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San Juan
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San Juan

Puerto Rico card game, updated 2014 English language edition

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

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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.

A new version of San Juan for 2014. This version will contain the additional buildings from the previously available expansion but not the event cards. It also contains a new building not previously available in any version: The Hut. This building grants a card when nothing was sold in the trader phase.

Product Information

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 3.8 in 20 reviews

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Quicker, easier version of Puerto Rico
November 11, 2015

Design by Andreas Seyfarth
Published by Alea / Ravensburger
2 - 4 Players, 45 minutes - 1 hour
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

NOTE: This review was first published on the Opinionated Gamers website

Puerto Rico by award-winning designer Andreas Seyfarth is widely recognized as one of the best boardgames ever designed. It has won numerous industry and hobby awards, and has sold millions of copies worldwide. For years it was rated as the top game on the Boardgame Geek, the hobby's premier boardgame website. Mechanisms within the game have been borrowed / copied by numerous other designers, and the game continues to influence game design to this day.

It was no surprise that a card game version of the game was released shortly after the boardgame's success. San Juan also proved quite popular, capturing the feel of the boardgame in a card game format. Sadly, it was out of print for many years, but has recently been republished by Ravensburger under their Alea label. This new version incorporates the "New Buildings" expansion as well as one brand new building. Other than these additions, as well as a slightly larger box and new cover artwork, the game remains the same.

In an effort to become San Juan's most profitable citizen, players will acquire production buildings and use the resources produced to purchase more valuable buildings. Many buildings supply special powers, enhancing one's efforts to achieve wealth and prosperity. The game ends when one player constructs his 12th building, and the player amassing the most valuable buildings emerges as San Juan's wealthiest citizen and wins the game.

As with Puerto Rico, the central mechanism is choosing roles. In turn order, each player selects one of the available roles and performs the action and privilege that role conveys. All opponents also get to perform the action, but not the special privilege, which is reserved solely for the player selecting the role. Each role may only be selected once per turn. The roles are:

Builder. Each player may construct a building, playing a card from their hand and paying the required cost as indicated on the building. Cards also serve as currency, so the cost is paid by discarding the required number of cards from one's hand. The player selecting this role gets a one-card discount when constructing.

Producer. One production building owned by each player produces a resource. This is done by drawing a card from the deck and placing it face-down below the building. The player taking this role is rewarded by having a second production building produce. Production buildings are the same as in Puerto Rico: indigo, sugar, tobacco, coffee and silver, with silver being the most valuable. Each production building can only hold one resource, so it is wise to sell these resources often. Trader. Speaking of selling, this is the role that accomplishes that task. The top trading house tile--which lists the selling prices for each type of good--is revealed. Each player may then sell one good, with the player selecting this role selling two. Payment is made in the form of cards, which are taken into the players' hands.

Players do not know the actual selling price--which varies slightly with each tile--until someone selects this role. This does add a dose of luck / uncertainty to the proceedings, but since the prices don't vary wildly, it isn't too much of a concern. Players who have been mindful of past tiles may want to decline to sell, waiting for a more profitable selling price to arise.

Councilor. The player who selects this role draws five card from the deck and keeps one. All other players draw only two cards, keeping one.

Prospector. This is the only role wherein only the active player derives a benefit, which is the taking of one card from the deck.

Once all players have selected a role, a new round is conducted, with all five roles once again being available to select. Players must discard down to 7 cards, so card hoarding is not an option. This process continues until one or more players construct their 12th building, at which point victory points are tallied to determine the victor. With four players, the game usually lasts about 45 minutes or so.

San Juan is significantly less complex and plays quicker than its progenitor Puerto Rico. This is by design and makes it more accessible to folks new to gaming. It does take awhile for folks to get accustomed to the fact that cards are used for both building one's city as well as for currency, a concept that has perplexed several folks to whom I've taught the game. Once that minor hurdle is surpassed, however, the game is easily learned, allowing folks to quickly understand and enjoy it.

There are some interesting decisions to be made. These primarily center around the choosing of offices and deciding which buildings to construct and which cards to use in their construction. Buildings that convey the best benefits and most victory points are expensive to construct, so it will usually take numerous turns to accumulate the cards to pay these costs. Since a player can only hold seven cards at the end of a turn, accumulating enough cards to pay for expensive buildings must be accomplished during the turn, with these cards being expended before players are forced to discard cards.

There is a wide variety of different buildings providing various benefits and rewards. It is wise to construct buildings whose powers are complementary, as this often enhances a player's abilities and options. The new buildings now contained in the base set add even more abilities and options and are a welcome addition.

It is important to note that San Juan is essentially a solitary affair, with little interaction amongst the players. There is not much a player can do to directly affect his opponents. Some folks do not enjoy games that have this "solitaire" feel, but I generally don't mind, particularly if the game isn't one of great duration. San Juan's 45 minute time frame helps overcome any hesitancy due to this solitaire nature.

It seems inevitable that a popular board game is sure to spawn a card and perhaps even a dice version. Most of these versions don't measure-up to the original and have a very short shelf life. While there is no denying that Puerto Rico is a masterpiece that would be virtually impossible to equal in a card game version, San Juan does succeed in capturing much of the flavor, and even uses the central "role" mechanism to great effect. It is well suited to introduce folks to European-style gaming, and has enough present to keep gamers interested and challenged. It is one of the better card adaptations of a popular board game.

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

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
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.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.

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