Updated: Nov 24, 2020
We’re halfway through the 12 Days of Christmas and today we turn our attention to a small game that attempts to turn a full blown worker placement game into a quick to play card game. Does it succeed? Let’s take a look.
The Manhattan Project Chain Reaction chooses a rather controversial theme. As players you are racing to assemble a nuclear arsenal faster than the other players at the table and you’ll do so by mining for yellow cake and turning it into refined uranium ingots. As if that were not tricky enough the designers also tried to distil the concept of worker placement into a 15 minute card game which has no actual worker pieces in it.
Instead the game has dual purpose cards. These cards can be used as buildings such as mines, universities and factories, each requiring an input of certain workers to produce a certain output, be it yellow cake, uranium or even other workers. Or they can be turned sideways and used as workers themselves. There are also a handful of event style cards that allow you to steal resources or cards from other players.
The game is played to 10 points which you get by building bombs and potentially by loading them on to planes. To build a bomb you must first mine and then refine yellow cake into uranium and then once you have enough uranium you must spend scientists and mechanics to build the bomb plans from the centre of the table. The game is called Chain Reaction because of how the cards can chain together.
On your turn you can play up to 5 cards, playing workers to activate buildings, generating resources, cards or more workers which you can then use to activate more things. It’s pretty clever. You can also choose not to play cards and hold them over to your next turn, perhaps saving the scientists you need to refine your yellow cake.
There is some luck in the draw but because every card has dual uses you’re never short of actions. In addition, if you did not draw the cards you need, for example you need a mine and didn’t draw one, you can always use the Landmark Cards at the centre of the table instead. They might not be as efficient but they’ll get the job done.
I liked Manhattan Project Chain Reaction, although with 2 players I found that 10 points was ultimately too short, the game felt like it was over before it really began. Expanding the point total to 15 led to a much more satisfying game, even if I did lose.
Despite its brevity and its simplicity, Chain Action really does capture the feeling of a worker placement game, even if it is one where you never know what workers you’re going to have from round to round. Were it a longer game this randomness might bother me but there are plenty of tactics about how to spend your workers on any given turn, 5 cards gives you plenty of possible combos and the game plays fast.
As for the theme, it’s a little weird to try and win the nuclear arms race but the game is abstracted and the art has a Fallout or Portal feel to it that keeps everything lighthearted. For less than £10 this is a nice little filler and overall quite an innovative take on worker placement card games.