The Manhattan Project Strategy Primer

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.

High-Level Strategies

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.

Strategy Progression

Early Game

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.

Mid Game

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.

End Game

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.

Building Valuation

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.

resource_values_cropped

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

Mines

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.

mines_data

Plutonium Reactors

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.

plutonium_data2_cropped

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.

uranium_manufacturing2_cropped

Universities

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.

Factories

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.

General Tactics

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.

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Words with Friends (and Scrabble) Strategy Primer

This is a strategy guide for the game Words with Friends. It is based on the basic game, 2-player game, but much of what this contains can be used in 3-4 player games, other variants, or in Scrabble. Keep reading the detailed text version below or view the brief video version that immediately follows this sentence.

The biggest misconception Words with Friends players have is thinking that the best players are the ones who make the biggest words or have the largest vocabulary. That is extremely inaccurate. The most important keys are:

  • Know all the 2 letter words. They are:
    AA, AB, AD, AE, AG, AH, AI, AL, AM, AN, AR, AS, AT, AW, AX, AY, BA, BE, BI, BO, BY, DA, DE, DI, DO, ED, EF, EH, EL, EM, EN, ER, ES, ET, EX, FA, FE, FI, GI, GO, HA, HE, HI, HM, NO, ID, IF, IN IS, IT, JO, KA, KI, LA, LI, LO, MA, ME, MI, MM, MO, MU, MY, NA, NE, NO, NU, OF, OE, OF, OH, OI, OM, ON, OP, OR, OS, OW, OX, OY, PA, PE, PI, QI, RE, SH, SI, SO, TA, TI, TO, UH, UM, UN, UP, US, UT, WE, WO, XI, XU, YA, YE, YO, ZA
    (Note that V and C are not included here, which makes them excellent blockers to prevent opponents from playing two letter words in order to stretch over to a Triple Word Score.)
  • Play defensively. This is EQUALLY important as playing offensively. If you say to yourself, “I’ll play here and just hope my opponent doesn’t have a (something),” abort that plan and find another place to play.
  • Recognize prefixes and suffixes. Realizing you have something like “ing” or “tion” is far more important than having a large vocabulary.
  • Understand the value of your play options in a very basic way. See the Playing Words section below.

Playing Tiles

Step One: What are the best spots on the board? In order of average value:

  1. Triple word scores. This is by far the most valuable tile, making even a simple word into a decent score.
  2. Triple/double letters next to vowels. This allows you to play a larger point letter on it perpendicular to the vowel so you can score it twice, along with the double/triple bonus.
  3. Playing on top of or next to a block that will give you multiple words. This is commonly used to get rid of low-point letters, especially vowels. A strong knowledge of three-letter words helps tremendously in this endeavor.
  4. Double word scores. These can add up to serious points, especially in conjunction with a double/triple letter score. Be careful not to leave your opponent with a high-potential place to play when using them though.
  5. Adding a letter on to the end of an existing word. If you can play a word that adds a single letter onto an existing word to make a second new word, you can score a decent number of points from the existing word. Since you do not get bonuses for the existing word, this type of play is not one of the most valuable options, but still better than only getting points for a single word.

Step Two: What will this play leave for my opponent?

The potential point opportunity for your opponent is of almost equal importance as how many points it will get for you, especially when you are playing a WWF player of advanced skill. When deciding on the word to play, take into account both your word score and your opponent’s scoring potential given the state of the board you leave for their turn. Pretty much never leave them with access to a Triple Word Score or a Triple/Double Letter Score next to a vowel.

Tray Management

When you’re looking for words to play, try to identify parts of words that are commonly used. What you want:

  • Things like ing, ed, er, ite, ide, ine, tion, etc. You can string these together to form words that use all 7 tiles or just stretch a long word over to a Triple Word Score. If nothing else, organizing the tiles in your tray so these letter combinations are together help visualize the words you can form.
  • A roughly 35%/65% distribution of vowels/consonants. No one likes to have mostly/all vowels or mostly/all consonants and the naïve WWF player will tell you it’s all luck of the draw. It’s really not. It is worth using a slightly less valuable word to leave yourself with a better balance of consonants and vowels for next turn. For example, leaving yourself with TIAE is way better than leaving yourself with IIAE, even if it means a few less points.
  • Avoid repeating letters. I would MUCH rather have an A and an E left for next turn than two As. It’s not as bad to have OO or EE because they frequently show up together, but II or AA is terrible.

Part of your tray composition is luck, but you are often faced with fairly even scoring word options, where you may be able to lose a point or two in order to have a more favorable combination of letters for your next turn. These really add up throughout a game.

Ending the Game

In a very close game, end game tactics may be the deciding factor. If you can leave your opponent with some high-scoring tiles left when you go out, the point swing can be significant. Simply, you want to go out first, so:

  • Do not take exactly the remaining tiles left in the bag. For example, if there are 4 tiles left in the bag, do not make a 4 letter word. Either leave a couple in the bag so your opponent cannot go out next turn, or make as large a word as possible (hopefully 5+ letters) so you get the advantage in going out first.
  • Also, once you get down to less than 7 tiles left in the bag, start planning out your final few turns so you can go out as quickly as possible.

Pandemic Strategy Primer

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you think there may be opportunities for improving your Pandemic winning percentage. If that is the case, you have come to the right place. If you play the game perfectly, you will win just over half of the games you play on the hardest difficulty. This is intended for the base game, but a lot of what is discussed applies to the expansions as well. For the in-depth text version, keep reading, otherwise the brief video version is immediately below.

General Tactics

The two most important tactics are:

  1. You must find a cure for at least one disease within the first 3 rounds. If you cannot do this, you will probably lose, but you have a small chance of winning if you just hold everything off and get very lucky with the card drawing and just happen to draw most of what you need for the cures. I call this the “hold down the fort” strategy, but it will only succeed with lucky draws, so it should only be used as a last resort.
  2. Once you get to two rounds left in the game, you must stop and plan out your remaining turns so that you obtain the rest of the cures. If you wait until you have 1.5 rounds left, it’s probably too late because a couple of your disease-fighters will only get one turn left, which would require them to get the remaining cards for their cure and get to a research station.  This will be very difficult.

Roles

Turn order is VERY important.

Operations Expert

The best thing you can do with this role is to throw down research facilities whenever you have an extra action and can either help someone cure a disease faster or are in an area of the world without a research facility. This role was terrible before he was much improved in the rebooted version of the Pandemic base game.

Researcher

This is probably the best role to have because the ability to transfer cards to anyone who needs them is so critical in curing disease.  They should not be using cards for transportation unless absolutely necessary because they can give them to someone to help cure a disease at some point in the game.  Also, they will never be at a point where they need to discard cards.

Dispatcher

This role is pretty much equal to the Researcher in best-ness.  Moving around the board is the greatest action point sink, so providing the ability to move more efficiently is incredibly important in speeding up your disease-curing/treating.  Moving one player to the location of another player is AMAZING.

Medic

The Medic is a close third in importance to the team.  Shipping him off to the most disease-ridden cities in the game will, if nothing else, make all the players feel a little less depressed about the current state of the world.

Scientist

This role is great, but not a necessity.  To be able to cure a disease with 4 cards instead of 5 is a very nice luxury.  They should not be using cards for transportation unless absolutely necessary because they are the primary disease-curing force on the team.

Contingency Planner

Depending on when the event cards come up in a game, this role can be either ineffective or a godsend. When playing this role, events should be used sooner to allow for the Contingency Planner to grab them and use them again. This will free up space in players’ hands too!

Quarantine Specialist

This role should head toward the most disease-ridden areas of the map, primarily in a city connected to any 3-cube cities to prevent them from outbreaking, but also in areas where you expect/know disease will spread.

Turn Order

Dispatcher -> Medic

When the Dispatcher goes before the Medic, he can move the Medic somewhere and then he can just go crazy treating/curing disease afterwards.  It is effectively 2 full turns of disease-treating, which is sometimes needed when all hell breaks loose.  After a cure has been found, the Dispatcher can just use the Medic as a vacuum cleaner to vacuum up all those cubes on the board.  If the order is reversed, the Dispatcher doesn’t really want to move the Medic because there might be more important places to cure by the time it gets to the Medic’s turn.

Researcher -> Scientist

If the Researcher is immediately before the Scientist, they can move to the Scientist’s location, give them cards they need, and the Scientist can bang out those cures.  This cannot be used very effectively if the Researcher goes immediately after the Scientist because the Researcher has to give them whatever cards they have on their turn and then 6 more cards are drawn (in a 4 player game) before it gets to the Scientist’s turn, which may have been useful to her.

Dispatcher->Researcher->Scientist

The awesome 3-role combo, which doesn’t happen very often, is Dispatcher->Researcher->Scientist so the Dispatcher can move the Researcher to the Scientist’s location from anywhere on the board.

Transportation

Finding optimal transportation between cities is paramount in Pandemic.  If you cannot do this, you will lose.  Treat every action you have like gold.

Make sure to use all methods of transportation at your disposal.  It is easy to forget about some of them, particularly the Charter Flight.  You should use all methods (Drive, Direct Flight, Charter Flight, and Shuttle Flight) in every game of Pandemic to travel optimally.

Treating Disease

Do not worry about cities with 1 or even 2 cubes on them. Having a city with 3 cubes on it is FAR worse than having one with 0, 1, or 2 on it. Send your people out to knock those 3-cube cities down to 1 or 2 cubes. You’re really just trying to “hold down the fort” until you can find the cures.

You are often faced with choosing between two different cities with 3 cubes on them. You can’t get to both of them so you have to choose one to knock down to 1-2 cubes and one to leave for another turn in hopes that it will not be drawn from the infection deck. These are the factors you should consider when deciding, in order of importance:

1)      Is one city closer to the top of the infection deck? If so, and you do not expect to draw an epidemic, treat that city. Or, if you highly anticipate an epidemic card to be drawn on this turn, choose a city that is in the infection discard pile instead of one still in the deck.

2)      If they fall into the same category for #1, choose the one connected to the most 3-cube cities.

3)      If they again fall into the same category for #2, treat the one with more vectors to other cities.

4)      If the cities are still even, flip a coin… and pray.

If you find a cure for a disease early in the game, try to eradicate it, but if it’s later in the game, don’t worry about it and just try to get the other cures unless eradication is fairly easy.

The Infection Deck

Knowing the contents of this deck is INCREDIBLY important.

Keep in mind (or memorize, if possible) which cards are on top of the infection deck so you can preemptively cure diseases there, keep them from outbreaking, and keep your disease-fighters close to them.

Once the infection rate gets up to 3 and 4, this gets much harder, but before then, you should know every card that is near the top of this deck so you know where to position your forces.

Special Event Cards

Save these until the later stages of the game unless you risk utter devastation if you do not.

Play One Quiet Night and Resilient Population immediately after an epidemic card is drawn, especially if it is when the infection rate increases to 3 or 4.  Pretty much never use this when an epidemic card has not been drawn.  If you feel this is required, you are doing something wrong.

Use the Forecast card after an epidemic card is drawn, but before the infection cards are drawn.

Airlift should usually be used when you need to get someone somewhere to give a card to someone about to cure a disease, often in conjunction with the Dispatcher.

Cures and Eradication

If you do not have 5 of every color of uncured disease in the collective hand of the disease-fighters, this is a problem.  Do not use too many cards for transportation purposes until that color disease has been cured.  Once you have at least 5 of each color disease, you now have a chance to win the game.

If you have 3 or more of a particular color card in your hand, you might want to start making your way over to that part of the world to make it easier for other players to give you cards to complete your set of 5. (or 4 if you are the Scientist)  This is less important if you have a Dispatcher on the team.

It often makes sense to just go for an all-out cure strategy near the end of the game if your outbreak meter is not too high.

If you cannot eradicate a disease in the next two consecutive turns, do not bother and work towards finding cures and saving cities from outbreaks.  Eradication is great, but spending an entire round to do it is a waste.

Tuning Your Strategies

You won’t win every game when you start playing.  In fact, you will lose most of them.  If you notice yourself losing from the Outbreak Meter every time, make sure you focus on making sure no city ever has 3 cubes on it when you draw from the infection deck (or as close to this as possible).  If you always run out of player cards, focus more on curing diseases quicker and improving your turn efficiency.  If you always run out of cubes of one color, make sure you aren’t concentrating too much on a particular disease.  Once you fix the source of your losing one way and you start losing another way, that’s good!  Now fix why you are losing using your current tactics.

Conclusion

You have to remain adaptable in every game when the deck throws its worst at you.  You have to be able to weather the storm and cure those diseases because chaos now often means a reprieve in the near future.