Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Puerto Rico - Plantation Management in the New World

Puerto Rico, after more than a decade in print, manages to retain an 8+ rating on Board Game Geek. In a world where players are more and more obsessed with the next big thing, this high regard is really saying something.

Like Race for the Galaxy or 7 Wonders you will find yourself with little down time. When one of your opponents inevitably gets bogged down by analysis paralysis, you will welcome the pause in tempo to actually try to nail down your strategy amid the constantly changing variables.

When someone takes an action, all the players share in it for the most part. Settle a plantation, and everyone else gets a plantation. Build a building, everyone else gets a chance to add to their buildings as well.

Delivering goods to the ships gets you victory points, but more importantly it provides an opportunity to force your opponents to take a delivery action as well. Just like Race for the Galaxy, loading your goods on the boat is mandatory. Goods must be stacked all of one kind to a ship. Any remaining goods must be either warehoused or dumped in the ocean. That's how they rolled in the New World!

Victory comes when the building section of your play mat is filled out, or when the shipping victory point chits run out, or when you run out of colonists on the "colonist ship". So once a healthy lead is established, I've seen players attempt to speed up the game by spamming actions to help along any of these 3 areas.

Buildings and Quarries (a type of plantation) are both in high demand, and specific buildings only have a small number of copies. In the two player game there is usually only one of each kind and the game state definitely shifts gears from the slightly uncomfortable pace of the main game into a full-fledged hater's ball where you buy a somewhat useless building (for you) to prevent your opponent from completing his economic super weapon.

And of course, you are also forcing him to dump his coffee in the ocean whenever possible. Because that's just good business.

Indeed, the winning strategy of Puerto Rico is to keep your strategy open. Both victory conditions (points from buildings or points from shipping) can be blocked easily by your opponents. Get caught up in one at the beginning, and you can end up shut down and unable to achieve anything. You have to be ready to do both, and then jump on whatever wagon is guarded the least when the moment of decision arrives.

There's enough in this game to play it again and again.

Perhaps the one thing I wish I would have researched a little more before purchasing it was the theme. You will find very little talk about the actual theme of this "New World" colonization game in most reviews, because the awesome part of Puerto Rico is the engine and the game mechanics.

In Puerto Rico you manage a network of plantations and refining facilities in the New World. And all of your plantations and buildings are necessarily (this is the history of Puerto Rico) staffed by slaves. You will wait and wait for the slave boat to come in, so you can get your indigo plants up and running at full speed. You will assign slaves to your various interests and watch as their tirelessly crank out corn, sugar, tobacco and more to be traded or shipped away as part of the Atlantic Triangle Trade.

Now, that theme is certainly not a deal breaker. But anyone who is going to be playing the game should know that 20% of the time you are going to be distributing little brown-painted wooden counters from a "colonist ship" to your various investments. Unlike Puerto Rico's card-based descendent San Juan, the relationship is explicitly illustrated during every turn around the board.

Certainly the workers in most other games probably didn't lead very happy lives either. And just about every war game by definition involves a host of pawns being fed into the meat grinder while you try to realize your overarching victory.

Puerto Rico is a cut-throat, very interactive game that keeps your mind working at nearly a constant pace. If you don't know what to do during your turn, try to screw over your neighbor and you will probably come out ahead!

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