Sunday, July 15, 2007

Manhattan: a fine game

Manhattan (BGG, BUY ME!) is due to be back in print in a month or so, and I highly suggest you pick it up.

I got my copy as part of a trade (big surprise), and knew very little about it beyond a few base facts. The game won the Spiel des Jahres in 1994, the first for Andreas Seyfarth of Puerto Rico (BGG, BUY ME!) and Thurn and Taxis (BGG, BUY ME!) fame. I've played both of the latter, and while T&T won the SdJ in 2006, I'm not as captivated by either of those two games as Manhattan, and it gets a fair amount of table time in my circle. This simple game of building skyscrapers is way more vicious than I ever anticipated.

Gameplay is pretty simple and tight: You will make exactly twenty-four moves during the game, placing your buildings with the aid of cards. Each player has a set of buildings, or floors- mostly one story pieces, some twos, some thees, and a few fours. The game board has six different neighborhoods- Wall Street, Soho, Downtown, and so forth, each a three-by-three grid with no special powers for the neighborhoods.

Each player starts with a hand of four cards- the deck consists of repeats of nine different cards, one for each of the nine positions you can place a building. The clever thing is that each is played in relation to how the player perceives the board: Say I have a card that lets me plunk down a building in position 1, if you think of an area like a phone dial pad. That same card, if played by Bob on my right, lets him play on position 3- and so on, with that card letting Fred play on position 9 and Fritz on position 7. It's a great way to maximize play value return on the components, but that's kind of a dry observation- I should have some pictures here. For an added bit of cleverness, you pull aside the pieces you're going to use each round, so you're committing your building power before you know how you can really use it.

You control a building if your color is on top. Points are awarded at the end of each round as follows: 1 point per each building you control on the board, two points for each neighborhood where you control more buildings than anyone else, and three points for the tallest building on the board. If there are ties, no points for anyone.

Now, here's the fundamental rule for taking over buildings: You can only place a piece on a building if doing so would give you at least as many floors as whoever currently owns it. It's relatively easy to get locked out of a tasty position, too. I haven't played a two-player game yet, but I believe it would be very compelling.

I keep bringing Manhattan to game nights, and it keeps getting requested. It's tactical and fun, and just mean enough. Having your moves limited by cards also greatly reduces the whole spectrum of opportunity, so you can focus on strategy by retaining a few cards between rounds. There's also a few variants in there which have yet to hit the table; I'm looking forward to trying the ones with the monster that destroys buildings.

I doubt I'll tire of Manhattan for a long time.

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