Thursday, May 3, 2012

Games Even A Mom (and Sister!) Will Love: "Puerto Rico"

Yes, I'm fully aware that most of my posts thus far have featured so-called "Ameritrash" titles.  For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, Ameritrash games usually involve head-to-head conflict, buckets of theme, guiding and/or developing some sort of faction or avatar and flirting with Lady Luck via the hucking of giant mitt-fulls of dice.  Some Ameritrash games that I've featured on this here bloggie thang include Heroscape, Star Wars Miniatures, Middle Earth Quest, Drakon, Cave Troll and Twilight Imperium.

In contrast to this are the "Eurogames", so named because many of them were designed by Europeans, particularly Germans (who seem to have a much more enlightened view of the hobby then us North Americans).  In Eurogames, if there's any conflict at all, it's usually indirect and players are rarely eliminated.  Instead of coming up with mechanics to realize a theme, Eurogames often innovate new and exciting designs and theme is often just an afterthought.  The role of luck is also downplayed, if not completely eliminated.    

Some Eurogames that I've featured on mien blog include, um...well...10 Days in Europe.  And...that'

Okay, so maybe I am a sucker for theme, but that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate a good game with clever mechanics.  Witness one of my top five favorite board games of all time: Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico takes place during a time of colonies and plantations during the Age of Sail.  While producing five different types of commodities (corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee) players have to develop a more efficient production strategy then their opponents.  You need to maximize your earnings by selling your crops at the right time.  You need to build warehouses to store you goods so things don't spoil.  You need to get yer peeps out in the field or set up in factories.  Most importantly, you need to ship your wares back to the Old Country for precious, precious Victory Points!

This is accomplished with the selection of certain Action Roles (Trader, Settler, Mayor, Builder, Craftsman, Captain and Prospector).   First pick alternates every round and each player selects one of the remaining actions as their turn.  Everyone around the table will get a chance to perform the action, but the person who first picked it often gets a cool secondary perk.  To increase the strategy, no role can be picked more then once.  The winner will often be the player who perfectly times the optimal role.

So, we went up to Moncton to spend Easter weekend with the family.  Cheryl's mom is such an avid board game player that I'm not even allowed through the front door unless I'm packin' at least three games with me.  This time out, I wanted to revisit Puerto Rico, which the three of us had previously played together.

As an added wrinkle, Cheryl's sister Cathy also wanted to give it a whirl.  Cathy's great because she's got tremendous competitive spirit.  Although she, like most people, still equates gaming with "classics" like Crapopoly, she's also more then willing to try my so-called "weird" games.  This often results in an epiphany of sorts, which I really love to see.

"You're hilarious," she said as she sat down at the kitchen table, now littered with Puerto Rico's individual boards, colorful resource tokens, purple buildings and edible-looking colonist discs.  "It's always a brand new game with you!  Are you afraid to play the same game twice because someone else might actually get good at it?"

Say on, sistah.  I have the exact same gripe about my weekly gaming group.

Anyway, it took us a while to get started.  I hadn't played Puerto Rico in years so it's always a challenge introducing unique mechanics to a new player.  If not for Headless Hollow's rules summaries, more then one noob might run the risk of slipping into a coma even before the first turn.

Our first few rounds were played very conservatively.  Unwilling to select any of the more "advanced" roles, we spent the first few turns planting crops, building introductory structures and acquiring new talent to man this stuff.  Then, as I started to pick roles just to illustrate what they did in game, shit started to get reals, fo' sho'.      

After choosing Craftsman my one manned field produced two Indigo (picking the role always gives you  a +1 bonus).   Sheila and Cathy also unwittingly produced Corn after learning that it's the only resource that can be produced without having a matching production facility.  Cathy then selected her trust go-to the Mayor.  She got one Colonist off the Ship and one from supply and the rest of us had to be content with a single dude apiece.

After Sheila thought out loud that she wanted to buy a Small Market, Cheryl urged her to pick the Builder Role.  As a result, she got the thing for free thanks to her Secondary Action.  Still somewhat destitute, Cheryl and I had to pass on building.  Cathy, like the Joker, bought a Ha-Hacienda just because it "sounds like fun".  Regardless of her motivation, it immediately started giving her extra Plantation options.

We soon got to see this in practice when I took the Settler, which allowed me to get a Quarry, thus reducing my building costs.  Cheryl, investing in her future, cleared a Coffee plantation.  She then activated the Captain role, perhaps a bit prematurely.  She loaded one Indigo on an empty ship, getting a +1 Veep for selecting the role.  Cathy loaded Corn on another empty ship, also nabbing a Victory Point.  Sheila followed suit.  I put two Indigo on Cheryl's ship, scoring two Victory Points!

Now armed with the Governor token it was up to Sheila to pick first.  She went with the good old reliable Mayor, scoring two new Colonists!  With no empty building spaces generating additional bodies for the Colonist Ship, Cheryl, Cathy and I only got one dude apiece.  Cheryl selected Craftsman, and knocked out one Indigo.  I got two of the same.  Both Cathy and Sheila produced the more-valuable Sugar and a bit o' Corn.

Cheryl then activated the Builder, getting a -1 price break for the Role and -1 for her Quarry.  Given this discount, she promptly invested in a Coffee Roaster.  Frustrated that we've already come back to the whole "buying buildings crap", Cathy passes.  Fearing a stockpile coming soon, I use my Quarry discount to pick up a Small Warehouse.

Clearly learning quickly by example, Cathy took the Settler role to exploit her Ha-Hacienda.  She ended up making off with two valuable plantations: Tobacco and Coffee.  Sheila also took the Phillip Morris route and selected Tobacco.  I doggedly continued to specialize in Indigo.

I also couldn't resist the two Doubloons (which Cathy originally called "Dublins") sitting on the inexplicably daunting Trader Tile.  I sold an Indigo, giving me four pieces of cheddar in total (including a +1 bonus for picking the role).  Cathy pawned Sugar for two coins.  Thanks to Sheila's Small Market she sold her normally valueless Corn for one bling.  Cheryl, much to her dismay, was stone-cold shut out.  

Cheryl made herself feel better by selecting what is apparently the Puerto Rico equivalent of a giant bowl of Hagen Daaz: Da Mayah.  She got one serf from the supply, one from the Colonist Ship and then armed a spare dude hanging out in San Juan with a hoe (?) and then nudged him out into the field (presumably with a bayonet).

Well-noting my instant windfall for picking the Trader, Cathy picked the Prospector for a slew of cash monies. Man, as a board game guru it's really fun to sit back and watch the epiphanies begin to percolate!  As Sheila pondered her next move. Cathy began muttering in excited but hushed tones about she could now afford to buy a Coffee Roaster.  Another victim hooked!  Heh, heh!      

Sheila decided that she wanted to have a bash at the Captain Phase.  She loaded one Sugar and got a +1 Victory Point perk for being El Kapitan.  Cheryl and I piled on the Indigo for a single point each, filling that ship to the capacity.  Cathy then threw a Sugar on board the other ship.  After we verified that no-one lost anything to spoilage (and Cathy voiced her suspicion that I was "making up the rules as we went"), the Governor token went to Cheryl, allowing her to pick first.

She took the increasingly popular Settler, intending to grow more precious Coffee.  Cathy stole my Indigo Plantation so I ended up with some superfluous Corn.  She then fulfilled her lifetime dream by picking the Builder and hammering together a Coffee Roaster.  Sheila picked up an Indigo Plant.  I paid three Puerto Rico bucks to construct a Sugar Mill.  Cheryl was busted so all she could do is sit there and shake her fist.

Sheila then went all Craftsman, producing two Sugar (one was her bonus) and Corn.  I nabbed one Indigo and a Corn.  Cheryl got one Indigo and a super-expensive Coffee making me super-jealous. Cathy picked up Corn and Sugar (a box of Corn Pops?).

"Ummm, what does this thing do again?" she asked, indicating her Ha-Hacienda.

"Oh, God, for the third time, it's for when you pick your Plantations!" Cheryl fired back, clearly not the fountain of patience.

I finally indulged in some Mayorial goodness, scoring two new recruits.

"When do I get a chance to move this friggin' little (reference deleted since I believe that it exceeds the blog's adult content warning)?!?" Cathy demanded, indicating a seemingly shiftless dude in San Juan.

"Now!!!" both Cheryl and I shouted back in unison.

Cathy's kicked off the start of a new round by singing a rousing rendition of "I Don't Have a Freakin' Clue" to the tune of "Camptown Races".

"For someone who doesn't have a freakin' clue, you seem to be doing quite well!" I scoffed back.

Despite the fact that's actually incredibly advantageous to go first, Cathy was understandably overwhelmed by the crush of strategic options.  That crippling board game malady called Analysis Paralysis began to set in.

"I know what you mean!" Sheila concurred.  "When I have to go first I'm all like..." (indicates deer in headlights expression).                                        

"Like, for example, why would I want to build a Fortress or a City Hall?!?" Cathy inquired.

The game then broke down into a discussion about the Victory Points awarded for having larger buildings.  I quickly explained that the City Hall gives you Veeps for every Violet Building you have at the end of the game.  The Customs House gives you one bonus Victory Point for every four points you already own.  With this knowledge achievement unlocked, Cathy seemed content that she didn't have to worry about these things just yet.    

After concluding that she wanted to get some drones toiling away in her newly christened Coffee Roaster, we encouraged her to pick the Mayor.  It's a timely selection since the sum of every empty building spaces had added more bodies to the Colonist Ship.  In the end she got one from the Ship, one from the Supply and a bonus dude when it comes around to her again.  Sheila also snagged two thanks to the surplus and me and Cheryl get hosed with just one apiece.

Sheila picked the Captain which absolutely killed me since I have only one individual good at the time. She loaded two Sugar and got a bonus Victory Point for a total of three.  I wheeled my one, sad Indigo on board and Cheryl did the same.  Cathy added to the Sugar stockpile and Sheila finished up with a Corn delivery.  Cathy also contributed with a cobbage-related offering.

I then selected Craftsman, giving me two Indigo and two one Sugar (with my +1 bonus).  Cheryl scored two Coffee and one Indigo.  Cathy got two Coffee a Sugar and a Corn.  Sheila got one each of Corn, Sugar and Indigo.  Cheryl then wisely picked the Trader, selling her expensive Coffee for a whopping five Doubloons!  This filled the Trading House, screwing the rest of us royally for the turn.

Sheila Mayored it up, getting one dude from the Ship and one from supply.  Since our buildings were mostly filled up, the ship just had the minimum for dudes on it, giving the rest of us just one recruit apiece.  Now with some goods to move, I picked the Captain ("Yaaarrrr.") and piled on two Indigo for three Veeps.  Cheryl added to the same ship for one VP.  Cathy filled up the Sugar ship.  Sheila crammed one more unit onto the Indigo ship.  I snuck a single Corn on the last ship and Cathy stogged that ship to capacity.

Then, for goods storage, both Cathy and Cheryl lost one Coffee apiece.  Sheila lost Corn.  Thanks to my recently minted Small Warehouse I got to keep everything!  BWA-HA-HA-HA!!!  *A-hem*.  Sorry.

With seven Doubloons burning a hole in her coin purse, Cheryl picked the Builder and slapped up a Large Market.  Cathy passed.  Sheila wanted a Tobacco Plant but can't afford it.  I picked up a Construction Hut for one dinero, mainly just because I've got a Quarry fetish.  

Cathy then went with the, Trader.  She then sold a Coffee for five whopping semolians. Sheila clocked three Doubloons for her Sugar and Small Market.  Cheryl kept muttering "I can't do shit because Cathy took my space, bee-yotch!".  Thanks to my own H.M.A. (Hot Market Action) I got two coins for selling my Indigo.

I'm tempted by the ultra-rich Prospector and scored an entire ass-load of Doubloonage in the process. Cheryl went with the Settler, got a random face-down Tobacco and then hesitantly picked yet another Coffee plantation.  Cathy finally remembered to exploit her Ha-Hacienda, pulling a random Corn tile and wrangling an Indigo plantation.  Sheila also uses her own version to wrangle more Indigo fields.

Having already picked up on the concept that the advanced Buildings were a possible key to victory, Cathy opted for the Builder role.  An amusing minor breakdown occurred when Cathy's eyes suddenly became as wide as saucers as I attempted to explain how the University (each new building comes pre-loaded with a dude) and the Factory (gives bonus Doubloons for producing a variety if goods) work.

"Soooooo, anyway," she said, ignoring my confusing tutorial and glancing over to my board.  "What do you have over here, smarty pants?"          

She noticed my Warehouse and I encouraged her to buy one since she'd just gotten burned with a loos of goods.  Sheila passed on the purchasing.  Cheryl constructed a Tobacconist.  Impressed by my own sales pitch, I dropped mucho del coinage down on the Factory.  

Despite her disorientation, Cathy kept clapping her hands together excitedly, trying to prompt us to get the lead out by asking "Okay, who's turn is it?" every ten seconds.

"Wait, we're buying!"  Cheryl shot back.  "Jeepers, it's not all about you!"  

Sheila picked Craftsman and made Corn, Sugar, three Indigo (+1 extra for role) and then stopped herself from cursing a blue streak when she realized that she still has no way to produce Coffee.   Cheryl scored two Coffee and one Indigo.  Cathy made out like a bandito,  cranking out two Coffee, one Sugar and one Corn.  I bashed out two Indigo, one Sugar and one Corn all the while speaking with a shamefully poor Juan Valdez accent.  

Cheryl became the Governor and led with the Mayor, scoring two peeps.  The rest of us only got one ("Boooooo!!!"). With six building spaces unoccupado, I knew that we'd have bonus plebe dispensation with the next Mayor phase.

Cheryl attempted to wage a subtle propaganda campaign on Cathy, trying to influence her into picking the Trader.  "You'd be helping yourself.  You like money.  Money's good," Cheryl said, loudly whispering her Wormtonguery across the table through cupped hands.

Resentful of the attempted chicanery, Cathy briefly flirted with the idea of screwing Cheryl over but then settled on the Builder to procure an Indigo plant.  Producing a slew of different goods now, Sheila wisely bought her own Factory.  Being totally broke at the time, I was forced to pass.  Cheryl bought a Smurftastic Indigo plant.

Sheila jumped at the Captain role.  She got three Victory Points, two for her Indigo and one for the role bonus.  I popped two goods on the same ship.  Cheryl loaded three Coffee on the five-space ship.  Cathy loaded two onto the same vessel, filling it up.  In the second round, Sheila put her Sugar onto the final boat and I snuck one on there as well.  Cheryl added one to the Indigo ship.  Cathy smuggled one more unit onto the Sugar ship.  We all waved goodbye as the Coffee boat set sail, presumably for Seattle.

I then opted for the Craftsman, pulling up two Indigo, two Sugar (+1 bonus) and a Corn.  As if this wasn't sweet enough, my manned Factory also gave me two free Doubloons for this!  Cheryl got one Indigo, one Tobacco and two Dark Roasts.  Cathy collected two Corn, a Sugar and two Coffee.  Sheila then picked up one Corn and one Sugar but got shortchanged on the Indigo since the supply was now exhausted!

Looking to redeploy her serfs, Cathy took the Mayor and got one dude from the Ship and one from the Supply.   After Cheryl, Sheila and I each hired one guy apiece, both Cathy and Sheila each got a bonus body thanks to the oversupply.  Six were then restocked on the Colonist Ship.  With more buildings being produced every round it wasn't hard to see that the clock was ticking! 

Sheila took the Trader, which also came pre-loaded with two Doubloons.  Although she only had Corn to sell, she still got two more Doubloons out of it thanks to her Awesoma Market Power.  Since this filled up the market, no-one else could take advantage of it.  Solid play!

Then I was all over the Captain, loading three goods aboard one of the larger Ships.  Cheryl stowed two aboard the same ship and so did Cathy.  Sheila contributed one to the effort.  Cathy was the only one who could load a follow-up item in the second round.  In the end, I questioned decision to take the role, since I ended up watching my Corn rot on the docks.  Sheila and Cheryl also get burned in a similar manner.  Cathy, on the other hand, was pickled pink that her new warehouse proved to be super-practical as well as aesthetically pleasing.  

Cheryl went for the Craftsman, growing one Indigo, two Tobacco and three Coffee (her +1 bonus). Cathy got a Sugar, two Coffee, two Indigo and two Corn.  Sheila produced a Corn, two Sugar and two Indigo (with her Factory giving her two free Doubloons).  After harvesting one Corn, two Indigo and one Sugar, I also reveled in receiving two bonus coins from my own Factory.

Looking for a make work project, Sheila picked the Builder and cobbled together a pre-fab Tobacco Plant.  Everyone else passed.  I then took the Settler, motivated more by the accumulated money then the actual Plantations.  Concerned about the expense of java production, Cheryl got some Sugar to go with her Coffee.  Cathy kept bumping up her Indigo and Tobaccy potential.  Sheila followed the trend and snagged an Indigo field.

Cheryl went with the Trader, selling one Coffee for a record seven Doubloons (five plus one for the role plus one for her Large Market)!  Cathy pawned her Sugar for two coinz.  Sheila got +1 for her own Market and earned two Doubloons for selling Indigo.  I salvaged a single coin for selling Corn thanks to my own Small Market.      

Cathy then up and picked the Captain, loading four Corn and collecting five big Victory Points!  Sheila packed three Sugar onto another boat.  Cheryl squeaked in a bit of Coffee.  I loaded some cargo onto Cathy's S.S. Cornball.  Despite her points windfall, Cathy confessed that she was expecting someone to have to courtesy to load some Indigo for her but it didn't happen.  She's forced to discard one after squirreling her two Coffee away.

With the Builder role, Cheryl got a deal on the Guild Hall, which would eventually give her Victory Points for occupied buildings.  Cathy passed.  Sheila bought a Large Warehouse for six bones.  I paid nine coins for a blockbuster Custom House, giving me a Victory Point for every four Veeps I already own.  Boo-ya!

Unable to resist the sparkle of gold, Cathy picked the Trader and scored five Doubloons for the sale of her Coffee.  Sheila closed the market with a sale, shutting out me and Cheryl.  She then followed this up with a Mayor-fueled job fair.  It was very well timed since she got one from the supply and two dudes from the Ship.  I was also lucky enough to get a 100% bonus in the drone department.  Seven replacement Colonists then went down on the Ship.  We the supply running dangerously low, we all began to suspect that End was Very Fucking Nigh.

Cheryl picked first, selecting the Captain.  This action was a tad early for her since she could only export a single Coffee (with a bonus point for taking the role).  Cathy mirrored this same action.  On the other hand, I was delighted to flood a fresh ship with four Indigo on board.  Sheila had absolutely nothing to move.  Cathy threw a last-minute Indigo onto my ship.

"That may not have been strategically wise," Cheryl observed after the fact.

Knowing that the game was almost over, Cathy looked to procure some eleventh-hour Victory Points with the Builder.  She optioned the Fortress, giving her a bonus Veep for every three Colonists.  Sheila didn't have a lot of Benjamins so she built a Construction Hut just for the halibut.  Since that was the only thing left on the board that I could afford, I was forced to pass.  Looking at her Production Buildings, Cheryl put together a Guild House.    

Keen on occupying her deserted buildings, Sheila took the Mayor and got two from the Ship and one from supply.  Cheryl and Cathy both get one Colonist and I was lucky enough to get a spare out of the deal.

With not enough Colonists to replenish the Ship, the game was over!

Here was the final score:

                         IN GAME VP'S       VP'S FROM BUILDINGS         BONUS VP'S             TOTAL 

ME                         20                                     14                                         5                        39
CHERYL                14                                      16                                         8                        38

CATHY                  20                                      12                                         5                        37

SHEILA                  16                                      15                                         0                        31

Wow, talk about yer close games!  As a side note, I recalculated the scores several times just to make sure I didn't fuck something up.

Post Game Comments

Me:  "That Custom House did not pay off for me as well as I thought it would.  Yeah, there's a lot of strategy, it's crazy."

Sheila:  "Well, having one (Doubloon) from all things (produced) really didn't help me at all either."  In defense of the Factory, Sheila might have purchased it a bit too late.  She also missed a couple of opportunities to take advantage of it.  Personally I loved the little cash windfall that my Factory provided on every other turn.  

Cathy:  "Next time, if I get to play this again in five years ('OooooOooo, was that directed at moi?') , I would build the Harbor.  Every time that a ship was cashed you get a point.  Because...look at how many times we cleared that slate."         

Cheryl: "Harbor with the Captain together, with a Victory Point with every delivery, would be pretty sweet.  You kinda have to pick your theme: what are you gonna do, right?  Are you going to get into production or the Trader or get into storing stuff and selling?  But I like the fact that you're always doing something, you don't have to sit around for eight hours waiting for your turn to come around."      


So, for it's variable strategies, inter-player dynamics and lack of luck and down time, I'm proud to give Puerto Rico a well-deserved Six Pips outta Six!    


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