Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Unsinkable Puerto Rico

By Ward Batty

This week I want to talk about what is arguably the best boardgame of all time, Puerto Rico by Andreas Seyfarth. It has recently regained the top spot as the top-rated game at, after being temporarily overtaken by the upstart game Caylus. Puerto Rico has been a favorite for many serious boardgame aficionados since Alea and Rio Grande Games first published it in 2002.

Each player is developing their own version of San Juan on their own small board. The city area has space for the buildings, and there is a field area where crop tiles are placed. Players are competing to produce goods, which can be shipped for victory points or sold at market for money, known here as doubloons. Doubloons are used to buy buildings. The buildings are worth victory points, and also have special uses that help the player. There are buildings that allow players to get more money when they sell goods, for example.

The core of the game is the different roles that each player selects. These include building, producing goods, shipping goods, trading goods at the market, adding a new crop to your field, adding new colonists or just taking money. The first player gets to be the Governor, and at the end of the round the Governor passes to the next player. Everyone selects a different role, then the Governor is passed and all roles are returned to the center of the table and are available to be selected. The roles that were not selected have a doubloon each placed on them, to make them more desirable next time. When a player selects a role, they do the action first, and then all players in clockwise order also may take that action, if they can. The player who selected the action also gets an additional benefit. For example, the person who chooses to build gets a discount of one ducat off the cost of the building.

Designer Andreas Seyfarth didn't invent the game mechanic of players having roles that give them special abilities or privileges, but Puerto Rico uses it to great effectiveness. What distinguishes Puerto Rico from other games is the game flow. Timing is the only variable in the game. Everyone may build or ship, but not everyone can. You have to produce a good before you can ship or trade it. If someone with goods ships or trades before you have the chance to produce, not only do you miss on that chance to ship, but also shipping is unavailable until the Governor passes. In Puerto Rico, timing is everything.

Other than the number of victory points players have collected when they shipped goods, all information is public. So as you choose what role to take, you can easily see whom it will help and who still has a turn and what roles are available. This allows players to learn to anticipate what others will want to do. How you respond, take that action that most helps you but may help another more, or take a less appealing action so you won't set up the next player? This is the crux of the challenge and fun of the game.

As Peggy Hill says, "It's fun to choose." You get to make many interesting choices in Puerto Rico. There are only three boats that take goods away and they are three sizes and each may only contain one type of good. Also, they don't empty until filled. Goods are limited, so if too many goods remain on a boat they may not be available for future production. The trading house, where goods are sold, only has space for four goods and won't buy a second of the same good until the four spots are cleared. There is a building that let's players sell the same good again, however. Building selection is also very important. Some buildings are more useful early, some late. Many work well in combination.

Finally, Puerto Rico has lots of different ways to win. You can ship a lot, concentrate on making a lot of money and buying a lot of buildings, or select a middle course. There are three different ways the game can end, so a player that is building a lot or shipping a lot can try to bring the game to the end before an opponent?s plan can come to full flower. Again, in Puerto Rico, timing is everything. The greatest plan in the world can be no good if the game ends a turn too soon.

The game is recommended for ages twelve and up and that's pretty accurate for most kids. The game is relatively easy to learn, the abilities and privileges of each role are on the card, as are the abilities of the buildings. There's a PC version available, and sites where the game can be played online. There's a plethora of information available about the game at

Puerto Rico is published in North America by Rio Grande Games and is for 3-5 players. Games take 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the number of players. Puerto Rico should be available locally at a specialty game shop. Even if the shop doesn't have the game in stock, many are happy to special-order them. Your local store is a great place to learn more about these great games. Online, I'd suggest going to Google, click on Froogle and search for the game by name.

Ward Batty is a long-time game-player who has been with the same weekly game group for over twenty years. "I understood there was a pension." is his excuse. He writes a monthly column on the business of board games for Comics & Game Retailer magazine and has written articles and reviews for The Games Journal, Scrye, Knucklebones and Games International.

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