Demonstration copy available in store - Try before you buy!
3-5 Players ; Ages 12+
What role will you play in the new world? Achieve prosperity and respect through your actions as a prospector, captain, mayor, trader, etc.
++++++++++++++++++++ Counter Magazine review. ++++++++++++++++++++
3-5 players, 90-150 minutes designed by Andreas Seyfarth reviewed by Stuart Dagger It was the most highly rated game at Essen by those lucky few who had the opportunity to play one of the pre-production copies on the Alea stand and since then the anticipation has been building for the rest of us. The situation is similar to the one we had with the Lord of the Rings film: we wanted it to be great, we had been assured that it was and we had been told to wait, with the danger that the expectation would be such that living up to it would prove impossible. Fortunately, with the game, as with the film, the buzz after publication has been as great as it was before, and this time we don't even get the final scene snigger, when Sam and Frodo declare their undying love and sail off into the sunset. The scenario could hardly be more enticing. You have a Caribbean island to run and that is going to involve creating a local economy, shipping goods back to the Old World and building a town which will both aid your efforts and bring you prestige. This is a lot to translate into game terms and the impressive thing about Puerto Rico is the way that it has all been brought seamlessly together. Each player has their own board and your first thought when you see it is likely to be ``Die F�rsten von Florenz''. You have been given a garden and you are being asked to cultivate it. However, the similarity is superficial and your second thought should be to forget about it. The task and the problems this time are very different from those in the earlier game. The board has two main areas, each with twelve spaces. On one you will place your buildings; on the other your plantations and quarries. The buildings will bring you victory points at the end of the game and advantages during it. The plantations will produce the crops that, suitably processed, can be shipped home, netting you more victory points. The quarries will help you with your building programme in a game where money is tight. At the heart of the game is a collection of jobs and each turn you will take one of them. In a 3-player game there are six to choose from: mayor, builder, captain, settler, craftsman and trader. With four players you add a prospector to the list and with five a second prospector. In all cases the number of jobs exceeds the number of players by three and this excess is used very cleverly as one of the ways in which money is brought in to the game. The other artful aspect to the jobs idea is that when you make your choice, you aren't just giving yourself the right to do something, you are giving everyone the right to do it, but in a way that offers you a small advantage. For example, were you to choose to be the builder, every player would have the right to erect a new building, but you would get first choice of the ones still available and you would get a discount on the cost. Were you to become the mayor, each player would receive at least one new settler, but you would get at least one more than anyone else. On each turn only one player can choose each job and if you exercise a little cunning, you can often make your choice a method not just of giving yourself a small edge in an area that is currently important to you, but as a means discomfitting a rival. Plantations are acquired when someone selects the settler role and they come in five types: coffee, tobacco, sugar, indigo and corn. All are equally valuable when it comes to earning victory points, but not when it comes to earning money, when the order in which I have listed them is that from most to least both in terms of sale value and production costs. What happens when the settler is chosen is that each player gets may take one of the face-up plantation markers, of which there will be one more than the number of players. Having chosen it they place it on one of the plantation squares on their board, where it stays for the rest of the game. The settler's edge is that not only does he get first choice, but he can decide not to take a plantation and to take a quarry instead. The other players do not have this alternative. Why would he want a quarry? Building costs. Quarries do not produce items which can be sold or converted into victory points, but, provided you have settlers working them, they will reduce the cost of any building that you erect. You have your own source of stone and that makes things cheaper. The craftsman is the trigger for production. When he is chosen by someone, all the plantations produce goods, provided they meet two conditions. These are that the plantation must contain a settler marker (the fields don't work themselves) and, in the case of everything but corn, the town must contain a building (again manned) where the goods can be processed. The craftsman's bonus is an extra processed good of his choice. And that brings me to buildings. These come in three types but all have two characteristics in common: they cost you money to erect and they are worth victory points at the end. Type one are the production buildings: indigo plants, sugar mills, tobacco storage and coffee roasters. These have a basic cost between 1 and 6, are worth between 1 and 3 victory points and will process between 1 and 3 units of raw material. At one end there is the small indigo plant, which has a rating of 1 in all three categories and at the other is the coffee roaster, which costs 6, is worth 3 VP and, provided it has two settlers working in it, will convert the yield of 2 coffee plantations into coffee beans for sale or shipping. Each of these production facilities will take up one of the spaces in your town. Also taking up one space each are the buildings of type two and these are a mixed bag, ranging from a small market up to your own private wharf. None of these buildings are components in the production of goods, but all give their owners advantages and privileges. The markets (small and large) bring in extra money whenever you sell goods, warehouses give you extra flexibility when it comes to shipping goods, the hospice and the university will give you extra settlers and the wharf your own ship - which can be an enormous advantage when you have victory point earning stuff to get back to the Old World. Of course, to get these advantages from a building it must have workers in it. The buildings of type three take up two spaces each, cost 10 and are worth 4 VP. They don't bring any advantages during the game but instead offer bonus victory points at the end, with the amount dependent on how well you have met their individual conditions. For example, one will give you an extra victory point for every 3 colonists you have at the end of the game; with another it is between 4 and 7 VP and is dependent on your number of plantations and quarries. Putting up buildings requires money and this comes into the game in one of three ways. The first concerns that surplus of jobs over players that I referred to earlier. At the end of a round, when everyone has chosen a job and undertaken the activities associated with it, there will be 3 job cards left unclaimed. One gold piece is put on each of them and this money will go to the next person who takes on that particular job. So the post that didn't look attractive this round will look more so next. This is clever, as not only does it give players extra things to think about, it ensures the overall balance of the system by making it certain that no section of the economy will remain neglected for long. The second source of money is the prospector. Taking on this role brings you 1 gold piece. This which doesn't sound much, but since nobody else gets anything from his activities, you still have the sort of edge over the competition that comes with the other jobs. And in practice it will often be more than 1 GP, as the card tends to be one which isn't taken every round. Source three is the trader. Money can be raised by selling things on the island, but the demand for goods is a small one. The way it works is via a card which has four spaces on it. This will take one of each of four different types of good, paying a basic 4 for coffee, 3 for tobacco, 2 for sugar, 1 for indigo and 0 for corns, with these prices being raised if the person doing the selling is either the trader or the owner of a small or large market building. These sales take place when someone becomes the trader. The trader starts by placing one item on the card and collecting his money. The right to sell then continues round the table until either all four spaces are filled or players are in the position where they either can't or don't wish to sell any more. This ends the trader's turn. If the card has been filled, it is then emptied; if not it remains partly full, which will make for restricted trading next time. That just leaves the captain and the shipping home of goods. There are three ship cards, whose capacity varies with the number of players. On the captain's turn players load their goods and the rules governing this are carefully framed. 1. Each ship will only carry goods of one type - all sugar, all corn, whatever. 2. Players take it in turn to load goods and on their turn may only load goods of one type. Player turns continue until no more loading is possible. 3. On your turn, if you can load something you must. What is more, you must load as many of that type of good as you are able. If you have a choice of what to load, it is your decision which you load. 4. You can't load goods of a type on ship B if there are already goods of this type on ship A. This applies even if ship A is full. 5. When no more loading is possible, each player with goods left on the quay forfeits all of them bar one. And that means one good, not one type of good. The only way to avoid this loss is to have a warehouse. A small warehouse will save one type of good and a large one will save two. 6. When no more loading is possible, full ships set sail, returning empty ready for the next time that the captain role is chosen. Ships that are only partially full stay where they are. Each good shipped home brings you 1 VP. It will be clear from that description that this is very much a game for gamers. There is a lot going on and if you are to do well, you will need to pay attention to all of it. That means money, people and production. You need a sufficiency of all of them and this is not that easy to achieve. If you don't generate enough income, you will fall behind in the buildings race and that will cost you their benefits during the game and their victory points at the end. A shortage of people will result in empty buildings and empty fields. Buildings need workers if they are to operate and plantations need workers if they are to produce. If you don't produce enough, you won't have enough to ship in order to gain the victory points that you will need if you are to keep pace with your rivals. You also need to keep an eye on what other players are doing, as it will affect what you should be doing. There have been a few assertions to the effect that Puerto Rico is another instance of multi-player solitaire. All the ones that I have seen and heard about have been from people who have only played the game once. Beware the expert who has only played the game once. You may have your own little patch and there may be lots of routes open to you, but there are also lots of ways of hindering your opponents. The trader rules provide a few and the shipping rules a good number. To take just a small example, suppose that the player on your left is short of money and that in an attempt to deal with this he has a coffee ready for market. His plan is to take the trader and sell the good for a healthy 5 (more if he has one of the markets). Taking the trader yourself wouldn't stop him, since you don't have a coffee of your own and there is more than one space still open on the card. However, if you were to take the captain, he'd have to ship the coffee, leaving him with none to sell and still short of money. The order in which you load your goods on to the ships also gives lots of scope for messing up other people's plans. The kippering possibilities might not have big labels on them, but they are there and you need to be aware of them. The game is also not one where you can go in with a pre-set plan. Flexibility is important, particularly when you have more players. The reason for this is that there is a shortage of nearly all of the buildings. There are only two of each of the type two buildings and only one of each of the type three. You are not going to get all the ones that you want, because other people will beat you to some of them and when they do you are going to have to adapt. For example, if you own one of the large markets, you are well on the way to dealing with your need for money, but there are only two of them available. Someone is going to miss out and if it is you, you will need a financial Plan B. What other people are growing will also affect you. At present one of the theories is that a ``corn strategy'' works well, since although corn doesn't sell for much, it also doesn't tie up workers on the production side. This is true, but if you find that your right-hand opponent is also following this line, you better make sure that you get one of the wharfs and the private ship that goes with it, or you won't be shipping much of the stuff home. Puerto Rico won't appeal to everybody. Nothing ever does. However, for those of you who like games with a bit of weight to them, this is undoubtedly the pick of 2002 so far and it will have been a very good year if I am not making the same judgement come December. The game takes from 3-5 players. I have tried all three and it works equally well with all of them, though the flavour does change as the numbers go up and the competition for particular buildings and combinations of buildings becomes more intense. Very impressive and thoroughly recommended.