In Manhattan Project: Energy Empire players take on the role of a nation in the latter part of the 20th century. Players build up their nation's industry, commerce and government by acquiring resources, building structures and developing energy sources. With the ever increasing price of oil other sources of energy is essential; solar, geothermal and nuclear. Global impacts and situations are the major threat in Energy Empire.
Every action performed comes with a cost, as a nation grows and becomes more industrious, the amount of pollution the nation produces increases. However, with the advances in modern science the harmful effects of pollution can be mitigated and also help to avert global crises.
Energy Empire is a 1-5 worker placement game with tableau building and resource management. Players can use workers and energy on the main board or their tableau to activate the worker placement spaces. Spaces are never blocked by other players as energy can be used to boost workers to activate occupied spaces. A player may also choose to retrieve all their workers and "generate" energy by rolling the energy dice that represent nuclear, coal, oil, solar and geothermal.
The board, resources, dice, pollution tokens and oil well tokens are placed within reach of all players. All the decks of cards are shuffled separately to form a face-down supply.
Three early global impact cards and three late global impact cards are drawn and placed face-down in a row along the bottom of the board. An number of pollution tokens are placed on each of the global impact cards (number dependent on player count).
The three structure markets (government, industry and commerce) are populated with face-up cards from the relevant face-down stacks. Three achievements are drawn at random and placed in the relevant spaces on the board.
Each player places one of their coloured markers on the zero space of the score track and the other on the leftmost space of the united nations track. Each player takes a player mat in their colour, three workers, two energy tokens and one pollution token from the supply to place on their environment grid on their player mat.
Two Nation cards and two achievement cards are dealt to each player and they select one of each. The achievement token is placed face-down on the players mat. Players then reveal their nation cards and take the depicted resources indicated on the card.
The start player is determined and with each player receiving extra money depending on their turn order.
In Energy Empire players will take turns to either Work or Generate. The game finishes when the final pollution token is removed from the global impact track. Players will play one more turn before the final points are determined.
When players Work they will use their workers, energy, buildings and resources to build, visit locations on the board, activate structures and activate their individual nation card for various benefits and resources.
Placing a Worker
Players take one of their workers from their player mat and place it on one of the 13 locations on the main board. There are;
- Four government locations which include the Government Structure Market, Scientific Research, Education and Clean up locations.
- Five industry locations which include the Industry Structure Market, Mine, Oil Drilling, Chemistry and Power Plant.
- Four Commerce locations which include the Commerce Structure Market, Finance, Buy/Sell oil and Trade.
When placing workers/energy on a location a player must have the required resources needed to activate the location. Also, players must be the tallest "stack" in the location. If the location is empty this means that a player can place a single worker. However, if there is already a single worker in the location (including your own from a previous round) energy must be used to stack a worker on top of, effectively creating a taller stack.
After placing the worker/energy combination players can then perform the action in the location.
Players begin the game with no structures but can acquire these throughout the game. Players can only activate the structures that they own and are separated in to Government, Industry and Commerce. Depending on the structure it will require a combination of energy and workers to activate it. Players can also only activate structures of the same type where they have placed a location on the main board. i.e. to activate a commerce structure players must have placed a worker on one of the four commerce locations.
At the beginning of the game players received a nation card. This card also has a worker placement spot on it and can be activated like any other location on the main board. When activating your nation card the required worker/energy must be placed on the card and the resources paid. The reward is that players move along one space on the United Nations Track. There are points warded for how far players have advanced and a bonus for the first player to advance to the end of the track.
After players have played a number of turns they will eventually start to run out of energy and workers. During the generate phase players will gather their workers and generate additional energy. This phase involves a number of steps. Players can choose to generate at any time.
If a player has a combination of workers and energy equalling two or more remaining on their player mat they can claim one achievement from the main board and place it face-down on their player mat. A new achievement is drawn from the supply and placed face up on the main board.
All workers are returned from the main board and structures and placed on the player mat. All energy is discarded even if it has been unused.
Players can now discard an oil barrel to gain one brown petroleum dice. These dice are temporary and are used once then discarded. They generate a decent amount of energy but also generate a lot of pollution.
Roll Energy Dice
As Energy Empire progresses players will receive more energy dice to roll, including the temporary dice from refining oil above. Players can now choose to roll any number their energy dice at this stage to produce energy. The results of the dice determine the amount of energy received and the amount of pollution generated. The amount of energy produced is equal to the number of energy symbols on the dice. The energy generated is taken from the supply and placed on the players mat.
The die with the highest number is the die that determines pollution. If the highest die rolled is a solar (green) hydro (blue) then no pollution is generated. One pollution token is removed from the leftmost global impact card and discarded.
If the highest die rolled is coal (black) or petroleum (brown) then pollution is generated. One pollution token is removed from the leftmost global impact card and placed in to a environment space on the players mat, pollution side up. If the highest die is a nuclear (yellow) then the environment becomes polluted with nuclear pollution. This is more difficult to remove from the environment. one pollution token is removed from the leftmost global impact card and placed nuclear side up on the environment space.
The nations environment is represented by a 5x3 grid with rows for the air, forest and oceans. Each space can only hold one token. Once a space contains a token it is classed as polluted. When taking a pollution token it can be placed anywhere on the environment space, unless otherwise instructed. Once placed, pollution tokens cannot be re-arranged, but they can be removed with the Clean Up action on the main board and on various structures. For each Clean Up action a player can remove one pollution token from their environment, remove one oil well or flip a nuclear contamination token to a pollution token. Two Clean Up actions are effectively required to removed nuclear pollution.
Global Impact Track
As part of the set-up, three early global impact cards and three late global impact cards were positioned along the bottom of the board with pollution tokens placed on the cards. This track acts as the timer in the game. When the final pollution token is removed from a card the global impact is triggered and will affect players in different ways. When the final pollution token is removed from the final global impact card the end of the game is triggered. Each global impact card will also increase the price of oil in the game, so in the later part of the game oil prices start becoming costly.
At the end of the game all points are added up from achievement cards and built structures and the player with the most points is the winner of Energy Empire.
Energy Empire Verdict - Clean and Green or Dirty and Messy?
Manhattan Project: Energy Empire is a fantastic game. It is on the medium to heavy side of the worker placement game genre but it doesn't feel like it. The gameplay is smooth and intuitive for the most part. The worker placement mechanic of using energy to stack under your workers is great and I really enjoy that spots are not blocked by other players. It just costs more to go to an occupied space.
The push and pull tension of wanting to generate as much energy as possible to give you more actions but not wanting to pollute is brilliant and makes for some interesting choices. The nation cards also offer players variable player set up and different resources are required to advance on the United Nations track. The games I have played have always been close on the scoring, often coming down to a few points difference.
The components are fantastic, with sculpted oil drums, steel girders and colourful dice. The player tokens and energy tokens are of think cardboard and feel solid. The player mats are on the thin side, which is a shame, but doesn't bother me that much when the game is so great. All in all I really enjoy Energy Empire and it is a great worker placement amongst the plethora of worker placement games available.