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Board Games With OB #17: Puerto Rico

Welcome to Board Games With OB, a somewhat profane, possibly semi-regular feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.

You’re probably seeing a common theme among this series of posts on board gaming: The games being talked about are relatively simple on the pick-up. A few basic rules, and you’re ready to go.


So, when I go about describing Puerto Rico, take solace that this will be probably be the most complicated game that comes up here. That said, the game is still simple enough that after playing it a couple of times, you can be fully up to speed on what you’re trying to do. I BELIEVE IN YOU FUCKERS.

Puerto Rico is a pure German-style economy game: You’re shipping goods and building buildings. Puerto Rico’s special twist is that while you get to pick what you’re doing on a turn, everybody else gets to do the exact same thing. And you’re forced to do whatever other plays choose to do on their turn. Making these decisions wisely is the key to victory. Puerto Rico’s mix of complexity with a short learning makes it obvious why it is ranked high in the Top 10 games on BoardGameGeek at any given time.


Time to set sail for the Caribbean. Time to play some Puerto Rico.

Illustration for article titled Board Games With OB #17: Puerto Rico

Game: Puerto Rico

Players: 3 to 5

Gametime: 60 to 90 minutes

Designer: Andreas Seyfarth (Germany) Seyfarth is a 2-time winner of the Spiel des Jahres, for Manhattan in 1994 and Thurn and Taxis in 2006.


Key mechanics: Variable phase order, economic management, victory point accumulation

Story: The players are early European settlers of the island of Puerto Rico. With a set of building plots in the main city of San Juan and several plots of open farmland, the settlers will go about planting crops, earning money, building buildings that will provide the ability to process groups into sellable goods, and shipping those goods back to the Old World.


What do you do? Each player gets an individual board to play on. Each player has the same board, displaying 12 building plots in San Juan and 12 agricultural plots on a plantation out in the Puerto Rican countryside. A central board has the bank, and all of the available buildings (represented by cardboard tokens) available for purchase, and some side boards feature the trading house and three ships in port ready to take goods back to the New World.

Illustration for article titled Board Games With OB #17: Puerto Rico

At the beginning of the game, each player is given either a corn or indigo field and a few doubloons. Somebody is the governor (first turn of a round) to start off. The the game is ready to begin.

I say Puerto Rico is more complicated than most games I talk about, mainly because you’re trying to do a lot of stuff. A flow chart might be better to explain, but I’ll try in writing:

  • You get victory points by either building buildings in San Juan or shipping manufactured goods back to the Old World.
  • You get manufactured goods by developing agricultural plantations to develop the raw materials which are then processed in processing buildings you build in San Juan.
  • You get buildings in San Juan by building them, which requires money.
  • You get money by prospecting or selling manufactured goods, which as you recall, you need processing buildings which cost money to get in the first place.
  • All of these things need colonists to work them, which you have to recruit as workers and decide where to place.

Confused yet? It’s OK. Like I said, Puerto Rico is a much more complicated game than our usual fare. But once you catch it, it’s amazing fun.

Puerto Rico is played in rounds, with each player getting a turn during each round.. On their turn, a player chooses a role to play. Once that role is chosen, that role is no longer available until the next round of the game. Here is where Puerto Rico gets tricky. When you choose a role, every other player gets to undertake the exact same role (and action) you chose. However, because you were the one who chose that role, you get an extra privilege the other players don’t get.


Specifically, there are seven different roles you can choose from in the game. And each of those roles comes with a special privilege on a turn. Those roles are:

  • Settler: When a player chooses to be the Settler, players get the option to choose one of the five plantations available of one five different crops (corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco or coffee) to place into an open plantation space on their board. Selection Privilege: Instead of choosing a crop plantation, the player could choose to select a quarry instead.Quarries don’t produce goods, but make it less expensive to build buildings in the future.
  • Builder: When a player chooses to be the Builder, players get the option to build any available building. Each building has two important numbers associated with it: It’s base costs to build between one and ten coins (adjustable based on functioning quarries and privilege) and how many victory points the building is worth, between one and four. Buildings offer various abilities. Some are processing buildings that turn raw plantation material into manufactured goods that can be sold for money or shipped off for victory points. Other allow storage of processed goods for more shipping material in the future. Other give various bonuses such as extra money when selling goods, extra victory points for shipping goods, free workers, your own personal ship, or extra victory points at the end of the game. Selection Privilege: An extra coin off the cost of a building.
  • Mayor: No matter how many plantations you settle or buildings you build, they mean nothing if nobody is working them. So, selecting the mayor means a ship full of colonists comes in. Those colonists get distributed among the players, and each player gets to choose whether they’re working on plantations or in buildings in San Juan. Selection Privilege: You get the option of taking an extra worker.
  • Craftsman: Alright, time to make some goods! Selecting the craftsman means each player is distributed their available processed goods, based on their setup of staffed plantations and staffed processing buildings in San Juan. Selection Privilege: Receive an extra good.
  • Trader: Alright, you’ve got some goods, now it’s time to make some money! Choosing the trader means player get the chance to sell a good to the Trading House in exchange for some coins. Each good has a different value to the trading house, from nothing for corn to a whopping four coins for a barrel of coffee. But once a good is sold to the trading house, another good of the same kind can’t be sold until all four spaces are filled and cleared. (Exception: A player has built and staffed an Office building) Selection Privilege: Get an extra coin for selling a good.
  • Captain: Time to go sailing! Choosing the captain means it’s time to ship goods off to the Old World for victory points. There are three ships in the harbor, each has a different amount of spots available. Here’s the deal: Once a certain type of good is stored on the ship, no other type of good is allowed on until the ship is full and has sailed off. Of course, if you’ve built your own wharf during the building phase, you get your own personal ship to send off whatever good you want. Each good shipped off gets you a victory point. Selection Privilege: Get an extra victory point on you first round of shipping.
  • Prospector: The prospector is basically a “bail-out” move. You get one coin, the other players get nothing.

So each player gets a turn to pick a role. After that, the roles that weren’t picked have a coin placed on top of them as an bonus enticement for selecting it in the future, the picked roles are placed back, the governorship is passed, and on the game goes.

How to taste sweet, sweet victory: There’s three ways a game of Puerto Rico ends: Either the supply of colonists runs out, the supply of shipping victory points runs out, or a player completely builds out their section of San Juan. Once one of those things happens, players will add up their victory points from shipping and building. The player with the most points wins. If there is a tie, the tie is broken by how many coins and goods each player has.


So, what makes this game awesome?

  • The bright side of a game higher on the complexity level like a Puerto Rico is that players can choose various ways to success. Players get the option to either specialize in buildings, or shipping, or a relatively even mix of the two in order to win. And all of these things can be done at the exact same time.
  • Every decision has an impact on the game, because your decision of what role to take on your turn is based not just on what you need to do, but how it is going to benefit or hurt the strategies of other players.
  • The game is not passive. Every player is involved on every move in the game, even when it is not actually their turn. This isn’t one of the games where you can take your move then pull out your phone and sent text message until it’s your next move and practically not miss anything.
  • Replayability. Strategies in Puerto Rico are fairly generalized, but because there’s so many variables in play on how to achieve them based on what everbody else in doing, no two games are all that similar.

Video explanation: A game like this, at least to me, needs to be seen to be fully understood instead of being typed about, so fortuantely the Godfather of board game YouTube videos, former Syracuse University professor Scott Nicholson, made a primer on Puerto Rico. Check it out.

Other ways to play: The best way to learn Puerto Rico is to just play it. And just our fucking luck, Board Game Arena features Puerto Rico. It’s one of the more popular games on the site, so there’s usually always a game of two going on to jump into.


Previous Board Games With OB: [Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign] [Carcassonne] [Jaipur] [Tokaido] [Blokus]


Images via BoardGameGeek

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