After a long, long, long, wait Puerto Rico has finally come to light. As this was one of the first games I ever owned, and I can proudly boast ownership of *both* vary rare and hard to acquire expansions I would like to think of myself as an aficionado. For the longest time, this board game was ranked as number one on Board Game Geek, so Codito Development were taking on a massive challenge that was likely to disappoint fans if done badly. Thankfully I can see that they have taken a large amount of care in polishing this product and polishing it some more.
This is perhaps one of the epitomes of euro gaming. There is only one random element in the game, and the rest is all around building up a strategy and then using that strategy to go for broke in the acquisition of victory points.
In the game you play one of many governors around the lands of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean during the 18th Century. You have a plantation that can produce different types of goods, including corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Throughout play, you select one of six different types of roles. Each roles instigates a particular type of activity that all players can participate in, but the person who chose it gets a privilege. Settler allows the selection of plantations (privilege being the option to choose a quarry instead), Mayor distributes colonists (privilege giving you an extra one), Builder allows you to buy buildings (privilege at a reduced cost), Craftsman allows you to produce goods (privilege granting an extra good), Trader allows the exchange of a good for money (privilege giving an extra coin), Captain allows the shipping of goods (privilege giving an extra victory point with first shipment), and Prospector giving a coin to the person who takes it (no other effect).
Since every one can do something in each of these phases a player must try and anticipate the consequences of their actions. Fortunately, if you observe the board carefully you should be able to make an educated guess as to what that might be. There is really no hidden information on the board (except total victory points), and this means that you should be able to figure out who will benefit from what. The best choices will always be the ones that give you something without giving your opponents anything.
There are three main strategies that can be employed. The first one is the building strategy where you attempt to reap in their value, and this depends on the development of fewer and more expensive resources. The second strategy is a mass production strategy where you worry less about those buildings and simply attempt to produce many cheap goods and ship them out fast and frequently. Since all goods are worth equal value (1 point per good), and the investment of time and turns necessary to have the wealth for good buildings may leave you behind the curve, there is a good balance between the two. Of course, it is possible to steer a middle course between the two, but that requires finesse and can easily come apart.
The buildings are also a critical part of the game. They come in three varieties, being either a production building, a function building, or a prestige building. Production buildings are critical in producing resources. Like all buildings, they must be staffed by one of your colonists. Production buildings often have multiple spaces for these colonists, each of which marries up to a particular type of resource. To produce a single good you need a plantation and an equivalent staff member in the relevant production building. The other buildings allow you to modify or ignore certain rules, and giving you an edge over your opponents.
The game ends when one of three things happens. When either a predetermined pool of colonists or victory points runs out (relative to number of players) it will trigger the last round. Likewise, if someone’s buildings fill out their available spaces it will also trigger a final round.
For such a complex game, Codito have managed to provide us a game that is both challenging and seamless. About the only major hiccough that I’ve discovered is that occasionally one of the buildings is not visible when placed, but the building is there nonetheless.
One of the things I immediately noticed having changed from the physical game to the iOS version is trying to mentally map where all my opponent’s pieces are with what I used to be able to assess at a glance. While all the information is still there, it’s all squished into the screen of my iPad so there is a lot to take in. Much of that detail has been compressed, and often elegantly so, so it’s easy to miss some of the details.
One of the better changes relates to the placement of colonists. In the physical game, this is accomplished by having blank circles on the various pieces where the colonists are placed. From initial photos of the game layout for the iOS version this seemed to be replicated, and made the screen look cluttered. What they have replaced it with is a number of doorways that become lit when occupied, as well as replacing coloured circles for resources with discreet symbols. Likewise, instead of such spaces on plantations, they are animated with growing plants to represent their use. Additionally, what was originally a clash of colours has been replaced with a more sedate and appealing visual. It’s a small example of how they’ve cleverly adapted the game.
There are two other little implementations that are nice to behold. At first I thought there were no mnemonics to remind me what any of the tiles or roles did. However, there is a useful arrow that expands a right-hand menu with summary rules of all the roles and buildings where necessary. Likewise all of the buildings have little icons that will remind you what they are, except for the hacienda and hospice. Those are just a matter of remembering the difference.
I have played against the various AIs, of which there are two easy, three medium, and two hard. I found this to be a good steep challenge. I am losing more often than winning, but I suspect that this is because I’m still attempting to adjust for the changes in the game presentation. I’ve also heard that the online system uses Game Centre and can be a pain.
I wait in hope that they will implement the various expansions for this, including forests, additional buildings, and nobles!
9/10: this game is absolutely worth your time and a definite must for fans of board gaming. While it will never replace the physical game it is going to occupy a lot of my free time. I think the biggest advantage of the iOS version is that, unlike the physical version, there is no set up or pack up time!!