It’s easy to look at the New York City of today and forget that it wasn’t always so full of skyscrapers. Neither did those buildings get there all by themselves. Hard working construction workers built them with the backing of real estate moguls with pocketfuls of cash. Many of these developers were actively competing against each other to be the first to construct the biggest and best skyscrapers. Not unlike the players of this game…
In New York 1901, you’re attempting to join the ranks of these legendary developers by building your own real estate empire. You will start small with a single property left to you by your uncle, but eventually you hope to construct that magnificent skyscraper that will bring you fame and fortune. Onward and upward!
How It Plays
Your goal is to become the most successful developer in all of New York. You want to build the most buildings and largest skyscrapers which will earn you victory points. You will do this by placing your building tiles on vacant lots and then demolishing and upgrading those buildings as the game progresses. You begin with a single starter property. Everything else you must earn on your own.
On your turn you have only two possible action choices: Acquire land and/or build, or demolish and rebuild. If you want to acquire land you must have at least one available worker. Choose one of the lot cards from the market, place it on your character card, and then place your worker on the lot you wish to acquire. Once you’ve acquired a lot, you may also go ahead and build on that lot on the same turn, although this is optional.
Buildings are organized into three “generations”: Bronze, silver, and gold. At the beginning of the game you may only build bronze buildings. As you earn victory points, you unlock the ability to build silver and then gold buildings. If you choose to build, you may build a building from any generation that you have unlocked. The building must be placed on a lot/lots you’ve already acquired, either on this turn or on prior turns, and it must adhere to the placement rules. Once the building is constructed, you score the points noted on the building tile and you take your worker(s) back into your possession. They are now available for use on future turns.
If you choose to demolish and rebuild, you must first remove a building or multiple adjacent buildings from the game board. They must be buildings that you built; you cannot demolish someone else’s buildings. Demolished buildings are returned to the box and may not be built again.
Next, you place a new building into the space freed by the demolition. The new building must be of a higher generation than the one(s) it replaces. So silver must replace bronze, and gold may replace silver or bronze. The new building does not have to fit the open space exactly, but all parts of it must fit inside the open space. You cannot lop over into lots you have not yet purchased or which are controlled by other players. If the new building leaves vacant plots of land, you must place a worker on those plots to indicate that you still own them. If you don’t have enough workers to cover the vacancies, you may not proceed with the demolition.
Ultimately, you want to build one of the legendary skyscrapers. This isn’t required, but they are worth the most points so it’s something you want to shoot for. There are four in the game, but each player may build only one. They are treated the same as gold generation skyscrapers as far as when you may build one.
On your turn, you may also use a bonus action if you are willing to part with one of the three bonus action cards you are given at the beginning of the game. Those cards allow you to build an extra skyscraper tile on your turn (on territory that you’ve already acquired), replace the four market cards with a fresh draw at the beginning of your turn, or take a second card from the market on your turn (neither card you draw may be a three-square lot card, you may only choose two-square cards). Used bonus action cards are discarded and cannot be used again.
Once you have completed your turn, replenish the market from the draw deck so that there are always four cards available for the next player. Play then passes to the next player and this continues until the end game is triggered.
There are a couple of other ways to score points besides building ever-larger buildings. At the beginning of the game, a bonus challenge card is drawn randomly from the five provided and placed on the table for all to see. This card gives you an extra challenge to aim for, such as having skyscrapers which are neither square nor rectangular in shape, or having multiple gold skyscrapers located within the same district. Reaching the goal is not a requirement, but the extra points can help you win.
There are also five Streets of New York bonus cards included with the game and three are drawn randomly and used in each game. These earn you bonus points for having the most buildings touching the streets indicated on the cards.
The game ends when either a player has only four unbuilt skyscrapers remaining, or there are only three face up cards left in the market and the replacement deck is exhausted. All players (except the player who triggered the end) receive one final turn and then points are tallied.
In addition to the points acquired during the game, players earn five bonus points for each Streets of New York bonus card where they have the most skyscrapers touching that street. Players also receive bonus points if they completed the Bonus Challenge (the number of points is specific to the card in play). Finally, each player scores one point for each unused action card remaining in their hand. All points are tallied and the winner is the player with the most points.
Constructing a Great Game or Demolishing My Hopes?
I was very excited for this game when I first heard about it. It seemed to tick all of my boxes: A lightweight game with some decent decision making, tile laying, and variability in set up and play that means each game plays a little bit differently. Spoiler alert: I didn’t just enjoy this game, this game actually impressed me. And that’s not easy to do.
First, let me talk a bit about what excites me about the game play. The thing that makes this game interesting is that you have to start planning early on in the game. You can’t just slap up buildings and grab quick points on the bronze level because you’re going to hurt yourself when it comes time to upgrade. You have to plan ahead and build your early buildings in such a way that they can be demolished to make room for bigger buildings.
But it’s not just a simple matter of building identical buildings and replacing them with even more identical buildings. The buildings are shaped like Tetris pieces so when you demolish a building, the one you want to replace it with has to fit within the footprint created by the earlier building. And that’s not as easy to do as you might think. You have to think, “Okay, if I tear this one down and replace it with that one, will that leave me any space to put up another one later on, or am I going to need to acquire more lots (or are there even any more lots to acquire, meaning I need to look at building elsewhere altogether)?” It would be one thing if the decision was just when to knock down and rebuild, but the spatial element adds another level of thought to the game.
I really enjoyed this. Most games with this sort of “Tetris” feel are games abstract games like Blokus or Enigma, or some of the new dice building games like Blueprints. It’s not often that you see the spatial mechanic used within a “regular” board game, so that was something different. I was leery because I tend to do terribly at this sort of game, but since the spatial element was only one part of the overall game, I was still able to do pretty well.
There is tension in New York 1901. In some ways it feels similar to Ticket to Ride. You have to decide what you should build where and when in order to set yourself up for bigger buildings later. But you also need the cards to come out that will enable you to make those plans happen, so you sit there with your fingers crossed hoping that what you need comes out and stays available until your turn. There is the pain of having to decide between the several things you want to do on a turn when you are only allowed to choose one. You also have to watch what your opponents are doing and decide whether or not you need to burn a turn trying to slow them down, or hope that someone else does it. It’s a light game, but you can still find yourself sweating it out.
Next, let’s talk about the variability in set up and play. While each player has the same buildings available for use each game, there are some things that change from game to game to make each one a little different from the last. Only one of five bonus cards is used in any game, so you’re never sure which bonus you’ll be working toward. Which streets will give you bonus points also change each game so you have to work in different areas if you want to chase that bonus. Not to mention the card draw is different every game so you can never be sure what you’ll have to work with.
When it comes to the legendary skyscrapers, you never know exactly what you might have a chance to grab. The same four are used every game but since anyone can purchase them, you’re not guaranteed that you’ll be able to get your first choice. You might find yourself working to make room for one only to have that one snatched away from you, forcing you to try for another, or just give up. Your opponents add a layer of unpredictability to each game, as well, because where they build changes where you have to build.
I was impressed by the fact that the designer took the time to create a two-player set up that tightens up the board and makes for a tenser game. If you’re playing with just two players, the entire pink section of the board is blocked off, the pink lot cards are removed from the deck, and the pink character is unavailable. This forces players to compete for spots and get in each other’s way as would happen in a four player game. That was one of my gripes with the original USA version of Ticket to Ride. The board was too big for just two players and each player could go their own way without bothering the other player too much. Since New York 1901 seems to be aiming for the same gateway space that TTR occupies, I’d say they learned a valuable lesson and adjusted for it. Bonus points!
I was also happy to see that there are some rule changes that you can make to either simplify the game or make it harder. I find this wonderful in family/gateway games because it means that the game can grow with the family or be upgraded when the more serious gamers come over. This impressed me with Expedition: Famous Explorers and it impresses me here. Beginners can remove one or more of the following components: Legendary skyscrapers, the bonus challenges, or the action cards. Advanced players can do away with the starting property and build everything from scratch, and they can increase the point thresholds at which silver and gold properties unlock.
The components in this game are excellent and show a lot of attention to detail that doesn’t necessarily affect gameplay, but which improves the overall aesthetic and shows that some care went into the game. The back of the board is decorated and not just black. The insert is very thematic, with its steel gray color and simulated rivets. And it stores everything perfectly with no need for baggies or custom dividers. Other companies could take a lesson. The artwork is evocative and the tiles, cards, and plastic minis are all good quality. Overall, it’s an excellent production and the theme is something that is family friendly and inclusive.
So are there any negatives to New York 1901? The only negatives for me are things that are going to come down to personal preference. In other words, they didn’t bother me but I can see where certain types of gamers might find them problematic. If any of these things bother you, you might want to avoid this game, or at least understand up front what you are getting into.
First, this game might be difficult for people who have trouble with spatial games like Blokus or Ubongo. The buildings and lots look like little Tetris pieces and you have to be able to visualize how best to arrange them to maximize your points, both in the near term and in the future as you demolish and upgrade your buildings. There are some people who aren’t good at this sort of thing or who simply hate thinking that way and this game will not be for them.
Second, there is a little bit of meanness in this game. You can get a good idea of what your opponent is trying to accomplish and it’s possible to swoop in a buy a lot that you know he or she needs to complete their plan. In some cases this might be done out of pure spite and a desire to slow down a leader, but at other times it might be done because it’s the only move available. Either way, hurt feelings can result. If you want a game where another player cannot mess you up, this isn’t your game.
Third, while this isn’t a hugely random game (there are no dice, after all), what you can do on your turn will be determined to some extent by the cards that are available in the market and those are placed there by random draw. This will bother some people, but I found the level of randomness to be just right for a family game that also aspires to be a gateway game. It’s random enough to level the playing field a bit, but not so random that you feel like you have no control whatsoever. You are able to strategize and plan ahead a bit, and you only need a tiny bit of luck to make those plans come to fruition.
Finally, this isn’t an intense, brain burning game. Even if you play with the advanced rules, it’s still pretty light. There are interesting decisions to make, but with a max of two actions per turn, there isn’t a ton to think through. That said, there is enough going on to keep most people entertained. You have to build, but you also need to keep an eye on the bonuses to maximize your points. And the spatial element does tickle an area of your brain that many games neglect. Still, if you’re seeking a heavy, hours-long game, that will leave you brain fried at the end, this isn’t it.
New York 1901 is a great family and gateway game. The comparisons to Ticket to Ride are inevitable, both because of the turn-of-the-century theme and the gameplay/weight. There are certainly worse games to be compared to. If you’re going to be compared, it might as well be to one of the best. However, while New York 1901 does occupy that same level of weight/challenge, it is its own game. I would highly recommend this for anyone who wants a family friendly, somewhat casual game that also offers a bit of a challenge. Hardcore gamers should probably avoid it unless you need something to have around when the relatives come over, or to use as bait to hook your friends into the hobby. Otherwise, this is highly recommended.
iSlaytheDragon.com would like to thank Blue Orange Games for giving us a copy of New York 1901 to review.