Game Review: Manhattan Project Chain Reaction – Solo Play

review of the manhattan project, chain reaction card game nuclear bombJames Mathe really hit on an interesting worker placement theme when he created the original Manhattan Project. Players are competing to build atomic bombs, which means you have to manage workers to mine and produce yellow cake, then refine the yellow cake into uranium. Scientists + Engineers + uranium lets you build bombs and earn points. Someone else getting too far ahead? You can bomb their facility or even steal resources from them. My friends and I have had many enjoyable plays of this beautifully produced board game.

When the card game version Chain Reaction appeared on Kickstarter, I immediately backed it and was rewarded with the “deluxe” version of the game for my enthusiasm. It’s a solid 2-4 player game and all of my kids have enjoyed the planning involved in deciding for any given card whether you want to use it as a worker resource or for its primary purpose (mine, university, refinery, etc). I’ve reviewed it already here on my site.

I’ve also known for a long time that there’s a solo play variant of The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I finally pulled the box out and figure how it works solo.

Turns out that it’s pretty darn easy – quite simple if you’ve played the multiplayer version a few times – and a pretty fast play too. My first time through, puzzling over a few solo variants, took just a bit over 40 minutes. Final score of my first game: 29 points.

Points? Let’s dig into the game. As with the multiplayer, you’re mining yellow cake and refining it to produce uranium, and like the multiplayer game each card can be turned 90-degrees to utilize as specific workers (scientists, engineers or generic workers) or used straight up as a sort of funnel: feed it everything specified on the top of the card and it produces the resource on the bottom. For example:

manhattan project chain reaction 1

If you look closely, you’ll see that I’m using two cards rotated 90-degrees as a pair of engineers, and that the two engineers match the top of the mine card, so the output is three yellow cake. The question is, could the Double Agent and Secret Bomb cards (rotated and partially hidden) have been used in a smarter way? The answer, in this case, is yes. Double Agent in solo play gets you the ability to use a card without having to pay any input costs. In other words, I could use just that to produce the three yellow cake.

This chain gets more complex too, as you can see here:

turning yellow cake into uranium, manhattan project

The yellow tokens each represent 1 yellow cake (confusingly shown on the card graphic as a cube), so I’m using two scientists off one card, rotated 90-degrees, plus four yellow cake to produce three uranium.

Keep moving in that direction, hand after hand, and eventually you can combine things to make actual bombs, as this third image shows:

building a bomb manhattan project chain reaction

This is a six-point bomb and it requires two scientists, an engineer and four uranium. All of which I have. Bomb constructed, six points earned. Nice!

First time through solo play I hadn’t realized the incredible value of the cards that let you pull from the discard deck + card that lets you use another card in your hand for free, so my first score was a 29. Second time through, however, I allocated my resources far more thoughtfully and my final score was a definite winner:

manhattan project chain reaction solo play final score

Not only that, but check out how many spare yellow cake I had! In total, this score is 42. How does that rank? James Mathe has this table of solo game scores:

< 20 Try Again
20-29 Good Attempt
30-39 Job Well Done Sir
40+ You’re a True Scientist

Apparently the first time through I was “good attempt” but the second time was a solid “you’re a true scientist”, which is pretty sweet! Not sure how I’ll fare on the third play thru, but I suspect it’ll be somewhere in the middle.

More importantly, The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction remains a fun and entertaining game and I am happy to say that the solo variant is engaging and interesting too, without being too complex or time consuming. A game easily played over a lunch break, for example!

Now, if you’ve played it, how’d you do with your solo score?

Note: You can pick up your own copy of The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction, the cards-only version for a modest $12.00 at Amazon. Unfortunately the deluxe version with tokens doesn’t seem to be available for sale (though you can get the tokens separately, but it’s another $10 or so, all told).

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