Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Puerto Rico Review
Currently ranked 3 on BoardGameGeek, Puerto Rico is the classic medium weight eurogame. I have taught this game to more people than probably any other game I play. Some of my students are able to play it within an hour long period, which is amazing considering the game length is usually 75-90 minutes. In Puerto Rico, you are creating an independent infrastructure for producing goods, which you can turn around into money (to build more infrastructure) or victory points. You also get points for your infrastructure, and bonus points for end game buildings based on certain conditions. The main mechanic in the flow of the game is role selection - each player picks one of the actions that every player then executes in turn. The person who chose the role gets a small benefit towards that role.
The role selection mechanism leads to a wonderful sense of flow. Every player is faced with choices at a very fast pace, which leads to an excellent sense of engagement with the game. This is in strong contrast to earlier games where each player owned their own turn while the other players waited. It seems like most popular games now have some form of turn interleaving.
There's a great sense of satisfaction from seeing your buildings pay off in ways that snowball into further success. There is a nice spectrum of strategy where you live - do you build towards a lot of buildings or do you focus on creating a lot of goods and shipping them. One of the huge decision points is when to go for buildings in the mid-to-late game that help you gain victory points (Harbor, Wharf) or those that get you money (Factory, Large Market).
The most common criticism of Puerto Rico is that the chaos in the game generated by the player's choices can mean that player order really affects your outcome. If you are seated on the left of a player who makes controversial choices, you might either benefit huge (if they pick a role that benefits you right away) or destroy you (start competing with you for the same type of goods). To me, this factor doesn't affect a ton of games, and is really only troublesome when the player skill differential is great.
Also, the players in seats 3 and 4 in a four player game start with corn plantations, while seats 1 and 2 start with indigo. Statistics from the WBC show that being in seat 3 or 4 is a significant advantage, and they implement a bidding system for these seats where you spend victory points for the seats. Groups of serious, competitive players should consider giving seats 1 and 2 two victory points each to start, if you are worried about this kind of game balance issue.
There is a sense among experienced players of a slight imbalance in the buildings you can create to help your economy. Small Market, Factor, and Harbor are considered strong for their price, while University and to a lesser degree Hospice see very little play. I know some players who use Hospice regularly with success, and I am working on figuring out how they accomplish it. I have never seen University built other than at the end of the game just for its inherent point value. Would it be worth it for the game to be revised to adjust some of these factors? Possibly, but at this point I don't see that happening.
While many serious gamers use games like Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride to introduce gamers to modern European games, I much prefer something like Puerto Rico or Dominion. After learning Carcassonne, new players often leave with the impression of "well that was cute, but I don't know that I really need to play it again." Puerto Rico is easy enough for an experienced player to teach, and I have found it very accessible even for novice gamers. It's one of the few games I rate a 10. This isn't because it's perfect, but it's that I would never say no to a game of Puerto Rico. Despite it's not insignificant flaws in play balance and the impact of where you are sitting relative to the other players, the game play is engaging, smooth, and just plain fun. Even though I've probably played it over 100 times, I'm nowhere close to burnt out on it, and still feel like there are things to figure out.