Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction: Review

A chain reaction is a “sequence of reactions where a reactive agent… causes additional reactions to take place.” Fairway picks up the recent Kickstarter delivery from Minion Games: Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction. The result is a series of games that beget even more games of Chain Reaction.

And, at the end of this review, we giving away two copies of The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction!

Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is a one- to five-player, hand-management card game based loosely on the original Manhattan Project game.  As the Ministers of War, players play cards to form chains of cards leading from workers to yellow cake to uranium to nuclear bombs to help advance their small countries’ nascent nuclear program.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. Chain Reaction makes clever use of multipurpose cards. Most cards can be played for either workers or as inputs and outputs.
  2. Building chains of cards, and watching other build chains of cards, is a lot of fun.
  3. The game does create situations where your hand is unhelpful. The mitigation options are only somewhat helpful.

Game play ^

Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is played over a series of turns during which players play card from their hands to create the requisite nuclear materials and ultimately bombs in an effort to score the most points by the time someone reaches ten points.

Chain Reaction, in its standard form, is a card game.  There are decks of bomb blue prints, deck of plane cards, decks for the resources, three location cards, and a deck of game cards.  In the deluxe version included wood bits for resources: yellow cake and uranium. These just replace the resource cards in the standard game.

The blue print cards and the plane cards are what players ultimately use to score points. They include the types of workers and resources necessary to score the indicated points.

The three location cards are general purpose cards that are available for a player to use during their hand. They’re mostly a luck-mitigation option for when a hand might not otherwise provide the player much choice.

The heart of the game, however, is played using the Chain Reaction cards.  At the start of the game, players are dealt hands for five Chain Reaction cards. On their turn, players use these cards, discard used ones, and then draw back up to five at the end of their turn.  Players use the cards in their hand to build “chains.” These chains typically have inputs (workers and resources) and result in some sort of output (like workers or other sorts of resources).  Ultimately, players need to build chains that let them create (and load up) bombs to score the points.

Each Chain Reaction card is one of a number of multi-use cards. On the left of each card, there is a worker type which allows a player to play that card to supply his or her “chain” with the indicated type and number of worker.  In the middle of the Chain Reaction card is the type of card it is.  There are a few basic types: mines, factories, and universities.  There are also other special action cards like espionage cards.

For the basic types of cards, most have an “input” shown at the top of the card and an “output” shown at the bottom of the card. To add these cards to the chain, you play them onto the table beneath their requisite inputs: resources and people. They then produce their output.  This output can then be the “input” for another card.

For example, you might play a card with a worker as an input to a factory.  That factory lets you draw two more cards.  You play one of those cards for an engineer as an input into a university, the university produces three engineers.   Those engineers, a scientist, and some uranium from an earlier turn are used to build a bomb.

Briefly, a few of the cards that are playable let players steal cards and have a little bit of Take That.  Not too much though.

After the player has played all the cards he or she can or wants to, any unused resources are kept for the next turn, the cards are discarded, and he or she draws up to five new cards.

On the green ^

Multi-use cards.  Chain Reaction makes terrific use of multi-use cards. They’re done in an intuitive and consistent way so that even new players “get it.”

Art and theme.  I realize the art is repurposed from the Manhattan Project board game, but it works really well. I’m not sure I love a nuclear war theme, but the integration of the card chaining mechanic in a nuclear-bomb themed game is slick.

Those chains. Man those chains are fun to make. You know a game has a neat mechanic when you get excited for your opponents’ actions. While making explosive chains yourself is the best, it’s hard to not enjoy watching someone else string together a really impressive chain reaction too.

Play time.  The game plays relatively quickly all around. Since you’re playing only with the cards from your hand, you can plan your plays while waiting for other players to take their turns. Even still, it would be a shame to not watch them turn five cards into a pretty amazing chain of cards.

Where it comes up short ^

If we have one gripe about this game it’s that individual hands are all over the place. It’s great to have those long chains, those are fun, but it’s a terrible feeling when you end your turn having barely used the cards. The provision of the always usable location cards help mitigate this a bit, but they’re very expensive to use and don’t end up helping much.

In the hole ^

Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is a great hand-management and card-chaining game. With clever implementation of multi-use cards and thematic card playing mechanism, it’s good fun. What’s more, while chaining together your own cards is great in its own right, watching other players do the same is also fun.  That’s the sign of a good game. Chain Reaction is a nice pick for folks looking for a light, easy to teach card game.

Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is in the hole for a Birdie! ^

Chain Reaction Giveaway ^

We’re trying to spread the love.  So, we’re giving away two copies of Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction.  Lots of ways to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Bonus Pic ^

I got to play a pre-production version of this game at Gamehole Con in 2015!


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