Reach for the Skies in Skyscraper Building Game New York 1901 | Casual Game Revolution

Reach for the Skies in Skyscraper Building Game New York 1901

New York 1901

A 2016 Mensa Select Winner published by Blue Orange Games, New York 1901 is a challenging game of building and planning ahead.

Lay claim to lots of ground across New York, start with small buildings and hope to build legendary skyscrapers, while keeping an eye on which neighborhoods will score you the most points at the end of the game.

Gameplay

The board shows a series of neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has a number of colored spaces in it, and these spaces are divided into lots of two or three spaces. Each player is dealt a character card that shows where they place their start building. Each player also takes all the skyscraper tiles in their player color and places their scoring token on the scoring track. The skyscraper tiles come in three types: bronze, silver, and gold. You may not build silver or gold skyscrapers until your token reaches certain spots on the scoring track. Also, at the start of the game three streets of New York cards are drawn and placed face-up near the board. 

On your turn you choose to either expand or demolish. If you expand, you may choose whether or not to build, but if you demolish then you must build. If you expand, you select one of the four face-up cards from the market. Each card shows a color and size of a lot. When you claim a card you must choose an empty lot on the board whose size and color matches the lot on the card, and place one of your four workers on it. If you do not have any workers left (and choose not to take the demolish action) you instead simply skip to the build phase of your turn. Any empty space in the market is refilled from the draw deck at the end of your turn.

When building, you take one of your skyscraper tiles and lay it so that it only covers spaces on the board that belong to you. You may take back any workers that currently occupy lots that the tile is now covering, even if the tile only covers some of the spaces in that lot. Buildings must be adjacent to a street or a park, and they cannot cover other tiles or any spaces belonging to other players. When you place a tile, you earn points equal to the number shown on the tile.

The demolish action allows you to remove one or more of your skyscraper tiles from the board (they are returned to the box and are not used for the rest of the game), to be replaced with a better skyscraper during the building phase of the same turn (silver can replace gold, and gold can replace silver or bronze). You do not lose any points when removing the tiles, but if any lots are completely empty after the new tile is placed, you must place a worker on it.

There are also four special legendary skyscrapers. These are worth extra points and each player may only build one of them during the game.

Each player starts the game with three action cards. They each have a special ability that you may use once per game. One allows you to build twice on your turn, one allows you to replace all the cards from the market, and the last one allows you to take two cards from the market. You earn one point at the end the game for any action cards you did not use.

The game ends once a player only has four un-built skyscraper tiles left or once the draw deck runs out of lot cards. The player with the most buildings along each street named on each street card earns five bonus points at the end. There is also one bonus challenge card used each game. These have effects such as earning bonus points for still having bronze level skyscraper tiles on the board at the end or for using more irregularly shaped tiles. The player with the most points then wins the game.

New York 1901 Components

Review

New York 1901 is an intriguing spatial puzzle. You need to consider what lot cards are available, where other players are building, and what building shapes you want to get out on the board, while the streets of New York cards and the bonus challenges ensure that that puzzle changes a little from game to game.

While there is that spatial element to the game, you never feel like you’re in your own world focusing on your own puzzle, as players are constantly bumping into each other or taking cards the other person needs. How much take-that and blocking each other there is, really depends on the players — however, the limited number of workers at your disposal does mean you need to be careful when taking a lot only to block someone else.

The game scales nicely, with certain lots being removed for a two player game, ensuring that players will still have that interaction, while the four player game doesn’t feel too crowded on the board. Aesthetically, the game looks nice enough, although making the skyscrapers flat cardboard tiles instead of molded buildings is a bit of a missed opportunity.

New York 1901 is a game that wants to be accessible for a range of experience levels. It offers a very simplified rule set if you want to learn the most basic rules and start from there, it suggests which bonus challenge cards and streets of New York cards are best to start with, and it also offers a variant for advanced players where you don’t have a starter building and you have to earn more points before you unlock silver and gold buildings. This makes the game versatile for a range of gaming groups and players.

There is very little negative to say about New York 1901. If you don’t enjoy spatial puzzles you may struggle with the puzzle elements of the game. But other than that it’s elegantly designed and satisfying to play. It isn’t too complex and plays under an hour, but still offers plenty of weight in its decisions and gameplay.

Pros: Versatile, good player interaction, scales well across player counts

Cons: Skyscrapers are flat cardboard tiles, spatial element of gameplay could be challenging for some players

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.