One Board Family: Manhattan Project: Energy Empire Review
Manhattan Project: Energy Empire places you in the role of a country at the beginning of the Cold War, with the goal of being the most powerful country by the end of the game. You’ll achieve this mission by playing workers on different spots on the board that enable you to acquire resources, build up make money, or create dice-shaped power plants.
In many ways, MP:EE takes the shape of your standard worker placement game. Each player starts with a set number of workers, and on your turn you place a worker on one of the spots of the board to take one of many actions. These actions can include acquiring supplies, trading extra supplies in for money, or acquiring cards that give you special actions that only you can take on future turns. Actions and cards can give you victory points, and the player that manages to get the most victory points wins the game.
Building a Nation from the Dice Up
But if that was all this game had to offer, then we probably wouldn’t be telling you about it. Yes, there are plenty of ways in which MP:EE stands out from other games in the genre.
First off is the use of energy. Whereas many games simply operate using workers, Energy Empireutilizes its namesake as another resource that must be used to take actions around the board. Energy is acquired through the purchase of power plants, which are represented by dice. These dice are rolled every time a player ‘resets’ to take all of their workers back. Different resources can be used to buy different types of power plants, like wind, water, or nuclear. The different types of plants have different probabilities of getting more energy, but also of giving you different negative consequences.
Many of the power plants produce pollution along with the energy. This pollution (represented by little cardboard tokens) is then placed on your personal board that represents the environment of your nation. Pollution can also come from other sources, like the cards you buy or the cards that represent the end of rounds. You must carefully manage your pollution, as the untainted parts of your personal board will earn you victory points at the end of the game.
So what’s the energy for? Well, unlike in most games, you can take an action on the board even if another player occupies that space. However, to do so, you must stack other workers or energy under your worker so that it stacks higher than any other worker at that location. The energy can also be used in the place of a worker on some of the cards that you collect that will allow you to take special actions. As the game progresses, you’ll find that you need more and more energy to complete the tasks you need to accomplish.
The End of the World As We Know It
Remember those end of round cards I told you about? Six of these cards are placed out at the beginning of the game, and as pollution is taken by the players, these cards are flipped over and different events can occur.
The first three cards are positive outcomes, so players might get extra resources, or maybe money is placed on some of the different locations on the board and is given to the first player that goes to that spot. The last three cards, though, have terrible consequences, such as adding pollution to everyone’s board or increasing the costs of different items around the board. These cards and pollution tokens also serve as the game’s timer – when all of the pollution tokens are gone, the game is over.
These cards add a nice bit of variety to each game experience. I don’t personally enjoy games where you can plan from the very beginning and then execute move after move for the rest of the game. By adjusting the game ever so slightly, these cards force players to adjust and respond accordingly. I believe this makes the game more approachable and prevents any one player from winning by the same strategy every time the game is played.
King of the World
Manhattan Project: Energy Empire is a different game than we usually play at our house. It’s pretty heavy, with several different variables to consider at any one time. It also doesn’t allow much interaction throughout the game. Players can choose to ‘reset’ whenever they want, so you won’t be rolling dice and getting energy at the same time. You might have four workers when all the other players have one. While I generally prefer games where you get to have a little more interaction with each other, this one went over really well.
I think much of our enjoyment came from each player developing their own engine and executing a plan over the course of dozens of turns. Each country starts with a set amount of resources, as well as a particular way in which they can increase their participation in the United Nations, which results in victory points at the end of the game.
Each player also starts the game with an achievement token which provides bonus victory points for meeting certain conditions, like having particular types of cards or resources or by keeping certain areas of your environment clean. These achievements can also be purchased as the game goes on, so there are a variety of ways in which a player might choose to advance on the scoring track.
It’s About the Execution
While I don’t feel like MP:EE does anything completely out of the ordinary, I think it executes everything it does very well. A worker placement game can be frustrating if you can never take the actions that you need, but it can be too easy if you can always do what you want. The energy production strikes the nice balance between those two extremes, forcing you to consider multiple options for your turn but never completely shutting you down.
I also think that each part of the game fits so well together. The game is such a tangled web of resources, money, individual buildings, pollution, achievements, victory points, and everything else, that you can never really focus on just one part without your whole process slowing down.
Beginners should beware, as the complexity of the game is going to be difficult for some players to grasp. In addition, if you have friends that strongly suffer from analysis paralysis, be prepared for an incredibly long night. But if you’re a fan of worker placement, I think you’ll enjoy this one, and if you’re just looking for a game that makes you and your friends think for 90 minutes or so, then this is one you should certainly consider.
You can buy a copy of Manhattan Project: Energy Empire at your local game store or online on Amazon.
Minion Games provided us with a retail copy of Manhattan Project: Energy Empire. This in no way influenced our opinion of the game.
A well-oiled worker placement machine
You move at your own pace from turn to turn
The theme is felt throughout the game
Could lead to some killer analysis paralysis
A bit too heavy for newer gamers