Had enough of Puerto Rico? Good because I haven’t (all the more for me). However, if you HAVE had enough of Puerto Rico, come along and try San Juan. It is the game that takes place afterwards. San Juan is a game very similar to Puerto Rico, but many of the mechanics are simplified. I wouldn’t exactly call it Puerto Rico light, but if you’ve found the learning curve of Puerto Rico to be too steep then perhaps playing a few rounds of San Juan will get you into the groove of the game.
If I wasn’t clear enough in the previous paragraph, there are numerous similarities (intentionally) between San Juan and Puerto Rico. San Juan was ‘kind of’ designed to be the travel edition of Puerto Rico. So what’s the same? Well each player has to choose from a number of roles, which will give every player an action they can perform (except prospector) and the chooser an additional privilege. Some of those are familiar, or variants adapted to this game, while one is unique. There are also a range of buildings that you are trying to build, ranging from production buildings as well as special violet buildings. The main difference is that there are no resources or goods that you’re attempting to accumulate and use for shipping and selling, instead the cards themselves are the resource. Producing then consequently selling a good lets you draw a certain amount of cards, and to build buildings you must spend a certain amount of cards. This ebb and flow of cards is the central mechanic around which the game flows (players who are familiar with Race for the Galaxy might recognise this, and some have suggested that Race is derivative of San Juan).
So the roles are: builder (all players build a card, privilege reduces building cost by one); craftsman (all players can produce a card by tucking a card from the deck under that building, privilege allows for a second production); trader (all players can sell a card from under a building in exchange for cards, privilege is to sell up to two); councillor (all players pick two cards and get to keep one of them, privilege to pick from four); and prospector (no general effect except that the chooser draws a card). Each player selects one, and when all players have done so, all are returned back to the centre, next person becomes the governor (able to choose first)… lather rinse repeat.
The only other aspect to explore are the cards themselves; each card is a building with a building cost and a victory point value. Like the original game, they come as either production type or effect (violet) buildings. Production buildings should be fairly self-apparent at this point. The violet buildings do things like allow you to draw extra cards for certain conditions (if you produce at least two goods, if you trade at least two goods, if you build a violet building), while others expand existing role effects or privileges. Three cards are statues, meaning they are victory points with no effects, and five are big buildings that create variable points at the end of the game, relevant to certain conditions (the number of statues you have, the number of production or violet buildings you have). The only other difference to note is that you can build as many of the same type of production buildings as you like, but only one instance of each violet building.
The last round occurs when someone has built a twelfth building, and you tally up all the victory point values of the buildings and the modified value of any of your special buildings.
It is hard to not make comparisons to Puerto Rico, but since this game was implemented by another group it is really best that I make the effort. We have in this build a rather well designed version of the physical game. I’ve always said that I think the biggest barrier to a card game is the fact that the cards often example specific rules that aren’t always the easiest to familiarise. However, San Juan’s rule detail is similar to that of the rule detail found in the buildings for the normal game. I’ve played through a fair number of times, and as someone who hadn’t played San Juan until now I didn’t find it to be that huge a hurdle. You can easily tap any card at anytime for a close up. Of course, this is really the only block because the game itself lends itself to simplicity. The game flows nicely and this implementation really picks up on that; you have a very intuitive and accessible interface. The amount of game content is minimal enough that it can all fit onto the same screen, which is important for an iPad implementation.
They otherwise hit the right mark on all the preferred development criteria. There is good graphics, smooth animations, the ambient sounds are just right, and all the important features of the game are available to you within easy reach. The tutorial is well designed, and will navigate you into those first hurdles of the game. I have also found the AI to be reasonably well balanced. The easy AI is a walk in the park after a few games, while the moderate means I have to think more carefully about my actions, and the difficult settings really make me think about the longer term implications of my plays.
It is also possible to play a combination of other players either online or in pass’n'play mode, and in either mode you can have a third and/or fourth player as the computer AI. This is always useful as it allows you to experience the three player game even if you only have two players. I find tweaks like this showing certain levels of attention that is great. It is, however, missing asynchronous online play.
9/10: I think the slightly lower level of complexity will make it more accessible to more players, and it delivers strongly on almost all the crucial aspects of an iPad implementation. Well done Ravensburger Digital.San Juan,