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Subject: Combos and Buildings by Role rss

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Greg Jones
United States
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There are two halves to success in San Juan: getting cards and seeing cards. When I say "seeing" cards, I don't just mean seeing them. I mean having them in your hand or having an opportunity to choose them for your hand, ala the Councillor. Also, for the first half, it isn't necessary to actually get the cards. A discount to building can substitute. When you actually get a card, you do both; you get the card and you "see" the card.

This article will discuss the two-player game. Some of it may apply to the three-player game, and less will apply to the four-player game. In order to get ahead of your opponent, it helps to get a "card advantage" - to get more cards than your opponent on a role, or in the case of building, to get a better discount. It also helps to see more cards, although that's less important. You can usually both see enough cards in the game unless your strategy is doing really poorly at it, but you can usually build better buildings and score more points if you have more resources.

In order to get an advantage as often as possible, you want to have three roles that give you a card advantage when you choose them. That way, when you're Governor and choose two roles in the round, you're guaranteed that both choices give you an advantage. If your opponent takes one of your three on the second turn of the round, you still have one left. It isn't hard to get three advantageous roles. Everyone starts the game with two: Prospector and Builder. You just need one more. The options are Councillor and Producer/Trader. These are also the main roles for seeing cards. Councillor lets you see 5 cards, and a strong trading strategy let's you see and get 3-5 cards at a time. In order to see enough cards, you need to use one or the other of these, so you should get a card advantage in one or the other if you can, so you'll benefit when you choose them.

Once you have an advantage in three roles, it doesn't help much to get an advantage in a fourth role. Usually, you will choose from your three best roles, and might never use your fourth-role advantage. Instead, you want to focus on the roles in which your opponent has an advantage. You want to improve how you do without the privilege in those roles, so that you decrease or eliminate their advantage.

So here is a breakdown of what buildings and combos are useful for each role, and whether they are useful with the role privilege or without.


Gold Mine 1/4-card advantage.

Library Privilege: 2-card advantage


Quarry, Carpenter 2-card advantage You can build a cost-1 building for a net cost of 0 (you end up with the same number of cards in your hand) when your opponent chooses Builder.

Quarry, Carpenter, Library Privilege: 4-card advantage You can build a cost-3 building for free and get a card back. This is the core purple-strategy combo.

Crane, Quarry, Carpenter 3-card advantage The idea here is to build a purple building for a net cost of 1 less than its face cost, for example a cost-1 building for a net cost of 0. Then you can use the Crane to build over it, but your discount is the full face cost. The Crane's power reduces the overall cost of the second building, including what you paid for the first building, to one less than its face cost. The Quarry and Carpenter apply again and give an additional 2-card advantage.

Crane, Quarry
Crane, Carpenter
1-card advantage
A subset of the full combo above can still be useful. Although adding the Crane doesn't actually increase the card advantage, in this combination you can use the Crane to stage a build without extra cost. That is, if you can't immediately afford the building you want, you can build a cheaper building, then build over it later.

Poor House, Black Market
Poor House, Crane
1-card advantage
Cards that allow you some choice in how much to pay for a building work well with the Poor House, so that you can build what you want and make sure you end up with no cards or one card.

Poor House, Carpenter, Black Market
Poor House, Carpenter, Crane
2-card advantage
Normally, the Poor House and Carpenter combine poorly, because you only get the card bonus from both if you have no cards after you build. They combine somewhat less poorly if you have a building that lets you choose your price, so that you can find a building that leaves you with no cards.

Smithy 1-card advantage Really only very useful if you're going for a Guild Hall. Otherwise you won't build enough production buildings to make it pay for itself. Still, it's so cheap that it can be worthwhile. If you end up going for a City Hall strategy, it will be worth 2 points, if nothing else.


Prefecture 1-card advantage Useful either to get your third-role advantage, or to neutralize an opponent's advantage in the Councillor role.


Black Market, Indigo Plant, Indigo Plant Privilege: 2-card advantage
Although the Black Market's effect is during the Builder phase, I list it here, because production is necessary to enable it. The Black Market takes advantage of the producer role without the Trader role. If your opponent isn't using a trade strategy and doesn't have a Black Market, they don't usually benefit from your producing. At best they take Trader after you've used your goods on the Black Market and make it effectively the same as Prospector (which can be useful if Prospector was already taken). Any two production buildings work here, but two Indigo are the cheapest. Sugar Mills are also viable.

Black Market, Well, Indigo Plant, Indigo Plant Privilege: 3-card advantage When you produce you get two goods and a bonus card. Then when you build you can get a 2-card discount. It doesn't work to full effect every time, because sometimes when you build you aren't able to spend both black-market goods at once, and then production doesn't give you a bonus card until you clear the other good.

Black Market, Indigo Plant 1-card advantage If your opponent is using a Black Market, you can diminish their advantage by building your own and using the one good from the Producer role without the privilege. If your opponent is producing and trading, however, the Black Market doesn't give you much advantage. If you use the good on the Black Market, you simply get its value earlier than if you take it when your opponent chooses Trader.


Most strategies that involve one of these roles need to involve the other too, so I list them together. Card advantages are cut in half, because you need two role selections to bring them to fruition.

Indigo Plant, Silver Smelter Privilege: 1- to 1 1/2- card advantage 3 to 4 cards from Trader, but your opponent also gets 1 card from Trader from their Indigo. A 2- to 3- card advantage divided in half. The same possible advantages with a Coffee Roaster instead, but more frequently the 1-card advantage. With Tobacco or Sugar, 1/2- to 1- card advantage. With Indigo, a 1/2-card advantage. In a two-player game, I have not seen anything less than Coffee be effective.

Indigo Plant, Silver Smelter, Market Stand Privilege: 2- to 2 1/2- card advantage With up to 5 cards at a time, it can be difficult to avoid exceeding your hand limit, but it's manageable.

Coffee Roaster, Coffee Roaster Privilege: 1 1/2- to 2 1/2- card advantage You could substitute one or two Silver Smelters, but it's tricky to avoid exceeding your hand limit when six cards roll in all at once, so they might not pay off much more. The important thing is that either one guanatees you at least 4 cards. It really depends on which one you have in your hand and how many trash cards you can afford to build it.

Indigo Plant, Silver Smelter, Silver Smelter, Library, Tower
Indigo Plant, Silver Smelter, Silver Smelter, Aqueduct, Trading Post, Tower
Silver Smelter, Silver Smelter, Market Stand, Tower
Privilege: 2- to 3- card advantage
I add the Tower, because when 5 to 7 cards roll in all at once, you will frequently need one or you won't be able to keep all those cards anyway. I don't recommend these combos. If you're going for a Guild Hall, the two to three purple buildings take up building slots that could be worth 4 to 6 bonus points. If you're going for a City Hall, the production buildings take up slots that could be worth 3 points. I recommend using the Library for Prospector and Builder, not for Producer and Trader.

Silver Smelter, Silver Smelter, Silver Smelter, Silver Smelter, Library, Aqueduct, Trading Post, Market Stand, Tower 4- to 6- card advantage What you get if you use all the options above together, the most extreme production strategy, mentioned only for sensationalism. I don't think it's a very good idea, for the same reasons mentioned above, and also because of the extreme cost to build it all. With a maximum of 13 cards coming in at once, even the Tower can't hold it all.

Well Privilege: 1/2-card advantage Worth an extra 1/2-card advantage in combination with any strong production strategy. It's a convenient advantage because it comes during the Producer phase instead of the during the Trader phase like most Producer/Trader advantages, so it's easier to manage keeping under your hand limit. It's only a half card except with the Black Market because you need Trader to clear the goods before the Well can work again.

Crane, Silver Smelter, Indigo Plant, City Hall one time 6-card advantage When you're going for a City Hall, but are using strong production to get your cards, you can use the Crane to build over your production buildings at the last minute to maximize you City Hall bonus.

Indigo Plant, Market Hall 1/2-card advantage If your opponent is using a Producer/Trader strategy, you can use the Market Hall to diminish their advantage.

Silver Smelter non-Privilege: 1/2- to 1- card advantage When your opponent is using a Producer/Trader strategy, you can upgrade the one good you get to produce from Indigo to something better. The card advantage is measured as the difference between what the Indigo would have paid and what the Silver pays, divided in half. The advantage is slightly better than the Market Hall advantage and costs slightly more. Assuming you get a City Hall, the victory points are the same. However, with a purple strategy in full swing you might get significant discounts on the Market Hall that make it much more worthwhile.
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