Visit any major city, and you can marvel at impressive buildings that stretch up to the clouds. At the turn of the last century, these superstructures were in their infancy. Around 1900, New York City’s skyline started growing up rather than out, and the result was more than just a breathtaking skyline. The innovation of the skyscraper helped New York’s population double in the 20th century’s first forty years, its greatest growth in history. Blue Orange’s New York 1901 lets you to take part in this remarkable transformation as you work to build the greatest high-rises in the city.
The board is a map of New York that is separated into colored areas, each containing a mix of two and three space sections. Famous streets, such as Broadway, criss-cross the neighborhoods. You are one of up to four entrepreneurs that begin with a small building in one of the colored areas, a stockpile of four workers and several tile buildings in various sizes, shapes, and point values. Your goal is to build as many of your buildings as possible, scoring as many points as possible to win the game.
Your turn begins by looking at four cards dealt face up from a thick deck. Each card has an illustration of a two or three space section from one of the colored areas of the board. You select one and place a worker in a space that corresponds to the illustration, essentially buying that piece of land. You may then build one of your tiled buildings on that land as long as it fits in the space, scoring points for that buildings immediately after it’s placed.
Initially, you only have small two point buildings to choose from. Once you have reached six points, you reach the silver age. More buildings are now at your disposal, with many having higher point values and larger footprints. To lay them, you need to try to purchase tracks that connect, giving you larger chunks of land to build bigger buildings.
You enter the game’s final stage, the gold era, when you pass 18 points. You now have access to your largest buildings, including four landmark buildings that are available to all players. These buildings represent iconic structures of New York’s expansion, such as the Woolworth and Singer buildings. These are worth the greatest point values in the game, but require huge sections of land to build.
As the game progresses, purchasable land becomes scarcer. To build the high point value buildings, you’ll need to demolish ones from a previous era, which is fine since you’ve already earned your points from them. Silver buildings can replace the opening bronze era, while gold can replace either. Once gold buildings are laid, they remain in play till game’s end. Building tiles are shaped a bit like Tetris pieces, which means you must plan your demolitions and new construction carefully. If any spaces remain vacant after a demolition, you must place one of your precious workers in the space. Poor piece placement could limit your expansionist efforts later.
There are more ways to score points than simply slapping buildings down wherever. Four unique cards are pulled at random for each game that could give you bonus points. Three of the cards represent three streets on the map. Whoever has the most buildings that border a street scores five victory points. The last card adds in another objective to shoot for, like scoring bonuses for each area where you own two gold era buildings. These extras, along with the four special landmark buildings, mean simply having the most buildings does not necessarily guarantee victory.
Each player also begins the game with three cards that can allow special abilities throughout the game. One allows you to draw two cards at once to grab extra area. Another allows you to build two skyscrapers at once, while the final one allows you to wipe the four section cards to have four new ones dealt. While the first two are useful, the final ability is extremely handy as you may find yourself stuck with four cards that do not help you at all. These bonuses are one time plays, but you must expand if you have workers available. This means you may be forced to take territory that makes no sense in terms of gameplay. It’s the downside to being at the mercy of lady luck on the card draw.
Generally, the more players you have, the harder the game’s difficulty. You’ll have little trouble carving out space in a two or even three player game, but a four player game can become fairly crowded, especially if players are trying to block each other from amassing larger footprints for their buildings. This forces you to maximize your limited space and really allows the tile laying element to shine.
Blue Orange has done a great job on the components of this game. The board is hard mounted and easy to read. The worker and scoring tokens, which are miniature Empire State Buildings, look great. You may wonder why the individual scoring tiles are not building miniatures instead. While three-dimensional buildings would make for a visually stunning skyline on the board, they may not be very practical. Tiles are much easier to place and allow you to see available sections clearly. Not to mention creating dozens of three-dimensional building sculpts would drive the price point of the game up drastically. Blue Orange made the right choice in going with tiles.
Unlike the high-rises it’s based on, New York 1901’s biggest question will be longevity. You’ll draw a card or demolish a building, then build. You’ll repeat this throughout the game. A new game will present few new challenges as the only variable is the cards that are dealt for display. Since the gameplay isn’t overly taxing, you’ll want to look elsewhere for a long term challenge.
At its heart, New York 1901 is an introductory game. You’ll have little trouble understanding its mechanics because you’ve most likely seen them before. Its tile laying will remind you of Tetris, while the card mechanism is similar to Ticket to Ride. The experience of watching the city grow into a metropolis will invoke memories of SimCity. It may not be Earth shattering, but the game does a good job of blending those mechanisms into a fun game.
Designed by: Chénier La Salle
Published by: Blue Orange Games
Players: 2 to 4
Ages: 8 and up
Time: 30 to 60 minutes
Mechanics: Card drafting, tile placement