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Subject: Puerto Rico - A worthy #1? rss

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Patrick Barringer
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Puerto Rico was one of the first Euro-games I ever played. The only two I can think of that I tried before it were Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. One of my professors at the time was also getting into these types of games and picked up Puerto Rico after seeing its rank of number one on this site. We played it and I thought it was awesome. It was the cat's pajamas, the best thing since sliced bread.

Recently though, I've begun to wonder. Were my feelings at the time a sign of my ignorance, or does Puerto Rico really deserve its ranking? The reason I came to this point, questioning the value of this highly ranked gem, was my own reluctance to play it. Since my first time playing Puerto Rico I have bought many other games, some good others bad, and Puerto Rico has fallen by the wayside. If someone asks to play a game with me now, Puerto Rico is not anywhere near the top of my list to play.

Here are some of the reasons:
1) Although it requires foresight and planning, there are many times that my move is a no brainer. Only one move will be of benefit to me. This takes a lot of the variability and fun away for me.

2) At least with the groups I play with, there seems to be a "best" strategy. That is, a strategy that will result in a win almost every game. It usually turns out that whoever is able to play closest to this strategy will win. Being able to win with alternate strategies is one of the best parts of a game for me. Perhaps this is only because of the metagame in my area, but it makes the game get old fast.

3) This is related to the previous point. Almost all games end with the colonists running out. I like the idea of the 3 ways to end the game, but it makes it more frustrating when it always ends the same way. With all the times I've played this game it ended with buildings once, and has never ended with victory points. Once again, this could just be the metagame, but I have no other evidence to go on.

4) It doesn't hold up to the rigorous demands of strategy that several of the other top games have. I think this is related to point one. I want a game where I have significant choices every round, not one in which I have to do one given thing to be smart.

These four points hash out the main grievances I have with Puerto Rico being ranked #1. It was a great game for a while, but it doesn't withstand the test of time for me. It got old. Now when people ask me to play a game I choose one of those ranked 2nd-4th and wonder why Puerto Rico is above them.
 
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Josh Martin
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Just to give you a different viewpoint...I've played Puerto Rico about 120+ times (no BSW here, all face-to-face), and it continues to be one of the most requested, most played games in one of my gaming groups. We've had every end condition several times, but for us, having the building condition happens the most often, with the colonists running out probably happening the least.

Do I think it's deserving of its status? I rate it a "10" and consider it my all-time favourite, for all 3.5 years I've been playing Euros. I'll give you your point #1 though, as yes, there are often times when there is that "optimal" move, but as for a "best" strategy, I've found one of the main strengths of this game is how you have to be flexible and quicky adapt to other players actions and the situations that are presented to you.

Have you tried changing your gaming group, since it seems that you're experiencing "the same game" every time? Despite the "optimal moves", this is definitely a game where different players, and in fact different seating order, can have a significant effect on the overall game. Try the $5 expansion for more variability as well. Just my 2 cents.

I guess I should add why I like it so much: scales equally well from 3-5 players, I love the role selection mechanic, has lots of opportunities for "screwjobs", has minimal luck/lots of strategy, and has multiple paths to victory (well only a couple I guess).
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Jared Heng
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I agree with the points 4Corners raised. There may be an optimal move for every turn but the tactical moves you employ for different games vary depending on the skill level of your group, seating position, new players outside your group whom you play with and number of players. Sometimes you have a choice of selecting a role that does not benefit you as much as another, but not taking it would benefit another player even more.

After playing pr for almost 3 years now, I still find it refreshing because the path to victory is mostly dependent on individual skill and minimum luck. The game is so dynamic that even for an experienced player, ONE sub-optimal move can cost you the game. This is where the main challenge lies: It is not always clear what the optimal move is for a turn which is why I prefer to see it as a series of moves adapted to others' actions and in line with your overall strategy rather than simply doing the "right" move.

And what works for one game may not work for another if the players change their strategies. This keeps me on my toes for every game even when I play with less experienced players and is the reason why I keep coming back for more of this great game.
 
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Hi there,

Although Bgarefun resumed well how unique each game is, here's a slice of life of my gaming group to demonstrate how PR evolved on our end. So far I might have played the game 25~35 times over several years, most often with the same group, but the strategies kept changing, because everytime we though having found the "Best strategy", one managed to find either a counter to that strategy, or manage to pull out another good one.

The first strategy we found was to get the hospice very early. At first, it proved succesful but eventually, someone managed a superb victory using the "mass builder" strategy (selling coffee and using quaries to fill his building board). It became the group's favorite strategy at that point. Then, someone read a faq on the internet, discussing how the factory was great, and it became the most feared strategy. After that, I managed demonstrate the possibility of shipping a lot of corn while using a small warehouse. At first, it seemed very strong, but we realized how inflexible it was. Now, we're at the point where we realized that there is so many possibilities, that we're nowhere close to mastering the game.

One thing I find most difficult, and it somehow addresses your concern #1, is that even though there is one best move "for you" during that turn, it might not be the best move to perform. For example, there are ways to block other players using the merchant to sell first (filling empty cells of the market), using the captain to force others to ship their valuable good, placing coffee on a ship to prevent shipping of corn, etc. Depending on the player's positions around the table, you can use the craftsman so that players empty one resource's supply before the player with factory get his resources, thus recieving less money. Likewise, depending on player's position around the table, what first seems like the best move for you, could benefit even more the other players. In that case, you even if you get something good out of the action, you end up in a worse position than before (compared to other players).

All in all, this game has never proven repetitive on our end, and we have reached the point where our gaming group start realizing how many options are available, and how difficult this game is.

Regards,

Daos

PS: Would you care to share the strategy you've been using, if our group has not used it yet, I could introduce it next time we play
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Jared Heng
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Thanks for the compliment LordDaos. I'm not sure if you're asking Patticus or me for our strategy, but here's my group experience.

We also first started out planning strategy around what cool buildings to acquire, corn+wharf strategy etc.

Over time, some of us (including myself) realised there's no one or even several "successful" strategies. Although we still value certain buildings like the factory and harbour, our playing has evolved into forming our strategy as the game progresses rather than before the game.

A simple example is you still did not get a coffee/tobacco by the third or fourth settler round. So you think progressively (reactionary) given the current situation:

1) Ok no cash crop, never mind, I've saved up enough for a factory to improve my income position.

2) Now I've got the factory and more money...also lots of corn plantations now. Time to get a warehouse/wharf with my cash.

3) I'm shipping well but others are building fast too. Looks like game is ending soon, time to save for big building. The customs house is perfect for me, so I'll save for it.

4) Oops, someone got the customs house b4 I did. Never mind, the guild hall is a good alternative thanks to my many production buildings.

These are only examples and do not reflect any particular successful strategy. In fact, it does not guarantee a win, but the point is you have set yourself in a strong playing position with the resources available to you.

I won't say pr is a difficult game to experiment and have fun with, but it is indeed challenging if you want to play it competitively. On one hand, you have to stay focused on your reactionary strategy. On the other, you can't be too focused on yourself that you ignore others' moves.

 
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Marc Thompson
Canada
New Westminster
British Columbia
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Patticus wrote:

Here are some of the reasons:
1) Although it requires foresight and planning, there are many times that my move is a no brainer. Only one move will be of benefit to me. This takes a lot of the variability and fun away for me.


It's very rare when the move is a no-brainer, except perhaps in the first and last turn. Often, the move that gives you the most is not the best one to take in Puerto Rico. I can say that generally, when you craft, it's best to captain, but if the player who crafts is producing way more then you, you may not want to captain - it may benefit you more, but it's also playing into the hands of the player who's shipping.

Sometimes, you have to know when not to make the best move to win.

Patticus wrote:

2) At least with the groups I play with, there seems to be a "best" strategy. That is, a strategy that will result in a win almost every game. It usually turns out that whoever is able to play closest to this strategy will win. Being able to win with alternate strategies is one of the best parts of a game for me. Perhaps this is only because of the metagame in my area, but it makes the game get old fast.


The key there is "At least with the groups you play in." You need to shake things up a bit. If every player in your group constantly plays a shipping game no matter how out matched they are for shipping, your problem isn't Puerto Rico, it's shitty players. Puertro Rico's biggest problem is that if you play with really bad players, it can often screw up the game. I've had games where the shipping player won. I've had games where the person running quarry / hacienda / every production building / factory guildhouse. I've had the ever popular Coffee Trade for big buildings. I've seen Specialty Factory + Aqueduct + 4 Indigo win. I've seen games where the Surly Union hall strategy works, and games where shipping was entirely glutted by tobacco, coffee and sugar.

How the game goes is massively dependant on what the other players do. There are some general guidelines to puerto rico (Corn is good! The first Quarry or two is great, the 3rd and fourth.. not so much) but very few absolute best rules.

Patticus wrote:

3) This is related to the previous point. Almost all games end with the colonists running out. I like the idea of the 3 ways to end the game, but it makes it more frustrating when it always ends the same way. With all the times I've played this game it ended with buildings once, and has never ended with victory points. Once again, this could just be the metagame, but I have no other evidence to go on.


If you haven't already, play with the expansion. If the church + forest house + library doesn't let a building player get out all the buildings... well, I'll be shocked. First time a player tried that he had Construction Hut + Forest Hut + Library.. and then he just went for big buildings (I think he picked up an indigo plant too now that I think of it)

Even playing the normal rules, I've seen coffee and tobaco pull off some pretty deadly shipping victories. I've had the game end through victory points a number of times (usually in games where lots of corn came up)and once because the table flipped over because someone leaned on it.


Patticus wrote:

4) It doesn't hold up to the rigorous demands of strategy that several of the other top games have. I think this is related to point one. I want a game where I have significant choices every round, not one in which I have to do one given thing to be smart.


You do have significant choices - you need to play against your opponents as much as for yourself. This is the key to strategy in Puerto Rico. Puerto rico for me is one of the very few year old+ games I still play.

I really liked Settlers when it came out, and Cities and Knights too - but I almost never play em. Same with Risk 2210 and Attack. Carcassone? Don't really look forward to that either. Even Tycoon - haven't played that in a few months. Puerto Rico I STILL play regularly on BSW, and it doesn't feel stale at all to me.

 
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Paul King
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My comments;

1) It may be true that you often have no real options when you're going last. Earlier in the sequence you should have a choice.

2) There is no "best" strategy. It may be that the "group-think" is so strong that the other players help the dominant strategy (e.g. a shipping based strategy works far better if two or more players follow it because it relies on selecting both craftsman and captain frequently). Locally, anyway, building-based strategies tend to do better (partly because they can usually buy the Harbour and/or Wharf before the shippers !).

3) Let's guess. A lot of buys of the Large Indigo Plant and the Large Sugar Mill and probably Hospices. (In my view the Hospice is usually overrated by newer players and underrated by more experienced players). In a building strategy it's better to go for the Small Indigo Plant (the "Corn" players are probably in a better position to try a Shipping strategy and producing one of a cheaper good helps protect a cash crop from the Captain phase and also contributes to the Factory).

4) I think you are mixing up strategy and tactics. Strategy is the "foresight and planning" you referred to in point 1) while the choices in an individual turn would be tactics. That said Puerto Rico can involve some quite difficult tactical choices. You do need to consider what options you are giving the other players, both in terms of the role you choose and the roles you leave. This is especially true in the case of the Captain. (The Craftsman can be something of a nightmare - it almost always benefits the next player more than the player who takes it.)

I'd suggest that the next time you play in the first seat go for a Builder strategy. Start with Settler/Quarry. Try to develop a cash crop. Let other people take Craftsman, and be careful in taking Mayor or Captain. Build up your money and get the better buildings first - perhaps starting with a Factory to further boost your income.
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Javi Hernández
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It's an interesting review, not only pros but also cons are needed to learn about a game. Just one thing: I had today my first play of PR and it ended by victory points... and it didn't seem that dificult to end the game that way. But I understand I haven┬┤t play the game enough.
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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I must live in bizarro-world relative to the original poster, because we always complain about how hard it is to decide between the roles.

Ending the game due to colonists is relatively rare for us (20%?), and has been since about game #5. I'm probably on game #300, by the way. Let me try a long range analysis: learn how to use the Harbor to control the boats. E.g. if you have a monopoly or near-monopoly, try to load 1 barrel at a time onto the biggest boat, using the harbor to maximise your VP while taking that boat out of the equation for everyone else for most of the game. Often the best midgame move is not trading coffee, but rather loading coffee onto a ship for boat control.

Puerto Rico is my #1 multi-player game.
 
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jbrier
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To the original poster:

I see where you are coming from with #4, as Puerto Rico is indeed a game about being analytical and "figuring out the best move" moreso than being creative and developing a unique strategy, and although there are important long term decisions to be made the game is generally won or lost at the tactical level (However, I would say PR is a less tactical game than Tigris or Caylus, which are the second and third highest ranked games).

Your points #1-#3 however are strongly indicative that your gaming group suffers from groupthink when playing PR. Without getting into specifics regarding why this is true, which will hardly be iluminating because groupthink is not something you can illustrate in writing- I strongly suggest you go and play on BSW where you will find players from alot of different places who generally are very good players since they play alot.

I've played PR over 500 times and I still think it's the best game. Of course as the saying goes- to each his own; I know there are some people that just outright don't like that type of game.
 
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Paul King
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The ending depends on how the game is played. If there are many "large" production buildings and Mayor is chosen frequently the game will end on colonists. If Craftsman and Captain are chosen frequently the game will end on victory points. If Builder (and to a lesser extent Trader) are chosen more often then the game will end on buildings. I would suggest that more experienced players are more reluctant to choose Mayor or Craftsman - or build Large Indigo Plants or Large Sugar Mills - and thus they tend to end on buildings (although that is not inevitable).
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Warren Forrest
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I've found that the best way to revitalize PR, assuming that you're somebody who's starting to feel it's getting stale, is to simply tinker with it a bit.

The expansion is dirt-cheap (I paid $5 for it brand-new, and when I opened it I discovered I'd actually been given 2 copies), and even adding a single building, like say the Aqueduct, completely shatters the notion of automatically knowing what the best strategy must be.

I've also done things like change the costs of the buildings using tiny stickers (leaving the original costs visible on the other side in case we want to switch back). So, for example, while I'll avoid the Hospice in a normal PR game, when its price is only 3, um..., should I take it? The answer is: I'm not sure anymore. And that makes the game interesting.
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