I'm a big fan of worker placement games. I really enjoy trying to find out the best way to utilize the limited resources available to me on each turn. I suppose you could say that I really enjoy tactical games, but I also like strategy, especially when the two are mixed 65%-35% respectively. I enjoy making tactical decisions that affect the long-term goal, even if that goal is just victory points. Some people don't find the tension in worker placement games to be strong enough but I enjoy the angst of waiting for your turn while seeing if someone else will undo your carefully laid out plans. Agricola is a perfect example of this genre. It combines worker placement with an incredibly tight resource system while forcing you to do as many different things as possible. That kind of idea checks every box on a list of what I enjoy in games.
Right now, gamers have their choice of two new games which take a unique approach to worker placement: The Manhattan Project (Minion Games) and Lords of Waterdeep (Wizards of the Coast). I think both of these games each offer their own twist on this genre, but I also feel that they're similar enough to not warrant needing both of them so we're going to pit them against each other in a showdown across several articles highlighting a few key aspects. Without any further ado, let's get started with a brief introduction of each.
Lords of Waterdeep is designed for 2-5 players and should take you an hour to play with the full number. The main goal of the game is to complete Quests which give you victory points. Each person is given a face-down Lord card which will reward them bonus points at the end of the game for completing certain types of Quests or other agendas. The game is played over 8 rounds so you have a finite amount of time to do what you need to do.
The Manhattan Project is also a 2-5 player game, but the playtime listed on this one is 2 hours. In my 3 and 5 player games, that seems spot on. The goal here is also to gain victory points, but you do it by creating bombs instead of quests. The game is played to a certain number of victory points dependent on player count. In the base game, everyone starts off with the same setup, but each player after the first gets a bonus to level the start-player advantage. There is no set number of turns so the game will go as long as it takes for someone to meet the victory condition.
The rules for both games are available for your perusal online. The rules for Lords of Waterdeep can be found here while The Manhattan Project rules are located here. Both rulebooks are laid out very nicely and are incredibly clear on how the game plays. You get plenty of illustrations and examples to help you out. Normally at this point I go over a rules breakdown but that's going to be skipped because we've got way more important things to discuss. Let's get started!
Round 1 - Theme
One of the great things that both these games bring is theme. Lords of Waterdeep gives us the old familiar D&D theme, but it's really the first time we've seen it in a Euro. Additionally, they dug deep and went to the Forgotten Realms lore to bring us a new setting that hasn't even been touched in the D&D adventure games like Castle Ravenloft or Wrath of Ashardalon. This is a whole new setting to boardgames which seems familiar thanks to the Dungeons & Dragons tag, yet is largely unexplored territory. They stuck to the theme and went so far as to make the Lord cards based on the historical Lords of Waterdeep. The entire layout of the board is a map of Waterdeep so you really get the feeling that you're in that world. Even most of the buildings on the board are actual places from the Waterdeep mythos which really ties it all together. For anyone familiar with Forgotten Realms, this is a homerun because it brings all the flavor of Waterdeep right to the table top. Those unfamiliar with the setting won't care as much because it's all new to them and lacks the historical background of the Waterdeep. I fall into the second camp, but a light reading of the history of Waterdeep ties it all together and gives you great insight as to why the particular buildings do what they do in the game.
The Manhattan Project offers us something completely different. This time, instead of working your way through a mythical city, you're here on Earth and you're trying to harness the power of nuclear weapons. Your goal is to build nuclear bombs and win the Cold War. You don't get to drop these nukes which is a bummer, but you still get to build them and flex your nuclear might. The board is fairly ordinary with different locations for each action. Most of those have some kind of corresponding design work, but it's nowhere near as impressive as Lords is. I do love that the art on all the cards and board spaces is done in the early-40's style. While the board isn't as unique as Lords, it does have great artwork which evokes the feel of the era.
Both games have cool themes and are quite different. While I love the idea of building bombs in the 1940s, The Manhattan Project doesn't quite pull it off as well as Lords of Waterdeep does. With Lords, the entire package is built around making you feel like you're in Waterdeep and are conspiring to rule the city. Even if you don't necessarily know the lore, the map and the overall design of the board helps you feel like you're actually sending your minions around the town to accomplish goals. Like I said, I like the bomb-building theme more, but Lords does far more to integrate the theme into the presentation.
Winner of Round 1: Lords of Waterdeep
Check back in a few days when we dig further into the battle between these two great games.