Can't Forget The Old Classics - Manhattan Review

As I write this review, I'm in a disheartening situation where a Windows/PC upgrade resulted in me losing a lot of the intro/outro assets on my video editing software. This is why Manhattan will be a written piece as I now have to recreate them all from scratch. Sad times, but I recreated what I needed and video production will resume after AireCon. Anyway's enough moping, let's talk about something fun! Manhattan.

No, not "The Manhattan Project" the worker placement game, I'm talking about Manhattan the original Spiel Des Jahres winner from 1994. Yeah we're going full on "Cult of the Old" here, but then I'd say I'm probably more about older games then more recent affairs as a whole. Great games have come out and I feel newer games struggle to innovate further beyond simply making everything look pretty so the old ones still stay strong, but I digress. This is a reprint of the classic which has been unavailable for quite some time. Now I never played the original classic so I'm not going to go comparing editions because let's face it, most of you probably don't even own the game it's so old now. From what I know, the rules are the same and it's just had a facelift.

So with everyone focusing so much on the new hotness or as Zee Garcia famously quoted "Cult of the Unreleased" (which is so true these days isn't it, hello Kickstarter fans) can we ressurect some of the older fare to compete?




Designer: Andreas Seyfarth
Publisher: FoxMind
Age: 10+
Players: 2-4
Time: 30-60 minutes
RRP: £46.99


From BoardGameGeek
In Manhattan, players construct a skyline of skyscrapers over several districts, or city blocks, of Manhattan Island. Ultimately, each player seeks to have built the tallest buildings in the most city blocks of the Island.
Each turn, players will play a card that illustrates which part of a city block they may place a "floor" on a building. The placement card is unique for each player in that the section they may place in is relative to their seating at the table. The player who has placed the top most floor controls that building. Each round, scores are tallied based on control of each of the neighborhoods, the tallest tower and owning multiple towers.
At the end of the game, the player who has scored the most points through area control and tallest buildings wins.

I'LL TAKE THE PENTHOUSE SUITE!


Visually it's pretty striking on the table with a vibrant board full of colours and a deck of cards with high quality artwork, even if they are only used for a fairly simple purpose. On top of that you've got lots of translucent plastic tower blocks, but even so you wonder why the box couldn't be a little smaller if the board simply folded more times, but it's far from a beast on your shelf. The tower pieces all good quality and it's great to see how the board develops into a growing metropolis as time passes. However the choice of using this plastic material for tower blocks does cause a common issue.

In Manhattan you have to frequently gauge how tall a building is by its levels - except that it's pretty tricky to tell at a distance how many they are so you have to get up close and take time to count. Woe betide you if you're colour blind! This gets particularly fiddly when you're in the last round with lots of multi-level buildings about. It's not game breaking by any means, but perhaps some way of showing on the piece how many levels it is numerically or using opaque blocks might have been a help.


SCRAPE AWAY THE EXCESS


Manhattan is one of those games that's perfectly streamlined and fitting for all ages. You're not lumbered with a hundred options, just given a abstract game that gives enough tactical decision making for engagement and remains fun throughout. So many games these days are bloated by excess, but back in those days, games didn't try to force every mechanic and the kitchen sink on you. What Manhattan does is remain minimal in its approach and streamlined.

However that doesn't mean you just sit back and watch. You still need to consider various aspects of the game both long and short term. A lot of that comes down to reacting to what your opponents are doing each round. Control of each city chops and changes repeatedly and even just switching one tower of the opponent for yours can be a big swing.

But then you have to think about the long game as well. Each round you get to pick several towers to use at the start, but do you use up your little ones early even though they can be easily nabbed? Or do you start off with the big towers, making it harder to lose control but also being forced to resort to your less useful blocks in the late game?

And scores remain pretty tight throughout the game. One bad round can be very costly and it's not easy to call who's going to win the game. My only nitpick is that I've found that spending too much time focusing on having the tallest tower doesn't yield as much reward as it should - though the player count has a big influence on that. I've usually done better at going for multiple towers across the board, but it still feels pretty balanced though.


DON'T PLAY NICE!


There are only subtle rule tweaks based on player count but they help the game to scale fine, that being said, you'll get a much meaner game from 4 players vying for control than with only two. Planning ahead when you've got 4 players about will only work so well because the board state can change a lot in that time, meaning that more players usually means a more tactical game.

And when I say meaner, don't take that lightly. We're not talking Survive: Escape from Atlantis here, but you're constantly stealing other players buildings and losing your own so being mean is part of the game. However it's such a short game that no-one should feel angry over the situation and everyone gets to dish out just as much aggressive tactics as one another.

With the simplistic rules and scoring system, the 4 rounds are handled nice and quick allowing for any game of Manhattan to take less than an hour. You've only got a few cards in your hand, so if anyone is trying to AP this game, then you have my permission to poke them because really turns should be pretty quick throughout leading to very little downtime. The rules are so easy you'll probably be fine if you stapled the rulebook shut after reading it.


VERDICT ON MANHATTAN


1994 was certainly a different era when it comes to board games but it's easy to see why this won the Spiel award back then. It's the dictionary definition of a gateway filler game, with rules that can be learnt in 10 minutes with no past knowledge, pleasing aesthetics (if you like translucent plastic) and quick, light gameplay. It certainly fits the bill as a family weight game with the caveat that you must be comfortable with mean take-that gameplay. However it's short enough that grudges will quickly pass on and the card system mitigates the ability to gang up on someone.

In today's modern era, it can be argued that maybe it's a little dated, but with publishers trying to release so many complex and convuluted games these days, it's nice to see something that's just straight up simple and to the point even if it's technically a reprint. I don't subscribe to "Cult of the New/Unreleased" like many others and can respect older titles and I feel Manhattan deserves some of that. I'm not going to say it's better than a lot of modern gateway games, but it provides tactical decision making, a board state that develops and the occasional cursing from other players - can't go wrong with that!




PERSONAL BGG RATING - 7




YOU WILL LIKE MANHATTAN IF:


You like an element of take-that when it's in a shorter game.


Did I mention it's short - less than an hour for the whole game makes it a great filler.


A gateway game is what you're after - rules are dead simple, scoring is easy, pick up and go!



YOU WILL NOT LIKE MANHATTAN IF:


You don't like mean games at all - here you are actively stealing each others buildings.


You feel the card selection is a little too restrictive or random.


You don't like translucent plastic buildings!


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