The Manhattan Project was an enjoyable worker placement game from what feels like an age ago. The theme was cool, the components were decent and I liked the dynamic style of worker placement that it included. This is where you placed out workers but withdrew them at different times to other players, thus there was an additional element of having to pay attention to when players would withdraw their workers in order to nab the spaces. Energy Empire, a spin-off released recently used a similar concept and even though it’s not a direct sequel, it’s an excellent game and is rising up my rankings with each play. With that in mind, The Manhattan Project kind of fell off the radar for many. Now we have a proper sequel “Minutes to Midnight” following on from that, but is it a big departure from the original or maybe is it a little too late?
Designer: Brandon Tibbetts
Publisher: Minion Games
Time: 120-180 Minutes
20 years after the end of The Manhattan Project, the superpowers of the world are embroiled in another vicious arms race. Manufacturing nukes is no longer an obstacle; all nations are now capable of churning them out at a rapid pace. The challenge of this era lies in the development of various delivery systems called the “Nuclear Triad:” strategic bombers, ballistic subs, and land-based ballistic missiles.
Each player represents one of the superpowers in the arms race. At staged intervals, scoring is conducted in one of 4 categories:
– Strategic Bombers
– Ballistic Submarines
– Short-range missiles deployed to third world nations
In addition to earning points for deploying nukes during the scoring rounds, players can also earn defensive bonuses for mitigating the risks imposed against them.
The game ends after all of the scoring events have been completed. The player with the most points is the winner.
To help along the way, you will recruit 4 different kinds of workers:
– Laborers, which operate your buildings
– Spies, which operate your opponents’ buildings for your gain
– Politicians, which produce tax revenue and gain control over third world nations
– Generals, which deploy your bombers, subs, and overseas missiles
You will also construct and operate 6 different kinds of buildings:
– Factories, which produce submarines and aircraft
– Research Facilities, which allow you to improve your position in 5 different technology tracks
– Reactors, which produce nukes
– Silos, which are armed with ICBMs
– Test Sites, which allow you to detonate nukes in your own territory for points
– ABM Launchers, which earn defensive bonuses against various threats
DR STRANGELOVE, YOU’RE SPOILING US
Kickstarter is spoiling us with component quality lately and Minutes to Midnight just carries on the trend. Yes there’s no miniatures but it isn’t all about that you know! What it does have is some crystal clear iconography, quad-thick cardboard workers and tiles and neat artwork throughout. The graphic design is also solid with worker designs that won’t cause any “PC” issues with other countries and rule reminders for important aspects printed on the boards themselves.
On top of that the rulebook is really good and clear. Maybe a little too much text in places, but I didn’t have a problem learning Minutes to Midnight despite the fact it’s not a light game by any means. There’s plenty you need to know here, but after one read, I was ready to go subject to a few checks during the first game. I think Minion Games are on a solid trend with good rulebooks – I’ve touted the praise many times about how Energy Empire sets a high benchmark for how a good rulebook should be laid out. It’s frankly a sin that lots of big major publishers can’t get it right without help and yet a smaller publisher like Minion Games hits it on the nail each and every time.
DYNAMIC WORKER PLACEMENT
The dynamic system of worker placement makes a welcome return whereby you only activate the workers when you withdraw them off the board. And because everyone will have and use different numbers and types of workers throughout the game, the timings of when this will happen differ for each player. More workers allow you to take more powerful actions, but having more workers or available actions means you’re possibly going to take a while before your next withdrawal and thus maybe not get enough achieved. I always like this subtle balance you have to play as it doesn’t immediately reward the person who’s first to get all his workers hired as in some other Euro’s.
THIS MEANS WAR!
A big difference you’re going to see to the original Manhattan Project is the amount of direct and indirect player interaction there is in Minutes to Midnight. If you remember the bomber/fighters from the original, imagine zooming in on that aspect of the game and then having multiple avenues to pursue. Here you’re actively knocking out fighters on your board, clearing subs from your waters, blocking worker spaces, nicking your opponents buildings for your own use and fighting on several tracks for dominance. It’s pretty cut-throat to say the least and so if that’s not your cup of tea, look elsewhere.
It’s also a step up in terms of weight. Minutes to Midnight is a meaty game and I wouldn’t call Manhattan Project that light to begin with. This is definitely a fairly heavy experience with plenty of rules to digest. Certainly it’s going to appeal to the heavier Euro fans.
SEVERAL HOURS TO MIDNIGHT
One big criticism I do have of Minutes to Midnight however is that it’s a little fragile with regards to the game length and player count ratio. It caters for 2-5 players, but there are 3 different levels of play that you can use from normal to epic. What these levels do is stretch out when the variable scoring takes place during the game. When you have more players, it’s recommended, nay maybe mandatory, to play long or epic. This is because the game timer is dependent on when players withdraw workers and if you have more players, this takes place more often, but you don’t necessarily get any extra turns to get your plan off the ground. Therefore in a short game, you feel like you didn’t have enough time to do what you want.
So you play long/epic and all is well right? Depends. Obviously a long/epic game is going to take longer to play and Minutes to Midnight easily hits the 2 hour mark and can go on much longer. Analysis Paralysis can set in quite easily and if you have slow players, you’re doomed to a long, dull existence waiting for your turn. This is compounded by the fact that some of your turns will literally be as quick as “plonk a worker down, done, but others will be a fairly lengthy process of withdrawing a large collection of multi-function workers and resolving them all in any order you choose. This can take a while particularly if the player is a slow one and if there’s several of these in a row, the downtime can get a bit out of hand.
So as I said, it’s a fragile balance of players vs length. Personally however I feel that 2-3 players works best for time, however you have the minor concern that kingmaking could occur with odd player counts. So for a perfect balance, you’re probably looking at 2 or 4, but leave the slow players out of your game at all costs.
VERDICT ON MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
People are going to be pretty divisive about which they prefer out of the two Manhattan Project games. For me, Minutes to Midnight gains the slight edge over its predecessor, but doesn’t come close to the same enjoyment that the spin-off Energy Empire gave me.
It’s definitely well produced and looks the business on the table, however a lot of it is focused on track hopping and the potential to king-make is pretty high, especially with odd player counts. Variable scoring conditions are however welcomed and the dynamic worker placement style is one which I really enjoy, forcing players to really consider timing with regards to their actions.
Minutes to Midnight is fragile in how to tailor the best experience for player count and length, but when it works, it works really well. And those who wanted a bit more cutthroat interaction in Manhattan Project will certainly get that here. Give it a go if you enjoyed the last one.
Personal BGG Rating – 7
YOU WILL LIKE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT IF:
You enjoyed Manhattan Project and want the next meaty step up while retaining the same feel and theme.
You enjoy what I like to call “dynamic worker placement”.
You want an easily customizable experience both in goal scoring and length.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT IF:
You aren’t comfortable with the amount of potential screwage in a lengthy game.
You play with 4+ players regularly – even though you can tweak the length, there is still the downtime issue.
The potential to king-make puts you off.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.