It's not really possible to say anything new about Puerto Rico, the game has been around for years, and for many it will be part of their early introduction into Euro games. It followed Settlers of Catan and maybe El Grande as a gateway into board gaming. Of note is that Puerto Rico has stood the test of time, has remained highly ranked and rated, as other games have perhaps dropped aside.
Each player takes on the role of a plantation owner on the island of Puerto Rico and will be attempting to expand their own plantation and wealth. Puerto Rico is a role selection game where each player in turn selects a role and uses it to develop an economy. The ultimate aim of the economy is the generation of victory points, but in order to get there it is going to be necessary to generate population, income, goods and production facilities. The precise route to victory can vary, there are many strategies to develop the economy and ultimately those victory points.
Puerto Rico - The Roles
Puerto Rico is all about the role selection. These roles are:
- Builder. Spend money to buy a Production Building. These Buildings are worth Victory Points. If the building is manned it has an ability which can be used in play.
- Captain. Ship goods back to Spain for Victory Points.
- Craftsman. Produce goods from manned plantations.
- Mayor. Man Plantations and Production Building with Colonists.
- Prospector. A source of income.
- Settler. Obtain a Plantation tile.
- Trader. Sell goods for Doubloons (money).
How It Plays
The rules are really simple. The Starting player (Governor) selects one of the seven roles and takes the associated action. Then in most cases, all the other players get to take the same action. The starting player takes Builder, he can buy one building from stock and gets a one Doubloon discount, then in sequence, the other players may perform the build action.
Then the next player picks from the remaining roles and the process repeats. This continues until all players have taken a role and actioned it. Then a one Doubloon coin is placed on the roles not selected (an incentive) and the Governor moves on to the next player who will become the starting player for the next round.
Puerto Rico Game Review - Components (Credit: Rio Grande Games)
Analysing The Game
- Most of the time it is pretty obvious which role to take, which role will bring the best return, and often it is a good strategy to go with this flow. However, what this also means is it is possible to think through the sequence of optimal roles, and this might reveal that the initial selection of the best immediate return is in fact in the longer term suboptimal. Does this make Puerto Rico formulaic? In my view no, because that sequence will depend on numerous factors including which buildings and resources opponents have in play.
- Sometimes it is necessary to take a short term hit in order to disrupt the sequence of optimal roles and break that cycle.
- There is very little random or hidden in Puerto Rico, so everything needed to make a decision is visible in play. The only random is which Plantations are available from the Settler role. The only hidden is the number of victory points each player has because in most instances when a player selects a role every other player also gets to participate in that role, the game keeps players engaged and participating.
- The requirement for plantations or buildings to be manned in order to produce goods or have other game effects introduces a worker placement element into the game. Placing those Colonist tokens in the right plantation or building can be crucial and once placed they can only be moved when the Mayor role is selected.
- Best with four or five players, and OK with three. Not really a good two-player game.
- Players will hit on various strategies and combinations of Building and Plantations, some are more obvious than others. Some might seem more powerful, this is not necessarily so, they just seem good at that time and can be countered.
Winning Puerto Rico
Normally a game will take between 90 and 120 minutes depending on the number of players so it falls into the sweet spot of 20 to 30 minutes per player. The game ends when one of the below conditions has been met.
- Supply runs out of Colonists.
- Supply runs out of Victory Points.
- When one player fills up all the spaces to place Buildings on his Player Board.
The winner is the player with the most victory points. Doubloons and goods are the tie breaker.
Puerto Rico is more complex than Settlers of Catan but not difficult to learn. The rules are well written, well illustrated and easy to understand. The components are good quality and thematic, it certainly does feel like trying to manage a plantation in days gone by.
Puerto Rico deserves the accolades and ratings because game play is challenging and highly interactive, thematic, and there are a wide variety of possible strategies to employ to gain those victory points.
This blog was originally published on April 27th, 2017. Updated on May 4th, 2022 to improve the information available.