The ABCs of Gaming: P is for…

Continuing the ABCs of Gaming, and we’ve reached the Ps.  This one was interesting because the top three games collectively took in 78.5% of the vote.  However, there was a clear winner.  P is for…

image by BGG user Werbaer

Puerto Rico was first published in 2002 by alea and designer Andreas Seyfarth.  It’s published by Rio Grande in the US.  The game is for 3-5 players aged 12 and up that takes 90 minutes to play.  It has your typical Euro theme – you’re a plantation owner on the island of Puerto Rico, and you are producing goods to sell for money or ship for points.  Despite the bland theme, however, the game has been consistently popular for ten years now.  It has incredibly clean and unique mechanisms, very smooth gameplay, and still sets the standard for what a good Eurogame should be.  It has consistently remained at the top of the BGG rankings (currently sitting behind only Twilight Struggle and Agricola), and won the P poll with 31.9% of the vote.

image by BGG user FortyOne

In the box, you’ll find five player boards, a general game board, one governor tile, 8 role tiles, 49 building tiles, 54 cardboard doubloons, 58 island tiles (50 plantations and 8 quarries), a trading house, a colonist ship, 5 cargo ships, 100 small brown discs that represent colonists (more on that later), 50 goods cylinders, and 50 VP chips.  If you’re playing a 3-4 player game, you’ll remove some VPs and colonists, as well as 1-2 prospector roles.  The first two players in turn order (three in a five player game) get an indigo plantation, while the others get corn.  All remaining plantation tiles are mixed face down.  As many colonists as there are players get placed on the colonist ship, and one more plantation tile than there are players is turned face up.  You’ll also use the 4-6 space cargo ships in a three-player game, 5-7 with four, and 6-8 with five.

Puerto Rico is played in rounds.  In each round, the first player (the one with the governor tile) chooses a role, which everyone in player order will then have a chance to use.  Then the player to the governor’s left chooses a role, and so on until all players have gotten an opportunity to choose a role.  The governor card then passes to the left, beginning a new round.  Any roles that were not chosen in the previous round (there will be three) get a doubloon, thus making them more valuable in future rounds – if you take a role with doubloons on them, you keep the money.

When a role is chosen, every other player will get to take advantage of whatever that role does.  However, the person who chose the role gets a small bonus, which means that most of the strategy in this game has to do with choosing the right roles at the right time.  Here are your options:

  • Settler – The Settler allows each player to take one of the face up plantation tiles (corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, coffee).  This will go on your player board one of 12 provided spaces.  It doesn’t matter where it goes, and you can reorganize whenever.  However, once your island is full, you can’t add any more, and you can’t remove tiles.  The bonus for choosing this role is that you can instead take a quarry, which gives you a discount with the Builder role.
  • Builder – The Builder allows you to buy one building by turning in as many doubloons as it requires.  Each building has a cost (shown inside one of the circles on the tile) and a VP value.  Again, it doesn’t matter where you place the buildings, and you can feel free to shuffle them around.  You just can’t remove them.  The bonus for choosing the role is that you get one doubloon knocked off the price.  Each quarry you have also takes one doubloon off the cost, but you can only use a certain number of quarries depending on the building.  The Small Warehouse, for example, can only use one quarry for a discount, while the Town Hall can use up to four.
  • Mayor – The Mayor allows you to occupy plantations and buildings with colonists, taken from the ship.  The player who chose the role gets one from the supply (which is their bonus), then takes one from the colonist ship. Each player in turn order then takes a colonist until the ship is empty.  You can then distribute the colonists into empty circles on your tiles.  Note that buildings and plantations are essentially useless unless occupied – buildings don’t provided their benefits, and plantations don’t produce goods.  Once colonists have been distributed, each player counts the number of empty building circles they have, and that’s the number of colonists that get added to the ship (the minimum is the number of players).
  • Craftsman – The Craftsman produces goods for everyone, and the player that chose it gets an extra good of their choice of a type they produced.  You can only produce a good if you have an occupied plantation and an occupied processing plant of that type (the exception is corn – you only need an occupied plantation for that.
  • Trader – The Trader allows you to sell one good for cash.  Corn sells for 0, indigo sells for 1, sugar sells for 2, tobacco sells for 3, coffee sells for 4.  The bonus for picking the role gets you an extra doubloon.  However, there’s a catch – you can only sell a good that has not already been sold.  Goods are placed in the Trading House, which has four spaces.  If the good you want to sell is already in the Trading House, you can’t sell it.  Goods will remain in the Trading House until it is full, and then it gets cleared out at the end of the round.  You can start selling there again the next time the Trader is selected.
  • Captain – The Captain allows you to ship goods on one of three ships.  Only one type of good can go on each ship, and each type of good can only be on one ship.  Each good you send to a ship gets you one point, and you get one (and only one) bonus point if you ship and you’re the one who chose the Captain.  You can’t ship goods to a ship that is full, but if you can ship something, you have to.  After everyone has shipped all that they can, each player must discard down to one goods barrel (their choice).  All others get dumped overboard.  Like with the Trading House, goods remain on ships until the ship is full.
  • Prospector – The Prospector is the only role that can’t be used by everyone.  The player who chose it gets one doubloon.  Prospectors are not used in the three-player game, one is in the four-player game, and two are in the five-player game.

The game will go until one of three conditions is met – there aren’t enough colonists to fill the colonist ship, all VP chips are gone, or one player has filled all 12 of their building spaces.  You finish the round so everyone has had a chance to choose a role, and the game ends.  Add up your VP chips, your points from buildings (which do not have to be occupied to score points), and bonuses from large buildings (which do have to be occupied for the bonus).  The winner is the one with the most points.

Puerto Rico holds a special place in my heart as the first complex Euro I played after getting into the hobby.  It was #1 at BGG when I got my copy for Christmas 2007.  As time has gone by, I haven’t played it much recently, but I continue to marvel at how clean it is.  It’s very intuitive and easier to understand than it seems at first.  There is very little luck – really, it’s only the plantations that provides any randomness.  In fact, some people argue that it’s solvable for this reason.  I think that’s stupid, because you’re not taking into account the human element.  People are not robots, everyone is free to play as they wish.  People who complain when someone does the less than optimal move (or something that screws up their own plans) need to learn to adjust – life is not scripted.  Nevertheless, it is a game that you should play with people at or near your own skill level.  The joke is that you always want to sit on a newbie’s left in this game.

A big deal has been made about the historical whitewashing of this game.  The “colonists” are little brown discs, prompting some people to call them slaves.  It’s a valid point, I suppose – you can’t just look past that period in history, and it’s entirely possible that alea/Ravensburger made the change to make the game a little more family friendly.  However, I’m not that much of a conspiracy theorist.  Colonist is fine with me.  In my house, there’s a bigger controversy over tobacco.  My wife insists on calling it chocolate.

Puerto Rico was my choice for the most essential P game, but had either of the other big three (Power Grid and Pandemic) won, I still would have been happy.  Here’s a look at the also-rans for P.

  • Power Grid (23.5%): Funkenschlag came out in 2001, but it was the 2004 version (called Power Grid) that took the world by storm.  It was #2 at BGG when I first joined, and still remains in the top 5.  Friedemann Friese has created a classic game of powering cities.  I usually don’t like auctions in games, but it works well here.
  • Pandemic (23.1%): The cooperative genre was not new in 2008, but Matt Leacock’s Pandemic definitely redefined and reinvigorated the genre.  It’s the standard cooperative games are held to, even now.  It’s a very fun and tense game, and I think it’s a really good gateway to the hobby.
  • The Princes of Florence (4.8%): A big drop off to this 2000 game designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich.  It was the fourth game in the legendary alea Big Box line.  I haven’t played, but have seen it in action, and it looks kind of bland.  It’s still #26 at BGG, so I should give it a look sometime.
  • Paths of Glory and PitchCar (3.9% each): Paths of Glory is a 1999 wargame from Ted Raicer and GMT.  It’s pretty amazing that a 13 year old wargame is still in the top 25 at BGG and remains the highest ranked wargame (if you don’t count Twilight Struggle or War of the Ring).  PitchCar is a 1995 dexterity racing game designed by Jean du Poël.  You flick your cars around a track, trying to beat your friends.  I’ve only played once, and it was fun.  I’d like to play some more with different track configurations.
  • Other (3.5%): Nominees include Palastgeflüster, Palazzo, Pantheon, Panzer Grenadier, PanzerBlitz, Panzergruppe Guderian, Patton’s Best, Pergamon, Perry Rhodan, Pirate’s Cove, Pit, Pocket Civ, Pokémon TCG, Poker, Princess, Puzzle Strike, and Pylos.  Of those, I’ve played Pergamon on (I’d like to try it in real life), Pirate’s Cove (wasn’t a fan), Pit (not my thing), Poker (I like watching it on TV, but I don’t like playing it), and Puzzle Strike (I prefer Dominion).
  • Pillars of the Earth (2.9%): The Pillars of the Earth was designed by Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler, came out in 2006, and was one of the early entries in the worker placement movement.  The game is pretty fun, and the novel it’s based on is pretty great.
  • Princes of the Renaissance (1.3%): A 2003 game by Martin Wallace that’s set in Renaissance Italy.  It features negotiation, auctions, and a Renaissance theme, so it’s not high on my want-to-play list.
  • Planet Steam (0.8%): Heinz-Georg Thiemann designed this massive 2008 steampunk game that didn’t get wide recognition.  This may have been due to its size and price.  It might be interesting to try sometime.
  • Power Grid: Factory Manager (0.5%): This 2009 game designed by Friedemann Friese was a sequel of sorts to Power Grid, but though it was thematically related, it was nothing like the original.  And though it’s fairly highly rated, it’s not nearly as popular as its predecessor.  I can probably do without playing it.

That’s the list.  See you next time for the Qs.  Thanks for reading!


  1. Damn right its Puerto Rico! What an incredible game. I love it. The fact that I have a very high win percentage also helps. 😉
    I bought the 10th anniversary edition not too long ago. If anyone out there does not won PR yet, I highly recommend it. Components are fantastic and it comes with 2 built in expansions to change things up.

    I’m glad PR is the P choice.. It definitely deserves it.

  2. No real controversy generated in our games at home but the tobacco/chocolate is a pet peeve of mine. I understand it is Puerto Rico, but I feel strongly that it ought to be oil.

    I’m currently playing you in Ponte del Diablo at Yucata (too early for a review of it I guess). I saw your link to the blog on there, it’s helpful since I am not too deep a gamer but want to get another game or two for playing at home this year.

    • I actually have never played Ponte del Diavolo, the one on Yucata will be my first game. Trying new things out. Glad you found the blog, and good luck to you!

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