In Manipulate, you are already a person of influence… But we both know that isn’t enough. No, what you really want is to be the one in charge. The one who people try to influence. The one people admire, worship, fear. What you really want is Power. Blackmail? Dirty Deals? Extortion? Arson? You will do it all, and you won’t lose a moment’s sleep. Because in the world of Manipulate the golden rule is “do unto them before they can do it to you.”
Disclaimer: Due to time constraints present for this review I had limited playtime with Manipulate. This means that I am not able to be as thorough in my review as I would like to be.
Disclaimer: I received a free prototype copy of Manipulate to review.
A Word of Caution: Manipulate is a game for adults. Though there is no explicit material in the game there is a lot of adult themes and humor. The absolute minimum age I would recommend is 15.
What I liked
The game is quite easy to learn.
The individual turns are fast.
Each player plays a different type of Character, with their own ideas for what makes a good venture.
Each player has a unique one-time ability that is very powerful
What I didn’t
The game takes around 90-120 minutes to play. This Is a little long for my taste.
Playing the Game
Each round the players take turns buying ventures, trading with other players, and doing whatever they can to hinder their opponents’ progress. Each player starts with Three Ventures, Three Favors, One Skeleton, and One Super Favor.
Ventures provide income, but more importantly power. Favors are used to hurt your competition, and to cover your own backside when they come looking for your dirty secrets. And trust me, by the end of the game you are going to have more than one skeleton in your closet. And if you find yourself in a real bind, it might be time to call in that big favor.
The winner is the one with the most power at the end of the game.
My initial impression of the game is that it is a little like Monopoly… By this, I mean that there is a similarity between the properties you purchase in Monopoly and the ventures you purchase in Manipulate. However, that is where the similarity ends for me. In Monopoly, the important part is continually making money and buying property that makes you more money. In Manipulate, the object isn’t to make money. Money is just the means to get more power. So, it is not a bad idea to spend money on a million-pound venture that you will never make your money back on in 8 turns but gives you 20 power. Conversely, the only real reason to buy a 100k venture that gives 80k per turn, but only 2 power, is to get capital to purchase another venture that gives a lot more power. So, in Manipulate money is secondary, power is primary.
Smiles up front, knives in the back
At its heart, Manipulate is all about “Take-That.” Blackmail, extortion, stealing, and dirty dealing are all built into the game. This makes Manipulate a very aggressive game. In order to win you have to fight your opponents. And you have to fight dirty. Expose their skeletons, steal their ventures, have them thrown in jail. Whatever it takes to get on top and stay there. To this end, you have several weapons at your disposal.
A few examples:
- Blackmail: Prevent an opponent from calling in that favor.
- Hostile Takeover: Take an opponent’s venture, gaining all the income and power that goes with it. It will just cost you 1.5 times what it cost them.
- Arsonist: Want to deal with an opponent’s particularly valuable venture? Grab some fuel and a lighter.
Digging up the bones
Now, all this dirty dealing has a price, namely that you are not going to get to the top without a few, or possibly many, skeletons in your closet. And these can hurt you bad. Both in terms of Power, and Money. Many of the more useful favors will give you another skeleton to worry about, and your opponents more ammunition to use against you. So, it pays to keep your skeletons to a minimum… when you can.
Let’s Make a Deal…
The dirty dealing in Manipulate is not limited to just the favors you can call in. You are encouraged to make deals with other players, use the threat of a favor(s) in your hand to encourage cooperation, and bribe a player to act against another. In other words, anything goes. Now in the normal version of the game, all deals are binding. However, if your group opts for it at the beginning of the game, there is a rules variant that allows players to make and break deals on a whim. Exercise caution when using this variant, it wouldn’t be the first time money and power came between friends.
I absolutely love Manipulate. It takes a game with a core mechanic of buying ventures for profit and corrupts it. Turning it into a game about dirty dealing, blackmail, and downright criminal behavior all to gain a few points of all too fleeting power. Players are encouraged to use any means necessary to get ahead and stay ahead. Couple this with fun to play mechanics and easy to learn rules and you have a clear winner.
Manipulate is not a game for everyone, however. If you are not a fan of “Take-That” games, or you get offended quickly when someone “wrongs” you, I would recommend you pass on this title. On the other hand, if you are looking for a fun game that is full of dirty deals, unscrupulous actions, and some criminal activity look no further, this is the game for you.
Overall Fun - 8/10
Ease of Play - 7/10
Replayablity - 8/10
Downtime - 8/10
Game Length - 5/10
Bang For Your Buck - 7/10
Engagment - 7/10