In Part 2 of the Showdown pitting Lords of Waterdeep (LOD) against The Manhattan Project (TMP) we took a look at some of the things that make the gameplay work in these 2 hot new titles. Part 3 is going to dig into that a bit further.
The Buildings - Both games have players constructing different types of buildings. In TMP, you're basically just building them for your own use. Other players can only use them when they use the Espionage action. However, they're still really intriguing because some buildings can only be used by certain types of workers. They all have different benefits based on what kind and how many workers you place on them. For example, there are several Mine cards that vary in production capacity. The bigger ones require more and more workers. Want to run an Encrichment Plant? You'll need Scientists because nobody else can run them. Additionally, there's a building track at the top of the board where players buy buildings from. The two lowest places are very cheap and can even be free if you send an Engineer out to build them. Then the prices go up and they go pretty high. There's a game of chicken being played here because you want certain buildings but you can never know what someone is willing to pay so they might just take it from you before you get the chance to buy what you want. On the other hand, there's a chance that something even better may pop out and then you'll be on the hunt to get that card.
LOD is very different. There's a track of 3 buildings available to purchase and only one person can do so on each round. When you build a building, you put it on the central board and mark it with one of your control markers. Anyone can use their worker to go there and get the benefit. The bonus for you is that you also get a reward when they do, albeit a bit less. I like this because it gives you something for nothing basically. The ownership rewards are not as powerful as the building effects themselves, but over the course of the game it can really add up.
Both games entice you to buy certain buildings. In TMP, you can get the cheap buildings for free. In addition to that, the game has a bribery mechanic where money goes into the Bribery pool. Anyone taking the two cheapest buildings gets the money from the Bribery pool. This does 2 things: 1) it inject money into the game which is good because it's scarce and 2) it keeps the buildings moving along. LOD does it slightly different. At the start of each round (including the first), 1 victory point is placed on each of the three available buildings. Just like TMP, this creates quite the incentive for people to take a building, even if it's less than spectacular. Once a building gets a couple victory points on it that creates a golden opportunity for a quick points gain. Plus, you then get the Ownership bonus if someone uses the building.
Scoring points - Both games have you working towards completing scoring cards. In LOD these are the Quests while in TMP you're building bombs. In both games, you can complete a scoring card any time on your turn. Both games also require you to have a certain number of resources of different kinds to complete the goal. That's where the similarity ends.
In TMP, the bomb cards come in 2 varieties, Plutonium and Uranium. These resource are different and force players to decide to either specialize in one or the other or to play the middle ground and go after both. The Plutonium bombs are much cheaper and easier to get, but they're worth less points. However, you can sacrifice one of your Plutonium bombs as a "bomb test" which raises all your other Plutonium bombs to higher point values. When you test a bomb, you discard it and then get a point card to make up for some of your losses. I like the decision this presents to you as it feels like you're sacrificing a lot for bigger future gains. It balances very well in the gameplay because while it may put you behind early, you'll catch up easier. Also, the point cards that you get for the bomb test diminish in value so it pays to either do it early or take a bigger hit. The Uranium bombs are worth more points, but Uranium can be hard to get in big quantities so it's a slower process but the bang for the buck is potentially better.
The other great thing about these bombs is that building them requires the use of specific workers. In Part 2 we spoke about how crucial it was to allocate your different worker types properly. This throws another wrench in the works by costing you actions. It's all part of the timing and allocation that makes the game work so well. Maybe there are some great board opportunities available to you, but you have to decide to go for them or to drop the big points.
Bombs also give you the ability to earn bonus points. If you deplete one bomber on the bomber track and pay a certain amount of money, you can load the bomb onto your bomber and score an extra 5 points. This can cause some great victories because someone can come from out of nowhere and load several small bombs and score a big amount of points.
LOD, on the other hand, is much more vanilla. To complete your quests you need to get gold and different people to complete the quest. You simply cash in your cubes and drop your completed quest down. The cubes are supposed to represent different character types from D&D, but ultimately it fails badly. When I played, people where just saying "I'll trade in 3 orange cubes and 2 black cubes to complete my quest." It should be "I'll trade in 3 Fighters and 2 Rogues to complete this dangerous quest!" but it doesn't work out that way. You simply cash in whatever you've got and put the card in front of you. In my opinion, this kills the rich theme of the game and turns it into something incredibly average. There was a golden opportunity here to use some plastic or even some nicely designed tokens to give you a sense of sending adventurers out. Instead you're left literally pushing cubes.
In Part 1 we talked a lot about the theme of the 2 games and I gave the initial victory to Lords of Waterdeep. Based on the paragraphs above, I'm reversing that decision. The way you score points in TMP is so much richer and ties into the theme so much better. LOD really fails to convey the sense of theme based on the use of boring cubes. I understand that plastic would have cost a small fortune for all the minis it would have required but it would have been so much more enjoyable that way. Upon further review, Round 1 goes to The Manhattan Project!
Between Parts 2 and 3, you should now know plenty about the gameplay of both games. If you haven't figured it out by now, The Manhattan Project is far and away the winner of Round 2. Lords of Waterdeep works prefectly and the gameplay is by no means bad. I like it quite a bit, actually. However, The Manhattan Project offers a much deeper and more fulfilling gameplay choices.
Part 3 will come early next week. We'll talk about the components and then give the final wrap-up. As always, you can follow us on Twitter @bgamereviewer to get updates and news bits as they happen.