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Games: Puerto Rico

An entry for Tim of Mooselessness, who is apparently on the verge of buying Puerto Rico.

I have been a board game enthusiast all my adult life, but the thrill, as they say, is largely gone. When I returned from the Peace Corps in 1997 and started collecting modern board games, each one I bought was a wonder to me, full of innovative mechanics and fascinating ideas. It helped that the first few games I purchased were among the best ever made: Manhattan, Modern Art, and the sublime Settlers of Catan. But since that time I have played scores of games, and its become ever more difficult to impress me. I enjoy board games as much as I ever have, but it's rare that I encounter one that fills me with the rush of admiration I felt for those first few. Still, occasionally a game will come along that manages to overcome my indifference and knock my socks off. El Grande did it, Euphrat & Tigris did it, Princes of Florence did it, and now I have been wowed by Puerto Rico.

In Puerto, each person begins play with his own "player mat" -- a small map of the island divided into an upper and lower half. The bottom portion is for plantations, of which there are six types: Corn, Indigo, Sugar, Tobacco, Coffee and Quarries. The first five produce agricultural goods; the Quarries enable you to purchase buildings for cheaper. Buildings, placed in the upper part of the player mat, come in two types: Production Buildings (which allow you to refine your agricultural output) and violet Special Buildings. The object of the game is to acquire the most victory points, which is primarily acheived by shipping goods to the Old World, and by constructing buildings (each of which is worth some measure of points).

Players must manage two other resources. Plantations and buildings do not "work" unless they are manned by Colonists: plantations lacking a Colonist do not produce agricultural goods (or, in the case of the Quarries, do not reduce the cost of buildings), while buildings lacking a Colonist do not do whatever they are designed to do. Players will also earn doubloons throughout the game, which are used to purchase buildings.

Puerto Rico is played over a series of rounds, during which each player takes a turn. On a turn the Active Player chooses one of the seven Role Cards, and then every player (starting with the Active Player) gets to take the Action associated with that role. The Active Player also gets a Privilege -- the opportunity to do a little more than everyone else. The Roles are:

Each player takes an agricultural plantation (corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco or coffee)
The Active Player may take a quarry instead of an agricultural plantation
Each player may buy a building.
The Active Player spends one doubloon less for his building
Every player gets a colonist.
The Active Player gets a bonus colonist.
Each player produces agricultural goods.
The Active Player produces one bonus good.
Each Player may sell a good to the back for doubloons.
The Active Player gets a bonus doubloon.
Each player loads goods onto the ships, and receives one victory point for every good loaded.
The Active Player gets a bonus victory point.
The Active Player gets a doubloon from the bank.
Once a Role is taken, no one else may take it that round, and at the conclusion of a round all unchosen Roles receive a doubloon. When a player picks a Role with one or more coins on it, he keeps the money for himself. So a Role that is ignored in this round becomes more attactive in the next -- a feature that ensures that Puerto never stagnates.

Whenever the Craftsman is selected, each player produces goods. One good is produced for each manned agricultural plantation that has a corresponding manned production building -- a coffee plantation and a coffee roaster, for example. This is the function of the Production Buildings. Each violet building, meanwhile, confers some special advantage onto it's owner (but only, as always, if manned). The Hacienda allows the owner receive an extra Plantation in each Settler phase; the Market gives the owner a bonus gold every time he sells in the Trader phase, and so on.

If all this sounds overwhelming ... well, it is, the first time you hear the rules. But Puerto Rico is so remarkably designed, and everything "flows" so well, that halfway through your first game you'll already have a good grasp of what to do. Managing your resources is the key to success: you need plantations and buildings to produce goods, you need goods to earn money and victory points, you need money to buy buildings, and so on. The varieties of different strategies you can use in the pursuit of victory are seemingly endless.

The appeal of Puerto Rico is widespread, and it's easy to see why. The game features quite a bit of player interaction, but it is all indirect: you cannot attack another player, but you can take the Role he wants before he gets the opportunity himself. The feel of the game is very positive, as you are building up (constructing buildings, producing Goods, making money) rather than tearing down (as you would in, say, a wargame). These two traits combine to make this a great, nonaggressive game for families. Furthermore, it works wonderfully well with three, four and five players, making it suitable for any gathering of friends.

I typically play a new game a few times and then get ready to move on; with Puerto Rico, however, I would be happy to play nothing but. One thing I have noticed is that the quality of a game is usually commensurate with the amount of discussion it engenders, and by that standard Puerto is one of the best. As soon a game ends the players are eager to talk about the strategies they employed and the ideas they have for future playings. And I find myself pondering Puerto even between matches, sipping my morning expresso, for instance, and wondering how well I would fare if I spent my next game growing nothing but coffee.

I've been suffering Board Game Burnout for a year or so, but Puerto Rico's rave reviews convinced me to pick it up. And I couldn't be happier I did. Puerto takes me back to those halcyon days when I first entered the hobby, and marveled at the skill that went into game design. Anything that can do that to a jaded old player like me must be a great game indeed.

Posted on August 29, 2002 to Games


Hi! Where did you buy 'Puerto Rico'?

Posted by: Jo (from Puerto :D) on September 2, 2002 4:25 PM

I purchase all my games online at Funagain Games. Here is their Puerto Rico page.

Posted by: Matthew on September 2, 2002 6:05 PM

Thanks Matthew! ^_^

Posted by: Jo on September 2, 2002 6:34 PM

I am apalled that the people at Funagain Games feel they can make light of the issue of slavery and the painful history of colonization, by creating a tasteless game such as this "Puerto Rico." I don't know what would possess Funagain Games to create a game that is all about exploiting slaves in order to make profit, or what would impel the reviewer on this site to recommend it as a "game for the entire family." If this game was renamed "America," I doubt that the visitors of this site would see the game in the same light, but because this game carries the name of an Island whose history isn't well known to the American public, it's all "fun and games," right? Nope.

If one would think that I am overreacting, then I suggest that he read about Puerto Rico's early history. For a brief recap, there WAS slavery on the Island that was just about as violent as what America witnessed during it's "colonization period." But, I guess it's "fun" to relive the cruel acts of Colonization on the Island, right? I hope not.

Seriously, try and picture this game with the name of "America" attached to it, and see how "fun" it is to get plantations to "work" with the use of a "Colonist." I ask you, the interviewer, what in the world do you think the "Colonist" did to promote "work" in his plantation? Give him a whip, and you can get the idea. Do you still think is fun for the whole family? Yes, if the family is a bunch of slavers, of course.

I suggest that one either rethink the game rules, allow for slave revolts, days like El Grito de Lares, and things that represent a real portrayal of the COLONIZATION of Puerto Rico, or that the game be discontinued on its "merit" alone.

I could try and create a game about World War 2 without the thought of including anything to do with the Germans. Or, a Civil War chess set without a thought for having Robert E. Lee in the game. But, what would these games be missing? Reality.

Now, I do understand that, for older gamers, there are different scenarios that you can set the game for, and I think that's ok-- but, to start the game off with the idea that slaves never existed isn't.

Sorry. I think this game isn't going to get that far. Call it "America," and it might not get off the ground at all.

The play mechanics are what makes it a good game, but I feel that the story needs to be redone.

Posted by: Willie Garcia on January 3, 2003 11:22 AM

Well, Willie, you are an incredible idiot. One, because you think that Funagain.com, which is a retail outlet, created the game Puerto Rico. Like many, many other games retailers who carry the game, they're just making a buck, not designing the games themselves. Two, because you whine about a game that ignores the aspects of Puerto Rican colonization, and the time period CLEARLY represented in the game itself. By the time the events in the game are occurring, slavery in Puerto Rico has been abolished. Look it up, you idiot! By the time the industrial advances required for the various production buildings represented in the game, the workers are SALARIED. So, screw you, and the horse you rode in on, you uneducated, pathetically whiny snot. EAT ME!!!

Posted by: Angry Crankenfuss on February 1, 2003 3:24 PM

Actually, slavery was not aboloshed on Puerto Rico until 1878 and if you read the entry on Funagain for the game, they clearly believe the game is set around 1500, so I think Willie makes a fair point. But of course the game would not have sold anywhere near as well as it has if the 'colonists' were called 'slaves'.

Posted by: Pallas on April 8, 2003 10:12 PM

regardless of the argument tasteless products usually appeal to the anglo-american
crowd. so with that in mind the more tasteless
the better. most american institutions of learning do not speak very highly of puerto
ricans anyways, so why should this be any different. the truth is best hidden when
sweetened with lies!

Posted by: eliab on July 5, 2003 10:04 AM

It's a game people, an abstract!

You could do exactly the same game system and replace the building names and goods for a sci-fi setting, rather than Pueto Rico.

Next you'll be telling us that playing Risk encourages megolomania!

BTW, it is an excellent game, despite prats like the first posters opinion that we're all going to go off an oppress the natives....

Posted by: OMG on July 31, 2003 7:26 PM

My first reaction when hearing about this game was shock/horror. I was appalled to hear of a game that is set in some historical reality but ignores an incredibly disturbing part of that reality.

Then I played the game. I was particularly disturbed that the 'colonists' were represented by little brown discs. Once I got over the glaring absence of any mention of slavery, the slaughter of Tainos & Caribs, or the generally violent nature of colonialism, I had to admit it was a pretty fun game.

So I have mixed feelings. The game is fun, but the glaring absence of information about the horrors of colonialism make it hard for me to accept.

Posted by: Ben on August 5, 2003 5:57 PM

Angry, it seems that you did yourself in by not reading anything about Puerto Rican history, and then telling me-- half Puerto Rican-- that I don't know anything about the Island where my grandfathers grew up. Great Job!

I hope that you will have the foresight to NOT let this sort of mistake happen again. Next time, before you decide to create an argument, make sure that you have your facts in place... and the name calling wasn't that bright, either.


Posted by: Willie Garcia on August 13, 2003 2:45 PM

Angry, it seems that you did yourself in by not reading anything about Puerto Rican history, and then telling me-- half Puerto Rican-- that I don't know anything about the Island where my grandfathers grew up. Great Job!

I hope that you will have the foresight to NOT let this sort of mistake happen again. Next time, before you decide to create an argument, make sure that you have your facts in place... and the name calling wasn't that bright, either.


Posted by: Willie Garcia on August 13, 2003 2:52 PM

Maybe they (Rio Grande) could've done a game in the same spirit that they did this one.


Posted by: Willie Garcia on August 13, 2003 2:53 PM