Puerto Rico Board Game (hReview)

A Board Game That Adults Can Play

11/9/2006

by Larry O’Brien

product Image of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

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Visiting friends gave me the opportunity to coerce a try of Puerto Rico, a very well-reviewed board game. Unlike most people who review board games, we are not “into” the genre, so this was very much a new experience for us. Basically, we ended up playing every night and, after the third night, Tina turned to me and said, very intensely, “We have to get [our neighbors] addicted to this.”

For those like us new to this new type of board game, the rules are initially pretty opaque. The core of the game is a SimCity-like resource cascade: to gain victory points and money, you ship goods. To ship goods, you produce goods. To produce goods, you must have appropriate production facilities and plantations. Facilities and plantations must be populated with colonists. (For instance, to produce sugar, you need to build a sugar plantation and a sugar mill and populate them with workers.)

The initially confusing key to the the game, though, is that the game state evolves by way of an “inner loop”:

 

while Game.playing == true

{

foreach Player

{

  Player chooses Role in [various roles]

  {

    foreach Player

    {

      Player advances his resource-creation according to the chosen Role

    }

  }

}

}

The “Role” chosen determines the game state: one Role (“Mayor”) produces colonists, another (“Builder”) allows production facilities to be built, etc. The first time you play the game (we were smart to play two “practice” games, the first just to get a sense of the rules, and the second to think out loud about strategy and tactics) you concentrate on the inner loop and pretty much just choose the Role that brings you the most immediate benefit. But the interesting part comes when you start anticipating the Roles that others will choose (“The ‘Mayor’ role is so beneficial to Danni that I know she will choose it when her turn comes around. Therefore, I can choose ‘Settler’ with the confidence that I will soon get colonists to populate it.”)

The rules are written fairly densely — they’re very good about specifying “may” versus “must” and the order of things — which makes them initially very opaque. But after an hour or so of frustration (or, I bet, being introduced to play by an experienced person) things come into focus.

An aspect that’s very enjoyable is that every game we’ve played has played out in a very different way: there doesn’t appear to be any simple optimal strategy. I’m sure that with experience you get better and gain advantages, but the complexity seems to even the playing field significantly.

Highly recommended.