Minion Games a go last weekend. Indeed, it has taken two weekends to properly get under the skin of the game. We played with two players without the expansions - i.e. just the basic game.
The Manhattan Project is about racing to build atom and hydrogen bombs. It is a worker placement game. I didn't really understand what that was, but having played Lords of Waterdeep, I can now see the similarities between the two.
Players have a limited supply of workers. including general workers, scientists and engineers. These can complete tasks on a central board, as well as on buildings you control. In Waterdeep, the workers are clerics, fighters, wizards, etc. Unlike Waterdeep, Manhattan Project lets players keep most of their workers by recycling them back into your pool - however, this ends up being your sole action for the turn, so is not done without serious consideration. There are also contract workers that can be employed temporarily, but like the ronin in Shogun, go home once the job is done.
To win, the aim is to accumulate victory points, as in most eurogames. These are achieved by building and testing bombs and weaponising them by loading them onto bombers (for +5 VPs).
Buildings work slightly differently from Waterdeep - while they can be acquired from a limited menu of building cards that is regularly replenished, once you have a building - e.g. a university or a factory - you control it and nobody else can use it, unless they make use of the espionage option.
This latter provides you with the ability to add to your espionage capacity in the course of a game, letting you make use of other players' buildings. It can be an effective blocking action, as dropping a worker on another player's plutonium reactor, for example, can stop him for producing plutonium while that worker is in situe.
Another twist is the use of bombers and fighters. Bombers have dual uses - to conduct air strikes against other players' buildings and to carry A-bombs. It is important to note that at no point do the nuclear weapons actually get used in The Manhattan Project - once a bomb is designed and built, and conceivably armed on a bomber, the VPs are scored and that's it. You're done.
Fighters are a protective shield against bombers, but once brushed aside by other fighters, it is possible for another player to punish you severely with air strikes.
In my case, I suffered dismally with a massive air strike which demolished my production capacity. It is very, very hard to conduct repairs in this game. It is expensive, and there is only one repair action, which, once occupied, is closed to you. A player can bomb your buildings and block the repair action, leaving you no option but to construct new plant. I had a lovely uranium mine put out of action this way.
Hence, it is critical that players keep tabs on their fighter screens and other players' fighter screens. After VPs, these are probably the most important factors on display. If you leave yourself vulnerable here, you will be punished and it will hurt you.
Overall, this game feels very similar to Waterdeep. Owners of Waterdeep probably don't need The Manhattan Project, unless they love worker placement games generally. I don't own Waterdeep as a physical game, nor any other similar worker placement games, so this does fit neatly into my collection. I also love playing Waterdeep, and enjoy Manhattan Project for similar reasons.