The Manhattan Project is an awesome worker-placement game that appeals to a very wide audience. Hard-core gamers will be fairly challenged to build their bomb-production engine faster than their opponents while others will find it to be a very easy-to-use gateway, worker-placement experience. The theme is beautifully woven into the gameplay and the graphic design makes the moderately complex decisions seem simple. This analysis is focused on the base game, but most of this applies to the expansions as well. Supplemental data used during this analysis can be found here: manhattan_project_data. Also, you can check out the video version immediately below or the text version that follows it.
The three possible high-level strategies are:
· Go for Plutonium – cheap and quick, but lower points mean more bombs are needed… this may involve testing a bomb first.
· Go for Uranium – expensive (requires coins as input) and slow to produce, but higher points on bombs means fewer are needed.
· Mix and Match – this requires more micromanagement and effectively requires both a Reactor and Enrichment Plant in your building menagerie.
Each strategy is quite viable where the best one for you in a particular game depends on the bomb designs you are able to acquire, the buildings you are able to construct, and the number of players in the game since more players means the fewer the points you need to win. Going the plutonium route along with testing a small bomb first is usually the best plan, especially with fewer players (because more points are needed for winning), but if you are able to acquire 2 uranium designs that add up to the points you need to win, that will be the quickest and easiest path to victory. Plutonium is twice as easy to produce and doesn’t require coins as an input for the Reactors like every uranium Enrichment Plant does. Plutonium bombs do not require twice as much plutonium for the same point value, so if you are able to construct buildings with plutonium output and grab plutonium bomb designs, go heads-down plutonium and don’t look back.
Your focus right away is on training your workers and constructing buildings. All of your workers should go onto either the scientist University, engineer University, or Construction spots for the first few turns. You need to get yourself up to a full workforce expeditiously so you can optimize your efficiency for the rest of the game. Buying University buildings is extremely fruitful on your first few turns if they are affordable. You will also need an early Mine or two, and if you can grab a Factory that has an output of coins, it will serve you extremely well throughout the game. If you cannot use all of your workers on your turn, you know that you need to build more buildings, and if you have vacant buildings at the end of your turn, you know you need to recruit a larger workforce.
Next, your focus turns towards manufacturing yellowcake in your mines, getting a reactor/plant for plutonium or uranium, and placing on the bomb design board space. This will get you a goal to work towards and get you two bomb designs to use for your planning. More designs will come from opponents designing bombs where the designs you choose depend on whether you can produce uranium or plutonium. Continue constructing buildings when you see Factories with coin output, Mines, or your type of Reactor/Plant comes up so you can utilize your entire workforce every other turn. Ideally, you are placing your entire workforce on your buildings one turn, then recalling them all on the next. Occassionally you have to place two turns in a row before you recall because there is a valuable spot open on the board like Espionage or a University you need, but try not to make that a habit.
Now you are fairly locked into your high-level strategy and will have to keep an eye out for another Reactor/Plant that produces your needed resource type and be ready to buy it at a high price before someone else snatches it up. You want 2-3 Mines plus 2-3 sources of plutonium and/or uranium on your buildings in the early part of the end game to churn out that bomb material like mad. This is where it is particularly important to not lose focus on what matters: getting the points you need to win the game. Don’t worry about building planes, doing airstrikes, and making materials that are not required for the bombs you need to win. If you do not need anymore yellowcake for your last bombs, don’t bother making it.
The effectiveness of each type of building differs greatly in this game, so you can give yourself a significant edge by choosing the more efficient producers over the less efficient, but do not over-think it because, if you need yellowcake, just grab a Mine, even if it isn’t the best one you’ve ever seen. Note that I am not taking into account the worker/time investment required for each, although you should consider it when you make your building selections to ensure you have enough workers to match its input needs. For purposes of evaluating resource input compared to output, we will use coins as the common denominator, where the value of each resource is shown below.
This was determined based on an average cost of resources in each way they can be acquired. Again more details can be found here: manhattan_project_data
Below is a list of each mine with its input, output, and value. You can see that there is one ultimate Mine, where a single engineer can produce 3 yellowcake! The other Mines with a value of 3 are also very good, so keep an eye out for all of them and happily pay a premium for them if they appear on the building market.
As you can see below, just like with the Mines, there is a standout plutonium Reactor where 1 scientist and 1 yellowcake gets you 1 plutonium. If you can get that in the early game, you have no excuse for not being victorious. The 1 uranium for 3 plutonium Reactor is an excellent deal as well, but requires that you have a source of uranium. You don’t want to waste your board placements on uranium or plutonium if you can help it, but that conversion ratio may make it worth your while if you grab that building. Keep an eye out for the other two with resource values of .444 as they are very nice as well.
Uranium Enrichment Plant
Uranium Enrichment Plants are similar to Mines and Reactors in that there is one exceptional prospect in the bunch, this one being the 5 coins and 2 yellowcake for 2 uranium. The .235 and .22 resource value Plants are worth having on your radar too in case they come up on the market.
These are very good in the early game and steadily go down in value as your workforce expands throughout the game. Even in the late game, it’s nice to convert a standard worker for a contractor that is a scientist or engineer to help with your more worker-expensive buildings and bombs. You should get at least one of these in the early game, even if you have to spend a little extra on the building market for them.
These are only useful when their output is money, but that is extremely good. The one with the engineer as input and 5 coins as output is one of those ultimate buildings that you should buy almost no matter the price on the market.
Long-term benefit is better than short-term benefit in the early and mid-game. You want to train workers and construct buildings, even though you may feel your opponents are getting out to a big lead. This is just fine because you don’t want to be a target anyway. Having a full workforce and a wide array of buildings on your mat will be far more beneficial. Only place on the main board Mine, Reactor, or Enrichment Plants in the end game to get your final points to win, otherwise try to stick to your own buildlings for these resources.
Focus on the goals that matter and do not be distracted by everything else! You will be tempted to build fighters, bombers, go on assaults, or place on board locations that only give you short-term benefit instead of constructing buildings and training workers for long-term benefit, but you must resist. Just know the points you need to win, acquire designs that will get you to those points, and then focus entirely on getting the resources you need to build those bombs. When calculating your point needs, add 5 points for each bomb you plan to build because you will almost always load them… also, do not forget about the bonus points you get for testing if you plan to test a bomb. If you can find a small bomb to test, it’s often well worth it.
Do not just build bombs whenever you can because bombs on the table mean you become a target. If you can get 2 big bombs, try to save up all resources required to build them and load them so you can throw them down at once, or in close proximity. Of course, if your bombs require too many workers to build to get you to the victory total, build a smaller one but don’t load it before doing a late game recall so it’s on the table and you can use your fresh set of workers to build your final bomb(s). You might as well only load your bombs at the very end so you are less of a target and you can use the bombers to threaten players even though you know you would never waste them in a bombing run, although that does come with the slight risk that someone will shoot down your bombers with their fighters before you can load your bombs, so be careful.
Stay away from fighters, bombers, and air strikes. They waste resources and time that you need to be the first to build the bombs required to win. Only build enough bombers so you can load each of the bombs you plan to build and do not build any fighters unless your opponents are very aggressive. If you get bombed, it’s OK, just repair. That time and money will be cheaper than building up an airforce and wasting time using it.
Use espionage whenever it is available. Espionage is amazing. You get the benefit of your opponents’ buildings while significantly reducing their ability to manufacture resources. You’re going to place your workers on your own buildings anyway so why not place them on opponents buildings first and choke up their capabilities while freeing up your own buildings? This is one time where delaying your recall and placing multiple turns in a row may be worth it to leave your workers on opponent buildings or valuable board spots so others cannot use them.
Money is very powerful in this game. Before taking money from the factory board spaces, check to see if there is anything in the bribe pile because that is frequently overlooked.
Know who the leader is in the game, if it is not you. Try to get others to team up against them, hopefully by using few/none of your resources to do it. When using espionage, try to use their buildings first to slow them down.