In Part 1 of the Showdown between Lords of Waterdeep (LOD) and The Manhattan Project (TMP), we looked a bit at the rules of the games and then compared the theme. LOD edged TMP by a little bit due to the overall presentation. In this installment, we're going to start digging in to some of the actual content of the gameplay. We'll divide this across two articles to break it into more manageable chunks. Let's get started!
The workers - LOD and TMP are both worker placement games so naturally you'll be placing your workers on different locations to get some benefit. LOD gives each player a set number of workers. Players will get one more at a certain point in the game and can also gain temporary workers from some of the board locations or buildings. All of these workers are the same and have no special abilities. TMP also gives players a set number of starting workers. Throughout the game, players will have the ability to recruit up to 8 more permanent workers and can also gain temporary workers. What sets TMP apart from LOD is that there are 3 different kinds of workers and some locations on the board or buildings in your tableau can only be activated by certain kinds of workers. This creates a huge amount of decisions in the game because not only do you need to figure out where to put your workers, but you also need to make sure you allocate enough of them to accomplish all the tasks that only certain types can complete. It will also shape your decisions on which buildings to acquire so that you can make sure you are able to recruit enough of the types of units you need. In my opinion, this helps drive home the theme of this game a bit better.
Game Rounds - LOD works in the manner of most other worker placement games. You place your worker on a space, do the activity for that space, and then the next player goes. There's a space that alters who the start player is as well which is really important because going last in games like this can be a killer, especially at 5 players.
TMP takes a different approach to placing workers. Yes, the play still goes around the table, but there are no rounds here. On your turn, you do 1 of 2 things: 1) Place a worker on the center board and then place as many others on your buildings, carrying out all activities in the order they're placed or 2) Take all your workers from anywhere on the board, your buildings or your opponents' buildings and place them in your reserve. Depending on how many workers players have, the timing on pulling back workers will vary. This creates a great ebb and flow of actions and it does one other great thing. It forces players to really consider how they use their workers. If you go slow, you can leave your workers on the board for a long time denying other players keep opportunities. I personally love this so much more than the standard worker placement method used by LOD as it creates so many more options on given turns. It forces you to not just wait for your turn but to try to anticipate the timing your opponents are using to place and pull workers. It's a twist on the normal tension in these kinds of games and I think it's truly great.
Player interaction - A lot of attention is given to LOD due to the player interaction. In LOD, you play Intrigue cards which have the ability to put some hurt on one or more opponents at a time. There's nothing you can do about it as the person being affected which is not that great. You're basically just dropping a roadblock in front of them with Mandatory Quests or taking resources from them. It works fine and it does spice up the game, but I think the approach taken by TMP is much better.
In TMP, you have 2 types of player interaction. First, you have the Espionage action. Every time you use this, you move up the Espionage track which allows you to place one or more of your workers and put them on other players' buildings. Once you build a building, it's yours. You've effectively stopped others from getting the benefit of whatever it is. With Espionage, your buildings are no longer safe. This allows players to get benefits that might otherwise be shutout to them and it adds a lot of strategy to the game. Earlier, we talked about pulling your workers back. Espionage causes you to also consider that option more critically because if you open a building or the Espionage track, you create opportunities for your opponents to pounce on your buildings. Also, every time you use Espionage, you can use an additional worker with a cap on 6. You can spread them out and use them however you see fit.
The second area of player interaction is the ability to bomb other players! Each player has a bomber track and a fighter plane track. There are 2 Air Strike spaces on the board and when you place any worker there you can launch a strike at one or more opponents. The fighters are used to either kill fighters or bombers. When you attack another player, you reduce your fighters by the amount of their planes you want to kill so they don't stay with you. Bombers can only attack when a player has no fighters, but when they do, they wreak havoc. For every bomber point you spend, you can damage an opponents' building. If a building is damaged, it can't be used until it's repaired. Buildings can take unlimited damage which means it may never be useable again. What I like about this whole concept is that you have the chance to defend yourself. If one of the other players is building up their bombers then you can stock up on fighters to keep them honest. The other side is that if you spend fighters to kill someone another player's planes, you've just left yourself wide open. It's a great bit of tension that makes the game much better.
As if that wasn't great enough, TMP also encourages negotiation on attacking. You're allowed to negotiate on who and what to attack and any agreements made MUST be honored, but these only last until your next turn. I've had this come into play several times and it really adds a great layer to the game. It's almost like you step out of Eurogame mode and step into Ameritrash, then go back when the carnage is over.
Variable player powers - In LOD, each player gets a unique Lord card. This card doesn't really give you any powers during the game, but it does give you slightly different goals from other players. The card gives you bonus points at the end of the game for doing certain things such as completing certain types of quests or owning buildings. What this does is drives each player in a slightly different direction, but it doesn't separate them to the point of non-interaction. I like this because it makes me think twice about completing certain quests or what buildings I build. Nothing here shakes the game up that much but it does encourage certain actions and gives players some extra choices.
TMP dropped the ball here. Out of the box, there's nothing to differentiate each player. Nothing. I'm red, you're blue. Wow. What they did do, is create a small expansion of 7 cards called The Nations. Each player gets one at the start of the game. This is essentially another building they can place workers on and it gives them a very unique ability which is historically flavored. Once you play with these cards you'll never play without them because they turn a great game into an awesome one. I still feel that this is a failure of sorts because there's no reason these shouldn't have just been in the base game. To make me pay $5 for this is almost insulting, but it's definitely worth it and highly recommended. If you're buying TMP, just buy this. You'll want it.
That will do it for this installation. Come back on Saturday when we post the next Showdown installment. Make sure you follow us on Twitter @bgamereviewer for all the latest news and updates.