New Game Weekend: New York 1901


I’ve been a fan of old buildings for pretty much my whole life, having grown up working for my family’s historic building renovation company. I took my childhood experience of working with 19th-and-early-20th-century buildings off to graduate school and got a master’s degree at the Eastern Michigan University Historic Preservation program in the early 1990s. While eventually landing working in digital media in NYC, I spent a ton of time along the way with various internships with venerable organizations like the National Trust For Historic Preservation and the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

NYCSkylinePostcardMy panoramic NYC vintage postcard from a Brooklyn flea market

Even though my professional pursuits have moved away from old buildings, they remain a keen interest of mine. I’ve collected a fair number of books about the history of New York’s urban environment and some nice postcards of the old city, including a nifty folding panoramic vintage postcard of the old Gotham skyline view from my adopted borough of Brooklyn (above). My everyday life in New York City surrounds my in a wondrous timeline of architectural and engineering marvels. And so as a gamer, New York 1901 allows me to live through the early days of this history right from the comfort of my tabletop.

IMG_6843New York 1901 game in progress

A big hit at GenCon 2015, New York 1901 by Blue Orange Games places up to four players in the roles of early real estate developers at the southern tip of Manhattan at the dawn of the 20th-century. New York 1901 is the first foray into Euro-style strategy games from Blue Orange which is best known for family, educational and party games. The game hits the right notes of strategy, ease of play and short game time creating a great balance for players of all ages who may already be steeped in modern classics like Settlers of Catan and Ticket To Ride.

IMG_6844A player’s set-up in New York 1901

In the game, each player takes turns as burgeoning real estate developer (including a couple female roles) acquiring building lots, placing workers and erecting buildings. The lots occupy the lower Manhattan grid laced with famed streets bordering colored lots. At the beginning of the game, a ‘marketplace’ of four lot cards is set next to the board. In turn, players have two options. First, they may select a new lot and place worker to claim the lot on the board. Alternatively, a player may remove a worker or workers on contiguous lots to build a new building or demolish an existing building and construct a new one. Buildings come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including straight, square, rectangular, ell-shaped or other more complex shapes. The structures also represent three separate progressions of age — bronze, silver and gold. The combination of color and building shape gives each building a point value which is scored on the track at the edge of the board. Only once certain levels of points are achieved may a player begin to play the next color category of buildings.

IMG_6845New York 1901 Legendary Skyscraper tiles

Like real estate development in actual New York, constructing a new building may involve demolishing earlier buildings to replace them with new, larger and higher-valued structures. Multiple buildings on adjacent lots may also be torn down to allow for even larger buildings to be built. Once the gold level of buildings is reached, players may also select from four unique high-scoring ‘legendary skyscraper’ tiles, including the Metropolitan Life, Park Row, Singer and Woolworth buildings, and then mark the building with their own trophy piece marking the achievement as a master builder. Special action cards allow players to perform one-off acts like acquiring two lots at once or constructing two buildings in the same turn. The game ends when a player first depletes their building tile stock, and final bonus scoring is made according to random cards defining building dominance along prominent streets or other combinations of construction feats.

IMG_6846Workers and building tiles rise on lots in New York 1901

Fitting the buildings onto lots gives New York 1901 a spatial puzzle-like quality many have compared to Tetris. To me, the action of occupying lots and erecting buildings to block other players from doing the same gives the game a feel more akin to Cathedral. The combination of worker placement, area control and card play combine to touch on multiple major game mechanics, again making this a great intro game for newcomers and a quick, satisfying play for more experienced players.

IMG_6847A player builds the Metropolitan Life building and scores 12 points

While the game rests many popular mechanics, New York 1901 departs from many games in the Euro genre with a dazzling design of building tiles depicting graphics looking very much like the vintage postcards I collect. Steeped in history and the grid of New York’s Financial District, the game also serves as a creative potential jumping off point for families and school groups to learn more about the city’s history or tour some of the sites away from the game board of New York 1901.

Gaming The Rails


I’ve been a railfan for as long as I’ve been a gamer. I grew up taking daily school bus rides past the rail yards of the short line Genesee & Wyoming Railroad. As a kid, my brothers, father and I built an enormous HO scale model railroad in our basement, complete with mountains, tunnels, trestles, lamp-lit streets and a working waterfall. After graduate school, I found myself living in Western Pennsylvania surrounded by and visiting railroad landmarks like the Gallitzin Tunnels, Horseshoe Curve National Landmark and East Broad Top Railroad. To this day, I rarely walk by a magazine rack without leafing through the latest issue of Model Railroader Magazine. There’s just something about trains.

For dual fans of railroading and gaming like me, there are a lot of options. Railroads lend themselves to gaming with their familiar cultural history coupled with thematic economic and mission/route-completion mechanics. Real-world competition among railroad companies, investors and promoters also contributes easily to any game presented within a railroading context.

AARailBaronAvalon Hill’s Rail Baron from 1977 is widely considered the grandfather of railroad games. Based on a 1974 board game called Box Cars, Rail Baron presents players with a map of the US with 28 historic railway routes. Players compete, as did the railroad moguls of the past, to complete routes, upgrade to faster trains and collect more cash to pour back into their empire. Rail Baron became one of AH’s all-time best-selling games, and most modern railroad board games owe more than a little to this classic.


A longtime favorite at my house is Ticket To Ride, the award-winning 2004 game from Days Of Wonder. TTR is a pretty straightforward game where players complete routes between US cities, scoring points based on the length of the rail line and connections made along the way. Players balance holding cards in their hands attempting to build more longer valuable routes with the risk of their opponents building the highly-prized lines before them. The game is great for kids since play is fairly straightforward with little-to-no reading required, and various expansions have added to the replay of the game over the years.

steam box

A couple weeks ago I had occasion for a first play through Steam at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. Steam, released by Mayfair Games in 2008, is similar to many train games in that it has a a route-completion component. The basic game comes with a two-side board featuring the US Northeast and the European Rhine/Ruhr region on the flipside. Aside from building routes, players transport goods between cities and upgrade towns to become new hubs. The game is competitive, but players can also balance sharing the wealth over some lines as tracks are strategically completed. Various map expansions add geographic possibilities in Europe, Africa, Asia and the West Coast of the US. Steam Barons expands the game further with a heavier economic mechanic of investing in the stock of multiple railways.


In my first play through Steam I really enjoyed the Eurogame feel with choices made each round in various focuses of upgrading trains, building track, establishing new stations and moving goods. Bidding for turn placement also becomes increasingly important throughout the game as the board becomes crowded with competing routes and available goods begin to dwindle. Access to capital also shifts during the game, as access to lots of money becomes less important late in the game after a focused growth mode early on. Having played through the game, I’m anxious to give it another ride soon with the Steam Barons expansion’s added stock market elements.


The latest favorite rail game hitting the table at the club in Brooklyn is last year’s Russian Railroads from Z-Man Games. In classic Eurogame style, Russian Railroads is driven by worker placement mechanics as players push to develop increasingly technological superior trains ahead of the competition. While I haven’t had a chance to play the game yet, it did make a lot of people’s top games of the year, so I’m certain to jump into a game in the very near future.

Like myself, I’ve found a lot of gamers who are passionate about trains. Maybe it’s the competition inherent in railroad history that make them appealing. It could also just be the boyish thrill big trains never cease to bring. Regardless, like a passenger waiting at some rural depot with ticket in-hand, we’re all waiting for the next train to arrive with the possibility of adventure and fortune somewhere down the tracks.

New Game Weekend: Africana

westsideFor the second time this year I found myself in Los Angeles for work this past week, and once again I also wound up linking up with the West Side Gamers. The meeting of the group I attended at an IHOP just south of Culver City was the organization’s 510th consecutive club get-together. The group meets weekly in local restaurants, camping out over several tables and booths chocked full of dozens of games toted along by attendees. A weekly theme game is featured, but players split into groups to play whatever people are up for from about 6pm until well past midnight.

This past week’s featured game was Power Grid played on the recently-released Quebec map, although more than a dozen different board and card games were played throughout the evening. More than a couple dozen players spent the evening munching on diner food and hunched over tables of games.

20131010-233030.jpgOf the many games being played that evening, I  had the opportunity to play a game new to me, 2012’s Africana from Z-Man Games. Playable by up to four participants, Africana uses a few familiar card-driven mechanics within the context of the travel and exploration of the African continent. The game board features a map of Africa divided in two by the equator and laced with routes between cities. Each player’s expedition uses color-coded movement cards to trek between locations. A series of five adventure cards at the bottom of the board allows a player to pick a starting point for a research expedition to another location. Setting off on an adventure gains either a movement card or silver coins used to buy from the two adventure books.

africanaEach turn, players may either draw movement cards, move their explorer aroundthe board or purchase up to three pages from the wooden book racks. Purchasing pages from the adventure books north and south of the equator provides another quest opportunity to gather artifacts or hire additional workers to help move your expedition along the board. Collecting combinations of artifacts and completing adventure routes gain more coins and score victory points at the game’s end. While having multiple workers in your hand can help move you quickly around the board, holding too many at the game’s end deducts points from your total. As the game progresses, adventures become more valuable and players may be working on several adventures at once. Once all the adventures are drawn from the deck, the game ends and the player with the most victory points wins.

20131010-232920.jpgThe travel mechanics of Africana don’t allow for a lot of opportunity to really block other players on the board, although completing adventures ahead of the competition or acquiring valued artifacts from the books does allow for some strategic play. Moving your pawn to key port cities such as Cape Town allow for quick moves around the continent while moving inland is a bit more circuitous, so choosing adventures wisely is also key. The player who won our game focused on high-value adventures late in the game while my second place finish was scored mainly through the collection of artifacts. Even in this relatively light travel game, akin to something like Ticket To Ride, I could see the possibility of trying varying strategies.

Deep down I dislike just about everything about traveling for work — cabs, hotels, airports, living out of a suitcase — but heading to Los Angeles and a chance to meet-up with the folks at West Side Gamers makes the trips to the West Coast a bit more worth the journey.

2013 Goal Setting

We’re just over a week into 2013 but with more than 50 weeks still ahead, I think I have time to squeeze in some ideas on gaming goals I’m setting myself for 2013. Here’s five goals I’m setting for the year (including one I’ve already checked off the list):

1. Join a club

I have been dropping in on the Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn for probably 4-5 years, and this year I’ve already finally got around to becoming a full member. The club occupies the basement garden level of a townhouse on a side street in historic Park Slope Brooklyn, just two stops from me on the subway. In a city where space for storage and gaming is at a premium, the club is a wonderland of gaming tables, boardgames and miniatures. While a lot of guys arrange to play a particular game ahead of time, there’s a big opportunity on the weekends to simply stop in at the club and grab a few guys up for playing whatever sounds good. The members of the club are incredibly supportive and passionate about gaming, and the diverse ages and backgrounds always makes for an interesting and entertaining mix over the course of a few hours.

If you’re in the NYC-area and you’re interested in what’s going on at the club, I’d suggest introducing yourself via their Yahoo! Group and then come in for a game at some point. You can also check them out via Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

2. Get back into World War II

A few years ago I got heavily into WWII gaming in 15mm with Flames of War. In pretty short order I painted up large German and American infantry armies, and then threw in a US paratrooper force for good measure. I signed up and played in a full-day tournament at a convention, and then I ran a game at another convention. Along with my infantry, I’ve also got dozens and dozens of tanks, jeeps, trucks and artillery pieces that have largely sat fallow for over a year as my interests (and schedule) have drifted elsewhere. In the interim, a new revised set of rules were released and a whole host of additional rulebooks focusing on the post-D-Day actions have also hit the market.

So, I’m jump-starting my interest in the era again in 2013. A big new starter boxed set containing the new rules and a bunch of new plastic figures and tanks wound up under the Christmas tree. I also scored the new Easy Company set of character figures who bring with them a whole set of special rules as you recreate the famed command exploits of the 101st Airborne Division. I spent part of my time off from work at the end of the year gluing up and priming my new forces and re-familiarizing myself with the rules. I’ve been talking up World War II with some guys at the club, my son seems interested in playing again and now I’ve just got to commit to returning to the tabletop battlefields of 1940s Europe.

3. Tackle my Anglo-Zulu War project

At a convention a few years ago I signed up blindly for a recreation of the Battle of Rourke’s Drift, one of the most significant engagements of the late-19th-century Anglo-Zulu War and a favorite of mine in the history of warfare. I tucked the game in the back of my head for a couple years, and then I happened upon some really inexpensive boxes of plastic British troops from the era at another convention last year. Well, once I had some Brits on the workbench I certainly needed some Zulus (and more Brits).

Months on, this project has stalled. I have hundreds of figures glued-up in various states of painting and a couple additional boxes of Zulus still waiting to be unwrapped. There’s a sameness to the British and Zulus which I haven’t quite cracked as of yet. I obviously need a system and a process to tackle all these guys in the coming year so I can finally get them up and running on the table. Long-term (really, really long-term), I fantasize about playing the battle of Rourke’s Drift in a true 1:1 scale of approximately 4,000 Zulu miniatures facing off against a contingent of 140 or so British troops. That said, getting this whole Anglo-Zulu project back on track this year is a promise I’m making to myself.

 4. Wrap up my American Civil War forces

If 2012 had a focus for me, it was the American Civil War in 28mm. With the 150th anniversary of the war in the news and Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln” in theaters, America’s greatest conflict was in the air. I worked along throughout the year painting away at the wonderful plastic and metal range of ACW miniatures offered by Perry Brothers Miniatures, and my sons and I played increasingly larger skirmish battles on the coffee and dining room tables.

At this point I think I’m maxing out with a couple hundred troops in both Blue and Gray. I have a few more models of artillery which are about 80% complete, some fez-hatted 5th New York Volunteer “Duryee’s Zouaves” to wrap up and one box of the new Confederate infantry to start. I’ve been really happy with results this year, and I’m looking forward to hauling the whole contingent out of my apartment by the spring to share my work with the guys at the club.

5. More boardgames (and maybe some card games)

I largely ignored all manner of gaming throughout the 90s, and, with that, I largely missed the boat on the rise of Euro games. Over the past year-and-half, I’ve re-invigorated my interest in boardgames. Settlers of Catan and Ticket To Ride have become mainstays in my home for “family game nights.” I’ve already added Small World to the mix this year, and a friend of ours introduced us to Bohnanza – a competitive bean-planting and harvesting card game – over the holidays. I’ve got a list of others I want to try this year, and there’s probably countless more I don’t even know about yet.

Playing games with friends, family and members of the local club is such a fantastic way to disconnect from the realities of the world and re-connect with people in a way we seldom do in the normal course of life. Here’s to 2013 and a year of play.