The following is a verbatim of the recently-submitted report on this year's Puerto Rico tournament at the World Boardgaming Championships. Total participation this year was 151.
Some things change, some things stay the same. This year's Puerto Rico tournament had some new faces gracing the final table and the laurels list while some familiar names struggled. Several new records were set in this year's tournament, and attendance remained strong despite the incursion of several popular new games drawing triple digit attendance figures. Four of the seven prior champions played, with one of them (2002 winner Arthur Field) putting in a cameo appearance, winning one game before chasing and securing top honors in this year's hot new game, Dominion. Defending champion Nick Page, the first non-U.S. winner, struggled and did not win a single game. Same for four-time laurelist, three time runner-up, David Platnick. Unlike last year, for both the quarterfinal and semifinal elimination rounds, the numbers matched up perfectly and there were no spots left for alternates. However, one pattern from 2008 repeated itself in 2009: The tournament winner was a first-time tournament participant who won his first game in the final heat, followed by wins in three more games inb the elimination rounds to sweep the top honors. And, for the first time in tournament history, half of the top six laurelists came from outside the United States.
The first heat saw 23 four-player games, one more than last year. Five of those games were decided by a tiebreak, and the closest game was a 47-46-46-45 squeaker won by Aran Warszawski, with second going to 2008 runner-up Matt Peterson (more about Matt later in this report). Two former Champs, the husband-wife duo of Chris Moffa and Barb Flaxington, were among the winners, but defending Champ Nick Page finished last in his game.
Turnout for the second heat was down from 2008, yet there were two tables that had to wait while games were supplied. (Note to everyone: Bring your copies next year!) Highlight from the random pairings was a rematch of two of last year's finalists, as 2008 winner Nick Page drew GM John Weber who had placed third. John, like Nick, was looking for his first win in 2009, having finished second in one of the tiebreak games. This time John turned the tables on Nick, who could do no better than third. There were three repeat winners in the second heat, as Barbara Flaxington, Rob Kilroy and Greg Thatcher each racked up their second wins. A record was set in one of the games in this heat by Matt Peterson, who scored another second (putting him high up on the alternate list), but what was really amazing is that Matt managed to get through the entire game without collecting a single shipping point, breaking the prior record of one set by Ilon Woll back in the very first Puerto Rico tournament in 2002.
The third heat involved a bit of shuffling as we paired winners with winners, and non-winners with non-winners. Double winners Rob Kilroy and Greg Thatcher agreed to step aside once we had a number divisible by four (20) at the five winners' tables. There were some interesting games in this round. First, Puerto Rico stalwart Dave Platnick, among the top all-time laurelists in this event, failed in his effort to secure advancement, losing by a single point to Ken Rothstein; it's the first time ever there's been a Puerto Rico tournament at WBC where Dave has failed to win at least one game or advance to the next round. Matt Peterson happened to be paired at a table with another player (Ken Burnside) who had two wins; again, they both failed to win, but Matt edged Ken by a point for his third straight second place, good enough to top the alternate list for the elimination rounds. The winners' group had one game which ended in a flat-footed tie between Haim Hochboim and Craig Trader and, under the tournament rules, both were credited with a second win, meaning there were now a total of nine double winners, adding even more drama to the numbers-juggling to see if all multiple-game winners would get direct byes to the semifinals, as had happened the past three years. However, the most remarkable result from the final heat was from a game involving Chris Moffa (the 2006 WBC Champ), Alex Bove (the reigining Caesar and former EuroQuest Puerto Rico runner-up), Kevin Walsh (a two-time WBC semifinalist and former PrezCon Puerto Rico runner-up) and Lexi Shea, who had no Puerto Rico tournament pedigree to speak of as she was playing in the tournament for the first time. The winner had 75 points, two short of the all-time WBC record, while second (Chris) was a distant 43. The surprise was that the winner was Lexi, whose 32-point blowout win shattered the previous all-time margin of victory of 25 (set by another female gamer, Rachel McGinley, back in 2003).
Tension mounted as players gathered for Saturday night's quarterfinal round. Four alternates showed up; two of them (tied for third) drew lots to see who would be last in if needed. Turns out, none of the alternates were needed, as one of the nine two-game winners (Craig Trader) declined the bye and agreed to play, making it eight tables of four and eight byes, same as last year. Unfortunately for Craig, he could do no better than third in his game but was nominated for the Sportsmanship award for his selfless act. Six of the eight games were won by players bidding for a corn seat; four by second corn (#4 seat) and two by first corn (#3 seat). Chris Moffa and Alex Bove rebounded from the earlier loss to Lexi, both accepting handicaps for the favored first corn seat. Chris' winning bid of 2.5 VPs was the highest successful winning bid since the current system was introduced to the tournament in 2006; Chris' winning margin (12 before factoring in the bids, 10.5 afterwards) was the highest in any of the eight games. Bidding 2 VPs for first corn did not work out so well for Bob Stribula, whose score of 41 would have won had not Geoff Pounder, with just 39 points in the disfavored (i.e. free) #2 indigo seat, had more doubloons and goods, giving Geoff the win on the tiebreak once the bids were factored in. This narrow loss put Bob in the first alternate position for the semifinals. GM John Weber, Steve Pleva, Francis Spencer, Aran Warszawski and WBC Puerto Rico tourney rookie Michael Pustilnik won the other games by margins ranging from one to 7.5. One notably casualty this round was assistant GM Malinda Kyrkos, who was seeking to keep a mathematical progression going in odd-number years, having been third in 2005 and second in 2007. Alas, for Malinda, 2009 was not to be her year to make her third final table and perhaps win it all.
Once again, perhaps reading last year's report, several alternates (second place finishers in the quarterfinals) showed for the semis, but this time -- unlike 2008 -- all 16 slots were filled, eight by quarterfinal winners and eight by players with two wins in the heats. Two remaining former Champions, the husband-wife duo of Chris Moffa and Barbara Flaxington, remained in the field, but there were also many new faces; in fact, 12 of the final 16 were first-time semifinalists in WBC Puerto Rico competition. Random pairing rematched Chris with Lexi Shea, who had that record-setting win over Chris in the third heat. This time Chris outscored Lexi, but it was only good enough for second place behind Jeremy Osteen, who won from an indigo seat by the two VP that Chris bid for his favored first corn position. Jeremy's winning score of 27 set another all-time WBC tournament record as the lowest winning score in any of the 500-plus games played since the tournament's inception in 2002 (previous record was 30). Two other semifinal games were even closer. Steve Pleva edged out Aran Warszawski by just a single point, both of them bidding the same (1.5 points) for a corn seat, with Chris' wife Barb coming home third in that game. Thus, no former champions made it to this year's final, or even the top six as Chris just fell one spot short in 7th place overall. Aran's countryman, Haim Hochboim, was involved in an even closer battle, outscoring Geoff Pounder by two (44 to 42), but again the two-point bid for the #1 corn seat put Haim in a losing tiebreak situation. However, as a reward for their close finishes, the two Israeli gamers were awarded the fifth and sixth place plaques in this year's tournament and, with a Canadian (Geoff) advancing to the final for the second straight year, it showed the WBC Puerto Rico event has really taken on an international flavor.
The fourth seat in the final, and the last semifinal game to finish, was won by GM John Weber, who bid 1.5 for the fourth (second corn) seat and cruised to the most lopsided win (12.5 points) in any of this year's elimination round games once the value of the VP bids was factored in; second place in that game went to J. R. Geronimo, another first-timer at Puerto Rico WBC competition in 2009. The win earned John his third trip to finals in four years, making him the perceived favorite in the final given that none of the other players had any previous final game experience in this event. Looking just at success in this year's tourney, Steve Pleva was the only one of the four finalists who had gone through the entire tournament without a loss to this point.
Seating position at the final table was determined quickly after just one round of bidding. John paid 1.5 VPs for the first corn seat, Steve paid 0.5 for second corn, and Geoff and Jeremy got the first and second indigo seats, respectively, for free. Only surprise early in the game was when Jeremy (as Settler) took a sugar plantation instead of the usual quarry, denying the sugar to John, who had just bought a Small Sugar Mill. Steve and Geoff got the high value coffee crop going early, and John diversified into tobacco after Jeremy had joined him in the sugar business. Steve converted the proceeds from an early coffee trade into a Harbor, while Jeremy's sugar trade netted him the game's first Factory.
Following a tobacco trade, John led off the next round of building by taking the last Factory when he also had the funds for the Harbor. (Hindsight being 20-20, this may not have been the correct play as the game played into the hands of the shippers, not the builders.) Steve then followed his Harbor purchase with a Wharf while Geoff (with three quarries) took the last Harbor. Jeremy, who had fallen a bit behind in building, had amassed four quarries (with the aid of a Construction Hut) and was well-positioned to start catching up as the game passed its midpoint and entered the later stages.
Steve went on to exploit the powerful Harbor/Wharf combination expertly to run away with the game, and the fact that he was producing four different goods (all but tobacco) made it difficult for the other players to block him from the boats. John, the player to Steve's right, may have set him up with two late game Craftsman plays (mainly for income on his Factory); this enabled Steve to have more shipping opportunities than might otherwise have been the case. In three successive shipping rounds, Steve racked up 10, 12 and 14 points respectively, leaving the other players far behind. His massive 48 shipping VPs was a record not only for the final, but for all WBC elimination round games and just two short of the all-time record of 50. He also became the first WBC Puerto Rico Champion to win without the aid of a large building.
In the scramble for second place, Jeremy (building ahead of John) got the Guild Hall, while John used his Factory income to finance two large buildings. Interestingly, none of the players took the time to purchase a warehouse, and John suffered the most, rotting a final game record of 18 barrels. John also missed out on a chance to buy the second Wharf, which went to Geoff. Jeremy (like John) got a second large building (the Residence), and he added to its value with a couple of late-game Settler plays. This, plus an 8-point Guild Hall, pulled him to second place ahead of John, with Geoff not far behind in fourth.
However, nothing could take away from a record-setting performance by Steve, who like Nick Page in 2008, won the WBC Puerto Rico title in his first try. His winning margin of 12 VPs (11.5 after taking into account the bids) shattered the record for the largest winning margin in the final, set by Arthur Field back in 2002. Final scores (after taking into account the bids) were: Steve 61.5 Jeremy 50 John 48.5 Geoff 48. Taking 17 turns to complete, it was the longest and also the highest-scoring Puerto Rico final in WBC history.
Overall statistics from the 74 games played this year followed a familiar pattern, with the two corn seats (starting positions three and four) outscoring the two indigo seats by an average of just over three points per game. This year the #4 (second corn) seat outscored the #3 (first corn) seat by a very slight amount, each winning 28% of the games. In a bit of a surprise, a quarter of the games were won by the #2 indigo seat, which also outscored the #1 indigo seat in a reversal of the pattern from prior years. With over 500 4-player games in the books going back to 2002 (including games from EuroQuest as well as WBC), the overall statistics by seat position show the following pattern:
Seat 1 indigo 41.53 scoring average, 19.9% of wins
Seat 2 indigo 40.73 scoring average, 19.5% of wins
Seat 3 corn 43.48 scoring average, 30.8% of wins
Seat 4 corn 43.35 scoring average, 29.7% of wins
The most popular violet buildings in winning displays were, once again, the Small Market (48), the Harbor (40) and the Factory (39). Most popular large buildings among game-winners this year were the Guild Hall (28) and the Customs House (23). For those interested, here are some statistics tracking data from the 42 games using the bidding system that was first introduced in 2006:
Seat 1 indigo 6 wins (14.3%) Average bid 0.38 Average winning bid 0.08 Highest winning bid 0.5
Seat 2 indigo 10 wins (23.8%) Average bid 0.02 Average winning bid 0.00 Highest winning bid 0
Seat 3 corn 11 wins (26.2%) Average bid 1.38 Average winning bid 1.27 Highest winning bid 2.5
Seat 4 corn 15 wins (35.7%) Average bid 0.76 Average winning bid 0.75 Highest winning bid 1.5
Thus, while the bidding system appears to have evened the playing field between the four starting positions, there is still a slight overall advantage for those willing to accept a handicap for one of the two corn seats; also, some of the recent success of the second corn seat suggests players may not be bidding enough for that position.
One possible change being contemplated for next year may involve some way of distinguishing between multi-game winners in the case not all of them can be awarded byes. Regardless of whether or not this results in any changes, the history of the "bye" system introduced for the 2004 tournament reveals one interesting fact: in six years, only once (Chris Moffa in 2006) has a player awarded one of the direct byes to the semifinals gone on to win the tournament. The other five winners advanced from the group that played in the extra elimination round (quarterfinals) introduced in 2004.
Having such a large event run smoothly would not be possible without help. The GM wishes to thank the three assistant GMs (Barb Flaxington, Dave Platnick and Malinda Kyrkos), whose help was once again invaluable in keeping things on schedule this year. In addition, the GM wishes to acknowledge Bob Stribula, Chris Moffa, Rob Kilroy, Greg Thatcher, Jim Freeman, and Vassili Kyrkos who helped out at various times during the event. Special thanks go to Craig Trader, our Sportsmanship Award nominee, whose decision to decline the bye helped make "the numbers work out" in Saturday night's quarterfinal, and Nick Page, the defending Champion, who agreed to take notes for the final game replay given that the GM was involved in the final this time. Nick's notes were essential in recreating the final game which, in turn, enabled a more detailed evaluation beyond relying on the memories of the players.
The Warren is a roleplaying game about intelligent rabbits trying to make the best of a world filled with hazards, predators and, worst of all, other rabbits.
Marshall is a Boston-based researcher and game designer.
To put things in context, does anyone have a list of previous winners?
Lists of prior winners of all WBC tournaments can be found at the BPA website. Here's the one for Puerto Rico: