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Puerto Rico should need no introduction; it stood atop the bgg rankings for many years (I believe it is the longest-running #1 game in t...

Puerto Rico Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico


Puerto Rico should need no introduction; it stood atop the bgg rankings for many years (I believe it is the longest-running #1 game in the history of bgg).  However, If you’re not familiar, players assume the roles of colonial governors on their eponymous island.  The game makes no attempt to nationalise or politicise the theme, other than alluding to European governors attempting to instil their values of order and industry to their respective islands and incoming colonists.  I too will ignore the politics and real history of the period.  Games are meant to be enjoyed after all and not provide a social commentary on human rights/abuses.

I recently received the Puerto Rico deluxe edition and have been excited to revisit this gem. However, if you’ve never heard of it (!!!) then the TL;DR is, if you like ‘Euro’ games with tight mechanics, don’t read this, just go and buy it.

Gameplay

The primary mechanic in this game is one of Action Drafting, in which the starting player will choose one of the six available actions.  Every other player will then get to do the same action albeit without the bonus ability that the first player gets.  After each player has taken their action, the starting player moves round to the next player on the left and then play repeats.  Although this game may look quite intimidating to a new gamer the repetition of actions 2 or 3 times every round allows the rules to sink in surprisingly quickly. In my experience, there are very few questions from new players after the first 30 minutes or so.
Ready...Steady...Colonise
The game takes place on individual player boards which comprise island spaces and city spaces.  These must be filled by plantations (square chits), or buildings (rectangular chits) respectively.  There are loads of little seemingly insignificant design choices like this (chit shape) which make the game easy to teach and enjoyable to play every single time.  Even if you haven’t played in years, I promise that the rules will come flooding back.

The chosen actions are all part of the Role cards, which are: Captain, Mayor, Builder, Settler, Trader and Craftsman.  There is also a Prospector Role which has no associated action and will only be used in 4 or 5 player games.  These roles all perform a thematically linked action that will help to develop your ‘island’.  After players are familiar with the mechanics it is often quickly apparent which role should be chosen to most benefit you, however where I find the most fun in this game is looking for those roles which most hurt your opponents.
The available roles
The available plantations (corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco and coffee) only produce goods if there is the matching production building (indigo mill, sugar ill, tobacco storage etc) in the city space. The exception here is corn which requires no production building but is worth zero when sold…  It is a multiple-step process to produce any good (except corn); you’ll need to do the Settler action (placing a plantation), the Builder action (building the necessary production building), do the Mayor action which allows you to move your colonists onto the matching plantations and buildings.  All of which will allow you to produce during the Craftsmen action.

It is obvious from this description that some level of strategic thought is necessary to optimise your chosen plantations and buildings.  It is pointless planting sugar cane if you never build a sugar mill… there are many different building and goods options that provide viable paths to victory no one method will guarantee the win. The adage ‘do what your opponents aren’t’ springs to mind, you really do have to play tactically as well and consider the board state and available resources to do well.  New-comers won’t necessarily appreciate these nuances until their second or third play, but they’ll still have a good time whilst they're learning.
What you're playing on
Aside from the money, which allows you to enhance your city by buying buildings, the main VP scoring comes from choosing the Captain role which allows players to ship their produced goods (dependent on their island plantations and city buildings) back to Europe.  Each shipped good produces 1VP, however, there are only 3 ships that only accept one type of good and a finite amount of the first ‘shipped’ good.  However, 5 different types of goods can be produced so some goods may be lost…

Like many Euro games, the economy is very tight, money is often hard to come by.  But the true grease of your VP engine is your produced goods.  Each good can be sold to the Trader for some money but often you may be forced to ship your high-value coffee stock or risk having to just lose it without any gain.  New players don't often realise the ramifications around the table of their role choices but I revel in causing other players to lose their produced goods. 
The player board (near the beginning of the game)
There is a relatively high amount of player interaction even though you’re all playing on completely separate boards.  This is due to the common pool of resources, (plantations, buildings, colonists, goods, ship spaces and trading house spaces) that are finite and low.  During the Craftsmen action, the pool of resources will often be depleted allowing a big producer to deny other players the resources they should be entitled to.  This will not be a happy accident amongst experienced players.

Each Mayor phase will cause more colonists to be brought to the player's island and when the colonist supply runs out the game is over.  VPs come from buildings and shipped goods and any of the expensive large buildings which will be built towards the end of the game. Amongst equally experienced players the score appears to be fairly tight and a skilled player against newer players should win every time.  As with any mechanically sound game, aside from your opponents’ choices, luck does not feature in this game.
Some of the expansion content
This deluxe edition comes with the New Buildings and The Nobles expansions.  In total, they add 2 additional large buildings and 18 types of small buildings.  When you consider that the base game only has 23 types of buildings it’s easy to see that the expansions, with the additional building permutations, massively add to the re-playability of this game.  Alongside the buildings, players also get red Noble discs, which act just like colonists apart from they’re limited to certain buildings.  Both expansions serve to increase the playtime of 90 minutes to about 2 hours – which is a good thing in my opinion.  However, I would recommend that you don’t draft buildings at the beginning as read in the expansion rules – just draw them randomly.

Components

I was quite disappointed in the quality of the components in what is considered a deluxe version.  The deluxe version, as far as I cant tell, only adds the two expansions (New Buildings and Nobles) into the base game.  Unfortunately, this edition has very thin card stock and I don’t think it will stand up to much normal wear-and-tear.


What you've got to work with
The punchboard used for the components is also thinner than I was expecting from a deluxe edition.  It was quite easy to not only bend the components when taking them out but also to rip them.  I had to go agonizingly slowly pressing out the coins and VP markers to prevent them from ripping (Unfortunately not completely successfully). 

I like the new art-work and I appreciate the insert that comes in the box.  The cubes and goods barrels work perfectly well and I wouldn’t want them to change anything about the colonist discs or any of the wooden components.  The only very minor functional gripe with the functionality of the components is that there are no spaces for two of the expansions’ large buildings on the game board.
Old
vs
New

Criticisms

It’s not easy to find criticisms in a game that is arguably the best game ever! (cult of the new notwithstanding).  However, some could argue that the opening is scripted based on player order.  This certainly may happen with experienced (5+ plays) players I feel like there is enough variability in the plantations and the role choices that after the 2nd or 3rd Actions have been taken this can be ignored.  If you want to analyse the game in-depth I’m sure the optimum play can be found, but you won’t find anyone willing to play with you.  If you add in all the expansion content then this criticism can be completely ignored.

The only real gripe I have is just of component quality which I have already mentioned.  

Conclusion

Some would say there is a lack of direct player interaction but if so, they’re playing the game wrong. Puerto Rico provides a less confrontational experience than something like Tigris & Euphrates but still gives all players the ability to negatively and (unfortunately) positively affect their opponents.  You’re often left with a decision between something good for you or something bad for your opponents and just okay for you.  I like these types of decisions – although I struggle not to (try at least) hurt my opponents as much as possible.
The end
I think Puerto Rico is a true masterpiece of a game that can be enjoyed by any level of gamer.  It scales well from 3-to 5 players and is a relatively quick teach.  This deluxe edition also comes with rules for 2 players but I confess I have not tried at that player count.  This edition is slightly let down by the quality of the card-stock but I am willing to overlook that minor flaw in what is a brilliant game. 

I’d like to thank Asmodee for sending out this review copy.  Many local game stores will have this in stock and you can use this link http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ to support your FLGS or use their online web store. 

Designer: Andrea Seyfarth
Publisher: Alea
BGG Page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3076/puerto-rico
Players: 3-5
Playtime: 2 hours

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