Minion Games has come out with a variety of games throughout the years, in terms of game play and theme. We’ve seen Vikings, Pirates, and even Space. However, their most popular game (at least in my humble opinion) deals with global superpowers, atomic energy, nuclear bombs. It is appropriately called The Manhattan Project.
Since the release of this brilliant game, there have been two expansions – Second Stage and Nations and two sequels – Minutes to Midnight and Energy Empire. Energy Empire, which I am going to focus on today, is a bit unlike the other games in this series. Instead of focusing on nuclear bombs, the timeline takes place after World War II with a emphasis on building the most successful global empire through industry and commerce with a clever use of different forms of energy. The game plays 1 to 5 players, age 13+. It takes between 1 and 2 hours to play and retails for $65 (but can be found on Amazon for $50).
1. Set out the board in the middle of the table with separate piles of resources and dice at the top of the board.
2. Shuffle the six decks of cards separately (Government structures, Industry structures, Commerce structures, Nations, Early Global Impacts, and Late Global Impacts). Also, shuffle the Achievement tiles.
3. Draw three each of Early and Late Global Impact cards, dealing them face-down at the bottom of the board. Then, put an appropriate number of pollution tokens on each space of the Global Impact track, depending on player count. These tokens and the six cards act as the timer for the game. As you deplete a pollution stack, a Global Impact card is flipped over. Once the last Global Impact card is flipped over, the active player finishes his turn. Then, everyone gets one final turn.
4. Place each of the three structures decks in their spot on the board. Flip the top three cards face-up and deal them in the appropriate market.
5. Flip three Achievement tiles face-up, placing them in their spot on the board.
6. Have each player choose their player color, and put one marker on the 0 score space and the other marker on the leftmost space of the United Nations track on the main board.
7. Give each player a Player Mat, three Workers and two Energy in their color. They also receive a pollution token which is placed on the top-left space of their Environment grid.
8. Last, give each player two Achievement tokens and two Nations cards, picking one of each. (Note: The Nations card will dictate their starting resources, which are then given to each player.)
Game Play – On your two, you can do one of two actions, Work or Generate.
1. Work is divided into two phases. First, you take a worker from your player mat and place it on the main board. Then you may activate your Nations card or any Structures you currently own that match the color of where your worker went this turn. (Note: Spaces on the main board are never blocked off, even if another worker is there. You just must send your worker with enough energy to be the tallest stack at that location.) The Work action is the meat of the game. It is here where you will be increasing your resources, energy dice, money, and structures. It is also here where you will be creating clever chains with cards, so that you can trigger more structures in your turn.
2. Generate is what must be done when you are out of workers, or don’t have enough workers and/or energy to perform what you want to do. Generating has five steps, but you won’t necessarily perform all the steps each time you generate. First, if the workers and energy remaining on your player board is 2+, you may claim one achievement tile from the main board. Second, gather up all your works from the main board and your structures, and discard leftover energy. Third, you may refine up to four oil barrels you have to turn them into Petroleum (brown) dice on a 1-to-1 basis. (note: These are temporary dice that go away after you are done Generating.) Fourth, roll all your Energy dice and gain energy equal to the number of lightning bolts on the dice. Lastly, identify your die with the highest number value on it. If it has a pollution symbol on it, you take one pollution token and place it on an empty space of your choosing on your Environment grid. If the die with the highest number is a Nuclear (yellow) die, that pollution token is flipped over and becomes Nuclear Contaminated. If you don’t pollute, then the top pollution token from the leftmost stack is discarded.
After choosing to work or generate, turn order proceeds to the next player, who then must choose to work or generate. There are no rounds, but the game will end when the pollution tokens are depleted and everyone takes one last turn. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner and their nation is deemed the number-one superpower in the world!
If you have ever played the original The Manhattan Project, you will notice a lot of similarities in terms of art and graphic design. I appreciate this, as it gives a new game a bit of a familiar feel to it. If you haven’t played it, then let me tell you a little bit about the art and components. The art on the cards has a cartoon/comic book look to it, which appeals to me as a comic and game lover. The workers are thick, I repeat THICK, cardboard rectangles that have a nice feel to them. The art on them is unique for each player color, and they honestly look like sketches of LEGO people, which is cool! The resources (steel, plastic, and oil) are not just boring wooden cubes, but wooden I-beams painted metallic, clear plastic cubes, and resin barrels shaped like actual oil barrels. The dice are vibrant colors and etched with intuitive iconography, and not just pips. The only complaint I have are the player boards, as I wish they were thick cardboard and not just card stock. That complaint aside, I would give the art and components an easy A, and this is all thanks to backers on Kickstarter over 2 years ago.
From a game play perspective, the game is pretty simple in what you can and cannot do each round. You will have to figure out how to make clever combinations with your buildings, but after one play, you’ll get better at it. What I like best abut the game play is the idea of there not being any rounds. Rounds seem so finite in games. It turns into a math puzzle of I have X workers and Y rounds, so I have this many moves and I better not screw it up.
Energy Empire is a more fluid game. Yes, you start with three workers and there are six Global Impact cards, but that doesn’t mean you have 18 moves and that’s it. You and your opponents dictate the pace of the game. Do you want to make it a quick game? Build a lot of structures that pollute the environment or go heavy in nuclear energy, and you’ll find yourself going through those Global Impact cards very quickly! You want a longer and cleaner game, then Solar-wind is the way to go! This leads to the press-your-luck nature of the dice. How many coal/petroleum/nuclear dice am I willing to roll when I couple them with wind-solar or hydro-geo dice in the hopes that I roll low numbers on the bad dice and high numbers on the good dice? That’s your decision to make!
What about replay value? Some games you are going to play once or twice, feel like you have “figured it out” or come up with a strategy that works for you and call it a day. Energy Empire has a lot of little things that give you added replay value. To start with, there are ten Nation cards, which each give you different starting resources and paths up the United Nations track. (Note: There is an 11th card that is a promo, if you can find it.) Next, there are 26 Structures card in each of the three stacks. Only about seven of those 26 are duplicates, so the order they come out each game will vary as well. Lastly, there are nine Early Global Impact cards and six Late Global Impact cards (seven if you can find that promo). With only using three Early and three Late each game, you’ll have variety each game with what comes out and what order. So in summation, there is a ton of replay value in this game!
Having played both the original The Manhattan Project and Energy Empire, I would pick Energy Empire every time. This boils down to two reasons: 1. There isn’t a lot of player interaction, and 2. You aren’t trying to build bombs to blow up the world. So what does the future hold for this great game? After all, you don’t make a game this popular and not have something up your sleeve. Well, later this year, Minion Games is planning to launch an expansion on Kickstarter that has Cold War elements.
In this expansion, you’ll see more Nations cards, more Structures, and more Global Impact Cards. All three of these mean more variability and replay value, and are also exactly the type of expansion my wife likes. The expansion is also introducing “Megastructures,” which have some requirements before you can buy them (like a certain number of regular structures or dice. With these Megastructures comes more points, and some new powers that only you can employ, like discarding oil at any time to gain money. Those who played the original game will see Espionage rear its ugly head again, giving you the ability to use an opponents building.
Finally, the biggest part of this expansion is the Doomsday Clock! This gives you a new place to put your workers, but at an ever-increasing cost. It too also gives you more ways to score. This looks like a great expansion, which I hope is modular and lets you pick and choose what you want to add. I can’t wait to see it on Kickstarter!
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Copyright 2018 Stuart Dunn
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