The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction Review

The world piece is once again threatened and the arms race has just began. As your nation’s Minister of War, you are responsible to get ahead in the race by building the most atomic bombs. With the help of espionage, you have acquired the technology behind bomb construction. All you have to do now is hire qualified personnel and grab those valuable resources needed to build bombs. Yellowcake is the primal resource and with the right process is transformed into uranium, the heart of every atomic bomb. Time is all that matters in the arms race and the winner can only be one. Can you manage your resources effectively enough to make your nation ready to dominate the world?

“The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction” is the latest addition, together with “Manhattan Project: Energy Empire”, to the “Manhattan Project” family of games, published by Minion Games. Following the success of the original board game (“The Manhattan Project”), this is a much simpler implementation, strictly a card game for 1-5 players that keeps the theme and general philosophy of its predecessor, while simplifying the rules and cutting down on gameplay time. 

Game overview

In “The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction” you will play cards from your hand, one after the other, with each card providing the resources for the next one (like a “chain reaction”). You start each round with 5 cards in hand, which have double use, and you must play some or all of them in the most efficient way in order to build bombs faster than your opponents. Each card can be used either to provide personnel (namely laborers, scientists or engineers) by turning the card sideways or as a building/special action which will provide more personnel or resources or allow special actions.

You always start out by training some personnel, then use that to gain more personnel or the valuable “Yellowcake”, then use a combination of personnel and yellowcake to produce Uranium and finally use personnel and Uranium to build a bomb. Of course, it’s rather rare that you will get to build a bomb in just one turn. In the first few turns, you will probably get some Yellowcake, then Uranium and then manage to build a bomb.  

“The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction” features 108 cards which are divided as follows:

  • 31 resource cards double-sided (on one side Yellowcake, on the other Uranium in 3 denominations each)
  • 4 landmark cards. These are common buildings ready to be used by every player
  • 55 Industry cards. This is your main deck, comprising of various buildings that provide personnel, Yellowcake or Uranium and Special Action cards that enable you to gain a personal hidden bomb plan, steal a card from an opponent or use one of the landmarks without paying its personnel cost.
  • 13 Bomb plan cards: Unique bomb designs which you will try to build. Each bomb plan grants points upon completing it.
  • 4 Bomb Loaded cards. For every bomb designed, you can load it, using 2 engineers and 2 scientists. 
  • 1 Start Player card
Double-sided resource cards

The game ends when someone has acquired at least 10 points from completing bomb plans and possibly loading some bombs. Then each other player can play one last round before the game finishes. 

The game gives players the capability to play solo games, with the goal of gaining the most points while going through the whole deck only once. Special action cards are adjusted to solo play by enabling you to interact with the discard pile and the draw deck instead of opponents. The designer of the game, James Mathe has revealed a benchmark for players playing solo, so that they have something to compare their scores with (this is not included in the rulebook):

< 20 Try Again 

20-29 Good Attempt

30-39 Job Well Done Sir

40+ You’re a true scientist

Now let’s see how the game scores in our usual scoring categories:

Components

Cards, the sole component of the game are of high quality, thick, glossy paper. I recommend sleeving the cards due to frequent shuffling not only at the beginning, but also mid-game, especially in games with many players. The artwork on cards is awesome, with elaborate, futuristic designs, very similar to the original game. For those who seek something more of this game, there is also a deluxe version in the market, which features, apart from the deck of cards, 50 wooden tokens (25 nuclear disks and 25 mushroom clouds). You can find this special edition here.  

Some cards from the Industry draw deck

Gameplay:

Although the game is much simpler than the original board game, it doesn’t lack strategic decisions and gameplay depth. The strong point of the game is certainly the “dual” usage of cards. The fact they can either be used as personnel or buildings, automatically creates an interesting mechanism that stimulates the mind and challenges logical thinking. In order to make the best decision about how to use the cards in your hand, you must reproduce “chains” of events in your mind and figure out which has the best result. Given the fact that you only have 5 cards in hand, that isn’t such a chore but can be seen as a little mind trainer.

Using the first card as personnel to get 2 laborers, then I put them to the university to get 2 scientists. Finally I use a scientist and 3 yellowcake which I have from previous turns, in order to get 2 Uranium.

Each and every game will be somewhat different than others, due to many different combinations of the available cards. During the game, at some point it felt a little like playing a deck-building game: having cards in your hand that you must use in the right way to get the best of them. But then again in this game you can’t build your own deck. Instead you have a pre-built deck which you must use the best way you can, so the similarity ends there.

This game is for 1-5 players as I’ve mentioned before. I played several solo games and I must say that even though I’m not a huge fan of solo playing, I really got hooked and couldn’t wait for the opportunity to play more solo’s, so as to beat my own score. If you want to learn how to play this game and become really good at it, playing on your own gives you that opportunity while you also have loads of fun. You will not be anxious about time, being on your own, so you can try many different strategies to see what works best. Play with 2 players is very competitive and works out nicely if you don’t mind the occasional interference to your plans by the special action cards that in this case will always target you. Playing with 3 to 4 players is the game at its best because special action cards will be targeting different players each time (usually the one who will be doing better at the game at that point) while a game with 5 players starts to be a little tiring especially if the “analysis-paralysis” phenomenon occurs. The good thing is that while your opponents are playing, you can study your cards and focus on planning your next move as what opponents do doesn’t have an impact on you so you don’t necessarily have to watch what they do.

Player interaction in the game occurs with the special action cards that can cause a player to lose cards from his hand or be obliged to give to another player that valuable Yellowcake he has gathered with a lot of hard work. There is a total of 6 special action cards within the 55 Industry card deck, which feels just right and creates a balanced gameplay experience.   

Learning Curve:

There is an extensive rulebook, accompanying the game which covers every single detail and also has examples of play, leaving really no doubts about gameplay. Once you read the rulebook leaflet, you will be up and running, ready to play and will have no special reason to go back to the rules. Gameplay is very streamlined and rules are simple enough so anyone can learn to play within minutes. 

Theme:

Card games like this, rarely achieve close connection to the theme of the game as can be expected due to the simplified gameplay. “The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction” makes a decent effort to keep us close to the theme. You can really feel the tension of antagonism between players as every choice matters in this crazy arms race. What one would need to make a bomb is certainly, the technology, trained personnel and resources. Given the technology, as the story of the game describes, the other two are well represented in the game. However, in my mind, I would think the whole bomb project as related to only one bomb. The nation which would be the first to build an atomic bomb would be the winner. What exactly are the different bomb plans? But then again I’m not a nuclear war expert. The element in the game that will make you feel closer to the theme are the special action cards, that enable players to interact with each other just like nations would during an arms race. For example, “Espionage”  is a special card that let’s you steal a card from an opponent’s hand or steal a Yellowcake. Espionage is a standard practice during any war, so the theme is well represented here.  

Bomb loaded and bomb plan cards

Replayability:

This game can easily be played as a filler between other heavier games. In the case you would prefer on your gamenight  to play consecutive rounds of a single game that is light and fun but also engaging, “TMP: Chain Reaction” would again be an excellent choice. A nice tweak to the game that enhances replayability is that you can change the victory condition by choosing a higher point total to declare the end of the game. This way gameplay can become longer and this be a filler no more. 

Moreover “TMP: Chain Reaction” is ideal, in my opinion for elderly people that want to keep their minds in a tip-top shape but also for kids, because it helps develop, sharpen and maintain logical thinking. 

The small packaging of the game, makes it ideal to take with at any journey, although the game itself will require some space in order to lay down all the necessary cards.  

Fun:

Being able to use my mind in a rather complex way in order to make the right choices within a game, always is a source of fun for me. I am sure that isn’t the case for some people but then again this review is about how the game feels to me. Player interaction, through the use of special action cards is also adding much to the fun. 

Final Verdict:

 “The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction” is a card game based on the renowned board game “The Manhattan Project” that effortlessly receives attention due to its original mechanics and nice artwork. Don’t be fooled but the small footprint of its box: this game takes itself seriously and is here to challenge your mind every single turn. Solo play is a nice feature that, with a little change in the rules of some cards, puts you up against yourself adding to replayability. A tiny box – can be carried everywhere and a game that can be appealing to a wide range of gamers. The artwork in cards completes the game in the best possible way, making it a sweet spot in the category of short-duration games. 

Recommended for:  strategy game lovers, The Manhattan Project series fans


If you like this game, you can buy it from the link below along with games from the same series  :

Good
  • easy rules
  • tests your logical and problem solving skills
  • player interaction
  • challenging solo play
  • can be appealing to many different target groups
Bad
  • game may become too long with many players
7.5
Good
Components - 9
Gameplay - 7
Learning Curve - 9
Theme - 6
Replayability - 7
Fun - 7
Written by
Maria is an avid board gamer, interested also in video games, movies and tennis. She is also an accomplished surveying engineer and a proud mum.

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