Date: 12th March 2004
Game played: San Juan ( Rio Grande Games ) BGG Id: 8217

Hot off the press, San Juan arrived today so everyone was keen to see how it compared to Puerto Rico. The game certainly retains the flavour of its predecessor but I think succeeds in being different enough to stand up on its own merits.

The basic premise of the game is through card play to acquire victory points from the construction of buildings. The cards each depict a building with a construction cost and a VP value. The buildings come in two types: Production buildings (indigo, sugar, coffee, tobacco and silver), which allow you to produce and sell goods; and Violet buildings which grant the builder various advantages. The most expensive (cost of 6) buildings give bonus VPs at the end of the game and these are crucial. However, everything in the game is done through playing the cards. The construction cost of a building is paid for by discarding cards; the production of goods is done by placing a card on top of a production building; the income from selling a good is the drawing of cards into the hand. So, cards you want to build may require you discarding other cards you otherwise would like to keep. Judging what to discard and what to keep at each stage of the game is a key skill in doing well. As in Puerto Rico, the game is played over a number of rounds, with each player choosing a particular role for that round Everybody gets to carry out the action associated with that role, but the person choosing the role gets a privelige on top of the normal action. The game ends at the end of the building phase in which at least one player builds a twelfth building. Then, whoever has amassed the most ponts is declared the winner.

Some might suggest that the luck of the draw makes this a less worthy game than Puerto Rico, but I feel it is the judgement involved, in deciding whether to hang on to a crucial card or to adjust one’s strategy based on the cards you draw, that makes the game different. In our game, Mark G decided to build lots of Production Buildings and the Guild Hall, which gives a bonus of 2 VPs for each Production Building. I concentrated on Violet buildings and the City Hall, which gave 1 bonus VP per Violet building. Nige went for the Victory Arch, which gave bonuses for the different monuments built. Unfortunately, he only picked up one kind of monument throughout the game. Mark K also concentrated on violet buildings but failed in the latter stages of the game to pick up a City Hall card to secure the violet bonus. He and I did build the final ‘6’ building, however, - the Palace, which gives 1 VP for every 4 VPs you have at the end of the game. Nige also built the other source of bonus VPs, the Chapel, which allows you to place one card per round in the Chapel for an extra VP. This gave him an extra 7 points, but tended to leave him short of cards in hand to do other things. I managed to get a nice combination of violet buildings fairly early on that set me up well in the later stages. Building the Prefecture on the first turn gave me a big advantage early on, as I was picking up two cards in each Councillor phase and cards are hard to get hold of at the beginning. This saw me able to build regularly and with the bonuses ensured I came out on top.

I liked San Juan a lot. It’s not Puerto Rico but the game plays differently and there is more urgency as people race to get buildings down quickly. It is also simpler to explain and this could mean a wider audience being prepared to give it a try. I certainly want to play again soon.

Mark G
Mark K

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