Monday, February 4, 2013

The Protectorate Of Game Night: "Puerto Rico"

Even though Chad was on tour this past week with his fellow Chippendale dancers, Andrew still wanted to proceed with a four-player game of Rex.  Unfortunately, Dean was also forced to drop out at the last minute when his syphilitic blindness flared up.  Now with only three players left, we were forced to scramble around in order to keep game night intact.

Andrew volunteered to host, but since my place was in a semblance of order, I suggested that he and Mike come to my place.  While I was waiting for them to arrive, I thought about games that were good for three-players that would take a minimum amount of effort to table.  I already had Descent: Second Edition set up, so I immediately threw that out as an option.

But when Mike mentioned that he'd never played Puerto Rico and he really wanted to try it, we quickly switched focus to that city-building Andreas Seyfarth Euro-classic.  This turned out to be a wise move, since my infinitely better half Cheryl decided to join in, making it a four way.  Game!  A four-way  *Ahem*, you know what I mean.

I'd characterize my strategy this time out as "completely devoid of strategy".  I started the game with a random Indigo Plantation and then snagged some Coffee, because fuck you, that's why.  Hey, it was  either Coffee, Tobacco or Sugar so I just went with the thing that I can't live without in real life.  This, of course, necessitated the construction of a Coffee Roaster and an Indigo Plant.  I was also quick to take the Captain Role early on.  This gave me some quick Victory Points, but certainly not enough to outpace my rivals.

I also bought a Small Market mainly because I had few Doubloons that were burning a hole on my coin purse.  Around mid-game I requisitioned a Small Warehouse to serve as storage.  In an arguably ill-conceived plan to diversify, I also added Tobacco and Corn to the production mix, which inspired the construction of a Tobacco Storage facility.  Even with the Warehouse, I lost several bushels of 'Baccy to dockside spoilage after Mike picked the Captain role at a time that was optimal for him but considerably less so for me.  In the immortal words of Jar Jar Binks: "How 'wude!"

During the end game, I was forced to settle for a Residence after Mike snapped up my first choice: the Fortress.  This left me scrambling for some desperate, last-minute, Hail Mary pointage which came in the form of a vacant Sugar Mill and an afterthought Quarry.

For his first game, Mike acquitted himself very nicely.  As with any new player to the game, it took him a few turns to absorb the unique flow of this brilliant game.  After grasping the whole one-for-one *slash* occupied-Plantation-to-occupied-matching-facility dynamic he was soon knockin' out a nice spectrum of raw materials including Indigo, Corn and a metric shit-ton of Sugar.

Because he'd produced such a wide variety of stuff at such a quick rate, he got burned pretty badly by some early spoilage.  He quickly compensated by building a Large Warehouse.  An early Quarry also paid dividends, reducing Mike's tentative building expenses to something more manageable.

Although one might be tempted to discount his success as beginners luck, Mike's a very quick study who can switch strategies on a dime if required.  The first time he saw me clock some extra Doubloons via the Small Market, he immediately did me one better by building the Larger variety.  He was also quick to see the value inherent in the highly lucrative Factory.  Pretty soon my boy was swimmin' in cash, Scrooge McDuck style.  

With his building expenses reduced to virtually nothing and coin rolling in from a multitude of sources, Mike could buy ten point Buildings as if they were penny candy.  His first acquisition was the Fortress, giving him a Victory Point for every three Colonists.  Even though he didn't have enough time to occupy the City Hall he procured n his very last turn, he did get four last minute Victory Points out of the deal.

Andrew's strategy was the complete opposite of mine in the sense that he actually had a strategy.  It started early with a Monsanto-like run on Corn, which requires no refinery.  Right off the bat, this gave him some shippable product to net some early Victory Points.

He continued to diversify with some valuable Coffee and Tobacco and a pair of matching production facilities.  Andrew's timing with shipping goods via the Captain was considerably more adept then mine.  Often I'd catch him glancing around the table, trying to determine how to best to ensure a ship-board monopoly.  He was so busy doing deliveries that he didn't even bother to invest in any spoilage insurance.  

One of his more astute early moves was to buy a Factory, giving him a kick-ass cash bonus for producing different types of goods.  This gave him plenty of capitol to realize his strategy, which eventually saw him secure a private ship via the Wharf and a Victory Point bump for deliveries courtesy of the Harbor.

Although Cheryl sniped the only Large Building that could have helped helped him in the end, Andrew had already amassed so many in-game Victory Points that there was a shortage of five-point denominations.

Cheryl took the same zen-like, leaf-in-the-river, "whatever happens, happens" approach to the game as I did.  She quickly set up a stellar Coffee, Indigo and Corn enterprise and but lost a bit to spoilage before constructing a Small Warehouse.

Although quick to establish a Large Market, Cheryl was habitually denied some early lucrative sales when her persistently annoying opponents kept selling to the Trading House before she could.  She tried to rectify this by building not one but two Offices, but this was fairly late in the game and she only managed to get one of them staffed.

She did manage to play the part of spoiler, however, by "yoink"-ing the Customs House (one bonus Victory Point for every four chips already earned) right out from underneath Andrew.  Both Mike and I voiced our approval for this since in almost called into question Andrew's one-sided dominance of the game thus far.

At the end of the game, the pickin's on the main Game Board were lookin' frightful slim.  


Victory Point Chips

Andrew...35 (!!!)



Bonus Victory points from Large Buildings




I've already raved at length about Puerto Rico so I won't presume to do it here again.  It's even fun to play the game unfocused and experiment with avenues as they appear.  

Here are a few Puerto Rico tips from yer humble author:
  1. Have a strategy.
  2. To ensure that the Buildings you procure dovetail with your emerging tactics review their special abilities constantly.
  3. Corn can give you a quick Victory Point jump since it doesn't need to be processed.  Just ask your digestive system.  
  4. Don't underestimate the potential cost reduction that comes from the occupation of Quarries.
  5. Before you pick a Role, make sure that your opponents won't benefit from its selection more then you will.
  6. If you can time the Craftsman and the Captain properly a Warehouse is superfluous and spoilage will be rare.  If you lean on this heavy shipping strategy, having access to your own private vessel via the Wharf is a no-brainer.    
  7. Remember, money in Puerto Rico is only a means to an ends.  Setting up more then one income bonus might be overkill.
  8. To wit, expensive commodities like Coffee might earn you more cheddar in the Trading house, but in the end it's worth the same same amount of Victory Points as the lowly Corn cob.  
  9. Pick the Prospector only when it's buried under a mound of Doubloons.
  10. It's good to diversify but don't feel the need to produce every single type of good.  If you opt for the later approach, a Large Warehouse is advisable and the Factory is a must-buy.   
Addendum: while doing research for this post I came across some recently-minted rules which are meant to address game balance issues that I wasn't even aware of.  Both of them actually make sense to me and I may institute them on future plays...
  1. The prices of the Factory and University buildings should be swapped so that the Factory costs 8 doubloons and the University costs 7 doubloons.  The designer Andreas Seyfarth has said he would make this change if he were creating the game today.
  2. Any players that start with a Corn Plantation should start with one Doubloon less than the players that start with an Indigo Plantation.
Both of these kinda make sense to me and I may give 'em a whirl next time out...


Looking for an excuse to say "In America, first you get the Sugar, then you get the power, then you get the weemen" in a social setting?  Pick up a copy of Puerto Rico from by clicking on the picture below and help support this here blog!  

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