Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Fairytale of New York:- Manhattan

Game: Manhattan

Publisher: Foxmind

Designer: Andreas Seyfarth

Year: 1994

Manhattan is a 2-4 player area control game in which you seek to build the tallest, and the most towers across several different blocks on the island of Manhattan. Players will compete for the tallest building on the board, as well as for dominance of each of the individual areas, and finally for having the most towers owned by them. To make things more complex towers you own can be built upon by your opponents, wresting control from you so long as they can equal the number of blocks that you have built.

Gameplay in Manhattan is simple, each turn you choose a number of towers from your pool depending on player count. Towers come in 1-4 block varieties, with 1 block towers being the weakest, but most abundant type. Once everyone has selected their buildings for the round players will take turns playing 1 card from their hand and building a building on the highlighted spot in any of the areas of the board. If the building site is empty then they get to build whichever tower they want, but should there be a tower there aleady they must have equal or more blocks than any other player. For example if you have a 4 block tower, opponents must place a 4 block tower or else they cannot play on top of it. If you ever manage to build a tower up to be 5 blocks above anyone else then it is yours forever!

 Once all towers have been played the round is scored. The player who currently owns the tallest tower in the game gets 3 points. 2 points are awarded for having the majority of owned towers in each of the 6 districts (no points for ties). Then finally each tower you own scores you 1 point. The process then repeats with each player's pool of available towers depleting until the end of round 4 when the game wins. At this point the player with the most points wins the game.

Manhattan just before scoring the first round in a two-player game. Points are awarded based on number of towers, with only the top piece counting, so it's easiest to score from a birds eye view.

Naturally as a Spiel des Jahres winner we had high hopes for Manhattan, the game's latest edition certainly looks the part, with the components being upgraded to translucent plastic towers with etched windows to help you count the number of blocks. While this is a help some colours are easier to see the etching on than others, the yellow is extremely clear, while the purple might as well not be etched at all! There is a mechanic where the card you play effects a different area depending which side of the table you are sitting on (one players top-right is bottom-left for the player opposite). This does a great job of preventing anyone from card counting, though can cause a few little moments of confusion at first.

It wasn't long into our first game that our hopes were dashed, Manhattan simply has far too much luck involved for me. You have a hand of 4 cards and there are 9 unique cards, which means at best you can choose from 44% of the board to play from, if you desperately need to play somewhere it can be a whole round or more before you even get the opportunity! Worse still is when you finally get the card you need to take over a tower only to have your opponent play the same card an capture the tower straight back, leaving you once again to search the deck. Victory seemed to mostly go to the player who drew the most useful cards at the right time. You can argue strategies, sure you can attempt to spread yourself thin and cover a lot of the board, but if your opponent can sit straight on top of you then you have achieved nothing but giving them points.

By playing the same card the orange player was able to play at the bottom of this block, while the yellow player played at the top.

Playing with 4 players isn't the worst thing you can do with an evening, though I can certainly highlight a number of games that are better. Playing with 2 left me with a bad taste in my mouth akin to a botched dental appointment. In a two player game you get 2 colours each, but only get 4 towers in each colour per round, this means that you don't use all your towers by the end of the game. With the number of larger towers, you only have to use a couple of size 1 tower pieces over the entire game. This completely threw off the game as suddenly the bigger towers were as common, if not more common, than the small ones! Furthermore in a 3 or 4 player game if 2 players are fighting intensely this often leaves room of the remaining players to get ahead, but in a two player game it's entirely a matter of who can screw over the other player the most, which is *entirely* a matter of who drew the most relevant cards!

Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh? After all Manhattan is an award winning game, but to be fair it's an award winning game from over 20 years ago, standards have changed since then. Manhattan made me feel targeted and victimized in a way I rarely feel in games, when I was doing badly it felt entirely out of my hands to recover, and with no catch up mechanic to speak of one bad round was merely the start of a downward spiral. If you like a lot of take that and randomness in what is otherwise a very pure, and rather pretty, area control game then Manhattan may be for you.

It's not for me.


Manhattan was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK and Foxmind Games. It is available for an RRP of £46.99 at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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