Hat tip to Matthew Leach, who covers the Cardinals for mlb.com, for pointing out that The Roots’ new album, How I Got Over, is just $5 as an mp3 download on amazon.com (through that link). No idea how long it will last – the Arcade Fire sale was supposed to last one day but amazon extended it at least through the end of that week.
I’ve been promising a writeup of the game Puerto Rico for about six months now, but up until a few days ago didn’t feel like I’d played it enough to offer an informed take. The significance of the last few days is that I discovered the site Tropic Euro (two points to anyone who gets the reason for that name), a very slick Java-based application that allows you to play Puerto Rico against bots or live opponents. With a three-person game involving two bots running about 11-12 minutes for me, it’s been a nice way to take a quick break from packing as well as a way to get more familiar with why BoardGameGeek users rate Puerto Rico as the #1 board game of all time.
The goal in Puerto Rico is to amass Victory Points* by producing and shipping goods from your “island” back the mother country and/or by constructing buildings, especially one of the five large buildings that provide bonus points at the end of the game based on what else you’ve accomplished. Your island is a board with spaces for twelve plantations and twelve buildings; the plantations, which are free, can grow one of five crop or house a quarry that reduces the cost of any building by one doubloon. Corn is the least valuable crop, with a trade value of zero, but doesn’t require a processing building; coffee is the most valuable crop for trading but you can’t produce more than two units per turn.
*One thing you have to get used to when playing German-Style board games is that even a fairly concrete game concept, the goal is nearly always the abstract victory points. Completing certain tasks, building specific buildings, or shipping goods earns you points, but the assignment of points to deeds can feel a little arbitrary. I’ve just learned to accept it for each game and move on.
Buildings come in three types: Production buildings, for processing any of the four crops beyond corn; small buildings, each of which grants you a few victory points and some special privilege on every turn; and large buildings, which offer no in-game benefits but can provide significant bonuses after the game ends. Every building and plantation must be manned by a colonist, but their supply is limited, especially early in the game.
In each round, each player chooses a role, with options including the mayor (obtaining colonists), the settler (choosing plantations), the builder (obvious), the craftsman (producing goods), the trader (each player can put one good on the trading ship, as long as another good of that type isn’t already there), the captain (shipping goods for points), and, in larger games, the prospector (take a doubloon). Every player gets to utilize the roles chosen by other players, but the player who chooses a specific role gets an extra privilege, such as producing one additional good of his choice. Roles that go unselected are worth an extra doubloon in the next round.
The complex and slightly crazy part of Puerto Rico is that shipping round. There are five goods that players can produce, but there are only three ships available to take goods to the mainland, and a ship can only hold goods of one type. When a player chooses the shipper, all players must ship all of their goods; if there’s no room, most of their goods spoil and are lost with no compensation. (There are large and small warehouses that a player can buy and man to protect some of his goods.) The ships empty at the end of a round and only when they’re full.
Every good shipped is worth a victory point, and in the later rounds a player could easily ship five goods or more in a single shipping phase, especially if he’s the shipper and can place his goods first. Since points from shipping can easily be around 40% of a winning score, possibly more, there are a host of considerations behind the set of decisions of what goods to produce, how much to produce, and when to ship them, and those decisions also include considering what your opponents plan to produce and what they have on hand. A well-timed decision to choose the shipper role can grab you six points while spoiling goods for several of your opponents.
That’s what makes Puerto Rico a great game, and I’m going to assume it’s why the geeks over at BoardGameGeek have it at the top of their rankings: The decisions each player has to make are rich and complex and depend on potential future moves from both the player and his opponents. Just choosing a role means weighing four or five variables – money, colonist supply, the shipping situation, production potential, and what your opponents will do with this role if you choose it … or what someone else will do with the role if you don’t. Given the game’s complexity, it’s surprising that it works as smoothly as it does, and I think the only truly difficult part of Puerto Rico is setting the game up and putting it away.
It is, however, the most complex game I’ve reviewed on the dish so far, so I can’t just tell you that, say, if you love Settlers of Catan or Stone Age, you should try Puerto Rico. It would be more fair to say that if you’re looking for a more involved game than those two – both among our favorites – you should try Puerto Rico, not just because I recommend it but because the consensus of the boardgaming world is that it’s the best game out there.
Back to Tropic Euro, I’ve found that the software works very well; I’ve had occasional trouble logging on, where the main window was blacked out, but closing and restarting the app solved it. It offers PR expansions, swaps the prices of the Factory and University buildings (per the original boardgame’s designer’s suggestion), and the AI moves quickly and pretty logically, enough to punish me for making rookie mistakes. The app’s author, Chris Gibbs, says on the site that there will be a “hard” AI option available in the next week or so.
I’ve previously reviewed San Juan, the card game variant of Puerto Rico; while it’s consistent with the theme, it is a massively simplified game. I enjoy San Juan in its own right, but it’s just a different experience.
Posting here will be sporadic over at least the next seven days as we pack and await the moving vans. I should have at least one ESPN chat either this week or next, and both ESPN and dish blogging will become more frequent by the week of September 20th. If you’ve emailed me or asked me a question in any forum without receiving a response, I apologize, and I hope you understand.