#5 ASBS, Puerto Rico card game, English language edition
List Price: $29.95
Your Price: $23.99
(Worth 2,399 Funagain Points!)
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from 19 customer reviews
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Puerto Rico's golden age returns -- through you! Players travel now to the capital city of this beautiful island. Who will build the most important buildings? Players build palaces, poor houses, silver smelters, gold mines, and many others -- each with its own special features. The cleverest player will build well and win!
As with the board game, players choose roles which can help all players, but the choosing player gets a special privilege with the role chosen. Players build buildings, produce and sell goods, and so on. The game is based on Puerto Rico, but different enough to give players new challenges and opportunities for fun and enjoyment.
San Juan first appeared in 2004, and remains an outstanding, tried and true card game even by today's standards. Some eight years after its initial release, it continues to hold up well even in the midst of an increasingly crowded and strong field of card games. Its initial positive reception was undoubtedly enhanced by the fact that it was standing on the shoulders of the euro giant Puerto Rico. As a card game based on the most popular boardgame at the time, there was never going to be any doubt that there was a ready market willing to lap up a card game version of what was arguably the most popular strategy game of the day. Of course, San Juan had to live up to the hype, and it did. Even though it's a much lighter game than Puerto Rico, the role selection mechanic made a smooth transition to a card game, and using cards as currency, goods, and as buildings proved to be a streamlined system that worked well. Sacrificing some of depth of its much-loved big brother came with the advantage of quick game-play, especially with two players, and it's no surprise that even today San Juan is one of the top-ranked games from the 2004 crop of games.
So how does it work? Players use a shared deck of 110 cards, which feature a variety of buildings on them, each of which gives you special abilities and earns you points. Game-play is determined by Puerto Rico's role-selection mechanic, where a player chooses from one of five available roles (Builder, Producer, Trader, Councillor, Prospector). On a player's turn, he chooses a role and carries it out (getting a small bonus for choosing it), and then the other players carry out the same role in turn order. You can construct buildings by playing them from your hand, and paying their cost by discarding the appropriate number of other cards from your hand. In addition to buildings that will reduce your building costs (e.g. Quarry, Smithy), or generally make your economic engine more efficient in a variety of ways, there are also production buildings which let you produce goods (using the Producer role), which you can then sell to draw cards (using the Trader role). The game ends when a player has built 12 buildings, at which point the player with the highest score wins!
There's a lot to like about San Juan. It captures the essence of Puerto Rico, but boils it down to a shorter playing time and with a lighter feel, by removing elements such as colonists and a separate currency, and adding cards and the aesthetic beauty of Franz Vohwinkel's artwork. The fact that it's a card game means that there is an element of luck of the draw, but this forces you to make constant decisions about which cards to build or discard, and keeps each game fresh and different by forcing you to adjust your strategy based on the cards you get. There's also a lot of room for skilful play - while hand management is particularly important, it needs to be combined with clever use of role selection, as well as trying to string together a series of buildings that will magnify their usefulness. The role-selection mechanic also ensures a healthy degree of interaction that requires you to keep a close eye on what your opponents are doing, without ever becoming nasty or directly confrontational. Unlike it's older brother Puerto Rico, San Juan has the advantage of being especially good with just 2 or 3 players, and the two player game is particularly satisfying. While it doesn't match the intensity of its board game ancestor, San Juan should be evaluated as an independent package, and as such it's a streamlined game that provides fast and addictive gameplay, avoids complexity, and has a high degree of replayability. Highly recommended!
What is good about it?
The only drawback to this game that I can see is that I am now hesitant to introduce new players to this game, since the old players are practicing a highly optimized strategy based on many previous game sessions.
If you're looking for something portable, interactive, thoughtful, quick and fun, without being too deep or complex, then this is just right.
This is a light "Euro" that has sacrificed almost nothing to reach an audience that might not have the time or patience for a heavier game. Highly replayable and highly recommended.