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Reviewer: Chris from Essex
NEW YORK 1901 is a very well produced with colourful plastic miniatures, bright and clear cards and several other components made from heavy duty quality card; this game is built to last.
Play takes place on a section of the Lower Manhattan streets of New York City at the turn of the Twentieth Century where skyscraper buildings are beginning to create the grid system that we know now. There are five different regions organised into blocks which are subdivided into Lots of 2 or 3 and colour coded according to the Lot cards. Lot cards are available to the players as a part of each turn, selecting one from the four on display and then placing one of their workmen pieces onto a corresponding Lot, colour and size. Player Turns are simple, either Acquire Land and or Build or Demolish and Rebuild. When you begin to play and realise that your Turn is only doing one or the other of those Actions it is easy to think that this isn't going to be much of a gamer's game. That's why I said at the start that this is a "sleeper" because not giving the game credit enough due to it's simplistic rules is a very big mistake and I am ashamed to say that it's an error I made, but only once.
So you can take a card (acquiring land) and then either place a worker there to show you own it and then, as part of the same turn, you may replace that worker with a building tile that fits the size of the space (land) acquired. Each player has eighteen building tiles, three sets of six, Bronze, Silver and Gold. Each of these tiles also has a VP value which you immediately score by moving your Empire State playing piece on the outer numbered track; after the game ends it is the player with the highest score, furthest round the track of VPs, that wins.
It is the building and rebuilding actions, along with some thoughtful planning, that is the clever and devious part of the game play. Unlike many games and also against the grain of first impression thinking the buildings are not of more intrinsic value dependent on their VP metal. What I mean is that Bronze isn't the lowest value metal followed by Silver and then by Gold as you would normally expect. However when you place them with forethought and clever planning it is possible to get extra VPs by building on top of previously constructed buildings, though you can only build on top of your own buildings and on land Lots that you own. When building onto previous buildings the tile or tiles being built on are removed from play, you don't get them back, but neither do you lose their previously tallied VPs. There are some building rules that have to be adhered to; Bronze can only be built over your starting tile (which has no denomination either numerical or metal value) but Silver or Gold can be built over it, Gold can also be built over Silver, nothing can be built on Gold and this includes the additional Bonus Legendary buildings (of which there are only 4) as they also have Gold identification. Each player may only build one of the Legendary buildings. These have VP values of 9, 10, 12 and 13 but they are different shapes and so if you want to go for the higher value building you have to build your other buildings accordingly, and again remember, you cannot build over Gold buildings.
The Buildings can be built in any order, you do not have to build Silver onto Bronze and then gold onto Silver. You can, and sometimes have to, depending on the Lot cards available and the shape of the Building tiles you have remaining, build Gold or Silver before building Bronze. To build you only need to own the Lot (by having a worker or another building on it) there is no necessity to play another card. On your turn you can take a card place a man and then build but you do not have to build on the just obtained Lot; you can build on any Lot you own, but in general, only one Building per turn.
NOTE: There are times when you build across more than one LOT (as long as you own the Lots you may build on them) that you may be left with some empty spaces that are each parts of different Lots. In this case you do not need to put a man on them as they are not complete Lots but you MAY still build on them if you have the Skyscrapers available. Basically as long as you own the Lot or part-Lot you are entitled to build. This is an important rule to note because it is not actually mentioned in the game rules per se although it is sort of suggested if you read between the lines.
Each player has three special cards that are one-off actions. They can be played at any time in your turn and you can literally play more than one in the same turn, we have found that this is often the case as when used in combo they can be very useful. If you don't use your cards during the game they are worth one VP each at the end of the game - the game end is triggered when one player has only 4 buildings left or the Lot card display cannot be refilled to 4 cards.
The random factor of the game is the Lot card display. You may only select one of the cards face up, you do not have the option to take the unseen top card from the draw pile. We wondered if having a hand of three cards plus the display to draw from might make the game less random and more controlled, but after a couple of attempts we decided it didn't; which is actually good because in our minds that tells us the designer, Chenier La Salle, had already tried and passed on the idea.
A lot of eye-candy has been built into this game. For example they could easily have used regular wooden (or plastic) blocks or cylinders for the pieces, but instead the VP marker is an Empire State Building model and the workers are later 1800 workmen complete with cloth caps and snap bags, each leaning on a girder. Then there are the Character cards. These are heavy duty, highly colourful, and yet their only real purpose is to show you where you place your first 2-Lot building. These parts may not be necessary but they add strong flavour to the game. There are two sets of five other tiles that could have been simple cards, smaller and less colourful, but once again the designer has gone for eye-candy over simple efficiency, and again it works. One set of tiles show the names of the five Streets depicted in the game. Of the five, three are randomly chosen and it is these three streets that will give 5pt VP bonuses to the player who has fronted the most buildings onto them. The other five Bonus Challenge cards are not meant for use in the basic game. One of these is chosen at random and it's effect is actioned at the end of the game - basically this is another way to score Bonus VPs.
I called this game a sleeper because it is one thing when it looks like another, but it is also a creeper because it creeps up on you just how good it is. From my understanding this is the first "big box game" from publishing company BLUE-ORANGE but I am betting it will not be the last, though they have given themselves a tough act to follow as players will not expect or accept anything that doesn't reach and extend the dizzy heights this has reached.