Now that I’ve introduced you to a couple good starter games in the German genre, it’s time to go to the other extreme and talk about the most challenging of them all. I’d call it the grandfather of all German games – Puerto Rico.
In this game, players represent merchants who are trying to grow crops on the new island of Puerto Rico, and ship them back to the Old World – corn, indigo, sugar, coffee and tobacco. The crops must be planted, harvested, refined (with the exception of corn), and put on produce ships. But to do all that it takes money, so some crops will be sold.
A round consists of each player selecting one of 7-8 roles, which each player will in turn perform. For example, Betty may choose the Settler role. By doing so, each player will “settle” a piece of their land with a new plantation of a crop. Bill might opt for the Builder phase, where everyone has the option to purchase a building for his city. Each choice like this has its benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side, you get a special privilege by starting a particular phase (Bill, for example, will get to take 1 dubloon off the price of the building he chooses), and of course you get to perform the action you wanted. But on the negative side – you’ve given all the other players the opportunity to perform the same action. Maybe Bill doesn’t want Carl to have the chance to build, because he knows Carl can afford that last remaining coffee roaster he really wants? Other roles include the Mayor phase (putting people to work in your plantations and buildings), the Craftsman phase (harvesting and refining your crops), the Trader phase (selling goods at the market), the Prospector (where only you get some cash), and the Captain phase (where goods are shipped and players earn victory points). It’s also important to note that although the goods have varying values at the market (coffee is worth the most, corn is worth nothing), they are all equal when it’s time to ship them back to the Old World – and it’s victory points, not cash, that determine the winner. The winner is the player who accumulated the biggest victory point total between shipped goods and the value of his/her buildings.
I could go into more detail, but suffice it to say this is a game with complex rules, where there is no one clear path to victory. Every decision you make affects all players, so you have to think carefully. Will you corner the market on sugar, and fill ships with a good only you control? Or will you diversify your portfolio so you can jump on any available opportunity? Hoard your cash, or erect buildings with reckless abandon?
Puerto Rico is definitely challenging and not the first one you want to bust out with newer gamers. It works for 2-5 players, but it’s best with at least 4. This is a long game – a 4 player game could take from an hour and a half to two hours. Stock up on pretzels! Puerto Rico is published by Rio Grande Games.
I hope you’ll enjoy this multiple-award-winning modern classic, which I’m sure you’ll love for years to come. As you make your way through the many other games out there, you’ll notice elements of the Puerto Rico style abound, because it’s cool to copy the master!