João 'Finding a new way to make you WTF today' Marum
[Since there were a lot of people inquiring about my reviews but unable to read them in Portuguese, I decided to write a review in English. Here's the thing about my reviews, they're aimed not at newbies to boardgaming but at experienced boardgamers. I do not talk about the rules of the game I review or how the game plays, I leave that to others, more capable reviews, rather I do a breakdown of the game into several aspects, like analysis paralysis, luck factor, strategy, and try to detail those aspects as best as I can. Of course, being a review this analysis is quite subjective, it is only my opinion of those aspects, but I do hope they are helpful to someone.
Anyway, on with the review. Sorry for my poor English. Images taken from here, BGG. Thanks to the photographers of the pictures.]
Who doesn't know Puerto Rico? Everyone does. I mean, the game is, at the moment of writing this review, ranked at the top spot in here. It is, I dare to say, an eurogame classic. So it was with no surprise that I received, long ago, the news that a cardgame based on Puerto Rico was going to be released. Since I love Puerto Rico, I was hoping San Juan to be a great game. Well, it isn't a great game, but it is a very very good game nonetheless. Although it will not be a classic like his older and bigger brother is, it won't fade away into oblivion in the history of boardgames.
In San Juan, you are charged in building a city. With the use of cards, you build several different buildings, each of which has a special power, produce goods and sell them and try to build a combination of buildings that give you the most points. The things that distinguishes San Juan from other cardgames is that it uses the same mechanism as Puerto Rico, which is the roles. Each player chooses one single role on his turn, and that role is carried out by all players, with an extra bonus to the player who chose that role. This way, everyone stays in the game at all time. In the end, the player with the most points wins.
Let's move on to the analysis.
In terms of presentation, I would say that this game is solid. The rules are written in a clear manner and it's easy to understand them. The box is small and the box insert is functional, with all the components of the game stored in an organized way. Still, I do have a negative point to point out about the box. The notebook and pencil, they are unnecessary and only contribute in increasing the size of the box. I wish they hadn't included them, because the box could easily be smaller by at least half the size and that would cut on the retail price of the game. Still, it's nothing serious, it's more of a nuisance than a real issue. The cards are of decent quality, though with they may wear quickly. The quality of the card stock isn't the best but then again it isn't the worst. But you better find card sleeves to place them in if you plan on playing this game a lot.
The number of players for this game goes from two to four. In my opinion, the ideal and optimal number of players is undoubtedly four. With four a certain dynamic is reached and the game flows better and is more enjoyable by all. I didn't care much for the two players game though.
Concerning the theme and the level of abstractness in the game, I would say that this game does not have a strong theme. Sure, you are building a town and the buildings all have special effects that makes all games unique, but it could be about building robots and it wouldn't make much of a difference. Still, this isn't a pure abstract game and the theme does work, even if it isn't too strong and doesn't immerse the players into colonial governors of Puerto Rico in the old times. A pasted on theme, undoubtedly, but I've seen games that have a weaker integration of the theme into the game. So, if you're looking for a game with a strong theme you better look elsewhere. If you don't mind the weak theme and a little bit of abstractness in your game this game is a good bet.
About strategy and tactics, this game has a funny balance. For one, the luck of the draw, being a cardgame, doesn't allow the players to build a sound, solid single strategy over the course of the game. It makes the game quite tactical, since you have to plan building the cards in your hand in a short-term manner. However, once built the buildings offer special powers to the player, and this adds a facet of strategy into the game. You see, you have to take into account the buildings already in your playarea with the buildings you have in your hand and plan accordingly. This way, although you have to constantly think in a short-term way, the game does reward good strategies during the game in the form of building combinations. The roles also play a good part of the tactics in this game, by forcing players to make decisions that will affect all of the players, forcing them to adapt to the circumstances. So, this game rewards long-term plans although I dare to say its focus is in short-term plans, in tactics so to speak. As such, if you're looking for a deeply strategic game, this isn't it, but if you don't mind the amount of tactics that this game offer, the game does present the player with a surprisingly varied strategic depth.
Concerning the luck factor, well, being a cardgame where the players have to shuffle a deck and draw the top card it does have a considerable luck element. However it does not break the game, in fact it makes it a lot more interesting. Part of the fun of the game is in trying to achieve the best combinations possible of the various buildings and being forced to draw cards adds to the variety and fun of the game, by making it a bit unpredictable. Therefore players are forced to change their plans constantly according to the hands of cards they receive. Other than that, luck also shows up in the drawing of the trade tiles which influences the amount of money you get by selling your goods, which keeps players on the edge. So luck, in this game, adds to the depth of it and doesn't detract the game in any possible way.
Interaction between players is low. Low because even though when a player chooses a role all other players must play that role, this game is not a negotiation or auction game where players can actively and directly change the strategies of other players. Yes, when you choose a role you force the other players to play that role and therefore adapt their strategies and tactics but other than that you cannot influence the play of the other players. So this game, in my view, scores low in the interaction degree between players. It isn't an interactive game like Modern Art or Diplomacy or Chinatown. Still, it does have some amount of interaction in the role mechanism so it isn't completely dry in terms of player interaction.
The weight of the game, I would say, is a middleweight game. It really isn't a heavy game but it sure isn't a light game either. It's placed right in the middle between heavy and light and, as such, ideal for gamers who wish for something not too heavy or complex but not too simple as well. This game does force upon the players some tense decisions, and that in my view adds a lot to the weight. However it does not forces overly complex decisions and, as such, this game may attract gamers that want something that plays in less than an hour and that doesn't burn your brain.
I would consider this game neither a filler nor a gamer's game. This game is placed right in the middle, a game that will appeal to those who want a fast game with some meat but not a lot.
The time required to play the game is often less than a full hour, which is good for those who want something more meaty and slower than a filler but quicker than a typical eurogame. It plays fast and the flow of play goes smoothly and usually without any problems due to the simple rules that causes no confusion to an experienced player.
In term of replayability, this game has a very high and solid level of replayability due to the nature of the buildings. Like I said, each building has a special power and the players try to achieve the best possible combination. Due to the fact that players have to draw cards from the top of a shuffled deck, this aspect makes all games play differently. As such, this turns the game into something enjoyable and certainly not static, increasing the fun and enjoyment of the game. This helps the game longevity which in turn makes the game more likely to be played again in order to discover new strategies and ways to win.
The dynamism of this game is excellent. The role selection offers a great way of players constantly creating and modifying plans, and the high number of different buildings help to create a dynamism that makes the game run smoothly and, more importantly, presents the players with a constant challenge of bettering themselves and each other.
Regarding introducing this game to non-gamers and newbies to boardgaming, I would venture to say that this is a good game for that. It isn't complicated, the rules are simple and strategies are often apparent. This game has a certain attraction that makes non-gamers want to play the game again. Therefore I guess this game, while not a real gateway game, can do a good job of introducing non-gamers into our hobby.
Analysis paralysis is not a serious problem in this game. It's rare for a player to think about what he should do in his turn for more than a minute. Players often make fast decisions in this game and as such there is a solid chance that there will be no grief of a player taking more than he should making a decision. This game encourages fast play, and I've never seen a gamer having a moment of analysis paralysis.
Downtime is not an issue. Even though the player's turns are fast, the role selection makes sure no player ever stays more than a few seconds without doing anything and just watching the other players. This game has minimal downtime and it is commendable for that. If you hate downtime and analysis paralysis, you will love this game.
In terms of visual, or rather, how the game looks while being played, well, it isn't very attractive. The art on the cards is passable but nothing special. This game will not draw looks if you play in a public place, I'm afraid. It's not an ugly game, it's simply a functional game that looks rather bland to the untrained eye. Don't expect something like Taluva or Mexica in terms of visual while being played and you will not be disappointed. You won't convince non-gamers that this game looks good.
About the mechanics of the game, it uses, amongst others, role selection and hand management. It also uses an unique mechanic in the form of the cards being buildings, goods and money all at the same time. This is a very clever mechanic and turns the game into something quite unique. The other mechanics in the game are implemented in a solid, even if unoriginal, way. It's a solid game, a good game that does not disappoint, but other than the cards representing more than one thing, there's nothing that stands out.
And that's it.
My opinion of the game is that it is a worthy sibling of Puerto Rico. It is a solid, fun, enjoyable game that you can play in less than an hour and feel satisfied about playing it. It has a lot of depth, and forces players to make constant decisions all the time.
I like it a lot, but I'm afraid this game is not a great game, rather only a very good game. It doesn't have any revolutionary mechanics and the flow of play doesn't add or detract from the game itself. Still, it is a joy to play and is a favorite of my group. We often play it and we do enjoy playing it, but somehow at the end of the game we do not discuss it as much as other games. It doesn't stay in our minds for long like a game of Goa does.
I recommend this game for anyone who loves Puerto Rico and wishes to play a fast and smooth cardgame. It is fun but do not expect it to be as special as Puerto Rico. It isn't. But it is special in its own way, and that is all you can ask from a boardgame.
16 out of 20.
Please.. no need to apologize for your English. It's very good.
I like your review style. You summarized each paragraph in the first sentence, allowing me to skip the parts I wasn't interested in delving into (I'm quite familiar with the game, and wanted to glean some specific insights).
Excellent post MGBM - your details re San Juan were close to spot on and your English WAY,WAY,WAY better than my Portuguese will ever be ...
Good Review !!!