The Design of a Resource-Efficiency Game

A resource-efficiency game focuses on turning resources into victory points through a chain of actions. It’s a very common design style for euro games, but also one with considerable room for variety.

The recently released Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (2016) shows the style at its simplest. You start out with worker resources. You turn those into yellow cake, which you turn into uranium, which becomes victory-point bombs. There’s a single development path for a four-link chain. The game is all in how fast you can walk that path.

Catan ConflictThe ever-popular Catan (1995) shows a different methodology. A variety of resources become roads, settlements, and cities. You can also look at this as a four-link chain: resources are necessary to create roads, which are necessary to build settlements, which in turn upgrade to cities. However, as with many more complex resource-efficiency games, there’s a feedback loop: settlements and cities can create more resources. Thus the game becomes not just about maximizing efficiency but also maximizing opportunities. Continue reading

New to Me: Fall 2016 — A Key Quarter

Personally, Fall 2016 was the quarter when I started actively seeking out Richard Breese’s Key games, because of how much I liked Keyflower (2012). You’ll see a few of them on this list. More generally, it was a pretty OK quarter. Nothing stuck out as Great, though The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire (2016) was close, but there was also a lot of stuff that was Very Good. And, nothing was absolutely horrible.

As usual this is a list of games that are new to me, and and as usual this listing ranks them by how much I personally like them, as a medium-weight eurogamer.

The Very Good

The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire (2016). One of my playing group asked me if we’d hit peak worker placement and my knee-jerk response was, “yes”. But honestly I’m not sure. We’re a long way out from Caylus (2005), but worker placement has become an almost defining element of eurogaming. I’d swear there were more eurgames with worker placement than not; if so, we may not have hit the peak yet.

Anywho, Energy Empire is a worker-placement game of energy production and resource management. It’s got several elements that set it aside as a unique design. First, you can use a global action space that someone else is occupying, you just have to spend extra energy to do so. Second, after you use a global action space, you can also use personal action spaces (which is the biggest similarity to the original Manhattan Project), as long as their categories match. Third, everyone refreshes their workers at different times (another similarity to the original game); now, it creates even more interesting dynamics for the global spaces, since you’re constantly stacking up more energy than what’s there already.

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Anatomy of a Line: The Manhattan Project

Brands can be important. They tell consumers to expect the expected — that the gum they like has come back into style. But in the board game world, gaming lines have usually focused on expansions and slight variants. Carcassonne offers one of the best examples: there are lots of different games, but they’re all close enough to the original game that you still  pretty much know what you’re getting.

But a few publishers have gone further, using branding to tie together similar games that support the same themes and use some of the same ideas, but aren’t just copies of the same mechanics with slight tweaks. Richard Breese’s Key-series is one of the most long-lived brands of this sort. He’s written a very nice explanation of the points he requires in Key games, which makes it obvious that they can have great variety while still focusing on the same fundamentals.

In the last few years, this sort of branding seems to have become more popular. Eminent Domain now includes a deckbuilder, a two-player micro-deckbuilder, and a totally unrelated microgame. Similarly, The Manhattan Project has encompassed three different games in the last few years: a serious strategy game, a card game conversion, and a second serious strategy game. And that’s the brand I want to look at today, to talk about how the line has evolved. Continue reading