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Subject: San Juan - A Mini Review rss

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All of my reviews aim to offer a brief overview that allows people to get a good feel for what the game may offer them. I feel that other reviews can be sought if detailed game mechanics is what you are after.

San Juan is a card game based on one of the most popular board games in the world – Puerto Rico. This can be both a blessing and a curse as player expectations are generally high when there is an association such as this. Thankfully San Juan manages to capture the essence of Puerto Rico whilst offering players new challenges.

The aim of the game is to acquire the most victory points by the end of the game and this occurs at the end of the round in which any player builds their 12th building. Many of the mechanics are similar to that of Puerto Rico but the cards offer mostly unique building types. The only buildings to be borrowed from the board game are the good producing factories such as Indigo, Coffee, Tobacco and Sugar.

Each player takes their starting hand and an Indigo Factory before the play gets underway. The first player must start their turn by selecting a role from those available. Each role has a special ability and a general ability. The player that selects the role can use both the special and general abilities of the role. Once they have completed their actions the other players can also make use of the general ability for that role if they wish. Play continues in this fashion until all players have selected a role and then the turn is over.

The starting player for the new round moves clockwise to ensure that all players benefit from choosing a role first. Where San Juan stands apart from its ‘bigger cousin’ is in the use of the player’s hand of cards. As well as representing buildings, the cards in a player’s hand can also be used as goods if the Producer is chosen. Any card can be played face down to a factory and represents a single good. These goods can then be sold when the Trader is selected and the money gained by such sales are awarded by drawing new cards.

For example if a player is able to sell 1 sugar for 3 gold, they would draw 3 new cards. Thus cards also represent currency in the game and it is a clever way to allow players to replenish their hand and provide them with new options on subsequent turns. It is worth noting that the price fetched by goods is determined by the use of trade markers. One of these is turned over whenever the trader is selected, so there is always an element of luck and surprise associated with the prices on offer.

This sums up the play of San Juan but of course what hasn’t been outlined is the vast array of cards and all of the functions they offer. To learn more about those you will need to play for yourself.

The Final Word

San Juan is a very enjoyable game and a great alternative to Puerto Rico if you only have a small group of players available. The deck of cards provides the players with a wealth of options and many of the cards will interact with each other to allow players to pursue various strategies. The construction of violet buildings help generate victory points based on satisfying certain criteria and this helps to keep other players guessing as to your strength when it comes to the final scoring. The quality of the game components are up to modern standards and San Juan certainly fills a niche in the gaming market. It’s certainly worth the price tag and I prefer San Juan to Puerto Rico as a gaming experience.
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