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Subject: For the Meeple, by the Meeple (Review of Puerto Rico) rss

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Michael Carpenter
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Your city of colonists will help you cultivate your island of Puerto Rico and ship goods back to the main land.



QUICK FACTS:
Style of Game: Strategy
Play Time: 90 to 150 minutes
Theme: Developing and shipping goods.
Number of Players: 3-5 (2 player variant)
Main Mechanics: Variable Phase Order, Role Selection
Components: Good
Weight: Heavy

*Special Note: I am by no means one of those gamers that have played Puerto Rico 100+ times. I am have played the game 9 times and I think if I am being honest, I am not that great at it. Please don't consider this to be expert analysis and an in-depth strategy break down. Instead, consider this a look at very famous game from an average Joe's perspective.

THEME AND MECHANISMS:
The theme in Puerto Rico isn't exactly gushing from this game, but lets face it, even an average player of this game likely knows few, if any, are playing this game for the theme. The game revolves around a role selection mechanism that creates a variable phase order. I wouldn't say that really meshes with the theme but the tasks you must complete such as, planting different types of resources, building buildings, shipping goods,and bringing colonists to your island do create a world on the table. You may have to use your imagination a tad to get a feel of the theme but I don't think it is too dry. Where I think people lose admiration for the theme in this game is the fact because of the way the mechanisms work... All of the islands are essentially operating exactly the same... at the same time. It makes for an oddity in the theme but if you are just looking at your own island, it makes sense.

GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW:
Each player will receive a personal playing board that will have 12 building locations and 12 plantation tiles locations. This is where players will place their plantations tiles that represent the resources they can produce (if activated) and the buildings they have built and can utilize (if activated). Depending on the number of players in the game, you will have a certain number of roles available for the players to choose from. Each role allows all the players in the game to take turn performing the same action, with the player who selected the role receiving a special benefit that slightly modifies the base action of the role. These roles will never change throughout the game but the value of the roles will change due to unselected roles each round receiving coins to make them more enticing.

The Roles:
The Settler:
Base Action: Place a new plantation on the island.
Special Benefit: Take a quarry or an extra plantation.

The Mayor:
Base Action: Split the new colonists as evenly as possible.
Special Benefit: Receive an extra colonists.

The Builder:
Base Action: Build a building.
Special Benefit: Build the selected building for one less doubloon.

The Craftsman:
Base Action: Produce goods from your activated plantations.
Special Benefit: Produce one extra good from one of your active plantations.

The Trader:
Base Action: Sell a good for the amount indicated on the trading house board.
Special Benefit: Sell your good for one extra doubloon.

The Captain:
Base Action: Ship one type of good that you have already produced and receive one VP for each barrel you place on a ship.
Special Benefit: Receive one additional VP (total) when loading a ship with goods.

The Prospector:
Base Action: No action.
Special Benefit: Receive one doubloon from the bank.

*Note: There are two Prospector roles in the game. Neither will be used in a three player game, one will be used in a four player game, and both will be used in a five player game.

So, those are the roles and they are what drive the progression of the players, with the Mayor actually driving the progression of the game toward an end. You cannot do anything in the game without selecting a role. All components are associated with one of the roles so while the game may seem complex or confusing, in reality, if you can explain clearly that each role has a direct connection to some "station" on the board, people can see the way the game isn't as cumbersome as it may seem.

At the beginning of a round one player will be the first player (or the Governor). The first player will select the role he or she wishes to use. Due to the actions the roles provide, some of the roles will not be beneficial to the first player (this will be briefly addressed in the assessment portion of my review). When the first player selects a role, he or she will be the first to execute the base action and make sure to take the special benefit of being the player to select the role. Once the first player is done, the player to the left should perform the base action of the selected role. Each player, in turn order (going clockwise) should perform the action of the selected role. Once all players have performed the action the next player in turn order will select a role from the remaining roles. That player will take the base action and the special benefit. Again, all other players will take the base action of the selected role. This will continue until all players have had an opportunity to select a role (receiving the special benefit when they have chosen).

Once, the final player in turn order has had his or her turn the Governor token should pass to the left and the process will start over. All unselected roles should receive a doubloon to make them more enticing in the following rounds and all selected roles should be placed back in the designated area to make all roles available for the following round.

Over the course of the game players will be following a path of production to gain VPs (victory points). The path is place plantations tiles (corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee)on their island (personal player board), build buildings that can help produce these resources, gain workers, produce resources, and ship these goods back to the main land to gain VPs. You may also sell your goods for doubloons if at some point you need money to build buildings.

The path does not have to be done in this specific order by any means though. You can prepare certain areas of this path well before you are ready to ship goods. I am just stating the idea of how to ultimately get to the VPs because there is only one way to score VPs during the game. There are ways to score VPs in the end of game scoring (through your activated buildings). Players must be aware of the fact that only plantation tiles and buildings that have a work present are considered activated so not all plantation tiles and buildings will be able to help you if you are under-manned. This fact is what forces the players to drive the game toward it's end. Selecting the Mayor will bring colonist to the player's islands. However, the number of colonists that arrive each time the Mayor is selected can differ. The exact number of colonists placed on the ship is determined by the total number of empty circles all players have open on their islands. Plantation tiles and buildings have between 1 and 3 circles on them that will allow one colonist per circle. The colonist ship always requires at least a number of colonists equal to the number of players in the game.

Play will continue over an undetermined number of rounds and will end if at least one of the following conditions have been met:
- At the end of the Mayor phase there are not enough colonists to fill the colonist ship as required.
- At the end of the Builder phase at least one player has built on his or her 12th building space. This does not mean 12 buildings necessarily because some buildings take up more than one space.
- During the Captain phase the last VP token is used. If players need more VP tokens than provided during the final phase, they do score the VPs.

To calculate a player's score he or she should:
- calculate their VP tokens
- add the value of their large and regular sized buildings (activated or not)
- add the value of the extra points scored by their activated large buildings

The player with the highest score wins the game. In case of a tie, the player with the most doubloons and goods together (1 good = 1 doubloon) is the winner.

*Please note that there are some additional rules to the game tat have been omitted. There are rules and restrictions for most of the roles/phases in the game. These additional rules help to make the game balanced and more competitive but are not quite as necessary to mention when giving an overview of the game. The rule book is very well-written and will explain all of these additional rules very clearly.

*Note: Activated is termed as occupied in the rule book. My apologies for any confusion.




ASSESSMENT


My assessment of board games is broken into three core areas: Depth of Strategy, Replayability, and Quality of Design..

Depth of Strategy

Where can I begin with the depth of Puerto Rico's strategy. I think I would be crazy not to say the game offers strategy for days. There are strategy guides, reviews dedicated to the main strategies of this game, and a "script" of the opening actions of the game. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I do not know every detail of these strategies. I do not attempt to play games to this degree. So what I am going to address is what Puerto Rico offers me, an average gamer. What I feel when I play Puerto Rico is a rain cloud over my shoulder... I know this sounds like I mean I am sad or not enjoying the game, but that's not what I mean. It just feels like every decision I make isn't quite right and there is an ominous environment hinting at my eventual demise. Even when a decision seems obvious I get the feeling I am missing something. I think this is because every game I have ever played has come down to a very small margin between first and last so making a decision I am not positive is good is meaningful and since I am not really good enough to know the optimal move every turn, I know I am potentially costing myself the win on any particular turn.

Now, this may sound stressful, and I wouldn't say Puerto Rico is the kind of game that is going to generate a ton of laughter or allow for a lot of casual talk on other player's turns, but I actually enjoy the level of focus and strategy the game demands. Yes, it offers experts a highly intense battle of the minds, but it also allows me and my wife and whoever we find as a third player to rack our ordinary gaming brains to come up with a strategy that will allow us to win the game. I appreciate that because I can relate it to my days of playing poker. I was never a world class poker player but I did know quite a bit more about the game than the average player and could spot the weaker players at a table. In Puerto Rico it is the reverse and I can appreciate the time and effort the world class Puerto Rico players have put into the game but that is not my approach to board games and yet, like Poker, causal gamers can still enjoy playing it.

At the end of the day, I don't know what the experts would say about the game's depth of strategy because it seems as though everyone knows exactly what to do and has to stick to a pretty tight script or risk losing the game. Does this mean the game is EXTREMELY strategic and allows all the players to formulate a strategy that they can execute or does it mean that the game demands you to do certain things in a certain order, thereby taking away from your own creativity and strategic planning? I don't know what it means for the experts but for me and my average gamer friends, the game is highly strategic. In fact, we play it when we want to see who is the "best" gamer. We don't stick to a script... we don't even know the script... we just know that a few wrong moves can really hurt you, even in our games, and it feels good to win this game by the nearly inevitable 1 to 5 points.


Depth of Strategy:
5.0 = A few wrong moves and you're done for, whether you are an expert or a newbie.




Replayability

The replayability of Puerto Rico lies in it's ability to test your mind. The game doesn't truly offer you the typical characteristics of replayability: variable setup, reasonable amounts of luck and randomness, etc. Instead it says "here is what you have to do, prove you can do it the best". Due to the amount of thought you have to put into this game I'm not sure I would say it is the kind of game you will bring out every night or every time you play games but I do think it will have a title of the game you play when you want a challenge. There is an element of seeing yourself improve at this game that is associated with anything that requires practice and skill. I like that element of the game due to my background in sports and offers me a task I will continue to play on a more than an occasional basis.

Certain groups have and will fall in love with this game while some groups will definitely view this game as just a tad too much to bring out regularly so while I know there are people that play this game religiously, I would say on average the replayability isn't off the charts.

Replayability:
3.5 = Definitely worthy of multiple plays for most groups and will be an absolute go-to for a lot of strategic gamers.




Quality of Design


Role Selection/Variable Phase Order: Since the roles are considered phases these two mechanisms are essentially the same or at least they blend together seamlessly. As I mentioned before, the whole game revolves around this mechanism. You simply cannot do anything without a role being activated. What this allows for is an extremely low amount of luck and a high level of importance on decision-making. The design of the game could certainly be considered flawed by some if they do not like the way these mechanisms create a potential for a script but for the average gamer I think this design is brilliant. You can see some of the turn order issues or the way bad decisions can give a player to the left of decision-maker an advantage but if you just roll with the punches in games these thins likely will not impact you too negatively.


Quality of Design:
4 = A good design that engages the player for several plays.


FINAL THOUGHTS:
I consider Puerto Rico to be one of my "top-shelf" games. I certainly enjoy the game but not for it's fun factor, but more for it's ability to stimulate my mind and demand my attention. I suggest Puerto Rico when I am with a group of solid gamers, not experts, just people I know can appreciate the task Puerto Rico is going to create. I am not with this type of group all that often so I don't bring Puerto Rico out a ton but it not because I am not willing to play it. I just know it is a step above most of my typical gaming friends. There is nothing wrong with that, in terms of their interest, or Puerto Rico's requirements. It just isn't a game that fits my situation perfectly. I am not going to hold that against the game though because not all games have to be accessible to every person in the hobby.

My only noteworthy concern is that the game's mechanisms create a situation where poor decisions can give a player a big advantage (this is something we will typically address as a group if it becomes evident that someone is going to really benefit from another player on accident). Other than that the game is solid in all areas. It requires to really think about how to achieve tasks and offers you a sense of satisfaction when you win.

I wish I could play this game more often and always look forward to playing it. To the point where I kind of plan out opportunities to play it.


Overall Rating -
Puerto Rico may be mastered by the experts but it offers regular gamers a great opportunity for exploring strategies and proving their skill.



If you enjoy my reviews please recommend and check out my geeklist For the Meeple, by the Meeple
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