high score.

To learn more about The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction, visit the game publisher’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Final Word

The Child Geeks caught on surprisingly quickly to the game, seeing connections in the chains before I did. They were still frustrated, though, and they learned that the only way to make a bomb was to collect as many cards as possible each turn. According to one Child Geek, “Your workforce is always determined by your random cards, which stinks, but I can always save my Yellowcake!” Which they did. The Child Geeks didn’t understand why they couldn’t “bank” labor, but accepted it as part of the game’s challenge. Another Child Geek said, “It’s fun creating the chains and seeing how to manipulate cards to get what you need.” It didn’t take the Child Geeks long to figure out how to make bombs and to score points, resulting in big smiles. The Child Geeks all voted to approve The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction.

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My 8-year-old explains to the table how he just scored 5 points before everyone else…

The Parent Geeks were also very pleased with the game, finding it to be fairly casual, but with lots of challenging thinking. As one Parent Geek put it, “I would said this is a really casual game up until it’s your turn. Then you really have to think and are on the spot.” Another Parent Geek said, “I’m surprise some of the other parents are enjoying it, as I know they like normal card games, but I can see how this game has a little something for everyone.” The game’s depth was just right for both veteran Parent Geeks and non-gamer Parent Geeks, with only a few moments of disgust when players thought they had a “killer chain” that resulted in very little. All the Parent Geeks voted to approve The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction.

Most of the Gamer Geeks thought The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction was an expansion to the board game. They had mixed feelings about the game after they learned it was not. According to one Gamer Geek, “The board game is really good and hits all the right spots. I’m curious to see if this game will just attempt to be a card version or try something different.” The Gamer Geeks got to work attempting to break it and did their best to find issues. They found a few, but none of which they thought were worth mentioning (which tells me they didn’t find anything important). According to one Gamer Geek, “This is a tight game and quick, too. I think it’s perfect as a filler or for lighter game nights.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I prefer the board game to this, but I’d play this again.” What the Gamer Geeks liked was the way players had to think through their moves, plan ahead, and organize their plays so they always earned something worthwhile. The game always challenged them to move forward and do better, which they greatly appreciated. All the Gamer Geeks voted to approve The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction.

I have only played The Manhattan Project board game once and it was a demo. I remember liking it, but I have not had a chance to play the board game version enough to compare it to its card game counterpart. Which, as it turns out, is perfectly fine. Players are not required to know anything about the board game to enjoy and play the card game.

The game’s pacing can suffer a bit when it’s a player’s turn who is having trouble making a chain with the cards they have. I told all our players that they should look at their cards when it wasn’t their turn so the game would move along. Most players do this naturally, but for those who do not, most of their turn is focus on determined what they can do instead of doing something. A bit annoying for the more hardcore players, but hardly a game killer.

I should note that this game will cause some players to shake their fists in frustration. Me included. There were a few times where I was missing just one resource to get what I needed. These moments will either launch a player into a tizzy or into a whirlwind of creative problem solving. It mostly depends on the player, but anyone can usually think their way through a problem or determine that the best possible outcome has already been achieved using the cards provided.

This game is all about baby steps. There’s an example in the rule book that shows how one player can almost collect a Bomb card in a single hand. After all the games I have played, I believe it’s possible, but not probable. The cards are always random, but give players multiple choices, but only one choice can be taken. The example in the rules gives a great “perfect world” scenario, but in reality, players will be tweaking, twisting, and moving cards around to collect small amounts that are later used for big scores.

Challenging, engaging, and fun, I really enjoyed my time with The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction. It was enjoyed by all our players for different reasons that ranged from creative play to engrossing problem solving. Most importantly, everyone had fun. If you enjoy card games where you must build and connect your logic to achieve victory, do sit down and play The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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