SdJ Re-Reviews #16: Manhattan

  • Designer: Andreas Seyfarth
  • Publisher: Multiple (Originally Hans im Glück)
  • Players: 2 – 4
  • Ages: 10 and Up
  • Time: 45 Minutes
  • Times Played:   > 10 (On the Mayfair Games Edition)

Manhattan Box

Manhattan: Andreas Seyfarth’s first win…

Andreas Seyfarth was a little known game designer when he won the Spiel des Jahres in 1994. His game, Manhattan, was an instant bestseller in Germany, and sales spiked after the SdJ win. One account of Essen that year said the game was piled high and selling well. The jury cited the game’s easy-to-understand rules and excellent components in giving it the red pöppel.

A story in Süddeutsche Zeitung (one of the largest daily newspapers in Germany) called Andreas Seyfarth a designer that was “virtually unknown.” Seyfarth had published a few games, but none of them had gained any traction in the marketplace. The newspaper observed that Manhattan was Hans im Glück’s second win, noting that large publishers didn’t necessarily have an advantage during awards season. (In a rather odd comment, the story said Manhattan seemed, at first glance, to be a little like Monopoly.)

For many years it looked like Seyfarth would be a one hit wonder. Then, in 2002, he released Puerto Rico and once again took the gaming world by storm. Puerto Rico garnered a SdJ nomination, but it ultimately lost to Villa Palletti. In 2006 Seyfarth teamed up with his wife, Karen Seyfarth, and won the Spiel des Jahres for Thurn und Taxis.

Karen Seyfarth has a hand in all of her husband’s games, and he’s credited her family with giving him the gaming bug. In one particularly fun story about the couple, she introduced him to Hase und Igel in 1979, the year that game won the SdJ. In a Geeklist that Andreas later created, he said if it hadn’t been for that game, he wouldn’t have met Karen, and his games wouldn’t exist.

I wasn’t able to find any information on what inspired Manhattan, but in a 2006 interview with Tom Vasel, Seyfarth said that the game “basically built on the idea to rise a flat game in the third dimension.” In that same interview Seyfarth said Manhattan was his bestselling game, even ahead of Puerto Rico. Since the interview was in 2006, that may no longer be the case, as Puerto Rico remains popular: it could conceivably topple Manhattan at some point. Another game that could rival Manhattan’s sales is Thurn und Taxis, which won the SdJ in 2006.

Mayfair Games released Manhattan in the United States in 1996, and Rio Grande reprinted it in 2007. Those editions are now out-of-print and somewhat difficult to find – at least at reasonable prices. Hans im Glück has printed the game regularly since 1994, and copies can be imported from Germany without much expense.

The Gameplay: Skyscrapers and Area Control

The below review focuses on the Mayfair edition. In the original German edition the six regions on the board were six great cities of the world: Manhattan, Frankfurt, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, Sydney and Cairo. In the Mayfair edition they are different neighborhoods of New York.

Manhattan Rising

In the four-player game, each player takes the 24 building parts in his chosen color and four randomly-selected building cards. One player takes the start player marker.

The game is played over four rounds. At the start of each round each player selects any six building parts from their pool of unplayed building parts. Players will be restricted to playing these six parts during the round.

Manhattan Cards

On a player’s turn he (a) selects a building card from his hand of four, (b) selects one of the six cities on (or neighborhoods) the game board, and (c) places a building piece of his choosing on corresponding space. When playing a building card, the edge of the game board the player is seated at controls which building site the building card refers to. A player may place a building part on an empty site or on a skyscraper that belongs to him without restriction. On skyscrapers belonging to another player: after placing the building part, the player must have at least as many floors (not parts!) of his color as those of the player the building belonged to before he placed the part. The location of the floors and the number of parts in the skyscraper is not important — just the number of floors. The player then draws a new building card and the process is repeated with the next player clockwise.

A player controls a building if their building part is on top.

A round ends when all players have played the six building parts they selected for that round.   At that point a scoring occurs: 3 points for the player controlling the tallest skyscraper (no points in the event of a tie); 2 points for the most skyscrapers in each city (no points in the event of a tie); and 1 point per skyscraper. The start player marker is passed, the score track is updated, and the next round begins.

Manhattan Board

The game ends when all parts have been placed on the game board, and the player with the most points wins.

In the two player game, each player plays with two colors, taking four building parts of each color each round. The score at the end is the combined score for both colors. In the three player game, the game is played over six rounds with four building parts per round and scored normally.

There’s a popular “Godzilla” variant that I have not tried. The rules can be found at The Game Cabinet.

Does it stand the test of time? My thoughts on the game…

Manhattan is a simple yet strategic area control game, and I’ve greatly enjoyed my plays. I’ve had great success pulling the game off the shelf for gamers and non-gamers alike. With four players the game approaches “I love it!” status, but I’m less enthusiastic about the game with two or three players, so I’ve settled on “I like it.” below.

At first glance the big appeal of Manhattan would seem to be watching the 3D skyline rise from the gameboard, and that is certainly part of the game’s charm, but I also think this is a clever and accessible entry into the area control genre. There’s a bit more luck in Manhattan than many area control enthusiasts might prefer, but I think that is part of what makes this game so approachable for non-gamers. The rules are easy – a typical explanation will take about three minutes – but interesting strategies emerge.

I find the two player version – playing with two colors – to be a bit clunky. And the three player version suffers the same defect as many three-player games: the player that avoids conflict will have a decided advantage, and there is a great opportunity for kingmaking. But the four player game is incredibly fun.

Awarding points for the tallest tower is a clever addition to the game. I almost never go after it — in my plays it has always seemed to require more investment than it is worth — but it does reward having eye-popping figures emerge from the gameboard.

Many aspects of Manhattan have been done better since 1994. El Grande is the more influential entry in the area control genre. Torres, the 2000 SdJ winner, is the higher-rated entry in the “3D Games” family. Capitol, a 2001 SdJ recommendation, has a similar feel to Manhattan and, in my view, offers more interesting mechanics. Nonetheless, Manhattan is still a great combination of easy-to-understand rules and clever gameplay, and it has had a notable impact on many of the games that followed it. And I’m not aware of any game that replicates Manhattan with such approachable rules.

Would Manhattan win the SdJ today? Possibly. The game has much of what the jury is looking for: it is original, family-friendly, and features excellent presentation value. The game has strategic depth, yet it is not complex and will appeal to a wide swatch of gamers and non-gamers alike. I’d compare Manhattan favorably against several nominees – and even a couple of winners – from recent years.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Patrick Brennan: I’ve refused to play this for a long time as the city theming hid a nasty, take-that, king making game that didn’t work for family or friends, and wasn’t attractive to play with gamers either given the winner wasn’t decided by anything clever.

Joe Huber (5 plays): Manhattan is a game I enjoyed, mildly, when I tried it. I put off using the Godzilla variant for a while, because I expected that – much as with an expansion – it would split the game for me and make it of less interest. And – I was correct, though I waited until my final play to try it, so I was about done with the game anyway. Not a bad game, and I wouldn’t refuse to play it, but it’s been well over a decade since my last play and I haven’t missed it.

Larry: Only played this once, sans Godzilla. It was mildly entertaining, but more abstract, chaotic, and luck-driven than is my preference. And, as Patrick mentioned, there’s a lot of “take that” in it. It felt more good natured than mean spirited in my game, but I still view that as more of a bug than a feature. It would probably serve as a decent Gateway game, so I might play it again to introduce someone to Eurogames, but other than that, I can’t think of a reason to pull this off the shelves.

Greg:  Manhattan is always a joy to play, particularly when using the “Baby Monster” variant. It usually hits the table a couple of times a year.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Greg S.
  • I like it. Chris W.
  • Neutral. Joe H., Larry
  • Not for me… Patrick B.
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One Response to SdJ Re-Reviews #16: Manhattan

  1. The comments of the OG are interesting, because I like it a lot, because it is so cut-throat. From you second turn on you cant do anything without alienating one of your fellow gamers. This is refreshing in a field dominated by non-confrontational games. Plus the rules are easy (and I dont see it as too chaotic) – its one of my favorite SdJs.

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