The Manhattan Project

Tovarich Pizor’s iPad 2014.09.02_117
Players:
2-5
Multiplayer:Yes, pass n play or online via private server
AI:Yes, 1 level
Universal App:Yes (there is a single app which works on both iPhone and iPad in HD)
Purchase for iPhone:Use link below to purchase universal app
Purchase for iPad:

Price: Free
User rating:
GD Star Rating
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The Manhattan Project, 4.4 out of 10 based on 8 ratings

Many, many games task you with either conquering or destroying the world. The Manhattan Project, in an unusual twist, instead challenges you to create the tools others might use to accomplish that same end. Shall we play a game?

Gameplay

In TMP you’ll start out with 4 simple blue-collar workers. You’re charged with nothing less than leading your nameless nation in designing and executing a better nuclear weapons program than any other of your up-to-four nameless opponent nations.

Tovarich Pizor’s iPad 2014.09.02_119There is a central board shared by all players, which contains basic actions open to all. You will also have a personal board onto which you can place building cards that you purchase. Each turn you may place one of your workers on the central board, and as many on your personal board as you legally can – there are 3 different types of workers, and while they have no inherent abilities, different tasks will require different workers.

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The kinds of actions you can trigger from the various buildings fall into four broad areas: resource production (yellowcake in mines, radioactive fuel in refineries, aircraft or money in factories); education (converting workers into other workers); aggression (damaging opponents’ buildings or utilizing them yourself via espionage); and construction (repairing attacked buildings, building new ones, designing and building bombs). Most actions will require either a specific worker type, a specific resource payout, or some combination thereof.

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The goal here is to balance what you’re producing so that you can always fund your next phase. You need Engineers to power mines that produce yellowcake; you need Scientists to refine it into fuel; you need both to build bombs; you need money to support the infrastructure to build all of the above. You also need to make sure you’re building enough of an air force to make yourself a credible threat, and/or to defend against other credible threats.

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In a neat twist on the worker placement genre, you can use Espionage to take advantage of your opponents’ hard work. Each time you take an Espionage action, it increases the number of workers you can utilize as spies. Spies, in turn, can be placed in any legal manner on any available opposing buildings to activate their effect. This plays into the other unique feature of this game – workers do not automatically return to your pool. Instead, you’ll need to spend a turn recalling your workers, meaning you can clutter up your opponents’ buildings for as many turns as you can find useful things for your other workers to do.

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Ultimately each bomb you build is worth a certain number of victory points. The game ends when one player has achieved the required number of points, an amount that varies with the player count.

Implementation

It’s an unfortunate truism with iPad games that a poor implementation can ruin an otherwise enjoyable game. TMP, unfortunately, is a stunning example of this harsh reality.

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There is no tutorial at all in this app, and the game is deep enough that it could certainly use one. Even so, the inclusion of a good manual can forgive a lot – pity this game doesn’t have one. What you find instead is a scan of the physical game’s manual, with each portrait-oriented page awkwardly displayed in a vertically-dragable, horizontal window. While we’ve been quick to point out games with separate PDF downloads of their documentation, even that is preferable to this approach – at least with a PDF you can actually get one whole page on the screen at a time.

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This could be overlooked if the game interface itself was coherent, but it isn’t. Workers must be positioned incredibly precisely on valid spaces to trigger their effect. If you don’t position them just so, nothing will happen; it’s even possible for a valid placement to possibly overlap an invalid one, as the apps’ reaction to invalid placements is inconsistent at best. Some actions require positioning of multiple workers, but the game gives no indication of whether a worker has been positioned correctly or not – it just sometimes works when the second (or third or fifth) worker is dropped into place.

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Nothing in this game seems to have a fixed position at any time. When you return your workers, they simply jumble into a pile on your board, forcing you to move them carefully one at a time to dig out the one you’re looking for. Purchased buildings will default to a logical position on your board, but are then movable – even with a worker on them – and will not be playable if you try to drop a worker to them when they are not in their home slot. Add to this the fact that the interface will frequently drag around instead of letting you manipulate the object you thought you tapped. Top it off with the fact that some resources are tracked via counters on score tracks while others use physical representations of units which are then summarized in your avatar window (Editor’s note: this is of course how the physical game handles it, but needn’t be the case with a digital implementation). The whole thing becomes an inconsistent and incoherent mess, further hampered by the fact that when you select an option in a dialog box, your selected item shrinks instead of growing, an illogical design choice that you’ll never really quite get used to.

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The game supports both offline and online play, of a fashion. Offline play offers only a single level of AI, and it’s not very challenging – our reviewer’s first game for this review was also his first play of TMP ever, and he didn’t so much defeat the AI as crush it completely. Online gameplay utilizes a private server and has no lobby. Your options are either to create a game with a specific name, or join a game of a specific name. Online games thus require that you contact all your opponents ahead of time, create the game, use a different device to contact your opponents with the name of your game, and then wait for them to show up. We don’t actually know if asynchronous play is supported (though we doubt it) because we could never find a group of opponents willing to go through this song and dance to help us test (at least not in convenient time zones).

And oh, by the way – the only way out of the game is to go to the Settings menu and select Quit. Even when the game is over.

Verdict

The Manhattan Project is the result of a failed Kickstarter, and was nearly a year in the making once that venture failed. Frankly we wish it had stayed failed. An app this bad is worse than no app at all, because the all around badness can’t help but impart a stench on the game – whether or not that game is any good, which this one is by reputation. At least until the usability of the app side of this equation gets a significant overhaul, we’re afraid we’re going to have to agree with the WOPR computer from the classic Wargames: The only winning move is not to play. Anyone for Tic Tac Toe?

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