Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

(Blue Orange Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 45-60 minutes; $49.99)


newyork1901boxBlue Orange has been publishing games for over a dozen years. They predominately produce lighter family and party games, although there have been a few that require a bit more strategy (Gobblet comes to mind). Perhaps their most popular game is Spot It!, a fast-paced party game that is quite fun and appeals to all ages. Lately, however, they seem to be taking steps into the strategy gaming field, which is a pleasant development.

New York 1901, designed by Chenier La Salle, is perhaps Blue Orange’s most strategic game to date. Players must acquire property rights and construct buildings and skyscrapers in New York at the beginning of the 20th century (1901, to be exact!). The rules are fairly simple; so simple, in fact, that when I first read them, I thought the game was going to be overly light with little strategy. Fortunately, I was wrong. This is a game that requires quite a bit of careful planning and strategy.

The central board depicts the Lower Manhattan area of New York divided into five color-coded districts that are bisected by now famous streets (Wall Street, Broad Street, etc.). Each of these districts is further subdivided into plots of land, each containing two or three square areas. There are a few parks and buildings already constructed, but most of the land is available and ready for sparkling new developments.

Each player receives an identical set of 18 skyscraper tiles divided into three classifications: bronze, silver and gold. These tiles are polyominoes, better known as Tetris-shaped pieces. As such, they will require the player to acquire the suitable land plots so they can be constructed. Players also receive four workers (nifty plastic miniatures) and three action cards, which allow the player to take special actions that violate the normal rules. A player aid card depicting the player’s character, starting location and turn sequence is also received. Players place their starting two-plot building on the space indicated.

Before the game begins, three “Streets of New York” bonus cards and one “Bonus Challenge” card are revealed. These cards will be used to award end game bonus points, so players must plan accordingly. Ignoring these bonuses will likely result in defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory.

A player’s turn is actually quite simple, as the player chooses one of the following two actions:

Acquire Land and/or Building. The player selects one of the four face-up lot cards from the display. The lot cards are color coded to match the districts, and each one depicts a 2 or 3 plot area. Once selected, the player chooses a vacant plot of the corresponding size in the indicated district and marks this plot with one of his workers. No one else can claim that plot of land or build there.

Additionally, the player may construct a building on any of his plots of land, either the newly acquired one or a previously claimed plot. The building can bleed across several plots of land and districts, provided the player owns all of those plots. Buildings, of course, cannot overlap. At least one side of the building must be adjacent to a street or park, which is almost always the case.

Players may only construct certain buildings early during the proceedings. For example, a player may not construct silver buildings until at least six victory points have been earned. Likewise, gold buildings cannot be constructed until at least 18 points have been achieved. Thus, players will usually construct a few bronze buildings early so they will have added construction flexibility.

newyork19012Building immediately earns the player the indicated number of victory points. Smaller buildings tend to earn fewer points than the larger ones, but the oddly shaped buildings also reward the player with more points as they often require several adjacent plots in order to be constructed.

It is important to note that a player only has four worker pawns. Once they are all on the board, the player cannot acquire a new land plot until he constructs a building, at which point the worker(s) occupying that plot or plots is returned. This prevents a player from grabbing large areas of Manhattan before building.

Finally, instead of constructing a building from amongst one’s tiles, a player may construct one of the four “Legendary Skyscrapers”. These are four historic buildings (Singer, Metropolitan Life, Park Row and Woolworth) that are considerably larger than a player’s other buildings, so require more land in order to build. However, they do reward the player with more victory points (9 – 13), so are worth constructing. Each player may only construct one of these buildings, but waiting until late in the game may result in a player being unable to fit the remaining skyscrapers on the plots of land he possesses.

Demolish and Rebuild. The player may remove one of his previously constructed buildings and erect a new building in its place. The player earns points for the newly erected building. Note that if this option is chosen, the player does not claim a new plot of land.

A critical rule is that a new building must be of a higher classification that the demolished building. Thus, a bronze building can only be replaced with a silver or gold building, while a silver building can only be replaced by a gold building. Gold buildings may never be demolished.

Building, then later demolishing it in order to build a more glitzy building, earns points again for the player, so it is wiser to do this than simply erect a building without later demolishing it. Of course, care must be exercised to insure that the proper plots of land are owned and that the buildings of a lower classification are constructed in these locations so that they can be legally replaced.

As mentioned earlier, each player has three action cards that can be used during the course of the game. Each one has a specific use, all of which can be beneficial. One allows the player to construct two buildings during his turn, another allows the player to claim two lot cards, while the third allows the player to clear the lot card display and reveal four new cards. If unused by game’s end, each card is worth 1 victory point. I have found it far more beneficial to use the cards as opposed to saving them for those few points.

The game continues in this fashion until one player has just four buildings remaining, or the display of four lot cards cannot be refilled at the end of a turn. Each other player has one final turn, after which final points are earned.

The three Streets of New York bonus cards are examined separately to determine which player has the most buildings adjacent to that street. 5 points are awarded for each card. Ties are unfriendly, with no one earning the points.

The Bonus Challenge card lists conditions for receiving the indicated number of points. For example, The Bronze Baron awards points to the players having 4, 5 or 6 of their bronze buildings on the board, while the Master Architect awards points for having non-square / non-rectangular buildings constructed. There are five of these cards, but only one is used each game.

Finally, players earn one point for each unused action card. The player with the most points is victorious and hailed as Manhattan’s master architect.

New York 1901 is an easy game to learn, with rules that are clear and game play that is straight-forward and uncomplicated. The rules rarely, if ever have to be consulted during the game, and questions during game play are few. Yet, there are many decisions to be made, particularly in relation to which plots of land to acquire and which types of buildings to construct.

Players certainly need to plan their acquisitions and construction based on the Streets of New York and Bonus Challenge cards. The Street cards award a total of 15 points, while the Bonus Challenge card can yield 10 or more points. Winning two Street cards and earning some points from the Bonus Challenge card can often catapult a player to victory. I can attest to this, as in two of my games I was trailing, only to earn enough points from these cards to cruise past my opponents and win the game.

It is important to acquire land in order to construct the larger buildings, but also located along the streets that will earn end-game points. Constructing buildings in an order that will allow their demolition and subsequent construction of more valuable buildings will optimize points. Timing is also important, as you don’t want to have the most valuable land scooped before you have a chance to acquire it.

In spite of its relative simplicity, New York 1901 presents players with numerous challenges. Games are usually close, with only a handful of points separating the contestants. Other than acquiring a desired plot of land, there is little a player can do to interfere with the plans of his opponents, but in this environment, it works well. It is a bit surprising that money is not involved, but since the game seems intended to be on the lighter side, that is probably for the best. I, for one, have been pleasantly surprised, and hope this is a harbinger of similar releases from Blue Orange. – – – Greg J. Schloesser

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