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Subject: How to explain it: Puerto Rico. rss

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Kevin Bourrillion
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Here is a sample script for explaining the game of Puerto Rico. This is second in my "How to explain it" series, after Ra.

PUERTO RICO
===========

Puerto Rico is a game about a group of siblings who set sail from Spain for the New World in the 16th century, and then start vigorously competing to try to see who can impress their parents the most. Our parents are somewhat petty and materialistic, and only two things in this world (either World!) impress them. One is how many barrels of goods we each ship back to them (which they presumably get to sell in our hometown). But after a few years of this, they'll eventually be prompted to come visit us in our new land, and they'll also admire the fine buildings we've each constructed. They'll score up these two accomplishments for each of us and they will crown one of us Awesomest Son/Daughter 1536.

The rest of you will be sold to some wandering Incas. Good luck to you!

I'll warn you right now that it will take us a little while to go through all of the rules. And for your first game, you might feel a little lost for what your strategy should be. This is because this game is complex. But hang in there. There is a reason why it's voted the #1 board game of all time on the internet, by a wide margin. Almost everyone who learns the game really likes it.

As you can see, this game involves a hell of a lot of Stuff. The Stuff that doesn't belong to anyone is in the middle, and the stuff that belongs to you goes onto your own personal island [point].

This here is the money, called doubloons. When you get some you put it here on your windrose [point]. We all set sail with (N-1) doubloons each to start with. Here you go.

These are buildings which no one has bought yet. You can buy these for money; in fact it's the only thing your money is good for. Then you put them here, in your barrio in San Juan. Why do you want to have buildings? Well, it lets you charge more rent, and eventually you can trade in four of them for a hotel. [watch faces closely] But seriously, I'll go through and explain all these buildings at the end.

So those are buildings. Now these square things are plantations. There are five kinds: corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee [show each]. Let's say you get one of these; what do you do then? Notice how right now everyone's island is covered with all these trees. Trees are sooooo 14th century. What we need is Progress, so to have some Progress we knock down these trees [use finger] and plunk the new plantation down in a square where the trees used to be.

Another thing you can knock down trees for is for a Quarry [show]. Notice that you can only have up to 12 plantations and quarries combined.
I'll explain what we DO with these plantations and quarries soon.

Questions on the Stuff so far?

Moving on. These little brown things here are your colonists. Colonists are totally awesome, because they come off of this boat here and just go to work for you in your plantations and stuff right away, and you don't even have to pay them! And they'll never quit to go work for anyone else, and there's always more waiting to come right in on the next ship, too! [Check for signs of mounting horror. If necessary, reiterate, "huh? what --- nono, see, these are *colonists*. Look, it says right here..."]

This is what the white circles you see on all the buildings and plantations are: each circle can hold one colonist. It's almost always one colonist space per tile, but these four here have more.

[If anyone objects to the game on ethical grounds now, sigh and make her an offer, that you'd be willing to "bend the rules" for her a little bit, and permit her to pay her colonists. That should put things right.]

These are barrels of goods. Now, goods are good. That's why we call them that. When you get them, they go onto your windrose with your money. Then later on, either you'll sell them here [point to trading house] or you'll ship them using these boats [point] or sometimes they expire and you have to feed them to homeless people. Remember, the five kinds of goods are: yellow, blue, white, brown, and other brown. It's not by accident that these colors [point], match these colors [point], and match these colors [point].

Finally, these orange chips help us keep track of how many barrels we've shipped to mom and dad.

So that's all the Stuff in the game -- all the _nouns_, if you will. Next I'll go on to explain all the _verbs_. First, any questions?

Ok. The entire game consists of just seven [with 3 players: six] different activities. These cards show them all. There's settling, building, mayoring, crafting, trading, captaining [and prospecting]. But here's what makes this game different: we don't just go through every activity every round. Instead we all get a turn where we each get to choose what kind of activity we want to happen.

Let's say I am the Governor [put Governor card in front of you]. This just means that for this round, I get first pick of all these activities. I take the card for the activity I want us to do, and we _all_ get to do it. Afterwards [name] will have to choose out of the [5/6] that are left. Then [name] etc, and by the time it gets around to [name], she has only four choices. Then the round is over.

Notice we have three activities no one picked this round, because we all thought they were stupid. So we use a little Affirmative Action: we stick a buck on each of these three, like so, then we all hand our cards back in to the middle, and that officially ends the round. I now pass the Governor card to [name], and now she gets her free pick of anything she wants. Now anyone who picks a role with money on it gets to keep the money. If any of these _still_ don't get picked, the money just keeps building up.

Remember, when you choose an activity, we _all_ carry it out. But you, the person who picked it, will get to go first, then around the table clockwise from there. Also, on top of getting to go first -- which is nice -- and possibly getting the coins from the card, you also get a special extra privilege.

So I'm going to go through each of the roles in detail next, and I'll explain how the activity works, and what the privilege is to the person who chooses it. But I want to emphasize that this activity selection is the heart and soul of the game. So if you're not sure you understood everything I just said, go ahead and ask.

Ok, here we go.

Settler: everyone gets to choose a face-up plantation and stick it on their island, where it will stay for the rest of the game. If you are the one who chose it, you get to go first, *plus* you have the option of choosing a quarry instead of a regular plantation. That's your privilege. Quarries are nice because they let you save money when you buy buildings. But you don't have to take it; you can just be the first to take a plantation instead if you want. Also everyone is always free to decline their free plantation if they wish, which you sometimes *might* do if your island is getting really full.

When everyone has had their turn, we set the leftover plantations aside and we turn up [N+1] new ones, so you can get a little preview of what's coming up next.

Builder: everyone gets to build *one* building, or pass. The cost of the building is inside the white circle. You pay that to the bank, and put the building in your barrio, and it will stay there for the rest of the game. When you choose Builder, you get to pick your building first, *plus* you get to pay one doubloon less. This means you could actually build a Small Indigo or a Small Market for free!

Buildings do two things for you. Number one, they impress your parents. That is, you get victory points for having them in your city -- see these numbers in red here. Make sense? Number two, *when you have a colonist working your building* [demonstrate], the building "activates" and it provides you with wonderful special super powers. The super powers are summarized on each building, but let me go through and explain all of these at the end, ok?

I mentioned earlier that quarries can save you money on your buildings. When you have a quarry like this [put one on your island], it does absolutely nothing. It's a frickin' hole in the ground, ok? But when you have it like *this* [make a big show of putting a colonist onto the quarry], now there's someone working in that quarry, and this gives you a $1-off coupon whenever you build a building. There are limits to this. All the buildings in this column, you can only apply one quarry coupon when you buy them. So even if you have two quarries and you have them both staffed, if you're buying a small warehouse, sorry. You can only save one buck. Likewise, in this column you can "use" up to two of your quarries; here three, and here four. Note that it's very rare for anyone to actually take four quarries, but it's possible.

If you have the builder privilege, and quarries, the discounts are cumulative. So, for example, with two quarries you would pay only 1 doubloon for a Large Sugar Mill.

Remember: neither buildings nor quarries, and neither plantations either, actually "do" anything unless they are staffed -- except, of course, take up space. And these victory points in red on the buildings are yours no matter what, whether staffed or not.

Questions about settling or building?

Mayor: the colonist ship comes in! Yay! As the person who chooses the Mayor card, you get to stand first in line and grab the very first colonist who steps off the boat! Then the player to your left gets one, and around and around the table as until they're all gone. So yes, some people may get more colonists than others based only on where they're sitting. On top of all that, you get to take a bonus colonist straight from the supply, if there are any. Now everyone gets to put these colonists on whichever open circles they want to, and in fact you can also rearrange your existing people however you want at this point. But choose well, because once the mayor phase ends, you won't be able to move your colonists around again until the next mayor phase.

If you have more colonists than space for them, the extras go on San Juan [point], and stay there until the next mayor phase, and then must move into your buildings and plantations at that time if they can.

Technically the mayor is supposed to do all of this first, before the next player begins, and so on. In practice we usually just staff our buildings in parallel, but you always have the right to wait for the people *before* you in the turn order to finalize their staffing plans before you finalize yours.

When everyone's finished, we fill the Colonist Ship back up again. To do this we count the number of empty circles on everyone's *buildings*. We *don't* look at the plantations, just the buildings. We put this number of colonists on the boat, but if it's less than [N], we bump it up to [N], cause we want to make sure that there's always going to be at least one for each player.

Questions about the mayor?

Crafting: this is how you get barrels. For most goods, you need one worker on the corresponding plantation, and one working in a corresponding production building, in order to produce one barrel of that good. See, one... plus one... equals one. Got it? Put another way, you count the number of workers on plantations of that type, and the number of workers on buildings of that type, and you take the *smaller* of the two numbers. Corn is simpler; it has no production building, so you simply get one corn barrel for every staffed corn plantation.

The person choosing the craftsman card gets to go first, and then around the table. If any of the barrels run out, what we do is we write you an IOU for the missing barrels. Then later when you try to cash that in, we laugh at you. Yeah, sorry. If the barrels run out, it's just "tough luck."

When all this is done, the person who chose the craftsman gets to take one bonus barrel, of any kind of good *that she produced on that turn*. You can't use it to take anything you didn't produce any of "legitimately" first.

Trader: This lets you sell *one* barrel to the trading house, for the price shown on the card [read the prices]. [pause for question: why would you sell corn for zero?] Ahh, if you are the person who chose the Trader card, you get a bonus of +1 doubloon with your sale; plus, there are other ways to get bonuses I'll cover in a bit. But, trading is always optional; you could decide to just keep all your barrels.

After everyone has had a chance to trade, we empty off the trading house *only* if it is full. We only empty four barrels at a time, never less. Now the next time trading happens, the trading house may fill up before everyone has their chance to sell. The people left over are SCREWED. They just don't get to sell! *Then* the trading phase is over, *then* we empty off the full trading house. All right? So if [name] makes the last trade, we don't empty it off and then keep right on going with [name] and let her trade. It's over, she's screwed.

And there's one other thing: the trading house won't buy what the trading house already has. If I sell tobacco, that tobacco sits there until the trading house gets emptied, and no one else can sell any tobacco until that happens.

So you see, the privilege of being the first one to trade is often even more valuable than the other privilege, of getting an extra doubloon. But the person who chooses the trader role gets both. How nice. Note that if you choose Trader, but don't trade anything, you do *not* get this bonus doubloon.

It's important that everyone really understands how this works, so please ask if it's still a bit confusing.

Captain: now we get to the activity that's *complicated*. This is when you get to put barrels of goods onto the ships to send them back to mom and dad for them to get rich off of. The person choosing the card goes first, then it goes around and around the table however many times until finally nobody can ship anything anymore. And for each individual barrel you place on a ship, you take one victory point chip. The captain's privilege is to take one extra victory point chip with the *first* delivery she makes. If she can't actually ship anything, she does *not* get this victory point.

And, there are these four rules that you have to follow.

Number 1. If you can ship something, you *must* ship something. This is the *only* mandatory activity in the game; all the other activities were always optional.

Number 2. You can never mix two different kinds of goods on the same boat [demonstrate].

Number 3. You can never have the *same* kind of good on two *different* boats [demonstrate].

Number 4. Each time you ship, you can choose freely which kind of barrels to ship, but once you do, you have to ship *as many barrels as you can* of that kind. You can never voluntarily "hold back" barrels; you only keep a barrel of that kind when there was no legal way to ship it on any boat.

So we all take turns until no one can ship anymore. Then shipping is over. Now we empty off only the boats that are full. And then: the spoiling! Everyone is allowed to keep only *one* barrel of their choosing! Everything else has to be handed back in to the supply.

Did everyone follow all that? Understanding how the captain works is one of the most critical parts of the game. I'll pause for questions.

Prospector (skip in a 3-player game): Finally, the prospector is the simplest of all. The activity that we all engage in is: nothing. The privilege is you get to take one doubloon from the bank. That's it!

Ok, so everyone should understand all seven (six) of these activities now. Next I'm going to explain the buildings.

BUILDINGS

These six buildings here are the production buildings. We explained what these do when we were explaining the craftsman phase. That's all they do.

These three buildings [take one of each] activate during the settler phase. If you have a staffed Hacienda [drop colonist on Hacienda], then you have the option of picking a random face-down plantation for free, before picking your "regular" plantation. With a staffed Construction Hut, you always have the choice of a quarry instead of your regular plantation, even if you weren't the one who chose the settler card. And with a staffed Hospice, you choose a plantation in the normal way, but the plantation comes with a colonist on it automatically [show]. Note that you don't get to move this colonist wherever you want, it only goes on *this* plantation or quarry, but when the next mayor phase happens, you could move it then. Questions?

These next three buildings [take one of each] activate during the trader phase. Small Market, *when staffed*, gives you one extra doubloon every time you trade a barrel. Large Market is the same but gives you two. A staffed Office lets you sell any barrel you want to the Trading House, as long as the Trading House isn't full. That is, it suspends the rule that "the trading house doesn't buy what the trading house already has", but only for you. Questions?

One other building besides the production buildings also activates during the craftsman phase. With a staffed Factory, every time you craft some goods, you earn money. You earn one less than the number of different *types* of goods you produced on that turn; except if you produce all five types, you get the full five doubloons. This works whether or not you are the person who chose the Craftsman card.

One building activates during the builder phase. The University is for buildings just like the Hospice is for plantations and quarries. When you buy a building, and you have a staffed University, it comes with one colonist on it already. Of course you can't use the power of the University to get a colonist on the University itself, since it has to be staffed already in order to activate in the first place. Questions on these last two?

Four buildings activate during the captain phase [take one of each]. The Small Warehouse helps you keep your goods from spoiling. When a captain phase ends, instead of only being able to keep one barrel, you can keep an unlimited number of barrels of any *one type*, plus the regular one barrel of another type. The Large Warehouse works the same, but you can keep unlimited barrel of *two* types, plus the standard one barrel allowance.

The next two are a little more work to explain. When you have a staffed harbor, you get an extra victory point chip for every "delivery" you make onto the boats. Every time you take one or more barrels of a single type and you put them onto a boat, that's one "delivery". Usually three barrels equals three points, but with a harbor, three barrels equals four points. The harbor can pay off multiple times for you in the same captain phase; once per boat.

The wharf gives you your own imaginary invisible boat. Any time during the captain phase when it's your turn, you can declare that you wish to use your wharf. You take *all* the barrels of any type you want and place them back in the supply, and score the regular number of victory points that you would for any other delivery of that many barrels. The harbor and wharf can work together.

Questions on the captain phase buildings?

Finally we have the "large buildings". They cost a lot, and they take up two spaces in your city. (Note that you can rearrange the buildings in your city whenever you need to.) These don't have any "in-game" function, but they give you lots of victory points. First, there are the 4 victory points in red that you always get, no matter what. Then -- and this is very important -- *if the building is staffed at the moment the game ends*, you will earn additional bonus victory points. [explain each building.]

How does the game end?

There are three different conditions which can spur your parents to come out for a visit and make their final tally of your performance. The game ends at the *end of the round* in which any of these conditions is met. That is, we keep playing until the next time that we would pass the governor card to the next person. The game-end conditions are:

1. Any player has filled all of her building spaces, whether this be with 12 small buildings, 4 small and 4 large, whatever.

2. We go to refill the colonist ship at the end of a mayor phase, and there are *not enough* colonists to refill it according to the usual rules. If there are *just enough*, this doesn't trigger the game end. Also, being short colonists for someone's Hospice or University doesn't count. Only when the colonist ship is underfilled.

3. When the victory point chips that we use for shipping run out. When this happens, we make note of it, but continue handing out chips from the spare supply we have left over in the box (or, if a 5-player game, we keep track on pen and paper).

When one or all of these happen, we finish the round, then everyone adds up:

* the red victory points on their buildings
* the victory points from their orange chips
* and the bonus victory points from their *staffed* large buildings

... and then you will finally find out which one of you your parents love the best! A typical game-winning score is in the fifties, but of course it can vary.

The End!
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Good work.

When I explain PR, I usually start with the role selection and the fact that we don't have a fixed turn order like Power Grid or Warhammer, then move onto goods, because the game really hinges on what you do with your goods and how you get them.

So I usually go:

Settler
Mayor
Builder
Craftsman
Trader
Captain
Prospector

which I think is the same way you do it, and is probably the most logical way. I skim over quarries and where money comes from until I get to the trader phase.
 
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Robb
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Wow! This explanation is da Bomb! I am going to use this on my wife when I teach her PR next week!

Thanks Kevin!
 
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Nice work... have a
 
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Connie Gunderson
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i sort of love you a little bit. here's some coins.
 
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Rinaldi Maya Neto
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Are you sure that you can get a building for free if you have a quarry or if you are The Captain, i remember reading in the rules that any building lowest cost is always one, even if you have a quarry or you're The Captain, isn't that so?

Regards
 
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Kevin Bourrillion
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rmaya wrote:
Are you sure that you can get a building for free if you have a quarry or if you are The Captain, i remember reading in the rules that any building lowest cost is always one, even if you have a quarry or you're The Captain, isn't that so?


You can definitely get buildings for free when you're the builder -- the most common being a small sugar mill or hacienda when you have one quarry, or a large indigo plant when you have two quarries.

In some other games, like St. Petersburg, there is a minimum cost of 1 for anything you want to buy.
 
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Kevin Bourrillion
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Everyone, I had my rules about the captain phase WRONG in this post. I am sorry for any perpetuation of misconceived rules I have caused! Where it said:

Quote:
Number 4. When you decide what kind of goods to ship, you must always ship *all* your barrels of that kind. You can never ship just some of them -- unless you have more than can fit on the boat. But even in that case, you must ship all that you can (or pick another kind of good to ship).


I have now edited it to say:

Quote:
Number 4. Each time you ship, you can choose freely which kind of barrels to ship, but once you do, you have to ship *as many barrels as you can* of that kind. You can never voluntarily "hold back" barrels; you only keep a barrel of that kind when there was no legal way to ship it on any boat.
 
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John Weber
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Good idea for the thread. Having served as GM for PR for six years at WBC and having taught the game to newbies on numerous occasions, my only suggestion would be to perhaps start with the builder. Why? Because then you can work into your explanation which purple buildings help during which roles, rather than glossing over it or just going through the buildings by just reading off each of them. In other words, I think it's a bit more meaningful to say this is what happens during the Captain phase, this is the Captain's privilege, but if you have a Harbor you can do this, if you have a Wharf you can do this, and finally if you have a Small or Large Warehouse you can do this. Make sense?
 
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Giannis Tsekos

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John Weber wrote:
Good idea for the thread. Having served as GM for PR for six years at WBC and having taught the game to newbies on numerous occasions, my only suggestion would be to perhaps start with the builder. Why? Because then you can work into your explanation which purple buildings help during which roles, rather than glossing over it or just going through the buildings by just reading off each of them. In other words, I think it's a bit more meaningful to say this is what happens during the Captain phase, this is the Captain's privilege, but if you have a Harbor you can do this, if you have a Wharf you can do this, and finally if you have a Small or Large Warehouse you can do this. Make sense?


to be honest i prefer the way that Kevin do it. I have played only once PR and i got it as Kevin told (first the roles+privilege and then the buildings), it would be more complicated if i have learned as you said, cause for your first game is more critical to learn to choose the roles correctly than knowing the buildings, its only my opinion of course
 
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Abraham Drucker
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I've started teaching this game to non-gamers recently having tired of being Heralded as the Lord of Catan yet another time. I found that it works really well to teach people in pairs. It lets them discuss the roles, discuss the strategies and remind each other of the rules as the game progressed. It led to a much better standard of play and a lot fewer people who were completely lost. Plus it avoids the whole, me gently hinting which role to choose every turn.

We must think alike though, I too use the 'impress the parents' line (although I actually use Grandmother instead and pull out a nice Mike Myers-esque NY accent).
 
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