Full disclosure: A review copy of Making Manhattan was provided by Button Shy.
By now, you shouldn’t really be surprised. I’ve been making a run on my supply of Button Shy games, lately, and have been having a blast doing so. I left PAX Unplugged with a stack of them (thanks again), so, hoping to gradually make progress on all of them. Ironically, a few of the ones I was most interested in (Tides, for instance) still sit in the stack, unplayed as of writing, because who knows what game I’ll play on any given day. We go now to another game that caught my eye, Making Manhattan! Let’s see what it’s got going on.
At long last, they’ve brought you in to fix Manhattan. Too many streets! A grid system! Nothing where it should be, probably. You’re up to the challenge, of course, but you’re not the only person they’ve asked to take a look. You need to balance tourism, restaurants, the arts, and a whole lot of other competing interests if you want to make the best city possible and prove yourself the ideal city planner. Though maybe they got it right the first time? Only one way to find out!
Not a ton! You first split the cards based on their backs, into East and West. Deal each player one (making sure the Map Icons on the back aren’t the same), and combine them to form Central Park. Shuffle the remaining cards back together:
Place them in a face-down deck and draw and reveal the top three cards to form a draft row. You should be ready to start!
There’s not a whole lot of complexity to this one. Every turn, you can take a card and place it in one of six positions (two columns, three rows). The left half of your play space is West Manhattan; the right half of your play space is East Manhattan. Uptown is above Central Park, Midtown is immediately below Central Park, and Downtown is the row below Midtown. When you take a card, you may place it in any unoccupied space, of those six. Then, it’s your opponent’s turn.
Each card has a suit, as well as a variety of effects and icons. These three things influence scoring, which happens as soon as each player has constructed Manhattan by taking six cards. Each card activates the scoring condition on it corresponding to its location (Uptown / Midtown / Downtown). After scoring, the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
None! This game is exclusively two-player.
- If nothing else, focus on your Park Goals. That’s 8 points, right there. Counts for something! Making sure that you’re leaving certain building types for your opponent (or taking some for yourself) is usually a good way to make sure they end up with the number you want them to have. Nice thing is, once they’re a bit ahead (or behind), you can focus a bit more on the cards you want, rather than avoiding the symbols you don’t (or going after the ones you do!). That said, sometimes it’s worth taking a particularly lucrative card or building up a particularly valuable synergy, even if you don’t get the 4 points from one of your cards.
- There are ways you can synergize your various goals together, if you’re paying attention. For instance, if you want the most suits, there’s a good synergy there with cards that reward you for having different cards in each column or each row (since that will guarantee you more suits). Similarly, cards that request certain card types in East or West Manhattan pair up nicely with cards that reward you for having a lot of one suit.
- Taking taxi scoring goals provides progressively diminishing returns; I’d barely recommend taking a second one, but obviously, do not take a fourth. If you take a third, your total score drops to 12 (4 points on each of three cards). Taking a fourth is awful; you still score 12 (3 points on each of four cards), but you burnt a scoring slot to take the card! So … don’t do that. Your first one is pretty valuable; I’d recommend trying to hold off as long as possible so that you don’t leave yourself open to being forced to take more later in the game.
- Don’t play too quickly! The iconography can be a bit subtle, so make sure you understand what you’re grabbing and how it’ll fit together. There’s a temptation to grab a needed suit because it slots so well in part of your city, but make sure the card is making you points, as well. There may be a more objectively valuable card hiding in the Draft Row that you might miss for the easy points.
- Similarly, watch your placements; make sure you have your East and West correct, and that whatever card you’re placing doesn’t mess up your previously-placed combos. There are a lot of ways to goof yourself when you’re taking cards, especially if you’re going for complex synergies. It can be challenging to remember which card gives points to which other card (yes, even though there are only going to be eight). I’ve messed up my directions before, so, I’m not going to say it doesn’t happen, but try not to let it.
- You might want to consider dipping a toe into the darkness that is Hate Drafting; letting your opponent just take whatever card works best for them, consequence-free can be … well, it’s not necessarily consequence-free for you? If you see your opponent building up a terrible synergy, it’s probably your duty to take a super-valuable card for them and make it work in your city. Besides, in a two-player game, almost all actions are zero-sum. Sometimes, costing your opponent points can be a better net advantage than however many points you’d gain if you did something else. Think about it! Hate drafting might be the way to go. Sometimes it’s just better if your opponent doesn’t get the card they want.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I just really like city-building games. Truly, one of my absolute favorite genres. There’s so much to do! You can focus on roads, buildings, boroughs, tourism, mailbox labeling, metro management, housing and other zoning, … honestly, it’s just a fun theme. Been doing this sort of thing since How Things Work In Busytown, which I just found online. God bless internet game archivists. Though it might have been the other Busytown game. I’m getting off-track. This is all to say that cities and city-building are often thematically where some of my favorite games live, and as a result I’m a bit partial towards that theme in just about anything.
- The art style is pleasant; it’s reminiscent of old tourism brochures and it makes fun elements of New York City pop. The stylized artwork really works for the game, and the color scheme is pleasant as well. This is Meriette Medina‘s only BGG credit, but, great work.
- Given that I’ve basically done no travel, lately, games about places are a pleasant (albeit fundamentally inferior) alternative. Maybe I’ll go back to New York City some day! Maybe I’ve already gone by the time this is published. I didn’t, but it’s nice to hope for things. But yeah, in lieu of travel, games about fun locations have been … something, at least.
- I do like that there’s a predictive element to the game, since you can see what the next available card will be based on the previous card back. Will it help? Maybe. I just generally like having the ability to plan a bit, and getting to see that on my opponent’s turn can really give me some extra information so I can move more quickly on mine. Seeing it on my turn does me essentially no good, since my opponent gets the first crack at the draft row after my turn.
- The gray wallet with green text is striking; it looks good. I like it a lot! But generally I’m a fan of Button Shy’s wallet design, so this is another good one.
- Also, as is the case with all Button Shy games, the portability is appreciated. I really do just have a stack of these that I take places. They don’t quite fit (upright) in my Quiver, but I’ve lately got enough that they fit flat and stack high enough to fit anyways. That … kind of works. It’s not exactly what I intended, but it’s still pretty portable. Either way, you could easily slide this game in a bag or a pocket, if you’re taking one on the go.
- Once you know what you’re doing, this plays pretty quickly, too. Maybe a bit too quickly, at times, given my proclivity for making silly errors, but it’s okay. I find that the wallet games rarely overstay their welcome, and Making Manhattan certainly isn’t an exception to that rule.
- Your scoring goals can be a bit impacted by random draws, which can be a smidge frustrating. Not much to be done about that in this kind of drafting game, though. If you want all the purple cards, for instance, and the purple cards only ever appear at the start of your opponent’s turn, you might just end up with only one. Or they might be buried under your Central Park cards, and therefore there aren’t even that many in the full game. On one hand, it’s a smidge annoying, but on the other hand, you can’t exactly expect a ton more than that from an 18-card drafting game. Cards are going to flip up and hopefully the luck balances out across a few games.
- Iconography-heavy games can be tough to learn, especially since the spatial aspect of scoring is somewhat easy to misread. I did not really understand the symbols used on the cards in my first play. We got Suits and Neighborhood Types confused, we didn’t necessarily understand how to score certain cards, and sure, we eventually got it, but adding in that we didn’t totally understand how a certain area of a card scored and you have a first game that was, all things being equal, confusing. We figured it out! Completely understood it, thanks to the rulebook, but this is a game where you may want to keep the rulebook handy for your first few games. This is the age-old tension of board games, I think. On one hand, icons can be printed larger and more legibly, and once you learn them, they’re learned; on the other, simply explaining the effect on the card is often a lot less confusing and doesn’t lead to quite as much ambiguity, in my experience. Better that they chose one over the other than trying to do both, I suppose.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Making Manhattan is solidly fun! It’s one failing, perhaps, is that it’s a bit simple for what it is, since you’re just drafting a few cards and placing them, but I think the theme is fun and well-executed by the mechanic enough that it still makes the experience compelling. It’s a solid way to teach a point salad style game (wherein you gain points from a lot of different, sometimes overlapping elements), for instance, and I just really like city-building games. They’re always interesting to me. The limited competition between players for their Park Goals is fun enough, but I think you almost have to do a bit of hate-drafting and card-counting to make sure that your opponent isn’t going to score big, provided they get enough of their cards to synergize together. I saw a score of over 40 once, in this game! Other player took their eye off their opponent, to their detriment. The iconography can also be a bit opaque to new players, since I didn’t immediately get “a column of all different suits” or “each taxi pictured including the one on this card but not the one in this explanation of how you lose points” when I was first playing. There’s a helpful guide, granted, but it’s a bit of noticeable friction for your first game or two. That’s just kind of how iconography-heavy games go, though. Once you get it, you’ve got it. If you want to build up Manhattan by your rules, you’re looking for something quick and simple with two players, or you just like drafting games, though, I enjoyed Making Manhattan; maybe you will too!
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