A Chat with Chenier La Salle, Designer of New York 1901

Many gamers in South Louisiana can trace their roots to Canada. Of course, the Acadians are the most well known transplants, as they were forced out of the Acadie area of Eastern Canada during Le Grand Derangement in 1755 and found their way south to Louisiana.  But, there were also a lot of soldiers, business people, tradesman, farmers and sailors who left Quebec and other French speaking areas in the 1700s and headed down south.

So we are always excited to hear of the successes of the gaming and design communities of our Francophone friends in Quebec.  Recently, we had the pleasure of catching up again with one of those successful designers.

 

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Photo from Board Game Geek’s Designer Page
Chenier La Salle is the award winning designer of New York 1901, published in 2015 by Blue Orange Games.  Chenier is originally from Quebec, but currently lives and works in Japan on assignment from the Canadian government. Of course, he is also working on his latest game there,

 

He was gracious enough to exchange messages with me for this interview. Merci, Chenier!

 

 

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BJ: I read that your family game nights with your own children got started with card games and games like Ticket to Ride, which your family called “The Train Game.” Funny! In our family, we call it the same, as in “Want to try one of my dad’s games? We could play The Train Game.” Was that name organic or something Dad (Chenier) created to make the games more palatable to our video obsessed kids?

CL: It just happened. Thurn and Taxis became the “Germany game” and Finca the “fruit game”. Must be human nature. I’m sure some people also shorten the already short New York 1901. I’ve heard people refer to it as “New York” (a quick game of ‘New York’?) and others as “1901”. 

You spent some time in the south (Texas) after jumping back into this hobby with two feet. Any special memories of gaming in Texas?

My most vivid gaming memory, beyond the game that our family created in Texas, is the pleasure of discovering how less expensive board games are in the US compared to Canada. Dad (me) really went nuts buying many more board games than he can ever hope to play. It’s kinda ridiculous – my wall of shame is filled with games from that 4 year buying spree!

Did you attend any of the cons in Houston or Dallas? What was the hobby gaming scene like in Houston when you were there? Any friends to thank for their help on NY 1901?

As for the Houston gaming scene, it’s very active but I didn’t attend any of the cons. I did attend a weekly game designers meetup early in the development of New York 1901. I got a lot of ‘tough love’ just when I needed it most.

As a Quebecois, you are bilingual. When Amazon delivers a game from Canada or Europe that you’ve been waiting for….do you grab the French rules or the English rules first?

Hehe, good question. If the game has both English and French rules, I’ll probably read the first version I stumble upon.

So, you are on a post in Japan, returning to you and your family’s roots somewhat. How has that experience been? We are seeing more and more cross over games from Japan and other parts of Asia.

Yes, this posting in Japan is perfect on all fronts. I’m in a country that I know well so on a professional level, I can really make a difference supporting Canadian industry. On a personal level my wife is extremely happy to be back home – I met her in Japan when I lived here from 1994-2004. My job had forced her to live outside Japan for 12 years and she really missed home. You can also imagine how happy the in-laws are to see their daughter and grandchildren. I think I’ll have a hard time getting her to leave Japan once this posting is over!

What is the Japanese gaming scene like?

It’s still relatively small in Japan. Nagoya, the city I live in is the third city in Japan in terms of population (it’s big) but has only one small shop where you can find “revival” boardgames – which shows you how small the market is here. But the scene is growing. Carcassonne has a somewhat of a following.


My first Gen Con last year was overwhelming and exhilarating at the same time. In 2015, you traveled to Indy for your first GenCon to showcase NY1901? What was the experience like? What did you learn for your next big con?

It felt overwhelming and exhilarating just like it was for you or for any first time goer! When you add the fact that I had a game that was coming out at Gencon that had built up quite a bit of buzz, it was a surreal thrill! The lessons I learned were mostly about the groundwork that goes into preparing for a show like that. All the prep work has to be perfect but that’s mostly in the publisher’s hands – although I was very active on the internet myself before the show. As a designer during a show, your most important job is to make yourself available.

I love Vincent Dutrait‘s work (the artist on New York 1901). He has a style that is very recognizable right away. How did he get attached to your NY 1901 project?

It’s the publisher’s job to hire the artist and they made a great decision by hiring Vincent. Like you said, his style is very recognizable. It has a European comic strip feel to it that suits board games very well and gives them a tasteful yet playful feel. A great privilege to have Vincent bring the world of New York 1901 to life. I love his work.

I read in an interview that he added a little “gift” to the inside of your box at Gen Con 2015. What did he draw or inscribe?

Vincent and I were at the Blue Orange booth for a few hours each day signing the inside of the boxes for the gamers who bought a copy. I would just sign and add a thank you note or something but Vincent would draw a character for everyone who bought the game and stood in line. Before the end of the show, he opened a box for me, signed the inside of the cover and drew a character from the game. He made my drawing a ‘deluxe version’ by making it a bit more elaborate than the ones he drew all day. The box is now truly a family heirloom.

How have you changed or grown as a player since starting your own designs? Do you have a favorite genre?

Sadly, I don’t spend as much time as I’d like “playing” games now that I’m working on my own designs. I still try to play new games a few times a month to keep building on my personal database of experiences. Since I do all of my gaming with my family, we go for family fare. We’ve had fun trying out a lot of the Queen games we bought over the holidays (there were some great deals!).

Any plans for conventions in the states or Europe?

Not really. The next convention I attend will likely be for the release of my next game, which could be 2 or more years away. Unless there’s a opportunity in Japan or Taiwan over the next few years to help promote New York 1901. But nothing planned for now.

Let’s talk about game design. Of all of the designers I have studied, you *really* dive deep into historical research. Obviously, a game about turn of the century New York skyscrapers lends itself to that deep dive, but what is it about you or your background that attracts to you the historical or the antique?

Apart from abstract games, most board games include some kind of role-playing element: you become a real estate mogul, a general, an explorer etc. I enjoy this part of the board game experience and I love it when a theme has been properly developed to establish and build the “immersion” factor. I remember playing war games in my adolescence and I noticed the details. I loved playing with authentic units with their actual name written on them. I loved the leader tiles that featured the actual names of the generals who led their armies into battle. I noticed and enjoyed these little details tremendously and I thought I’d include them in my own designs. I hope people enjoy. I’m also sensitive to the aesthetics of certain historical periods and choose my themes from among the periods that appeal to me and that I feel will appeal to the public in general.

Another reason for the extensive research is the fun factor. Developing a board game can take many years (over three years for New York 1901) so it can’t just feel like work. It has to be a ‘fun’ labour of love or you’ll just give up halfway through. I chose a theme that gave me shivers and still does. Discovering a new pic (one I’ve never seen) on the internet of an old New York skyscraper still gives me a bit of a high.

So to answer your question about my background, all I can say is that I’m bringing my own sensibilities to the forefront, highlighting what brings me pleasure and selecting and keeping what I think others will respond to.

Recently, some of the more ‘famous’ designers in our hobby have experienced backlash from the internet community. By that I mean, a designer like Jamey Stegmaier or Eric M. Lang lands a few designs on the ‘hotness’ on Board Game Geek, and suddenly, there is an almost inevitable undercurrent of gamers ready to trash their next designs. Where do you stand on criticism of designs and designers? Gentle, acerbic, or don’t give a hoot?

I’m not surprised. It’s human nature. Marketing is an important part of a successful board game project and the two designers you mention are very good at marketing themselves and their games. When you’re visible and successful, you make yourself a target for some gratuitous criticism. I think that at the core of the negative reactions is a feeling of “why are we always talking about this game/designer while there are so many others that are deserving”. It’s actually an understandable reaction. New York 1901 was the target of some criticism for similar reasons, it had a solid awareness building effort behind it so it made an easy target for gratuitous criticism. When I read some of the comments posted online, I can often see that some of these people have actually never played the game – which is very disappointing. You need thick skin when you put your soul into a game and then put it out there.

On a personal basis, now that I have creations of my own out there, I refrain from rating or commenting on anybody else’s work unless I have something positive to say. I think most designers do the same.

Antoine Bauza is well known for having his love of Japanese culture influence many of his designs. You have lived all over the world but have focused on New York City. Do you expect to see some of your world journeys leak into future games?

I love big cities. I love the dynamic image they project. Cities give me goosebumps. I love to channel some of that imagery and use it to build immersive backgrounds for games. So the answer is: yes!

13173491_861889250601313_660072578630068742_oHow have you enjoyed the ride of success of having your first published game, New York 1901, garner press attention, con attention, good sales and even wins / nominations for big awards.

I’m very lucky. I beat the odds in many, many ways. I was fortunate simply to have my first creation published. But then there’s more. New York 1901 was published by a major publisher and went on to receive a few awards (2016 Mensa Select Winner, Games Magazine, Finnish Game of the Year) and get nominated for a few more (Dice Tower, 2015 Golden Geek (BGG) Best Family Board Game Nominee, Origins). People say you have to work hard to create your luck, and I did work very hard, but I’m the first to admit luck met me halfway – you get that perspective on life as you get older. I’m very fortunate. My biggest reward though is talking to fans of the game and to the many friends I’ve made because of it. Merci Barry!

What would you do different?

Hum… some small things but nothing worth mentioning.

You seem to love prototyping! What is it about making prototypes that attracts you?

I have fun collecting imagery and putting it together in prototype material. I try to seduce myself when I’m making games and hope that others will feel the same way. But beyond the aesthetics, making prototypes is kinda like ‘meditation’ for me. As I’m assembling the prototype or tinkering with the graphics on my computer, I’m exploring new ideas in my head. I’m playtesting in my mind. I guess it’s part of my creative process.

I’m seeing sneak peaks of a very interesting new “La Salle creation.” What can you tell us about this new game? (note, Chenier graciously allowed us to bring you a link to his Facebook page. You can follow the fascinating development of his latest game here.)

I’m still working with my muse, New York City. I got to know her so well during the last creative process so I know she has much more to give 😉

The new game still centers around skyscrapers but covers a much longer period of time historically. It’s less ‘tetris-y’ than the first but there’s still a tile laying element. I’m going new places in terms of mechanics: I’m playing with variable powers, with worker placement and with hand/resource management. Again, it’s meant to be a family ‘gateway’ game that plays quickly and intuitively. It’s also meant to have an immersive fully developed theme. People who take out the game have to feel like they’re living an ‘experience’. If I can accomplish that, I’ve done my job.

What was the inspiration? How long has it been germinating?

It stems from some of the original research I did for New York 1901 so I guess it goes all the way back to 2011. In earnest, I’d say I’m a year into the project at this point.

How far along are you? What are you expecting out of this one?

I think I’m still a good 6 months away (damn that day job!) from having a prototype worth sharing outside my immediate playtesting group which is my family.

Who is the target audience? Any potential publishers interested or looking?

I’m hoping for an immersive gateway game that finds a home with families and medium-light gamers. Haven’t showed it to any publisher yet. If I did learn something from my first experience it’s that you should only pitch your game when it’s truly ready.

Where do you see yourself in this hobby in 10 years?

I’m 48, so that takes me to 58. I see myself with a few more games under my belt and preparing for a retirement (from my day job – government pension) so I can start a new life filled with playing and making games. I hope it happens. I’m chasing my dream and having fun doing it. Merci Barry!

Merci, Chenier!

Spice it up! with Karuba

Has it really been 17 years since  Carcassone stormed the board gaming world? By now, every game group in America has been exposed to the classic tile laying game. Likely, your group plays the original mixed in with any of the dozens of expansions that have come out.
(Side note: Did you know that even after all these years, the original two expansions, Traders & Builders and Inns & Cathedrals, are still the highest rated by BGG?)
If you are looking to introduce your family to the tile laying genre, or if your game group is finding regular Carcassonne a little bland, well then, let’s Spice it up! with Karuba!
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OVERVIEW:
Karuba is a tile laying, racing game for two to four players published by HABA USA. It was released in 2015 and designed by Rudiger Dorn,  with artwork by Claus Stephen.  It was nominated for the Spiel de Jahres in 2016, but lost to the convention juggernaut that was Code Names.
The set up of the game is unique, but easy to teach. Players each have identical boards depicting a mysterious jungle bordered by a beach (reminiscent of the opening scenes in Indiana Jones). Each player gets the opportunity to set the adventure for all players by placing one adventurer and one like colored temple.
The object of the game is to use the tiles depicting trails in the jungle to connect all four of your adventurers with all four temples faster than the other players, collecting gold nuggets and crystals for extra points along the way.
Collect more points than the other player — before the players run out of tiles or one player lands all of his adventurers in their respective temples — to be the winning adventurer.img_1787
INNOVATIONS:
Getting your family and friends to play this game is easy if they are familiar with Carcassonne. The designer has taken the very player friendly mechanic of laying tiles to build routes and castles, and twisted it into a racing format. Plus, the board is so much smaller (since you are playing on just your player board instead of the entire Carcassonne lay out), so the connections make sense even to first time gamers.
The racing aspect is not that unique, except for the fact that adventurers have to have a way to get off of the beach, and can’t cross or pass each other up. This makes for some interesting decisions, and may even lead to players creating side routes just to park an adventurer or two while running another to the temple.
I love the fact that the players are in control of setting up the objectives. Other tile laying games like Castles of Mad King Ludwig have replayability because of the changing objective tiles, but those are randomly generated. In this game, each player has a hand in creating at least one (and perhaps more, depending on player count) adventurer/temple set up.
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COMPONENTS:
Haba is known for its gorgeous productions for kids games, so it should come as no surprise that the company went all out for this foray into gamer games. The player boards are thick and playable (I am looking at you Terraforming Mars), and the adventurers and temples are nicely designed and colored wooden bits. The location tiles are sturdy, and even have little pictures of jungle fauna and flora on them. The crystals and gold look like little diamonds and nuggets. And the treasure cards are all unique. In short, this is a game with excellent production.
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GAMEPLAY:
The gameplay is simple. Players can only take one of two actions: (a) place a tile on their player board (and a crystal or nugget if one is shown on that tile); or (b) discard that tile to move one adventure up to a number of spaces. The amount of movement has just a few easy rules — adventurers can move the same number of spaces as the amount of exits shown on the discarded tiles, and they can’t occupy or cross over the space of another adventurer.
As you can see, these are the kind of basic rules that allow a broad spectrum of players to easily jump in and start playing. But, just like any classic Euro, there is so much depth in that simple starting play.

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Do you immediately connect one adventurer to a temple as quickly as you can so that you can be the first (and claim the highest treasure?) Or do you try to build a framework of trails that allows multiple adventurers to make their way on shared routes (taking care not to create traffic jams?) Do you build your routes while keeping an eye on the other boards, and then discard a few tiles to ‘snipe’ a treasure right before another player? Or do you focus on getting as many gold nuggets and crystals to supplement the mid level treasures you will probably get?
All of these are valid strategies, and make for very tense decisions especially in the last third of the game.
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FINAL THOUGHTS:
Karuba had been on my radar, because there was a lot of buzz about it following the SdJ nomination. Haba’s reputation as the top producer of children’s games had me thinking that this would be “just a kid’s game.” The nomination changed that, and I am glad I sought out a copy.
This is not just a children’s game. This is a game that we can bring out with new gamers, old and young alike, as an introduction to our hobby. But, I have brought this game to the table at two game nights, and had the gamers up and running in a minute and diving into all of the different strategies.
Overall, the excellent production, easy rules to teach, replay ability due to the different adventurer/temple set up, and interesting decisions all add up to a first class experience. Plus, the game plays in less than hour, which really hits a home run in this category. While it may look like Carcassonne Solitaire at first glance, it is most certainly not solitaire. You must keep an eye out for each other player’s adventurers to decide just when you should start throwing away good tiles so that you can steal the five point treasure right before your mom does (did I say that aloud?).
If you need a great two to four player game, with a good racing element and some light hearted tension building in the back end of the game, head on down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of Karuba.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
–B.J.

Spice it up! with Castles of Mad King Ludwig

What was the first tile laying game that you played? I remember hearing about Carcassonne, and finally getting my hands on a copy. When I broke out the meeples and the tiles, and taught my family to play, I knew we had a winner.

Dozens and dozens of plays later, I am always on the look out for the next big tile laying experience, the kind of game that changes the strategy a bit but still has the unmistakable pleasure of watching something being built as you lay tiles across the tile.

If your family game night is getting a little stale, then Spice it up! with Castles of Mad King Ludwig.  Castles is a 2014 release from Bezier Games designed by Ted Alspach, who also designed Suburbia and One Night Ultimate Werewolf.castles3

Players compete to win Mad King Ludwig’s favor by building out a castle. You score points by placing rooms near each other (or avoiding certain combinations) that make sense — like putting the Queen’s bedroom next to the King’s. The name comes from King Ludwig II, who spent all of his personal fortune building fairy tale castles in Bavaria in the late 1800s. (The board game’s cover art depicts his most famous castle, Neuschwanstein Castle, which was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in California.)

The randomized bonus cards (which each player secretly builds upon) and randomized King’s favor cards (which give bonuses but are visible to all players during the game) are enough to give this game lots of replay-ability. But the mechanic that really sets Castles apart from other tile laying games is the auction mechanism.

In Castles, the players can’t just pick a random tile out of a stack of cards, like in Carcassonne. Instead, each round a player is designated the “Master Builder”, and that person sets the price of all five to seven tiles that are available for purchase that round. That way, the Master builder can try to influence players into choosing (or not choosing) certain tiles — and the bonus is that the players pay the Master Builder for the privilege of purchasing the tiles instead of the bank.

You even have the option of building into the ground. By purchasing a downstairs tile, the players can take their castle down to the dungeon level. And just as expected, the tiles downstairs can be downright gloomy.

IMG_1768The first time I played, the group I was with just looked at this game like another Euro and tried to maximize points. And of course, that is why some people game. But since then, I have been lucky enough to introduce the game to people that looked at the game as a fun exercise in building their dream castle. There were lots of stories as to why the tiles were being placed in the way they were being placed (even though we know that the bonus cards and King’s favor tiles really generate the purchases and placements). There were lots of laughs when people tried to explain why the castle would have so many outdoor courtyards and just one or two inside buildings.

Don’t get me wrong — the game can be very competitive. The auction-setting mechanism and players purchasing tiles to meet secret objectives both contribute to the competition. But, you can have a lot of fun building out the craziest, goofiest, “mad”-dest castle around.

So if Carcassonne is getting a little stale, and you have the “envie” to construct your very own fairy tale castle, get down to your favorite local game store and pick up a copy of Castles of Mad King Ludwig. I give it three out of five cayenne peppers!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J.

 

 

Lagniappe! with Takenoko Chibis

There’s a word we use in Louisiana that is very apropos to gaming: Lagniappe.

It means “a little something extra.” What a great word for our board game hobby, especially when a designer gives us a little something extra for a beloved game.

Today, I’ve got a little lagniappe for you — one of the best expansions of 2015 —

Takenoko Chibis, a small expansion for Takenoko. The base game came out in 2011, and was designed by Antoine Bauza one of my favorite designers. As a side note, still not sure how Takenoko was not recognized with the 2011 or 2012 Spiel de Jahres, or at least a nominee.  Sure Quirkle has sold a million copies, and Kingdom Builder by Donald X Vaccharino is more fun than Tom Vasel gives it credit for, but of those three games, which one of the three is going to have a more lasting impression on the hobby (not on the mass market) — yep, Takenoko is still played, still beloved, and the only one of the three to get an expensive but beautiful extra large edition.

But back to our Lagniappe. Chibis is a small box expansion designed by Antoine and Corentin Lebrat (they previously collaborated on “Open Sesame”).  The base game is essentially a cute tile laying game similar to Carcassonne that adds a few thematic elements. The players score points as they build out the gardens, or if the Royal Gardner grows certain types of bamboo, or even if they can entice the Giant Panda to eat the just the right color of bamboo.

IMG_1757This new expansion essentially adds three elements — (1) new specialty tiles (including some beautiful new water tiles); (2) new objective cards to score points, (3) and a giant female panda with her little baby pandas that produce effects to help the players irrigate the plots or improve the tiles. And of course, those little baby chibis pandas also give bonus victory points at the end.

The word LAGNIAPPE implies that the something extra is something “good” (or else it wouldn’t really be LAGNIAPPE.) That’s what I like best about this expansion. It adds more of what we like in the game (unique tiles, cool new objectives, and more Pandas!!) without adding to the length of the game. You should still be able to set up and complete a game in ABOUT AN HOUR.

There is a couple of little downsides.  While the game box is perfectly sized and has a great insert, there are some printing issues on the backs of the tiles that make the new ones stand out. But, Takenoko the base game never really relied on blind draws, since you could pull three tiles at a time and choose the one you wanted to use anyway.  Another downside is that the little panda chibis are just small round cardboard tokens. Sure, Antoine probably needed it this way to make it easier for game play, since the Chibis have little icons on them showing what to do with them. But, it is a little disappointing that the only Panda miniature in the box is the mother panda, when it would have been so much cooler to have her as well as her little chibis babies.

But as you can tell, I am just nit picking here. This is a well thought out, well designed expansion that hits all the marks for me. It provides a little more complexity, a little more strategy, definitely new elements to make it a fresh game again, and all without increasing the length. My wife and I don’t play Takenoko anymore without the Chibis expansion. I give it 3 out of 5 Cayenne Peppers.

I am glad the folks at Bombyx and Matagot got together with Antoine to bring to the Takenoko world a little LAGNIAPPE for the game. If you own Takenoko, get to your friendly local game store and get you some LAGNIAPPE too.

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

B. J.

Spice it up! with New York 1901

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Sometime, somewhere, someone introduced you to Hobby Gaming. You probably started out with a gateway game like Ticket to Ride. You taught it to your friends and family, and everybody’s happy enjoying “the train game.”

But after playing Ticket to Ride a few dozen times, your game group is looking at you for the next big surprise. Now what?  Here in Louisiana, we’re never satisfied with anything boring or bland.  We like to SPICE IT UP.

This blog is all about board gaming and board games in the Deep South, with a Louisiana flavor. We will look at various next step games to help your group experience the wide world of gaming.

But back to Ticket to Ride. If your game group thinks Ticket to Ride is getting a little bland, spice up your game night and grab a copy of New York 1901.

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New York 1901 is a 2015 release from Blue Orange Games, designed by Chenier LaSalle from Quebec with beautiful art by Vincent Dutrait.  (You might remember Dutrait from his work on Elysium and Lewis & Clark, among many others.)  It is essentially a Card Drafting & Tile Placement game, sort of a Blokus meets Ticket to Ride, and serves as the perfect next step game up from old favorite Carcassonne.

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The rules are fairly straightford and very easy to teach in 5 minutes.  There’s even an excellent visual FAQ that you can get from the Geek created by the designer which explains some of the NOT SO CLEAR rules questions.

Each player tries to earn the most victory points  by placing buildings on the cityscape of turn of the century New York.  Players fill up the map with ever larger and more complicated buildings — demolishing a few smaller and older properties on the way.  You can rack up big bonus points at the end if you build on the random favored streets

NY1901.pngThere are only a few actions you can take each turn, so this is a good next step game for your new players.  Once any player gets down to only four buildings left, the game is over and the points are tallied.  The play time says 45 minutes, and once you get a couple of games under your belt, you will be setting up, playing and tearing down easily in about an hour and maybe less depending upon the players.

IMG_1699WHY IS THIS SPICIER than Ticket to Ride and Carcassone?

Because even though I consider New York 1901 a relative light game, there is so much more to think about in NY1901 than in those games. It makes for the perfect game to introduce that next level of strategy to your fellow new gamers.  Even with the limited number of options, you still have to be efficient with your planning and your moves. You have to keep an eye out on your fellow builders. Plus, there are bonus cards and legacy buildings that add another layer of strategy. imageThe designer has even snuck in a little bit more player interaction, at least more than in Ticket to Ride. Timing the placement of your buildings, and the location, can elicit cheers and/or groans from your fellow players as you stymie one of the architects best laid plans to build a huge legacy building.  And finally, you have that juicy tension that comes when one of the players gets down to 5-7 buildings, especially if you still have a lot left to build.

So if your game nights are getting bland, SPICE IT UP with New York 1901. I give it 4 out of 5 Cayenne peppers.  Until next time, Laissez les bon temp rouler!

B. J.