22nd Jan2020

‘Puerto Rico: Deluxe Edition’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

puerto-rico-box

Whilst most fans of board gaming would argue that each generation of games essentially eclipses the previous one, and that the “current” era of games are no older than maybe four or five years, some games continue to break the mould. You’ll be familiar with the likes of Ticket to Ride and Catan, but when venturing into heavier games, it’s harder to spot the gems that still stand out among the hundreds of now irrelevant products. Puerto Rico is still played today, despite being first released in 2002 and it has seen several re-releases since then. Today’s review focuses on the 2019 “Deluxe Edition” of Puerto Rico, so let’s see if it’s still up to snuff.

Occupying a lofty position as the twenty-second best board game of all time (according to its BoardGameGeek ranking), Puerto Rico is a game that has clearly been played many hundreds of thousands of times, and will be familiar to thousands of players the world over. With that said, it’s a game that I was aware of but had never played, perhaps because most of my friends have since moved on to some of the more modern games that I was referring to above. What I guess surprised me most was perhaps how Puerto Rico has several mechanisms that I’ve seen in newer games and thought were unique – which kind of proves the old saying that there’s nothing new under the sun!

The basic premise of Puerto Rico is simple and falls back on the most classic objective of all; score the most points at the end of the game. The Deluxe Edition features two smallish expansion packs that add a host of new buildings and a bag of red noble pieces, and my recommendation is that you might as well play with both these expansions active from the start. The extra buildings do add to the setup time since there is a drafting element, but the nobles actually speed it up because they remove the need to count out a number of basic colonists that is otherwise part of the base game setup.

In all fairness, Puerto Rico has a fiddlier setup than I would like compared to almost any other, simply because there’s a lot of stacking and sorting that has to be done regardless of which buildings you choose to play with. With that out of the way however, the mechanical play is fairly straightforward, even though the decision weight is at least medium and can often lead to a little bit of analysis paralysis simply because there is so much choice when it comes to how some of the actions are executed. This is balanced because some actions are very straightforward.

To summarise a style, Puerto Rico is a building, trading and engine building game that uses an action drafting and follow mechanic to drive the action. If that sounds like a lot, well, it kind of is and yet at the same time the mechanics are straightforward enough to bear it. On their turn, the player simply chooses one of the available action tiles and performs that action, including the bonus shown. Each other player may then take the same action (in player order) but without taking the bonus. As an example, a player taking the Builder action may build at a discount of one doubloon, whilst others simply build based on the face value of the building they wish to construct.

There are always enough actions for the number of players in the game plus three (and additional Prospector actions are introduced at four or five players to keep this rule consistent), which means that in a round of turns three actions will remain unclaimed. When that happens, a doubloon is placed onto each of the unused actions to entice players to use them next turn. In order to score the points that will players the game, it’s necessary to build out your own town which is represented by a personal player board. Each board is split into two sections, one of which houses plantations and quarries, and the other of which houses buildings that typically refine the raw materials produced in the plantations, or otherwise enhance the players ability to make money or score points.

To be useful, a plantation or building must be occupied by either a colonist or a noble token, and many of the advanced buildings feature different abilities depending on the kind of token that occupies them. This is perhaps the fiddliest bit of Puerto Rico for new players to remember, but each building token comes with both a basic text side (with a nice picture) and a more detailed text side that explains the functionality better, at the cost of having no artwork. Both colonist and noble tokens are obtained via the Mayor action, which again allows the lead player to take two pieces from the incoming boat, whilst the other players just take one.

Other actions include the Craftsman, which is how the buildings produce. Indigo, tobacco, coffee and sugar can be produced when both a plantation and a matching refinery building are occupied, whilst corn can be produced simply by having a plantation. When goods are produced, the players store them but there will be spoilage if they are not then shipped in the same round. Two actions allow this, the Captain (who ships goods back to Europe for victory points) and the Trader (who sells goods locally for doubloons.)

The final two actions are the Settler, who simply allows the lead player to choose a quarry or a plantation to build for free (with the other players building a plantation for free) and the Prospector, who gifts one doubloon to the lead player and doesn’t allow the other players to do anything at all. Obviously the game of Puerto Rico is really all about maximising your own benefit by choosing an action that works well for you, whilst also making the most of what choices you do have when someone else takes a turn.

Trading and shipping goods back to Europe are the two actions where perhaps a lot of the nuance of Puerto Rico lies, and that’s because of a few simple rules. Firstly, when goods are shipped back to Europe there are several ships to choose from, but each ship only takes one kind of good, so the earlier in the order you act, the more likely it will be that you can ship your preferred good. There are never enough ships to take all the kinds of good, and each good is only worth 1 VP so it doesn’t matter whether you ship corn or tobacco from a scoring perspective.

Using the Trader works slightly differently in that the trader will only take one good of each kind before his store is refreshed, but goods are progressively more valuable from corn through to tobacco. By Trading instead of sending goods to Europe, a player can net a lot of doubloons, allowing them to build more structures that can also score a lot of points. Whether sending goods or trading and building, there are a number of paths to victory in each game of Puerto Rico, especially when you consider that some of the buildings will vary from game to game based on the starting draft.

Having played about ten games of Puerto Rico, I have no doubt that it deserves to be considered a fantastic game and it certainly stands up to modern competition, however it also reveals its secrets very slowly and whilst it’s quick to learn, it’s a real brain burner when it comes to working out the best way to win. I suppose what I mean by that is that the first few games you’ll play may not be immediately satisfying, but over a longer period of time, Puerto Rico will pay you back in spades as you refine your strategies and learn how intricately the different buildings work together. It’s not for everyone, but I think it has a few more years of life left in it for me!

**** 4/5

Puerto Rico is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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