Puerto Rico: The Ultimate Eurogame
The board game boom in the last decade was ushered in by the rise of eurogames: games designed for deep strategy with interesting mechanics, a de-emphasis on the role of luck, and tighter gameplay. Settlers of Catan kicked off the trend, and ever since games have been released which have tried to master the elegance of game design. And since them many have come very close, including 2002’s Puerto Rico.
For the last decade, Puerto Rico has maintained its position as one of the greatest eurogames ever made. It is consistently near or at the top of the BoardGameGeek top rankings. Its reputation is still one of high critical acclaim. And I will even argue here in this review that it is the best of the Euro bunch.
Eurogames have been hindered lately by certain negative criticisms, they most common of which are that they are dry, they have disconnected themes, and there is very little player interaction. These criticisms are not valid against Puerto however. It is a game full of life where every action you take affects the people around you. The game is a clock, with all pieces working together to make a great gaming experience.
In Puerto Rico, you are a plantation owner trying to produce five different goods and ship them back to Europe. To do so, you must rotate through a series of different roles. However, once you pick a role, everyone is able to take that action, you just get a bonus for choosing it. This role selection ties all the players together and avoids the “multi-player solitaire” aspect of other eurogames.
Through these various roles, players will plant crops, produce goods, and ships these goods overseas for victory points. However, they will also have to manage their colonist workers and buy buildings to help their enterprise run more effectively. And though it may seem like all of these parts may get fiddly, they actually weave together like a rich tapestry with the whole being better than the sum of its parts.
Puerto Rico is a game with a variety of strategies available to employ which gives this game lots of replayability. The buildings that you chose to buy with usually direct the strategy you choose. You may decide to focus on heavy exporting, fill up your island with crops, or build up your bank account and have a full, bustling town. Choosing your strategy and then trying to pull it off makes PR endlessly enjoyable and has ensured its status as a classic for over ten years.
It should be noted that the edition I am reviewing is the tenth anniversary limited special edition. Which, for your information, is gorgeous. There are a lot of pits and parts to Puerto Rico, but they all have a different design which makes them easy to keep organized. There are tiles for the roles, crops and buildings, all of which are high quality cardboard with just enough illustration so as not to be distracting. The ship tiles are also shaped as ships, which adds a lot to the theme and adds to the overall aesthetic.
The goods bits are shaped as old-timey shipping packages which look great and have wonderful colours, except for the sugar shipments which were left as natural wood colour instead of white. The colonists are cylindrical and easy to place on their board spots. Their brown colour has caused some controversy about the assumption that they are slave labour, but this argument only gains credence if you lend it credence.
The boards are functional and beautiful with the island landscape and colonial port of San Juan painted on each. And then there’s the coins, which are actual metal coins shaped as doubloons which really elevate this to a high class production. Overall, this tenth anniversary edition is stunning and the wonderful components add a lot to the flavourful theme of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is the Citizen Kane of board gaming. It is critically acclaimed and often assigned the moniker of best game of all time. But it is also accessible and fun to play. The plantation theme is heavily felt, thanks to the mechanic systems and the amazing components. The variety in strategies and interaction among players makes each game a challenging and pleasant experience.
There has been some complaints about Puerto Rico in terms of inexperienced players not “playing the game right” and messing up more experienced players. However, accounting for other players is an important part in competing to win, so if they are not playing by your rules, you have to adapt or lose. Personally, I have never experienced any problems with this complaint.
Puerto Rico is, in my opinion, the shining example of what a eurogame should be. It has the complexity in strategy without being overwhelming or feeling clunky. It provides a great experience for building an economic engine but also provides enough player interaction so as not to isolate you from those you are playing with. It has a strong theme without sacrificing from the central mechanisms behind this challenging gameplay. It is wonderfully crafted, beautifully designed, and one of the best games ever made.