“We’ll have Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too.” – Rogers and Hart
Manhattan was designed by Andreas Seyfarth and was originally published in 1994 by Hans im Glück. It was published in English by Mayfair Games. The game is primarily about area control, and the rules are simple enough for children as young as 8. A game of Manhattan will take you around 45 minutes, which is slightly shorter than an episode of Jersey Shore, and much better for your brain. Andreas Seyfarth is a very respected designer, and has created some of my favorite games, including Thurn and Taxis, Puerto Rico, San Juan, and Airships.
As you unpack the box, the first thing that will surprise you is the number of plastic building elements that you get. Each player receives 24 building elements from one to four floors in height. That’s almost 100 chunks of plastic. In fact, each player gets a score marker, so it’s exactly 100 chunks of plastic. The next thing that may surprise you is the game board. Most of the board is empty space filled with some odd photo-like graphics. The only important parts of the board are the spaces where you build in each city. There are six cities represented on the board, Cairo, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Manhattan, Sao Paulo, and Sydney. You also get 45 building cards that indicate in what city region you can build, a start player marker, and some rules.
Manhattan is played over four rounds. Each round players choose six building chunks. Remember, the building chunks come in heights from one to four floors. Players will also begin with a hand of five cards. Each card indicates in what part of a city you can build. One of the clever aspects of the game design is that the region of the city indicated on the card varies from the perspective of each player. The cards allow you to play on that region in any of the six cities, as long as it is a legal placement. You may place a building chunk in an empty region, or you can add to an existing building, as long as after you place your chunk, you have at least as many floors in the building as the player with the most floors. Players take turns playing one of the cards from their hand, placing a building floor, and then drawing a new card. Once all players are out of building chunks, then the round is over.
After each round, there is a scoring phase where players earn one point for each building they control. You control a building if your piece is on top. If you happen to control more buildings than anyone else in a city, then you score an additional two points for that city. If you control the tallest building, then you score an additional three points.
I enjoyed Manhattan enough to want to play it again, maybe even enough to try and find a used copy. Even with the problems with the design of the board, Manhattan has some very solid game play. It plays pretty quickly with the right people, and I felt like there was a good balance between luck and strategy. While the cards you draw do impact your play, you still have a lot of choices for tower placement. I also like how the game looks as the buildings grow, even if the colors are a little odd for skyscrapers. On my desk at work, I have a photo of my wife that I took when we were visiting New York City. She’s looking up at the skyscrapers, none of which, by the way, appear to be colored orange.
There are also a number of rules variants for Manhattan that you can find on BoardGameGeek. There is Godzilla variant that I would like to try, where each turn a giant monster will move through the cities and destroy a building. There were times in the game where a city was locked up and it would be exciting if a monster came and removed an especially annoying tower, unless it was one that I controlled, of course.
Manhattan is out of print. It’s not impossible to find, but it won’t be cheap or easy to pick one up if you want to add one to your collection. I’ve added it to my wish list, but I’m not going to go out and search for it. If a copy comes my way, then I will definitely pick it up.
This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 1994 winner, Manhattan, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.