04 September 2010

Puerto Rico - boardgame review

Another boardgame review, this one will be shorter than the Incursion one though.This particular copy was in Swedish/Finnish language so I'll be translating stuff but most things will be obvious from the artwork alone.

This is one of two “peaceful” boardgames that I play with my friends. Puerto Rico and the other one Princes of Florens are pretty much the only games we have that you don’t have to kill each other, or fight for survival. Puerto Rico is a pretty simple and straightforward management game that combines a few elements of luck with lots of cunning if you want to win the game.

Let’s take a look.

So the first things you’ll see is that each player has a small colony island at his disposal, this colony is divided into 2 section – one is the settlement, the other is the area where you will harvest your crops. You are pretty much the governor of this colony and you job is to maximize the revenue and gather as many victory points as you can before the game ends.

There is also one common board that lists all the prices for the different buildings, and you also have a common pool of professions at your disposal such as the builder, stonemason, ship captain, prospector, merchant, governor etc.  Each turn players pick up one profession – picking such a card gives you an advantage when performing the action allowed by the card – but every player may interact with the card after you’re done with your action. For instance if you pick up the “builder” card, all players are allowed to build 1 building – but since you picked up the builder card you may build buildings a bit cheaper.

The trick here is to be semi cooperative, if one player picks up the “production of goods” card all players will produce goods based on the buildings and fields in their settlement. However these goods won’t be able to ship and no-one will cash in any money or victory points unless a second player in turn picks up the “ship captain”. Goods are automatically lost at the end of each turn unless you have a storehouse. Thus you may prevent someone with lots of goods from cashing in by simply avoiding to pick up the “ship captain” card until it suits your needs or gives you the tactical advantage.

The game design is simple and easy, the markers are very abstract. Wooden pieces painted in different colors. Those small brown pieces represent colonists, while the remaining cylindrical yellow/blue/dark brown/light/brown white represent the five different crops that you may grow and harvest on your island. Those are corn/indigo/coffee/tobacco/sugar. These crops will be your main source of victory points, and your objective is to grow these crops, refine them with factories and ship them home with the merchant vessels.
You may also build quarries on your island to make buildings cheaper – the more quarries the cheaper it will become to build buildings in your main settlement.

Now the thing with shipping goods is as such that there are a limited amount of merchant ships. Each merchant ship also has a limited hull size. And you may never fill one merchant ship with more than one type of goods. This means that a clever player will block merchant ships with goods that he might be alone to harvest at that time. Blocking a 6 space ship with Indigo that no other player grow will make that ship useless for anyone else. On top of that those merchant ships will refuse to sail off unless their hulls are fully loaded! Now players may get around this little problem to some extent by building docks in their settlement, thus have one private merchant ship of their own. But you will still need those “public” merchant ships if you grow more than one type of crops.

So harvesting and refining products is one way of accumulating victory points. The other way which should be looked upon as a “secondary objective” is to build and expand your settlement. You will get victory points based on what buildings you build. Expensive buildings = more victory points. Some of those buildings will also contribute with bonuses that may help you out either during the game (with such as giving you extra victory points whenever you embark one type of goods onto a ship) or at the end of the game (when you get victory points based on how many fields you have etc).

Your settlement will always need workers, because fields will need farmers, and your factories will need laborers to keep producing goods. And to get workers you will need to play the governor card or hope that someone else plays that card so that you will distribute the incoming ship of workers among your colonies.
Victory points are gathered face down, so no one knows who the winner is until the end of the game when they are turned face up and you calculate all your bonuses and add those victory points for sold goods. The game ends in many ways; it may end when you run out of victory point markers, workers or whenever any player fills his settlement space to the limit.

There is another layer of finesse to this game with the picking of profession cards each turn. Those cards that no player pick will gain 1 doubloon for each turn they remain unused. As such you might want to pick a profession that you may not be interested in just for the money.

In tonight’s game I played the San Juan colony and managed to win by early on focusing on the easy to grow crop – corn. I also save up money by picking professions that were overlooked and not really that contributing to your settlement at early stages – such as the prospector. With the money I bought some docks and started to ship my corn independently and every turn cashing in a steady flow of victory points. Later in the game when my two opponents started catching up by expanding their colonies with multiple kinds of crops I focused on buying some of those expensive and limited in number buildings that gave solid bonuses – filled my island with farms that I would not get to use but who would grant me bonus points at the end of the game. Thus I won a narrow victory with 67points over 62 which came 2nd place.

A couple more pictures of my colony from tonights game:

My 4 fields of corn, 1 quarry, 1 coffee and 1 indigo field. Never really exploited my coffee and indigo fields since they needed factories while corn could be harvested automatically and didn't need to be refined. I also built a 2nd quarry later on in the game.

My first 5 victory points, and some doubloons I cashed in on unused profession cards.

My opponents have almost filled the 3 merchant ships with their goods while a ship with 4 more colonists is incoming. On the far right you see the market card where goods can be traded for money.

My little stack of victory points face down is growing, my wealth likewise. At this point I decided to pick up the ship captain card to allow for shipping of goods.

Victory! All my victory points face up, as you see my settlement is nearly full (1 out of 12 spaces left) and my fields are maxed out (12 in total). These two factors got me the winning position.

All in all this game is very simple but it is also a lot of fun. The management part is equal parts co-operation, being a dick when you need to, some luck but a lot of strategy as well. The game does not take forever to finish, given that we talked a lot of trash I believe about 2 hours should suffice for a game.

If you live in Sweden you might get this game over at GameManiacs.

1 comment:

  1. One of the best games.......in the world. (jeremy clarkson tribute)


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