Brutus rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: A refreshing rum cocktail such as a Dark ‘n Stormy or a Mojito.
Puerto Rico is an excellent job selection game (with some elements of worker placement) in which you play the part of a rich colonial governor on the island of Puerto Rico. Picture the scene: Dappled Caribbean light, the distant sounds of a bustling harbour, you sit in the mid-morning heat on the veranda wondering how best to get the ‘locals’ working twice as hard today, which silken suit and wig to wear tomorrow. Your job is to manage the island, its plantations, workers, buildings and trading of goods to far off places. Top notch mercantilism.
Unfortunately there are other players in the game each taking on the same role, and as a result each player has a personal board which depicts the island. It is there that you each do your managing, building, planting and harvesting, competing with everyone else’s versions of the island. However, the docks are shared by all, meaning that one must compete to ship goods and reap victory points. Usually this means taking it in turn to place goods on ships, or to block other players by taking a job first: in the misery farm lounge this can even include pinning your friend down so they physically can’t move their goods.*
A turn will consist of the player with the first person puck (in Puerto Rico’s case it’s the governor’s flags) selecting a job to perform during their turn. These are pretty self-explanatory, for instance the builder allows you to build (although this does get quite competitive later on in the game as there are only a finite number of a certain type of building). Once the player who picked the job has taken the action, each subsequent player will have a chance to use it as well. The player who chose it first will have a bonus that comes with the job which the other players may not use/receive, for instance picking the builder first will enable the first user to build at the cost of one less doubloon. Once everyone has happily built some things, it moves on to the next person to pick a job.
The moral of the story is that there is a great deal to be gained from picking a job first. It’s almost worth trying to stare-out the other players in an attempt to make them question the consequences of picking the job you realllllly wanted. Maybe even slyly announce general threats ‘Gee I sure hope no-one picks the Captain because I’ve been polishing my buckles for days, if I didn’t’ get to wear them for some reason I’m not sure what I would do’ (pause for dramatic effect while gazing off into the distance). For jobs like the craftsman, which allows you to produce the goods you are farming in order to be shipped at a later stage, picking it first allows you to produce extra of any one of your goods. This means more victory points if you manage to ship it.
However the general rule of ‘more goods is always better than fewer’ is often not the case in this game. This is due to two factors, the first is because there are only 3 ships in the docks that may ship only one type of good on each. When the Captain job is picked this means that going by turn order each player can place only one type of good of any quantity (there are five in total) onto a ship. Once a ship has that type, then only the same type can be added to it. Once a ship is full then you cannot add any more goods, which often leaves you with a big pile of resources. This is where the second factor comes in – at the end of a job phase you can only keep two items of goods. Everything else is thrown in the sea, probably as some sort of bribe to Poseidon to keep the trade network running efficiently. As a result even if you’re producing lots of goods, running well-maintained plantations and well-populated island, grabbing the Captain job first is really where it’s at.
There are a fair few number of strategies for the game that avoid a heavily shipping-based approach though, which is nice for those of us who don’t want to continuously grab the same damn card throughout an entire game. The Trader job is a nice option that involves selling your goods instead of shipping them, meaning doubloons instead of victory points. Doubloons can then be thrown at some buildings which are worth victory points, or have special abilities. The trader post however will only allow the sale of one type of each good, so be vigilant. Again, some good scare tactics come into the ring here as other players may have the same type of good as you want to trade and get there first, leaving you, your lonely barrel of sugar and some misery**. You may also wish to attempt to sneakily trade something that hasn’t been traded yet.
‘Briony do you want to trade anything?’
‘Well, you’ve just traded the sugar, and I’ve only got sugar left to trade with, so fuck you.’
‘Is there a free space for Pete’s phone? How much money would I get on the market for that? I bet it’s more than a barrel of coffee.’
‘Well the rules do say that you can’t trade the same type of good… what am I saying, that’s my phone, we can’t open the doors to creating new resources from whatever is lying around. The living room floor would become a fucking treasure trove.’
‘Good point. It’d re-write history. The British Empire was actually funded by several sweet wrappers, some empty beer bottles and a TV remote.’
Trader may be handy for getting rid of left-over goods that would otherwise go in the sea but The Prospector job gives you money in a more direct way if it’s straight-up cash you want. If you do want a heavily shipping-based approach it’s much easier to grow diverse goods so there is a greater chance of shipping most of them. Another viable trick with this is to Captain first, put the good that no one else has on the biggest ship, and then watch everyone be angry. You’ve effectively taken up a whole fucking ship for one barrel of coffee, guaranteeing you victory points and barring anyone else from shipping their large stockpiles of goods. How very British of you.
Your first run through of the game is going to be a steep but fun learning curve. Subsequent play-throughs will actually get more fun as you experiment with new strategies, and work out how those interact with other player’s strategies. Honestly, you could play this game 100 times honing one single strategy and it would feel like a new game each time because of how much the other player’s interactions affect your game***. That actually sounds kind of terrifying to Briony as someone who deeply enjoys being left the fuck alone in her own little corner of the game, but it’s great fun, simple to learn, fast paced, and nicely-themed throughout.**** A game of Puerto Rico is always reliably good, like a fine spiced rum. Enjoy it, and keep enjoying it for many years to come.
*We probably don’t recommend this method because it can often lead to no one wanting to play with you anymore. The Misery Farm get away with it because we have no choice but to continue playing with one another.
** This might be someone’s idea of a good evening in all fairness.
*** In fact, three of our friends actually played this twice a night for 6 weeks. They still love it. Now that is the mark of a good board game.
**** Sometimes, in fact, it is a little uncomfortably on-theme. The workers in this game are little brown cubes which arrive by boat. Yes really.