HANS IM GLÜCK, approx £29

The most popular new game I have come across recently is Manhattan, by Andreas Seyfarth. I was not surprised to hear it was recently named `Game of the Year'. I have so far been asked to buy three copies for people, two of whom were previously non-gamers; the only other game this has happened with is Daytona.

The theme of Manhattan is building tower blocks in cities throughout the world. The players strive to get the tallest, and most numerous, as well as controlling the cities. Six cities (Manhattan, Cairo, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Sydney and Frankfurt) are shown on the board, each being represented by a three square by three square grid. Each player is given a set of hollow, stackable building pieces in a colour unique to them. One marker of the same colour is placed on the score chart to signify each player's cumulative total. The pieces represent the storeys of a tower block, and come in a variety of heights. Each player starts with the same number and mixture of each.

Manhattan is played in rounds. Before play commences each player is dealt four cards, depicting the grid, with one space highlighted.. Starting with the "first player" each chooses the pieces with which they will play that round. A player turn consists of playing a card, and building a piece in any city, on the grid square depicted by the card. A replacement is then picked up from the deck. Once all players are out of the pieces selected for that round, scores are calculated. The pieces remain in place, and play progresses to the next round, with a new first player. This process continues until all pieces have been used.

The English translation is unclear when referring to laying the cards. It should say that each player is allocated a side of the board from which they play their cards, with the short end butting against that edge. The highlighted grid location is then read off. The card would therefore read differently, depending on who played it. This is a significant rule, as it brings much more variety to the locations playable from game to game.

When a piece is placed, it either stands on its own if the space was previously empty, or is built on top of an existing edifice. The colour of the topmost piece signifies ownership of the building. A piece may only be placed onto an existing building if the player would then have at least the equal highest number of storeys. This prevents people from just grabbing the tallest buildings. Similarly, you must gain a foothold early on in a city, to avoid being frozen out later.

Once all pieces have been played for the round, scoring occurs:

As Alan Parr pointed out, if Manhattan became stale, a simple change to the scoring system would revitalise the game, requiring new winning strategies; but then he is a mathematician (who came last in our game).

Play usually begins with players attempting to claim a city for themselves, and then coming into conflict over uncontested cities. There is a certain pride in owning the tallest building, which often leads players to invest more storeys in its construction than the three points warrant. It is also easy to be drawn into a major dispute for control of a city. You may spend a whole round attempting to outplay an opponent in one city, sinking all the available resources into the struggle, only to find at the end of the round that few points have been gained, and the others have been merrily taking over the world while your back was turned. I think the most likely winner is the one who can stay out of trouble the longest (probably a fairly obvious statement, but the only tip you are going to get).

What are the attractions of Manhattan? Play is straightforward, rules are generally clear, and it is easy for beginners to pick up. The game looks nice, with the multi-coloured towers rising across the board. There is always plenty to think about. It was a good sign that, during my last game, those who were waiting to play were tapping their fingers, and looking from board, to cards, to pieces, and back again; frowns rippling across foreheads.

A player's actions are, to a certain extent, constrained by the cards, but the added frustration adds to the fun. With four cards and six cities to choose from, and plenty going on, there are usually several conflicting and attractive options.

The only draw-back I have found so far is that, as in many games, the last player may be Kingmaker. At any point in the game it is relatively easy to calculate the score. The last player can therefore judge exactly the effect of any particular play. This is not a serious drawback though, and I have yet to find anyone who dislikes the game. At almost thirty pounds it ain't cheap, but I don't believe you would be disappointed. Manhattan .... it's finger-tapping good!

Dave Farquhar

On to the review of Auf Heller & Pfennig or back to the review of 5 Alive.

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