One of the biggest complaints I hear about the more complex game of Puerto Rico is about how long it can be and how big a learning curve it has. I agree with that assessment and that is why I prefer to play the card game “San Juan”. San Juan is a fun card game for two to four players. The basic strategy involves building buildings that will in the end increase your victory points. The ultimate goal is to get the most victory points at the end of the game. Getting victory points though is a little more complicated than just playing a building card from your hand. There is a process you need to learn.
The game consists of 110 cards. All of these are different types of buildings. The basic ones will be used to produce a variety of resources. The thing you need to remember is that cards are not only buildings, but each is also a unit of money. So to build a building you need to spend cards from your hand. As you get to more advanced buildings the more they will cost. The good news though is there are basically four levels of buildings. The first level as I mentioned are the producers. The second level have special features which will be useful to you throughout the game, and are also worth victory points. The final two levels of buildings are each useless as far as functionality but they produce large amounts of victory points.
I am not going to get too in depth into all the different types of buildings and mechanics of trading, earning cards, etc. Each of the first two levels of buildings do something different and these could take pages to describe and listing them would bore you to death. Instead I’ll explain how each round works. The first person starts by choosing a role and it goes around to the next player on the left to choose a role and this continues until everyone has a role card. Something to remember is everyone gets a chance to perform the role that round, but the person that has the card gets a bonus ability since they chose the role. I will try to give you a brief explanation of each role.
The builder role allows you to play one of your cards in your hand as a building and use other cards in your hand to pay for it. The person that has this role will spend one unit less than normally required to build their building. A producer role allows you to use your building to produce goods. The person with this role will be allowed to produce one extra good. A trader role allows you to “sell” your goods for cards. Each person is allowed to sell one good, but the person with the trader role gets to sell two goods. The Councillor role allows everyone to draw two cards and discard the one of the two they don’t want. The person with that role gets to draw five cards and keep the one they want discarding the rest. Okay, I lied, there is one role which does not allow everyone an action. That is the prospector role, whoever gets this role gets a free card and nobody else gets one for that role.
You will notice as I said I’m not going into all the specifics of the rules, this is because there is a learning curve and it is easier to learn as you play. Reading a long set of rules without trying the game will just confuse you. Anyways, a review shouldn’t just be a restating of the rules. My suggestion is to strategize what order you want to take your role cards. As you can see, certain roles have a logical order. Obviously you need a building first to produce goods, then you need to trade the good to get more money to build more goods. The question is how do you want to do this? Do you want to go step by step? Or do you want to use certain roles repetitively and hold off on others? Well obviously part of this is based on your strategy, and the rest is based on your opponent’s strategy. Remember, if they take the role you want before you do, you will still be able to participate in that action (except for the prospector role) but you will lose the bonus. The order people choose roles changes on every round.
As I stated earlier, at the end of the game your goal is to have the most victory points. This is accomplished by building the best buildings to meet your strategy. As you will see while playing there are certain times to build and certain times to wait, but in the end waiting too long could cost you. As the game goes on your choices will increase and make it easier to execute your strategies. This game will take on average fourty five minutes to an hour. It’s a great strategy game and I strongly recommend it. It will run around $20-25 which may seem a bit high for a card game but based on the complexity of the game and the replay value I feel it’s a very fair price.