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San Juan
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San Juan

#5 ASBS, Puerto Rico card game, English language edition

List Price: $29.95
Your Price: $23.99
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(Worth 2,399 Funagain Points!)

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Product Awards:  

Ages Play Time Players
10+ 45-60 minutes 2-4

Designer(s): Andreas Seyfarth

Manufacturer(s): Rio Grande Games, Alea

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Product Description

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.

Difficulty: 3/10

Product Awards

Spiel des Jahres
Recommended, 2004
International Gamers Awards
Best Strategy Game Nominee, 2004
Deutscher Spiele Preis
2nd Place, 2004

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Andreas Seyfarth

  • Manufacturer(s): Rio Grande Games, Alea

  • Year: 2004

  • Players: 2 - 4

  • Time: 45 - 60 minutes

  • Ages: 10 and up

  • Weight: 451 grams

  • All-Time Sales Rank: #111

  • Language Requirements: This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item. Game components are printed in English. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English.


  • 110 cards:
    • 42 production buildings
    • 68 violet buildings
  • 5 role placards
  • 5 trading house tiles
  • 1 score pad & pencil
  • rules
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Product Reviews


Average Rating: 3.8 in 19 reviews

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Why I love San Juan, and you should too
May 31, 2012

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!

EndersGame, BGG reviewer

One of the best games ever
August 03, 2005

San Juan joins Ra and Modern Art as one of the best games ever (in my opinion).

What is good about it?

  1. It plays very fast. People that know the rules can play it in about a half hour.

  2. It has high repeatability. We have played this game more than any other recently, and it is still capable of generating surprises.

  3. It has many paths to victory. Many games strive for different paths to victory, but most fail.

    I disagree with other reviewers here in that I think the cards are very very well balanced. Many times we have played a game of San Juan and then someone, after the game was over, complained that there was one obvious path to victory and it was just a matter of drawing the best cards-- that we had figured out the game.

    In the next game or two, however, someone else has come up with a way of exceeding the performance of the previous hot card combo. More importantly, it's always different people complaining about the card combo, and different people who come up with a better way to play. The balance of power has shifted in this game many times.

  4. Another reviewer said this game was not too deep and not too light, somewhere in the middle. I agree that it plays quickly and easily, but that the decisions are deep and interesting. This to me is not a bug but a feature-- easy and yet deep gameplay.

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.

by Roy L.
Just Right
June 05, 2005

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.

by A Gamer
San Juan
September 21, 2004
This is a great game. I'm surprised to see so few 5 stars ratings for it. I've played many other games, and this is one of the best. You are constantly forced to make tough decisions (I love that) about which cards to keep, and this encourages you to choose a strategy and stick to it. There is a lot of variety in the cards and in the strategies you can choose. I suspect this is one game we will eventually wear out from so much playing - then we will happily order a new replacement copy. My wife likes building up her little "colony" of buildings, and she also likes that there is very little "hurt your opponent" in this game. It's true there isn't a lot of direct player interaction. But you are always aware of what your opponent is doing, and you almost always have something you can do during other players' turns. Complaints about cost and "greedy publishers" are not fair. The artwork and components are high-quality. The game comes with a tall stack of cards, plus the governor and role tokens, plus the trading tokens, and a handy tray for them all. And it's fun with a lot of replay value. This game's a good buy compared to other games in its class. As for replay value, so far I have played this probably five times with my wife and once with a group of four. Each time it was very enjoyable, and when the game ended we were all left wanting it to go on longer. This game is fun the first time you play, but it gets even better as you keep playing more games. You get better at it, and subtle deeper aspects reveal themselves. I can only assume the 3 and 4 ratings are due to "sour grapes" - people who like the "heavy weight" Puerto Rico board game and expected San Juan to be the same. Well, obviously it's not the same game - it's a card game, probably aimed at more casual gamers (like me). I haven't played Puerto Rico, but I think I would prefer San Juan anyway because it's shorter and less involved. That's not to say that San Juan is a very lightweight game. There's more meat here than, say, Lost Cities, Bohnanza, Balloon Cup, or Carcassonne.. I would put it in about the same "weight" class as Settlers of Catan, and a little lighter than Tikal. If you are looking for a great 2-4 player game, get this game.
by A Gamer
Fast moving, many options
January 01, 2005

San Juan is an excellent card game, one that has replay value. I played a few hands last night (30-45 min each), and each time, I had to put a different thinking cap on to pick roles and build buildings that would be the most advantageous to the combination of cards that I was dealt.

There are many, many different types of cards, and you never know what will end up in your hand at any given time, so one needs to be flexible about what cards to play.

The game can be played with 2 players, but this is best for someone learning the game. The game is more interesting with 3 or 4 players.

A great substitute for Puerto Rico
December 24, 2004

San Juan is a great substitute for Puerto Rico, especially if you only have 2 players (although it can be played with more than 2 like it's big brother, in less time). Many of the activities are the same (governor, builder, producer) with a couple of new twists that you wonder why the makers of Puerto Rico didn't add to the big game. Many interesting twists that require attention during all turns, and excitement as the game nears the end as each player senses the end is near and tries to play their most important final "buildings" before time runs out.


First time's a charm
October 21, 2004
I played San Juan for the first time and I already have the impression it will become one of my favorites. As always, the components were well made and rules were (with a couple exceptions)well defined. I could start to see strategies develop as I played, as could my opponents who were less enthusiastic about the game mechanisms to start with. And I lost the game to my wife who complained that she didn't have as many buildings as the other players (2). But she did build a palace near the end and got a 25% point bonus to clip us. My initial impression: The Well and the Archive are reasonably powerful cards for the price cost. The smithy is a really nice card to have if you take the role of builder, and the chapel is very valuable since you can have 8 cards at the end of a round (as long as you put one under the chapel to start the next round). But the Library is the plum card. Wow, the ability to gain the same priveleges of the other players, or double your own! My one quibble with the rules being vague was with overbuilding cards using the crane. Once the card is overbuilt, do the victory points of the building(s) under it still count in the end? The Chapel has a rule note saying that all the cards under it still count one point each, even if the chapel is overbuilt. But does the chapel itself still yield violet building victory points? If, for example, you overbuild a sugar mill with an aqueduct, then put a tower on top of that, do you get 3 VP for the tower, 3 for the aqueduct, and 1 for the sugar mill, or just 3 for the top building (tower)? It seems to me the latter makes the most sense. Once we play it a few more times we won't have to refer to the rules as much and that should speed up the game a bit. Our first session lasted 1 1/2 hours instead of 45 minutes to an hour, as rated.
A spinoff, not a sequel, and a very good one
May 14, 2004

Like other reviewers, I am a huge Puerto Rico fan - it's probably my favorite of all the Eurogames. When I saw San Juan come out I had reservations, I've been around long enough to see one too many bad sequels (Caddyshack 2 comes to mind...). Fortunately, this game is much more spinoff than sequel, the same way 'Frasier' presented a familiar character from a different environment and succeeded by employing an alternate formula than that used in 'Cheers'.

For those who have played Puerto Rico and are on the fence regarding San Juan, these are my observations. First, the familiarity of the components makes the game simple to learn. You still have factories, you still produce goods, and you still sell and build. The similarity to Puerto Rico is an advantage to the Puerto Rico player; you already have a sense of how to play the game. And if that were it you'd just have a sequel. Fortunately, San Juan uses a differing mechanism for managing these roles - the cards themselves. San Juan, boiled down to its essence, is a card-management game. Everything is geared toward maximizing the number of cards in hand or improving your existing card set in play. The object of the game is to have the maximum number of victory points on the table the moment someone builds their twelfth structure, and managing your cards is the mechanism for reaching the objective. As another reviewer said, if this game were a stand-alone game it would excel without a reference to a predecessor. This game works because it takes great elements from Puerto Rico and successfully morphs them into a card game.

Concerning the price, I disagree with a previous reviewer. San Juan isn't going to be on the shelves of Wal-Mart anytime soon, it isn't going to be this year's 'gotta have' toy. It's a very good game in a niche market, and therefore will have higher production costs and profit margins associated with smaller production runs. And given that, twenty dollars is pretty cheap for a game of this quality. You'll spend more on dinner at the local Outback and probably not get the same value for the money spent. Plunk down your Jackson, this is a good investment that won't go to the waistline.

Not Puerto Rico, but still very good.
April 30, 2004

This is a fun, addictive little game, borrowing some of the mechanics from Puerto Rico, but being different enough to have its own flavor. It is much lighter than Puerto Rico, and does not have the strategic depth and complexity of the parent game, but it is easily learned, relatively quick to play, and entertaining.

April 26, 2004

Let's face it, the hype on best-selling Puerto Rico is largely justified. It is an excellent (if overplayed) game that gives players a real strategic ride with a lot of interesting decisions, great bits, rich theme, etc. So now a card game version of it comes out -- how could it be anything but a hit? But is this game what it should be? Or is it like Roger Clinton, shamelessly and undeservedly ride on the coattails of its big (wildly successful) brother?

Comparisons with the board game are inevitable, and that is the way it should be. When a publisher ties in a game with a hit, they better have enough to the new game to withstand that comparison. And San Juan handles it fairly well.

Players are still building production buildings to generate goods, and city buildings to builld a strategy upon, and selecting roles to get all these things done. Gone are the plantations themselves, the colonists, the actual smorgasbord selection of buildings, the very tight Puerto Rico version of the 'ship goods' phase, and the breadth of building choice. This game is quite a bit lighter than big brother. (The reviewer who calls it a 'beer-and-pretzels' version of Puerto Rico is on the money.) And yet the game is still quite fun to play.

The heart of turn decision is still choosing roles, but the roles have been altered slightly:

Prospector: Active player gains a card. Well, you need cards bad in this game, so this card is slightly more valuable than in PR.

Builder: Players may build a building. Active player may decrease building cost by one card. This is similar to PR and is an important role, especially since the Quarries from PR (which gave players building discounts) are not present in San Juan.

Councillor: Players may draw 2 cards and choose one to keep. Active player draws 5 cards total and chooses one to keep. And unless you want to be nearly completely at the mercy of drawing cards randomly, you'll need to choose then several time to find the buildings you like/need.

Producer: Player produce one good each. Active player produces two goods. Can be very valuable indeed, but since there are unlimited goods of each type, its not all that often that you actually get opportunities to really ice other players like in PR. And no colonists in SJ means as long as the building is not already holding a good, you can produce a good.

Trader: Players sell one good each. Active player may sell two goods. The prices vary from turn to turn which adds a bit more into the game, but unlike PR where players could really put the hammer down on certain players by careful timing of this action, in SJ it is a much friendlier exchange. If you have a good, you can sell it.

Since everything is now run out of a deck of cards, it was inevitable the game would get luckier and lighter. Now that colonists are not needed, building buildings are all you need to do to gain the abilities of the buildings (there goes a lot of the tension of juggling colonists), and there are fwer buildings types too making strategy less broard. Further, since buildings are now drawn out of a deck of cards, you may not even draw the buildings you want for your strategy, taking away another key part of strategy building in PR.

Cards in your hand not only are what you have available to build, but they are also the currency you pay with, which makes for a neat juggling act when you have several cards in your hand you want to build but building any of them would require you to use one or more of the others as currency. So careful planning is helpful in this regard.

The fewer (and less interesting) buildings make for a lighter game, and the fewer 'major' buildings (factory, university, wharf) and Bonus buildings, coupled with less tension in the roles as descibed above make the game a lot lighter and less taxing on the brain. Which is exactly what it was designed to do. And so in that sense, of being related to PR while not trying to be PR, I think it succeeded quite well. San Juan is not perfect: I personally don't think the Bonus buildings or LIbrary are very well balanced; I also think that the 2 player game is boring and requires the removal of several buildings to really work. However, it is a good card game, and very much a real game, and not just a ripoff of a standard card deck game. That is worth something. But it isn't PR exactly. And it is WAY too expensive. This game is a deck of cards and a scorepad, like SkipBo and Rummy. True there is mroe to it than the others, which is worth something, but still this game is wildly overpriced for the materials. Still, it is more interesting than more card games, and the publisher may well have decided the high price (and potential for fewer sales) would be offset by the 'Puerto Rico' heritage. I'd still rather play Puerto Rico (except oddly enough, with 3 players I prefer San Juan), but SJ certainly brings an interesting game to the table. And the simplification of the mechanics makes it MUCH more approachable to non-gamers. In fact, San Juan should make a neat family game. Still on the complex side, but friendlier by far. Quite good with 3 or 4 players and a nice duration (40 min.) to boot.

Good, light card game!
April 18, 2004

San Juan is a very good card game that is easy to learn and play for anyone! Forget the comparisons to Puerto Rico; this is a stand alone game! While borrowing mechanisms from Puerto Rico, the game has been greatly simplified to appeal to a much larger audience.

I think this game has really suffered in ratings due to its overly high expectations. What we have is a bunch of Puerto Rico fans getting all excited about this game, only to be disappointed by its lightness. If Puerto Rico didn't exist, this game would be pulling 4-5 star ratings.

Good beer-and pretzel fare in the spirit of PR
April 11, 2004

Usually I only have one other person to game with so I am one of the few who have yet to actually play Puerto Rico, but I decided to give this a shot since I was familiar with the PR mechanics and wanted to try them out. Playing this makes me want to play PR even more. We found it to be an entertaining, quick little game, good for the beer-and-pretzels crowd. The simplified game mechanic still provides enough choices to make each game interesting and slightly different. I can see how it would become somewhat repetitive after maybe a dozen or so games so hopefully there will be expansions in the future as they did with the Settlers card game. I think with more players it would be better also (though isn't that true of most games?) Finally, I agree that although the card stock is good, $20 may be a little pricey for this game, but I didn't feel ripped off after playing it.

Bottom line, a good gaming experience for those who their games quick and dirty, with some thought required, but not enough to induce a headache. Also an excellent introduction to the PR mechanic, or an alternative for those with only 2 people or who have limited time for gaming. Recommended.

Very nice little game
April 03, 2004

This is like Puerto Rico lite. It has the same feel as PR but it doesn't have the depth. It is however a fun game to play and it plays quickly once you learn the rules and get familiar with the various buildings.

The one thing that can stop a player is getting some high point value cards on the initial deal and getting behind in the production race. If you fall behind early on it's tough to mount a comeback.

However that being said it isn't often that this will happen as you can usually find different ways to expand your village.

This game could be a solid contender for Game of the Year honors. It's one of the best I've seen so far this year.

Baby brother is successful
March 30, 2004

Over the past couple years, Puerto Rico has scored big points with strategy gamers. It is a messy game with lots of interlocking game mechanics, but it is deep in strategy and has excellent replay value. Players almost invariably come away from the table with ideas about how to do better the next time out.

Most of the primary game mechanics have made the transition to San Juan, Puerto Rico's card game little brother. The choosing of roles is still in place, as well as production and sales, but there are notable deletions from the older kin. There is no longer the angst-filled shipping phase, and plantations themselves no longer play a part in the game.

How does the game play? Quite well, and thanks for asking. The game is over when at least one player reaches twelve buildings in his town, which reduces the number of possible game-enders from three to one. This puts the focus of the game very tightly on production and building. There are a great many buildings to choose from in this game, most of which have special abilities during one phase of the game or another. The cards range in cost from a low of one to a high of six for one of the 'large' buildings worth extra points at game's end. What is used to pay for these cards? Why, other cards from your hand, of course. This brings us to the most interesting dynamic of the game. In order to purchase any building card and place it, a player must denude their hand of other potentially useful cards, all of which have a value of only one for paying for other cards.Since there is a strict hand limit enforced at the end of each round, one can not hoard cards, either, but must make very tough choices about what to build and when to build them.

I can not say that this is Puerto Rico Lite, nor would I say that is is an entirely separate game with only a similar background. These are separate games with some common mechanics and related themes. They both work quite well and offer, as stated above, both flexibility and replayability. If you liked Puerto Rico, chances are you will enjoy the somewhat more luck-driven San Juan. If Puerto Rico is a little too intense for you, then this game might be the answer to your gaming prayers, as it is far less competitive than its older sibling.

This is one of the best entries of the year. Highly recommended.

Above average, nothing more
May 16, 2005
As a strategy game, there are a few flaws in the balance of some of the cards which determined the outcome of most games. As a game that is supposed to be light and fun, there are too many rules for people who have never player Puerto Rico. San Juan lies somewhere in the middle of heavy and light but is not the best in either category. For this reason, it almost never comes out of my closet.
If you like card games and Puerto Rico...
October 26, 2004

You knew they were coming. Spin-offs of that immensely popular game, Puerto Rico, were sure to arrive. San Juan is the first of them.

San Juan takes several of the concepts of Puerto Rico and tweaks them into a card game. The interesting aspect of the design is that cards are used for everything. When a plantation produces goods, cards are drawn from the deck the same as if you were replenishing your hand, and placed face-down on the plantation to represent a harvest. When you pay to build a building a number of cards are discarded from your hand equal to the building’s cost to build.

As spin-offs go it isn’t bad. It wouldn’t see a second printing if it had to carry its own weight, but as it is, with the fame of its predecessor to pave the way San Juan will likely be around for several years.

Like its predecessor, there isn’t any player interaction. Players choose a role. Each player utilizes that role for themselves, as they try to accumulate victory points by building buildings that each provide the owner with some advantage. Unlike its predecessor it needs more interaction to make it interesting. Mostly, players are trying to maximize the cards they can draw, so they can build better buildings. Players do have lots of choices, but none of those choices will directly affect the other players.

As spin-offs go it is could be worse. I will play it occasionally and like it, but not twice in the same night. It is an average game that will get more attention than it deserves because of the Puerto Rico tie-in.

Fast PR
April 24, 2004

San Juan

Well I must admit to being a Puerto Rico fan.

I do enjoy San Juan since it has a lot of the same mechanisms as PR.

It is easy to play if you know PR, and it is a lot faster.

What me and my group like is it has the flavor of PR and is playable in about 40 minutes.

And it will be a good game to learn people before they are to learn PR.

by Rick
Warning! Not nearly as good as Puerto Rico
April 08, 2004

As a game, San Juan is OK. In my opinion, it is debatable as to whether its worth $19.00. Compared with Puerto Rico (a game I love) this title is not nearly as much fun.

For those of you who have played Puerto Rico and are considering buying this game, let me concisely summarize how this game stacks up:

Imagine you are playing Puerto Rico, but, you decide to alter the rules to remove these three pivotal features:

1. The Cargo ships carry unlimited goods

2. Trading House allows everyone to trade, no matter what

3. Crop seletion is unlimited, so it doesn't matter whether you get to choose first or last

These are 3 of the most fun and competitive elements of the game. Why? Because players can make a killing, or alternatively, lose the game based on their play in these phases of the game. The common thread which makes these 3 phases especially fun and challenging is this: Players compete head-to-head for a finite supply of resources (aka, Cargo space, Trade House room, or crops). Turn sequence and strategy matter. If you are the last player in the sequence you are, most likely, screwed.

Puerto Rico without these elements, is San Juan in a nutshell. In Puerto Rico, turn sequence is critical to every decision you make. Whereas in San Juan, most turn phases are actually simultaneous. While simultaneous phase exectution speeds up game-play, it also removes the ENTIRE reason to play: competing and interacting with other players for precious (finite) resources.

With out this, its basically a simplistic, non-interactive game of solitare for multiple people.

Could have been much better
April 02, 2004

What a let down. Puerto Rico is a fun german board game with very good replayability. All this game really is, is a tactical card game with poor replayability and far less options or depth than its big brother. It's a shame, really, because it could have been better simply by making the gameplay more fun or realistic. Major flaws. I really like Puerto Rico, I dont like this. This should have been in a regular deck box and cost 6 bucks. Then it might be worth it. Not 20 bucks for a box with a spot for a pad and pencil. The publishers got greedy and it shows. They should have spent more time in playtesting and less in seeing how fast they could get a game on the market with the look of money-maker Puerto Rico. Two stars at best.

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