Monday, August 2, 2010

A Puerto Rico Strategy Guide for Newbies

A Puerto Rico Strategy Guide for Newbies

Mike Compton (compman)

Posted on: Fri Oct 28,2005 06:48 pm


This article is an attempt to walk a newer player through the many dynamics and timing issues of Puerto Rico, as well as to help them understand which buildings and roles have more value than others depending on where you are in the game. This is not a discussion about just one aspect of the game or of one particular strategy versus another. Rather, this is my attempt to articulate the many things I’ve learned about Puerto Rico (so far as I’ve played it both in person and on BSW) in a manner that would be helpful for newbies. The suggestions I make deal with the various stages of the game so as to provide a complete overview. Hopefully many of you will find what I have to say helpful.

There have been many excellent articles written by others online concerning Puerto Rico’s finer points and it was from those articles that I began formulating my own strategies. Though many of the timing issues presented in this article (including the “thresholds”, some of the concepts about income, and the importance of certain rounds) are my original concepts, I must respectfully acknowledge that this article does contain some ideas that were not my own originally. In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, I respectfully acknowledge that concepts presented in other posts by Alex “Alexfrog” Rockwell, Jim “icetrey” Campbell, Eric “paeanblack” Nielsen, L S shockXPOW, Ian “jvalj” MacInnes, and lots of other players as well are in some cases repeated here. In some instances in this article I have quoted others almost verbatim and, in other instances, I have interwoven my own ideas with those of others in a different way. So, to be fair, I feel I should acknowledge their contributions before continuing. Please read their articles and comments as well as they have played many more games of Puerto Rico than I have.

In pursuing the goal of a thorough newbie’s guide, I have included lots of structured suggestions in this article with regards to decision making. Though structure is sometimes welcomed by newbies (as it allows them to see how certain plays and series of plays work or don’t work), it is often not welcomed as advice by more experienced players as they have played enough games to see the “exceptions” to the rules and are somewhat averse to structured suggestions. If you are an experienced player reading this article, rather than finding fault because I haven’t articulated the exception to each point, consider that tackling ALL of the theoretical possibilities that may come up all at once may frustrate and annoy a newbie rather than help them improve in their playing. The suggestions made here can be very helpful for a person who is still trying to get a feel for the game. Later on, as a player gains experience, he or she can fully appreciate the “exceptions” – especially the statistically rare ones.

Now, here we go.

There are usually about 16 rounds in Puerto Rico. I suggest keeping track of the rounds so you will know which stage of the game you are in.

Opening Stage (Rounds 1 through 6)

Goal: Secure a source of income

Money is worth more than victory points in the beginning. Because of this, the Trader is very important in the beginning as are incentive doubloons on roles not taken in the previous round. An early trade of even a small good with bonus doubloons can mean victory as early income leads to better buildings earlier and better buildings earlier can lead to more income throughout the course of the game which results in better building acquisitions throughout the entire game and so forth.

If you are the Governor for the first round, the best opening move is Setter – Quarry. This is because quarries, if you think about it, are actually a source of income as the discounts they provide are the equivalent of having extra doubloons. An early quarry can yield the equivalent of anywhere from 6 to 8 Doubloons in savings on buildings over the course of the game.

If not Settler – Quarry, then the next best opening move is Builder - building either a small market (if you produce corn), a small Indigo production plant, or a small Sugar mill depending on your plantation setup. If you have to choose between a market or a quarry as to where a colonist goes, choose quarry unless you know you will be Trading soon and you believe that someone will Mayor before you build again so you can then occupy your quarry for the next Builder phase. Even then, that’s risky because it depends on several things falling into place in the right order. Remember, the market is Trader dependent. A quarry is not.

The Small Market is the building with perhaps the best return-on-investment potential of all the violet buildings as it only costs one and can yield several doubloons in bonuses over the course of the game. If you can acquire it for free (either because of a manned quarry or because of the one doubloon discount privilege you get for choosing the Builder role) then it’s usually best to do it. However, there is an exception. If you don’t have the capacity to produce a good, then you need to establish that capacity first before focusing on either of the markets. This rule is often violated by players because of the opening positions of other players and the attractiveness/scarcity of the small markets. Because at least one player will start out with a corn plantation, the small market is an obvious first buy for that person as corn doesn’t need a production facility to be produced. Once anyone takes the first small market then there is immediate pressure on everyone else to take the second as there are only two small markets and they do offer such great return-on-investment potential. However, if the Builder phase comes up and your plantation set-up at that point necessitates having a production facility first before you can produce a good and you take the small market before you build that production facility, then you have not only delayed your production but you may also have severely lessened the small market’s capacity to be effective for you. This is because you will now need an additional round’s Builder phase to build your facility. Then there is the colonist issue. While you are working towards putting colonists on your plantation, your small production building and your small market, someone else may have already produced the same good you were working on and sold it to a trade house that would now be partially filled as it is still too early in the game for four different types of goods to have been produced yet. In such an instance, your small market has become fairly useless for several more turns until the house fills up with other goods and clears out or until you can establish another type of good and produce it. The simple doubloon produced by an early indigo sale of one player with no market compared with the delay a small market acquisition may impose on a second player can mean the difference in the first player producing a cash crop before the second player. Herein is a great rule made manifest: take the quickest route to production.

The first three plantations will define your game because the first few plantations players are able to acquire usually dictate the crops they go for. The alternative to this philosophy is to wait longer for a specific plantation or plantations and, because of the need to produce quickly, waiting sometimes isn’t worth it. Because of this, the randomness of the first few plantation draws can drastically affect the game. I personally like this because, other than seating order and who the Governor is at first, the only random aspect of Puerto Rico is the plantation draw. And, because the first few draws are so important, that element of randomness keeps Puerto Rico fresh over time rather than it turning into the same game with the same buildings over and over again.

In choosing plantations during early Settler phases, keep in mind that you will usually need to establish at least two “protection goods” (corn, indigo, and/or sugar) before you can safely establish and produce a “cash crop” (tobacco or coffee). If you are playing with experienced players and you produce a cash crop without having protection goods, then you will coerced into shipping your cash crop early (which eliminates its monetary value). Each time you produce it again, someone will Captain you out of it if there is still a boat allocated for it. This is because the victory points you would gain early on from having your cash crop shipped are nothing compared with the early money you would be loosing out on. If you only produce one type of protection good, then it still may not help as the boat for that type of good may fill up before it’s your turn to ship. If there is still an open boat at that point then say goodbye to your cash crop. So, it is usually best to have two protection goods established before you man your cash crop plantation and facility.

In producing “protection” goods, keep in mind that there have to be at least three unique types of goods in addition to your cash crop produced amongst all of the players for the three boats to fill up. In other words, not necessarily you, but someone in the game has to be producing either sugar or a different cash crop than yours for your cash crop to have adequate protection. If everyone produces only indigo and corn and then there’s you with your cash crop, then your cash crop will get shipped because of a third open boat.

If you choose to take a cash crop plantation in an early Settler phase, then it’s best when that is the only plantation of its kind available in the draw when you take it. Otherwise, someone else may choose a duplicate plantation and go for the same cash crop as you early on which can hurt your trading opportunities.

Try to produce a cash crop no one else is producing. If you have to choose between tobacco and coffee, see if you have enough doubloons (or will have enough doubloons) to get Coffee out within the same amount of game time as you would Tobacco. If it is the Building phase and you are one doubloon short of building a Coffee Roaster, then it may not be worth it to wait the extra round to establish coffee if you can establish tobacco now (remember, take the quickest route to production). However it may be worth it to wait the extra round if someone else has already set themselves up for Tobacco. But, in choosing which cash crop to go for, do not produce the same cash crop as the person to your right if you can avoid it. Otherwise, they will be in the position to trade their crop before yours (unless you waste lots of precious, early money on an office, or, you just so happen to be the one who can take the Trader and go first). If someone else has the same cash crop as you and they trade before you can, early shipping alone usually won’t make up the difference in victory points their early money will afford them down the road. You will need some early money from somewhere else (such as a fortunate trading house clearing and you being able to choose the Trader in the next round so you can trade your cash crop in the early stage as well) to buy the necessary buildings to compete in the game. If you cannot get money quickly enough to produce either coffee or tobacco, then sugar may be a viable alternative to help you get to those crops via trading.

The beginning stage of the game is the time for diversification, not specialization, in production. If you have at least three unique plantations (two for protection and one for a cash crop), an additional plantation for your cash crop is not available, and corn is not available, then it’s usually best to take something you don’t already have (if available). This is because increased diversity tends to give you more options – especially if you acquire a factory or a harbor. Later on, you will want additional plantations of your current goods for shipping purposes in the Mid and End Game stages. At that point, it’s usually (not always but usually) best to take corn whenever its available because it’s the cheapest way to victory points.

Producing one indigo and/or one sugar in the Opening stage of the game is a very cost effective way to protect your cash crop in the Captain phase and get more money in the long run through more options in the Trading house and through a potential factory if you purchase one. However, spending precious early money on a Large Indigo Plant or Large Sugar plant in the opening stage of the game is not cost effective as neither one gives you more income potential than its smaller version. The Large Indigo and Large Sugar buildings are best suited for the purpose of producing more goods for more victory points in the Mid-Game and End-Game shipping phases. In the opening stage of the game, the extra Doubloons of expense for a large indigo plant or large sugar plant, compared with their smaller versions, are better put to use in acquiring either a factory, more production buildings for goods not yet developed, or markets (remember, income now yields more victory point potential later when compared with the reward of having extra shipped goods now). The time will come in the Mid-Game and End-Game stages when purchasing the Large Indigo and Large Sugar production buildings will be effective because of the shift in focus away from income to victory points that occurs in those stages. By going for shipping victory points as a focus in the Opening stage, you lessen your income potential throughout the game and others with superior income potential will outrun you in points before the game is over.

Because of the focus on income in the Opening stage, “Money” buildings are what you should build for now. They are:

The Small Market (build this if you already have the capacity to produce a good or goods)

Small Indigo plant

Small Sugar mill

Tobacco plant

Coffee roaster

Factory (This building is usually more cost effective than trying to build a second cash crop production facility if there is a choice between those two options.)

Hacienda (This building allows you to take the Settler role and get Quarries without sacrificing precious early plantations. It also gives you early plantation flexibility. This building is one you might purchase if it is a building round and you anticipate a future trade or incentive doubloons will give you enough doubloons for a more effective money building regardless of whether you buy this building now or not.)

Large Market (This building works well if both Tobacco and Coffee are being produced by others, but, typically it is not a first choice building.)

Construction Hut (This can work in a 5-player game when someone else has chosen the Hacienda or Hospice because they will be prone to choose the Settler. It can also work in games where experienced players will make each other ship their cash crops. However, don’t choose quarries at the expense of acquiring potential cash crop plantations. Quarries alone won’t help you enough. You need cash crops to trade. Thus, the Hacienda is usually superior to a Construction Hut. Again, this building is one you might purchase if it is a building round and you anticipate a future trade will give you enough doubloons for a more effective building regardless of whether you buy this building or not.)

Office (This is usually what is referred to as a “remedial” building in that it is more like a repair rather than an upgrade. The office is expensive compared to its benefit. Usually it is much more cost effective to actively try to avoid producing the same cash crop as another player rather than spending money on an office just so you can trade. There are times when it is effective but usually it is not a great purchase.)

Concerning the Mayor: Players have a certain apprehension about taking the Mayor even though it helps them man their buildings. This is because if you take it, it allows the players who follow after you to man their buildings as well and, thus, can give them more options than they would have had in their role choices if you had not taken the Mayor. Usually, the Mayor is best taken when the colonist ship is “unbalanced” – meaning, even without the extra colonist privilege that comes with choosing the Mayor, you would still get more colonists than some or all of your opponents because of the number of colonists on the ship and the number of players in the game. (e.g. There are three players and there are four colonists on the ship. You would get two off the ship – not counting your extra colonist from choosing the Mayor - while everyone else would get only one). If the colonist ship is unbalanced and there is a bonus doubloon on the Mayor, then it becomes a pretty good role choice as it would tend to help you more than your opponents in many situations – especially if you have several helpful buildings that are lacking colonists. Even if you don’t have buildings for all of them, the extras can be held in reserve for rearranging in a future Mayor phase where you may happen to get the short end of the stick on colonists compared with everyone else. Nevertheless, you will have to weigh the consequences of helping others when you choose to take this role.

Concerning building: If someone else chooses the Builder, you are short on doubloons for a better building, but a doubloon or two spent right now will not necessarily hurt you because of anticipated future income, then build something small (e.g. hacienda, construction hut, etc..) Little purchases can greatly help in overall building victory points so long as they do not compromise your larger, more important purchases. They also give you more options for left over colonists if someone mayors and you have already filled your more important buildings. Usually (not always, but usually), you will not want to let a building phase go by without building at least something if you can help it. The Hacienda is usually the best “cheap” building to build in such situations because of the potential early plantation variety it can offer.

*For perspective’s sake, let’s clarify some ideas about income before moving on.

Income is used for only two purposes:

1. Purchasing buildings

2. Breaking ties at the end of the game if they come up (which is rare).

There are six sources of income in Puerto Rico:

1. The doubloons you receive at the beginning of the game

2. Quarries (They operate the same as doubloons in that they help pay for buildings).

3. The doubloons you receive from trading (including any potential bonus doubloons that come from either choosing the Trader or having markets)

4. Incentive doubloons on roles not taken in the previous round.

5. Factory doubloons produced when someone chooses to Craft.

6. The doubloon you receive from taking the Prospector (assuming there are enough players for there to be any Prospector roles used)

*Concerning Quarries:

-Quarries are a form of income. Unlike Markets and the Factory, they function independent of the Trader and independent of goods production which is very helpful. Having one manned quarry acts as a valuable income source in the form of a one doubloon discount off the price of buildings in all four columns on the board. The earlier you man that first quarry the better because it will pay off for more rounds over the course of the game.

-After your first quarry, additional quarries have diminishing returns. If you acquire a second quarry, it only gives you a discount on three of the four columns of buildings (the second, third, and fourth). That is a 25% reduction in effectiveness. Plus, a second quarry would be acquired some time after the first which means that it would be acquired a little further into the game – thus, it would have fewer rounds than your first quarry to provide discounts. A third quarry would only provide discounts on the column 3 buildings and column 4 big buildings which, in total, now represent only half the board. Also, the third quarry would be acquired even later into the game and would have even fewer rounds to work for you compared to your second and your first quarry acquisitions. A fourth quarry only provides discounts on big buildings. Unless you purchase more than one big building, your fourth quarry is only worth the equivalent of one doubloon. If the game ends before you can purchase any big buildings, then a fourth quarry acquisition would end up as a wasted move.

-One quarry (or perhaps two) taken in the Opening stage can be very valuable but taking a third or fourth quarry in the Opening is an ineffective move. Such acquisitions belong in the Mid and End-Game stages. Instead, choose a variety of plantations that allow you to produce several types of goods over several turns for more flexibility with trading in the trading house and to protect your cash crop production. If you go exclusively for quarries early and you neglect to acquire a cash crop plantation, you may find yourself not being able to produce enough money in the course of the game to afford many third and/or fourth column buildings even with the discounts provided by third and fourth quarry acquisitions.

-If you are the Governor on the first round, the most effective opening move is to go Settler – Quarry because that first quarry pays off a lot. However, keep the dynamic of diminishing returns in mind as you consider taking future quarries. Try to visualize how many building rounds your next quarry would benefit you over the course of the game (you need to know which round you are on to do this) and compare that benefit with the other options for money production in the current round. If you are choosing between the two, a Tobacco plantation could yield you four eventual doubloons in the trading house while a fourth quarry would maybe yield only one.

As a last word before moving on to the next stages of the game, note that anytime you are the Governor, you will need to make your role choice a good one as everyone else will get two role choices each before you get to make another selection.

The First “Threshold” - Rounds 6 (end of opening phase) through Round 8

Goal: Determine when to shift your focus from income potential to point potential.

These three rounds are an important threshold because it is in these rounds where the game can be won or lost very easily. You must determine when you have established enough potential income for the rest of the game in terms of potential cash crop production, potential upgraded trading with markets, and/or potential Doubloon production through an operational factory. Once you have determined that you have reached that threshold and that you have enough income potential to sustain you through the rest of the game, you will need to shift your focus from purchasing “Money” buildings to “Points” buildings.

If you delay your purchase of “Points” buildings in favor of more “Money” buildings beyond this threshold, then your “Money” buildings won’t have enough time to pay off properly in terms of providing you the income to acquire “Points” buildings in time. Points buildings need to be purchased early enough to be manned so they can return points for a greater number of rounds if they are to provide a hefty enough advantage.

The two major “Points” buildings are:

-The Harbor (which allows you further points through shipping bonuses. It works best with a diversity in good production.)

-The Wharf (which allows you further points through shipping additional goods of one type. It works best with a specialization in good production.)

If you anticipate future building purchases leaning more towards increased diversity, go with the Harbor. If you see yourself focusing on a more concentrated form of good production where you go for heavy production in a specific area (like corn, indigo, or sugar), go with the Wharf.

A major “Points” building usually needs to be purchased and manned by Round 9 to be effective. Round 9 may not always be the critical round but, as a general rule, it is very helpful to think it as the “deadline” for a major point building acquisition.

Other smaller “Points” buildings include:

The Small Warehouse (It allows you to get further points by “saving” goods that would otherwise have spoiled – thus allowing those goods to count as points in a later shipping round. Usually this is purchased if you are near round 9 but don’t anticipate having the money for a wharf soon enough.)

Large Indigo Plant (for increased indigo production. More barrels equals more potential victory points - assuming you can ship them. A wharf or warehouse is advisable to have before trying to build this building lest the extra indigo you produce ends up spoiled at the end of the next Captain phase. Also, the large plants - both Indigo and Sugar - can pay off in bonus points if you purchase the Guild Hall later on.)

Large Sugar Mill (again, for increased production and, again, a wharf or warehouse is advisable to have first. Large Sugar helps you if you become the Guild Hall owner as well.)

Large Warehouse (comparing function to price, its usually best to wait and try to afford a wharf rather than purchase this building. It’s just too expensive.)

It is during these threshold rounds that you may consider passing instead of building during a building phase in the interest of saving money for a major “points” building acquisition. One example of this concept would be if you have a healthy diversity of goods and the capacity to afford a 7 doubloon building (like the factory), yet you choose to pass because you know that buying the factory during the current round would delay the purchase and manning of a harbor or a wharf until after Round 9 (maybe even round 11 or 12). The extra income a factory would produce is definitely attractive, but the idea of the threshold is that points are becoming more valuable. If you can purchase both a “money” building (like the factory, a large market, a second cash crop production facility, etc.) AND still have enough income for a “points” building before round 9, then doing both is optimal. The trick is knowing when you will have to sacrifice more potential income in money building purchases in favor of the extra victory point potential a “points” building can offer you. It is very hard to know when to make the switch if you don’t know what round you are on. It can also be complicated by how much income your opponents have. If they are close to acquiring major “points” buildings as well, then they may force you to buy one a bit earlier than the threshold of the current game dictates as you will want to make sure you acquire what you need before it’s bought out by the other players.

If you cannot acquire a major “points” building by the end of Round 9, you will more than likely need to adopt more of a building strategy that centers around multiple Big Building acquisition rather than focusing on a shipping strategy – especially if an opponent has acquired and manned a points building by Round 9. We will discuss implementing a builder strategy in a moment.

One last point about the first threshold: If you have established diversity while making sure to establish your cash crop and you build a factory while there is still enough time to acquire and build a “points” building before round 9, then you have severely lessened your own “Craftsman Fear”. (“Craftsman Fear” is Alexfrog’s concept). Just like the apprehension that can come from choosing the Mayor, Craftsman Fear is the awareness that taking the Craftsman helps the player to your left the most and, usually, you the least. This is because you would be the last or next to last to trade or ship if the person to your left chooses those roles. By taking the Craftsman, you give the players that follow after you more options than they would have had otherwise. Because experienced players know this, the Craftsman will often be avoided unless there are several incentive doubloons (2 or 3) on it. If you have diversity in good production and you have built the factory, you will be able to craft on occasion to take advantage of the incentive doubloons left on the Craftsman role while also producing additional doubloons through your factory. Then, the trading house becomes less important and the extra good you produce as a result of the privilege for taking the Craftsman role can turn into an extra victory point through shipping – assuming you can ship since you would probably be the last to do so after crafting. (Remember, there are only six possible sources of income and the factory alone represents one of those six.)

The Mid-Game Stage (Rounds 6 through 12)

Goal: Acquire points and point potential.

After passing the first threshold of the game, doubloons and victory points are slightly equal with victory points becoming progressively more important with each passing round.

If you are more of a builder, you will still be using the Trader quite a bit in an attempt to secure more income with which to buy, hopefully, multiple Big Buildings. This is because multiple Big Buildings can provide enough extra victory points to compensate for your lack in shipping. Also, Big Buildings fill up your city faster which helps to end the game before the shippers are able to outstretch you with enough shipping victory points. The problem is that shipper opponents will not want to trade their smaller goods. At this stage in the game, they are more interested in keeping them and converting them into victory points rather than money because they have already acquired their major “points” buildings to help them in the shipping phase. When you choose to build, they will simply build lots of smaller buildings with their smaller amounts of doubloons in order to keep you from completely out-distancing them in building points. Thus, the Trading House will not fill up as quickly which can prevent multiple trades of your cash crops.

If you are more of a shipper, you will still use the trader occasionally when it is very economically advantageous to do so – meaning you can sell one of your cash crops for several doubloons. However, near the end of the Mid-Game stage, you may actually start shipping your cash crop. Doing so “reserves” a boat for you - assuming the other players have not managed to also produce your cash crop. It also serves to further reduce your “Craftsman Fear” – especially if you have a working factory. If you can produce an extra good for yourself that you and you alone can ship while also acquiring doubloons through a factory and bonus doubloons from incentives on the “dreaded” craftsman role, you can do a lot for yourself at once. Because victory points have become equal to (if not slightly more important than) doubloons at this stage of the game, the extra good from the Craftsman represents a potential extra victory point. Not having a factory combined with not having a reserved boat or boats for goods unique to you makes the Craftsman VERY unattractive (even with lots of bonus doubloons on it) because you probably won’t be able to trade your goods or even ship them. At worst, many of your goods may just spoil after an unsuccessful Captain phase if you don’t have a warehouse. If you do take the Craftsman in such an unfavorable scenario, you may gain a few incentive doubloons for your trouble in the short term but you give your opponents the resources they need to outrun you in the long term.

If you are a shipper and you do trade a good, it will probably be a good for which there is not currently (nor will there be in the near future) a boat for shipping. In other words, if you do not trade that good, it will probably spoil anyway. The advantage of this is that a few doubloons (combined with any other income potential you have already secured in the opening rounds - such as the factory or quarries) will supply you with enough money to buy smaller buildings during the builder phases in the interest of simply getting the victory points for the buildings in question. Assuming you have already purchased a major “points” building, you won’t necessarily need those smaller buildings’ functions – just their points so you can stay up on building points with opponents who are focusing on building.

Usually, you will buy the cheapest building within a given point range if you are buying buildings simply for their points. (e.g. The Tobacco Storage is the cheapest three point building.) If there is a choice between two buildings, recognize that “money” building privileges may be past the point of effectiveness while “points” buildings may still have some relevance. In many ways, as the game progresses, the smaller, lesser priced buildings’ only purposes become the victory points you receive for having bought them. Also recognize that, if you are focusing on making your goods count for shipping victory points, you probably will not have very much if any effective trading in the End-Game. Thus, you will need to stretch what little money you have out into enough smaller building purchases to keep a builder-opponent from overcoming your shipping point lead with lots of building points.

There is one exception that would prevent you from adopting the “cheaper building purchase” path. If you have one major points building (like, say, the Harbor) and, by saving your money instead of building in the current round, you can afford the other (the Wharf) before the end of round 11 (assuming one is available), it will be able to pay off in a complimentary fashion with your first “point” building for additional bonus points in the End Game rounds (e.g. You already have a manned Harbor. You purchase a Wharf on round 11. You man your Wharf on round 11 or round 12. You can now use the Wharf to not only get extra points for four, maybe five, rounds by shipping extra goods but it also allows your Harbor to work more for you as well).

If you are a builder, your focus for the mid-game might include a continued focus on acquiring quarries (if there are still any left) during the Settler phases. This is because, not only do you need to build, you need quicker income to build in greater numbers and sizes than your shipping opponents. Quarries allow you to do that without spending more doubloons. In terms of actual buildings, some (like, say, the Large Market or the Office) may pay off only once (if you’re lucky and can man them quickly) at this point in the game and may simply not be worth it when compared to their expense.

Regardless of whether you are a shipper or a builder, when the Captain occurs, you will not want to put goods that are produced in greater quantities by your opponents on the larger boats. If you do have to place such goods on boats, you will do so on the smaller boats so your opponents cannot use their greater production capacity to its full extent.

If you are a shipper and you have a threat in the form of a builder opponent, you may resist the temptation to trade goods when the opportunity arises even if doing so would be economically helpful to you. The scenario for this move would be if trading a good matters in clearing out a partially filled Trading House. If the Trading House stays partially filled (especially if it is with all of the goods a builder opponent can currently produce), the Trading House is rendered quite ineffective to that builder until someone else trades and clears it or until the Builder manages to establish an additional good for production. Remember, builders still need the Trading House as they are still focusing on income while you, as a shipper, are focusing more on victory points. The extra doubloons a trade for you would afford may actually give your builder opponent a fighting chance if the Trading House clears and they are able to trade their cash crop again. Also, at this stage of the game, you will have probably put your cash crop (which is more than likely different from theirs) on a boat to secure an exclusive or semi-exclusive source of shipping victory points. By trading one barrel of that good, you might be giving up not only future trades to a builder opponent but also a potential victory point.

The Second “Threshold” - Rounds 11 through 13

Goal: Deciding which Big Building or Buildings to buy.

This second threshold is important because, rather than buying more “points” buildings, you now shift your focus to affording “bonus point” buildings. If you can’t buy a “bonus point” building or Big Building during this time period and you have to wait until Rounds 13 through 16 to buy one, you may not get the particular Big Building that optimizes how your game setup evolved. Someone else may snag it first. Also, if you can’t buy a Big Building until after this threshold (Round 13 on) then the game may abruptly end before you can man it with a colonist– causing you to loose out on that building’s bonus points. (One exception to this is if you were producing lots of money in the Mid-Game and you saw that you could afford the University with time to spare for buying a Big Building before the game ended. However, the two “colonist” buildings - the University and the Hospice - are usually hard to justify in pretty much any context because their expense outweighs their reward. If you could have afforded a University and a Big Building, you more than likely would have been better off waiting and trying to afford two Big Buildings instead.)

If you are a shipper, the goal will be to max out on extra points off of one Big Building (usually the Customs House). This is because you aren’t still focusing on trading to acquire doubloons for a second big building. Hopefully, you will have placed your previously monopolized cash crop on a slow filling boat so that you have an exclusive victory point source in the Captain phases at the end of the game. Most likely, if you are a shipper, one Big Building will be all that you can actually afford before the game is over.

If you are a builder, you must focus on getting a Big Building earlier on in these threshold rounds if you are to allow yourself the time to trade and acquire enough income after your first Big Building purchase to purchase a second Big Building (or even a third) or to purchase lots of smaller buildings to help out a purchased Guild Hall or City Hall. If a heavy shipper gets the Customs House (or, to lesser extents, the Guild Hall or City Hall) and mans it before the game is over, you will HAVE to have at least two Big Buildings (if not three) and man them to make up the point differential from shipping that will have occurred throughout the game in the shipper’s favor. Otherwise, the shipper’s bonus points from their Big Building and your bonus points from your single Big Building will roughly cancel each other out and your opponent’s shipping points will put him or her ahead.

If you acquire the Guild Hall or City Hall early, then taking the Builder role repeatedly may force your opponents to have to make hard choices. In other words, they may feel pressured to build something rather than let a current Builder round pass unused. Such pressure can motivate your opponents to build smaller buildings even when they would be better off passing in the interest of saving enough money for a future Big Building purchase. If they consistently succumb to your pressure, you may be able to prevent them from ever acquiring enough money to purchase a big building.

Usually, the way the game has evolved for you will dictate which big building is the best purchase. Most of the time, you will only have one big building - either because you can’t afford more than one, or because others can as well and the result is that all of them will be purchased before you can purchase a second.

Scenarios for the Big Buildings:

-If you have secured enough income potential in the opening rounds of the game such that you can buy (or have already bought) several production buildings, then the Guild Hall works well. In fact, the Guild Hall is the most popular big building selection as it can compound sizable extra bonus points fairly quickly. (e.g. The Large Indigo Plant and Large Sugar Mill are cheap purchases compared to the quick, multiple points they can award you near the end.)

-The City Hall is a good choice if you bought lots of small violet buildings all along the way in the interest of not letting building rounds go by without purchasing something.

*Note: Usually the Guild Hall and the City Hall do not work well together. The space taken up in your city by production facilities to feed bonus points into the Guild Hall will tend to prevent you from buying more violet buildings to feed points into the City Hall and vice versa. Essentially, if you have both, then you will have to choose which big building to help in each Builder phase as there is no building that you can acquire which supplies victory points to both Halls at the same time.

-If you were a heavy shipper, the Custom’s house is a great selection – especially if there are other shippers who will buy it if you don’t.

-If you wound up taking the Hacienda early on (simply to build something during a building phase), and you used it several times during the game, you might consider the Residence (as you may have more plantations and/or quarries than the other players).

-If you happened to have lots of colonists then the Fortress may work. However, it is usually not a good idea to buy the Hospice and/or the University in the interest of acquiring bonus points with an eventual Fortress – especially if such purchases are made early in the game. The extra money you would spend on the Hospice and/or University, along with the colonists required to man them, are usually best spent elsewhere. Typically, the strategy of “colonist hording” doesn’t tend to produce enough victory points consistently in games to be effective when compared with other strategies. Also, the extra money spent on an early, opening round Hospice (which is a “colonist” building, not a money building) does not typically make enough of an economic difference in extra colonists throughout the game to justify the purchase. Usually, an early Hospice purchase is simply a sign that someone is new to the game and is merely trying to simplify it by eliminating the natural Mayor dependence that all the players share. The game may appear to be running more smoothly with more colonists for the early Hospice buyer but, at the end of the game, they will be dismayed to find that their victory point total may not even allow them to finish in a respectable second place. They will wonder why and it is because they sacrificed early income potential for the sake of playing a slightly less complicated game.

-Usually, the Residence and the Fortress are second choice Big Buildings compared to the Guild Hall, the Custom’s House and/or the City Hall.

Your big building purchase(s) will determine the importance of the various roles for you in the End Game.

The End -Game Stage (Rounds 13 through 16)

Goal: Accumulate as many points and bonus points as you can before the game ends.

The game usually ends at about Round 16. People new to the game are often surprised when the end of the game comes. They were expecting it to last longer. What’s deceptive is that, at Round 13, there may still seem to be lots of colonists and victory point chips left. However, the following situations tend to cause the game to have a certain amount of momentum in the last four rounds that brings a swift end to the game:

-Because of “point” building acquisitions finally paying off, the shipping points deplete VERY quickly in the last four rounds (e.g. several players using Harbors and Wharfs have the potential to consume over 20 shipping victory points from the pile in one Captain phase alone).

-Because of more and more building purchases by everybody (including shippers), there are a greater number of colonist spots in everyone’s cities. Thus, after a relatively small mayor phase, there may be up to 12 colonists on the next ship coming in and even more on the ship after that.

-Because of income potential having been set up in the opening rounds, along with consistent building purchases throughout the game, someone’s city may fill its capacity after just a few building phases in the last few rounds. This can happen especially quick if someone acquires multiple big buildings.

If you are a shipper and the game is in the last four rounds, after you have purchased a big building, income becomes relatively worthless (other than giving you the capacity to buy token buildings for a few more victory points if the chance arises). It also becomes semi worthless to you if you are a builder as a direct pursuit through trading because trading consumes game time and may not pay off quickly enough to allow you better building purchases before the game ends.

Based on your big building choice (or choices), the roles you take in the final four rounds take on significance in the following manner:

-If you bought the Guild Hall or the City Hall, the Builder becomes important as a means of scoring extra bonus points. The one doubloon discount offered by the Builder privilege becomes a big deal. However, because there are two big buildings that make the Builder more important, you may face competition for selecting that role in the last few rounds. At this point, you will want to avoid taking the Craftsman if you are a builder because it will tend to serve only the shippers.

-If you bought the Residence and you still have island vacancies, the Settler becomes important to you and pretty much you alone. It doesn’t really help anybody else at this point unless they have a Hospice and they bought the Fortress but, even then, you would tend to benefit more from the Settler role than they would as they need three colonists for each bonus point while you would only need one plantation to achieve an additional bonus point (assuming your island tile total had already reached nine beforehand).

-If you bought the Fortress, the Mayor with its extra colonist privilege becomes a means of scoring extra bonus points for you. The Settler can also help if you bought a Hospice and the Mayor is not available. (In fact, these end game scenarios are all the Hospice and University are really good for. It’s just so hard to justify their purchase when one compares their function to their purchase prices. Usually, they are only worth it if you have Quarries to shave off their costs) However, even with some benefit in that scenario, the Settler may help the Residence owner more than you – making it a poor choice. At the same time, your Mayor selection may also help the other players man their big buildings before the game ends. If your Fortress is manned and several other players haven’t manned their big buildings, the Mayor may be a poor choice – especially if the game is going to end anyway and you have the final role choice.

-If you bought the Guild Hall or City Hall, you will want the game to end as quickly as possible because, the longer it goes, the more likely it is that the shippers will outdistance you. Thus, during Mayor phases, you may actually put colonists on plantation circles rather than in your city if doing so does not compromise important privileges your buildings give you. This is because more spaces in your city equals more colonists on the next colonist ship which equals a more rapid pace towards a game ending scenario.

-If you bought the Customs House, the Captain and its extra shipping point privilege becomes very important. However, as victory points have reached the peak of their importance at this final stage of the game, the Captain will be attractive to others as well.

-Be aware not only of the roles that benefit you but also of the roles that benefit your opponents. If you are on the last round of the game and the Builder and the Captain have already been taken, recognize that Mayoring helps a Fortress owner, and Settling helps the Residence owner. If you don’t own either of those buildings and you don’t need to Mayor to fill your own Big Building, then Trading , Crafting (if the Captain has already been taken), and/or Prospecting are the most benign roles to take. Anything else may help others more than you. Also, if you are the last player to choose a role card before the game is over, recognize that Mayoring to fill a big building may not be the best idea if doing so makes the difference between an opponent having a manned big building or not. If the opponent who is your main threat has not manned his or her big building(s) and you have not manned yours, you will have to determine if manning yours as well as your opponent’s will give you an advantage in points over your opponent.

-Finally, if you know you are ahead of your opponents and you can stay ahead while finishing the game by depleting the colonists, finishing off the shipping points, or filling up your city with buildings, then do it. Don’t get greedy. You might give someone else enough of a chance to close the gap if you stretch the game out one more round.


Many people new to Puerto Rico often feel “lost” because of the sheer number of options the different buildings present. Having a conceptual idea of the different stages of Puerto Rico (with their separate goals and focuses), along with knowing which category the different buildings fall into (money, points, colonists, or bonus points), knowing which round of the game you are on (including how close you are to the end), and being able to look ahead and see what the next few moves by your opponents will be after your current turn will help you know which role to take in a given situation.

Finally, by having these concepts down, you will not only improve your own play but you will also be able to evaluate the game play of other players and make decisions accordingly. If an opponent chooses a Hospice as his or her first building choice, you will know you are probably dealing with someone who has less experience. Thus, you may not be able to count on that person to recognize the need to Captain a third opponent out of their cash crop if the opportunity arises. You also may not be able to count on that person to make predictable decisions in their role choices as they may not be familiar with the ideas presented here. For example, if part of your current strategy includes anticipated future income via a trade and that trade hinges on a newbie player taking the Trader when the Trader role will obviously be more beneficial to them than everyone else, don’t be shocked if the newbie chooses something completely different.

To the more experienced players, I appreciate the time you took to read through this article. Though I wrote this article for newbies, I must admit that I'm still learning much about the game as I continue to play it. At the present moment, this article represents many of the conclusions I have come to concerning how Puerto Rico strategy works and I am open to the possiblity that there may be better ways of playing the game.

-Mike “compman” Compton

Skip Maloney (SkipM624):

Nice work. . concise and certainly helpful to the target "newbie" audience. I see no major flaws or untouched-upon concepts. I think the only hidden concept that newbies need to grasp is a willingness to fail. Oftentimes, when it's your turn to do something, all of the aforementioned concepts and principles can come at you like a tidal wave ("Let me see, is this the point where I should be doing this? Or that? Or the other thing?"). The decision making moment is fraught, as well, with a certain amount of time pressure, depending on the experience and mood of your opponents (God bless the patient). The trick is to sit down at the table, bearing all of your strategic and tactical concepts and principles in mind, and then forget about them. Play by instinct. Do what you think is the best thing to do at the moment you are required to do it and move on. You know what? You're occasionally going to make a bad decision and it might end up costing you the game. Basically, so what? Live and learn. The most important component of this game's learning curve is TAT - time at table. The more times you play, the better you'll get at it. There is no substitute for this. All of the strategy and tactic principles and concepts in the world will not, in the long run, be as helpful as repeated TAT.

Philip Thomas (Philip Thomas):

Nice article. Played this today, after reading this article but without actualy remembering what it said. One thing that happened that isn't mentioned her is we would run out of the producition goods, so the person going last would get almost nothing. Encouraged people to take Craftsman...

Mike Compton (compman):

Thanks for your responses.

Concerning game time, I agree that there is no substitute for putting in hours playing the game and getting familiar with it. Reading an article like this one and then trying to remember everything in it can be overwhelming for someone new to the game. I also agree with the idea that there needs to be a willingness to accept the reality that bad decisions will be made and games will be lost as one works through the learning curve of Puerto Rico. However, it’s not only important that newbies accept the fact that they will lose. They need to know why they lost. What’s more frustrating and mystifying than trying to remember lots of suggestions is losing and losing consistently while being unable to put one’s finger on why. Articles like this one are most effective as newbies read it, then play a few games, gain some experience, and then come back to it in the interest of evaluating their play to see potentially why they lost. (Were they simply making common “newbie” mistakes or were they neglecting to pick up on more subtle strategies?)

In addressing the “scarcity of goods” subject, I would like to back up and discuss some larger issues first and then come back to it from an established perspective.

There are three game ending conditions:

1. Colonists (unable to fill the demands for the Colonist Ship in a Mayor phase)

2. Shipping Points (being depleted in a Captain phase)

3. Buildings (someone filling up their city in a Builder phase)

The aspects of Puerto Rico that change depending on the number of players are:

1. The Role Cards (taking out or leaving in the Prospectors)

2. The Cargo Ship sizes

3. The Colonists in the pile and on the ship at the beginning

4. The Shipping Points in the pile

The aspects of the game that do not grow with the number of players are:

1. The number of plantation/quarry spaces available in each person’s island

2. The number of building spaces available in each person’s city

3. The number of barrels for each good available for production

4. The number of spaces in the Trading House

Because of these dynamics, two of the three game ending conditions (Colonists and Shipping Points) grow and adjust to compensate for a greater number of players while the third (filling up one’s building spaces) remains the same. If you are implementing a builder strategy you want the game to end earlier rather than later so the shippers don’t have more rounds to outrun you with their shipping points. Thus, as the number of players increases, the chances for a building strategy to succeed increase.

Further, as the number of players increases, it becomes more likely that several players will produce the same types of goods and in larger numbers when compared to a game involving a lesser number of players. Because the amount of barrels available for production does not increase with the number of players, it becomes much more likely that someone will be denied production of a good. This can have the effect of encouraging a variety of people to craft in the game – especially if there are lots of shippers. Shippers need barrels of goods for shipping victory points and one shipper who may be denied production due to scarcity of barrels in one round may choose to craft in a later round in the interest of trying to “make up ground” in shipping points. However, even then, the person who crafts usually has the least amount of options if the next person ships or trades. So, even with extra goods, a shipper may not be able to get them on to cargo ships if those ships are not allocated for the types of goods that the crafting shipper is capable of producing.

Concerning builders, there are different issues at stake with regard to crafting – especially considering the fact that the number of trading spaces in the Trading House does not grow with the number of players. In a three player game, for example, it is easier for a builder to craft (taking advantage of potential incentive doubloons) while still being able to trade in the next trader phase that occurs – even if the trading house is partially full. By contrast, in a five player game, even with a completely empty trading house, there is no guarantee that a builder who crafts will be able to trade in the next trader phase that occurs if, for example, the player following the builder chooses the Trader. Four spaces in the Trading House for five people equals the fifth player (a.k.a. the one who just crafted) potentially being left out in the cold. At the same time, a builder who has invested in a factory may get short changed in a Crafting phase if he or she cannot produce all of the goods that he or she had set up for production. Thus, increased barrel scarcity can even put some pressure on Builders to craft. However, if you are more of a builder, you will be more concerned about whether or not you can produce your unique cash crop and trade it rather than how many overall barrels of goods you produce. Earning money and building buildings is more important than shipping larger quantities on the cargo ships. Thus, it is more often the case (not always but more often) that, as a builder, you can comfortably allow others (specifically shippers) to craft for you – setting you up for potential trades – even if there are more players in the game and barrel scarcity comes into play. This ability to let others do the “dirty work” of crafting for you becomes especially helpful in games involving a larger number of players where barrel scarcity is much more likely.

If you are more of a shipper, getting barrels on cargo ships is your main source of points and having extra barrels becomes more pressing. Thus, crafting becomes more important but, as I stated before, you may not be able to ship those extra goods if you are last in the next Captain phase.

Thus, if you are a builder, barrel scarcity isn’t usually as big of a problem and, even if you are a shipper, crafting is still sort of a “guilty until proven innocent” type of role. I usually don’t take the Craftsman role unless the game scenario is making a blatantly obvious case to me that it is a better role choice at that moment for my overall standing in the game than any other available roles.

In my most recent reply on this thread, I neglected to mention some important things that should have been included in that discussion. Remember that I mentioned four elements of Puerto Rico that grow with the number of players and four that don't.

A fifth element of Puerto Rico that grows with the number of players is:

5. The amount of doubloons you have at the beginning of the game.

And, two additional elements of the game that do not grow with the number of players are:

5. The price of each building

6. The number of cargo ships (three)

In a three player game, because everyone starts off with less money, each player has to work harder to accumulate the early doubloons necessary to build a Tobacco or Coffee production facility while also establishing protection goods for their primary cash crop. In a five player game, each player begins with more money even though the prices of the buildings remain the same. Thus, it is easier for each player to establish protection goods and begin production of a cash crop earlier in the game. As a result, it becomes much more likely that more people will be producing cash crops earlier and, at the same time, much more likely that someone else will be producing the same cash crop as you. While crafting in a three player game tends to be much less risky (especially if you are the first and only person who is producing a cash crop along with adequate protection goods), crafting in a five player game tends to become much more unattractive as it would potentially set more people up to trade cash crops (including the one you would be going for).

There are three main ways to compensate for other players producing your same cash crop:

1. Build a factory (it provides potential income that can help offset some trading that you may lose out on in the course of the game)

2. Establish a second cash crop (to increase trading opportunities, potentially aid a factory if you already have one, and increase your shipping options)

3. Build an office

Usually, in a three player game, building a factory is a better priority than establishing a second cash crop or building an office as a factory can pay off more comfortably and more quickly and barrel scarcity is less of an issue with three players (usually an office is a waste of doubloons in a three-player game). However, in a five player game, producing a second cash crop becomes a very viable alternative to the factory as barrel scarcity can become an issue and result in the production of fewer types of goods for you, not only once, but potentially for several Crafting phases - thus reducing a potential factory's capacity to produce income over the course of the game. (Example: You produce Corn, Indigo, and Tobacco and you have a factory. If a heavy shipper produces lots of corn before it’s your turn to produce and other players who precede you in turn order also produce corn, then there may not be any corn barrels left over for you when it is your turn to produce. Now, instead of three unique types of goods, you would only be producing two. This means that you would now only receive one doubloon from your factory instead of two for that Crafting phase. If you are denied corn production again or for several turns, you are now not only being denied potential shipping points through your corn barrels but potential income from your factory as well.)

Because it is more likely that more people will be producing cash crops in a five player game, barrel scarcity can also affect your primary cash crop production. In other words, it actually becomes possible for several other players who are producing your primary cash crop to deplete that barrel supply before you get your turn to produce in a given Crafting phase. If such circumstances exist, and you are using a builder strategy, setting up a second cash crop is a much better idea than simply choosing to craft before others do. This is because it is much less likely that barrel scarcity will be so thorough as to prevent you from producing both cash crops if you are capable of it. Chances are it will usually usually only deprive you of one type of cash crop. Thus, by giving yourself two possible cash crops to trade, you increase your chances of trading effectively each time the Trader comes up. If you happen to be denied a barrel of one of the cash crops (or if someone else trades a barrel of that cash crop before it’s your turn to trade) you would still probably have a barrel of the other cash crop to trade (if there is still a space in the Trading House for it).

Often, in a five player game, if you are using a builder strategy, you may find that you will be faced with a choice between building a factory and choosing to establish a second cash crop to expand your income potential. This is because trying to do both may require too much income (which will equate into game time) to accomplish. Thus, you may find yourself not having enough income built back up again after those two purchases to buy a big building until after the second threshold of the game has passed. Then, because others will more than likely have selected their big buildings already during that second threshold, you may face the possibility that the best big building for you has already been built by an opponent – leaving you to choose from what’s left (if there are any big buildings left at all by that time). If you can afford to both build a factory and establish a second cash crop before the second threshold hits then great. If not, you will probably have to choose one or the other.

Though building an office is usually a mistake in a three player game, it actually can be a decent play in a five player game for someone using a builder strategy – especially if the randomness of the plantation tiles combined with the plantation selections of the other players prevents you from acquiring a plantation for a second cash crop. However, if you are able to acquire a plantation for a second cash crop, you are usually better off establishing it rather than settling for the office.

Even if the factory and a second cash crop both look like they would be equal choices, the factory still tends to be a safer bet - even with barrel scarcity being a problem - as the factory allows you to produce income independent of the Trader phase while a second cash crop, from an income standpoint, still depends solely on the Trader.

From a shipping standpoint, a second cash crop can be very helpful in combating the reality that the number of cargo ships (three) does not change as you add players. More players tends to equal more variety in production of goods amongst all the players. A rise in the variety of goods produced among the players combined with a stationary number of cargo ships (three) for those goods during the shipping phases increases the possibility that some goods produced by a player will be locked out of shipping for several rounds (unless that player has a wharf). By establishing a greater variety of goods in your production, you make it much less likely that you will be locked out of shipping due to the types of goods loaded onto the ships.

A fourth way to compensate for someone else producing the same cash crop as you is to:

4. Build a Large Market

I specify the large market and not the small market because, usually, the small markets will be gone by the time the issue of competing cash crops becomes relevant. Building a Large Market makes what were previously mere protection goods viable trading options and, should you get the chance to actually trade your cash crop in the face of competing production by other players, you would get a sizable amount of doubloons. However, a Large Market is usually best built as a remedial solution for unfortunate delay in establishing a cash crop (such as the plantation draw combined with the plantation selections of other players not allowing you the option of a cash crop plantation for several rounds into the game) rather than as a solution for competing cash crops.

There are also some more aspects of Puerto Rico I need to mention that stay the same regardless of the number of players as they are important:

7. The amount of buildings of each type that are available.

8. The victory points awarded for each type of building.

9. The victory points awarded for each barrel shipped (one - if no bonuses)

10. The basic trading price for each type of good.

With regards to the seventh aspect that does not change, having three Coffee Roasters and three Tobacco Storage facilities available for purchase isn't a big deal in a three player game because players can't build duplicate buildings and block each other from obtaining those facilities. However, when there are only three of each cash crop building and there are five players, it is possible for someone to be denied production of one (or both, though unlikely) of those buildings. For someone who intends to implement a Guild Hall strategy, this becomes an issue.

I mentioned earlier that choosing to build a second cash crop facility can be a mistake if it delays your ability to acumulate the necessary doubloons for purchasing a big building until after the second threshold has passed. Because of the potential the Guild Hall has for rewarding a heavy building strategy, and because a building strategy becomes more likely to succeed as you add more players to the game, there will tend to be more demand for it as the number of players increases. Normally the second threshold occurs somewhere between rounds 11 and 13. If you are playing with 3 players, that threshold will tend to occur later in that time period (more likely into round 13) rather than earlier (into round 11). This dynamic allows you to more comfortably wait and focus on points buildings (like the harbor or wharf) in the mid-game while still having enough time to acquire the necessary income and acquire the big building you want in a three player game. However, as you add more players, the second threshold is more likely to occur earlier in the game (perhaps even as early as round 10). Because of the increased demand that the Guild Hall carries in games involving more than three players, you may face this choice:

Build a second cash crop facility now before they are gone or build the Guild Hall early.

In such circumstances, it is better to choose the Guild Hall early rather than choosing to establish a second cash crop first because, if you don't get the Guild Hall, the effectiveness of that second cash crop producion facility has been severely lessened. It simply offers the basic three points for having built it rather than awarding additional bonus points at the end as production facilities are not violet buildings and award no bonus points if you acquire the City Hall (the other big building that rewards a builder strategy). If you don't get the Guild Hall, you will need to establish that second cash crop quickly, trade it often, and build the higher priced violet buildings if it is to be effective. In contrast, once you have the Guild Hall, you don't need as much income to produce lots of points. The basic victory points and bonus points you can earn with the smaller priced "large" facilities (the Large Indigo and Sugar buildings) are quite substantial compared to having the City Hall and investing in the higher priced violet buildings.

Because the number of each type of building does not change, and because the basic rule of "one barrel equals one victory point" in shipping does not change, then, as you add players, there will be more people competing for the "points" buildings (the two harbors and the two wharfs). In a three player game, it is easier to acquire either (or both) of these buildings as there are less players after them. Thus, it is easier for a player with a shipper strategy to win in a three player game as the bonus points a "points" building can award can outrun the bonus points a builder may acquire. However, as the number of players increases, not only do the number of "points" buildings remain the same, the number of ships (three) remains the same so there are more people shipping and filling up the same number of boats (even though there are more spaces on each boat) and the "points" buildings can end up in the hands of a greater variety of people. Thus, it becomes progressively harder to win with a shipping strategy as more players are added.

Others have pointed out this idea but, usually, regardless of the number of players in the game, you will need a "strategy buddy" to really make your particular strategy work. In other words, if you are the only one pursuing shipping, you will more than likely be the one who will have to Craft as the remaining builder players will simply be willing to wait and pounce on the Trader once you do Craft. If you are a builder, you need someone else who is willing to take the Trader other than you so you can then take the Builder and capitalize. If you are the only builder, the remaining shipper players will be content to pass on the Trader because they will want to ship their goods. If you do take the Trader, then the other shipper players may then be willing to trade as they can then potentially follow your Trader with a Builder selection and still outrun you in building points in spite of their focus being on shipping.

Usually, you will want your "strategy buddy" to be seated to your right as they will go before you and can potentially take the roles that set you up for success.

When I say that you, as a builder, will want others to take the Trader, I should clarify that this is something you will want to happen every so often and in specific circumstances. In many cases, taking the Trader when you are pursuing a builder strategy will tend to be the best move as you will be able to trade your higher priced crops before everyone else and also receive the important extra doubloon that comes with the Trader privilege. However, when there is a larger number of players, it becomes more likely that a variety of players will be producing cash crops and/or will have markets and it becomes more likely that someone else will be going for the same building or buildings you would be going for. Further, because the number of buildings doesn't change depending on the number of players, "building scarcity" can set in and turn order in a Building phase becomes more important as you add more players. Thus, as the number of players increases, there is a dynamic that can begin occuring that is similar to Craftsman fear. I call it "Trader fear". This is the idea that, when buildings are scarce (as they tend to be with a larger number of players), and you choose the Trader then you may not be the only one who benefits significantly from that move. In such cases, you may be allowing others to acquire the additional income they need to take the last building of a type you may have been going for if a player following you in turn order chooses the Builder after you choose the Trader. Thus, every so often and in specific circumstances, it can be quite helpful for someone else to choose the Trader so you can potentially take the Builder next and get the first choice of buildings.

Evertjan van de Kaa (ejvandekaa):

First note that i'm dutch and generaly play with the german version of the game this is where i get the name for some buildings.

I read your article and did have some points. First though i think that one thing is importent for a newby to understand. This is a game where every action you take gives an advantage to you and has the least use for the last player. so if you chose a roll then you have there the best options (in that fase of a turn). However in the next fase you wil be last and have the worst place. This is especialy importent when concidering the builder/planter (with the mayer logicaly folowing them) and the craftman (with the kaptain/trader logicaly folowing him)

Other remarks i have are:

Mail 1.

1. concerning plantations to chose and buildings to build. In a 4 or 5 player game the tobako or cofee production is within reach at the start of the game and it is therefore posible (better?) to wait till you can build such a building if you have a chance to get the corresponding plantation. exception to this is the small market. This is such a nice building that if you have the chance you should build it.

2. concerning the small market. This is such an interesting building that it should be build as soon as you can.

3. If you want to start a tabako/cofee production early you do run the risk of losing that to a ship. However, this has two advantages:

a. you have a private ship (take thus the largest ship available)

b. scince generaly there are no 5 goods being produced at the start of the game the traders building wil not empty (unles someone builds the kontor, costing 6 dublons?). Thus you will have to wait with the next build, posibly costing you a suger or a indigo production. however it also costs the other players money, between 1 and 3 coins. which might very wel be worth it.

Your example of only three crops produced is above point 2. note that when you do sell your crop you have enough money to build that kontor, enabling you to sell the same good again.

4. concerning chosing a cash crop. also importent is how many people are behind you and their money/potential. it is not that bad to have a left neighbour producing the same but a right one is devastating.

mail 2.

1. It is not that dificult to know when to switch. If you can you need to build either warf or harbor. what to build depends on your production situation.It is important to see if someone could go for the "all posible buildings build" ending. In this case building the harbor/warf might not give enough points if compared to one of the large buildings (this also depends on your ability to join the building of large buildings (or wether you produce enough money)

2. the fear to chose the craftsman is of course also influenced by the board situation. diversity alone is a good defence. especialy combined with the small/large warehouse, the factory, warf or harbor. as these help with the either keeping or shipping of goods that cannot be placed in ships.

3. note that of other influence is the concieved winner of the game, I mean the person the players think will win. It is this player you generaly try to block thirst.

4. One large building is (if you have the money) nice to have. This meands that people in the early stages of the mid to late game will still sell their goods even for 1 or 2 coin.

(after second treshold)

5. Importent to concider is if you want the game to end fast or not, therefore if another player scoers constantly more points in shipping than you. If so, go for the all buildings build strategy (ie you cannot build anymore)

end fase:

1. The builder is interesting for every one. Yes the guildhall/cityhall/builder wil chose it but the other players will also use it (with the small amounts of money they have.

2. It is not "If you bought the Guild Hall or City Hall", It is if you are a builder. or more generaly, if another player constantly scores more points than you for shipping. Note that the way to try to end the game can be done at two ways, cannot build buildings (for the person with the Guild Hall or City Hall) or if there are no more colonists interesting for the owner of the fortress.

3. I'm not sure of this but at the end of the game is the tie breaker not having the most coin AND GOODS?

concerning replies:

Note that the factory only produces coin depending on the goods that you actualy produce. So if you are last and (though you could produce 5 goods) now only produce one you get no coins.

concerning the article of Mike Compton

If with more people, and thus more produced goods then building of the factory also becomes less interesting as the chance of producing less goods than optimal increases.

Note that with more people the improtance of a kontor increases (kontor is that building that lets you sell the same goods to the trading house).

Evertjan van de Kaa

Mike Compton (compman):

To respond to some of your points:

First, I agree somewhat with your last statement in that the Office (or “kontor” as you put it) becomes a better potential buy as you add more players to the game.

However, I disagree with your point about how the small market should be built as soon as possible. If you are in a position where building it can help then, yes, build it as soon as possible. But, the small market is not always the best decision for a building purchase. I discussed this point earlier on in my article on this thread so I’ll refer to reader there for my perspective on the issue.

I also have to respectfully disagree with your take on the advantages of having your early cash crop placed on a boat. Though it is true that there are advantages to having an exclusive boat, those advantages are only relevant in the Mid and End Game stages. In the Opening stage, acquiring income and gaining income potential is much more important. There is a time and a place for putting your cash crop on a boat and the Opening is not it. Again, I already addressed this in my article so I’ll refer the reader there again to read my argumentation on this point.

I do agree with your point that turn order in a phase is important to understand. That was what I was driving at with my previous post about how occasionally as a builder you will want someone else to take the Trader so you can trade and potentially acquire the few extra doubloons you need to purchase a building before someone else can get it. If I decide to Trade and the next person decides to build, then I have last shot at the buildings. That turn order dynamic could make more of a difference than the extra doubloons I received from trading if someone who goes before me in building order gets the last of a type of building I wanted. It’s a matter of timing and who is going for which buildings. If there is no competition for the same buildings, then personally taking the Trader will tend to offer many more advantages than risks because of the one extra doubloon privilege and the first chance to trade.

I also want to address something else you brought up and that is whether to build a production facility before you have a corresponding plantation for it. I personally don’t believe it’s a good idea for one main reason – it gives the other players more clarification in their plantation choices. All things being equal, they will be inclined to take the plantation you need simply to deny you from getting it. I believe that it’s better to not tip your hand and to take the cash crop plantation first before building the corresponding production facility. There are some scenarios when that won’t hold true but, for a majority of games, it will.

I also want to address the point you brought up about the “perceived winner” and the other players’ tendency to “block” that person. This is a different level of strategy where psychology and perception come into play. It also brings into the discussion how playing online and playing face to face (f2f) can be very different things. I once played a five-player f2f game where the person everyone thought was winning finished next to last out of the five. If the other players perceive you as being out in front, then, all things being equal in their role choices, they will try to take the roles that prevent you from progressing. This tends to hold true more often in f2f play than in online play on BSW because of, I believe, one main difference: table talk. In f2f, there is a greater tendency for some players to engage in a lot of table talk to try and convince other players to do certain things. In fact, as part of their strategy, some players rely a great deal on their table talk to influence others at crucial times. When a player is perceived to be out in front, it can help a “table talker” to make better cases to others for roles the table talker wants others to take. On BSW, however, there is very minimal table talk as it tends to be considered, I think, distracting. Thus, it is possible for a person to be an effective f2f player but a very ineffective BSW player and vice versa.

On a different note, and in keeping with the spirit of this thread being a strategy guide for newbies, I offer a link here to a one-page (double-sided) summary I wrote of the rules for Puerto Rico. I do this because, aside from simply reading the rule book verbatim, I’ve found that explaining the rules of the game to someone who has never played it before can result in very scattered explanations simply because of the number of elements present in the game.

Rules Summary:

I also put together a flow chart of all the different buildings and roles - showing how they relate to each other. It is a bit much to diagram but I provide it here because some people need to have something visual to help them have a better perspective on how a game works.

Flow Chart:

Evertjan van de Kaa (ejvandekaa):

First off i would like to note that i only ever played the board game. not the computer version over the internet.

I'm sory I gave you the impression that i adviced you sould build a facility before having the plantation. I meant to say that there is a good chance that in the first or second round of the planter there will be a tabako or coffee plantation. If the start player takes the planter you wil direct know if there is and also know if you can get them. Also If the other players concentrate on getting protection goods they will leave the coffee and or tabako for you to take.

This then is a good reason to not spend to much money in the first round in order to save money for this production building. It is thus interesting to take either the market or the smal indigo factory, scince those are the cheapest buildings posible. I tend then to chose the small market as it others will have disapeared. whereas the small indigo will always be there (or atleast long enough). of course for the corn plantation owner a smal indigo factory might not be such a good option. and saving mote interesting as he probably has the chance to take a miner.

It does leave me with a general question of wether the second/third player should save their money if they have the corresponding plantation

I do (naturaly) agree with you that you should not build a plantation production building before you have the plantation. the exception is if you know for sure that you will have the plantation you need (you'r the first player next round and are sure the planter will not be chosen this round or there are enough of those plantations/others will not chose them).

I agree with you that at the start of the game money is importent. However If i produce the 4th good there is (a 5th good is not being produced (for a cople of rounds)). Then if i cannot sell to the traders building it does not empty and therefore the other players can also not use it again. It does however give me a private ship. now i know you would want money more I just want to say that it does not end the game for you and is posibly nice. note that this might not work in 5 player games.

To sum up what i wanted to say is that the chance that another player actively stops you this way is low as they also hurt themselves.

I think the most importent point i wanted to make is that at the start you have the option to save your money for a large tabak/coffee factory instead of spending your money as water (everything that costs more that 1 or 2 coins).

By the way, nice Rules sumary and flow chart.

Evertjan van de Kaa

Philip Thomas (Philip Thomas):

So the key aspect of the game is working out the strategy of the player on your right, and then duplicating it. Is this a fair asessment?

Mike Compton (compman):

To Evertjan:

I believe I see what you're saying now about how, if you are forced to ship your cash crop early, it kind of "freezes" up the Trading House for everyone until someone else can produce the other type of cash crop because of the number of crops (5) in the game, the number of spaces in the Trading House (4) and the variety requirement of the Trading House. In other words, the Trading House could fill up with Corn, Indigo, and Sugar and, if your cash crop is on a boat, the House will have to wait on clearing out until that fifth crop - the other cash crop - is produced and Traded because of the variety requiremnt of the Trading House (or someone could build an office and clear it out with a duplicate crop). However, thereafter, the economic advantage stays with the person who produced the other cash crop because they can even choose to Captain again once someone crafts and still keep your cash crop out of the house. At that point, there would be four unique types of goods produced in the game and the House could clear more consistently. Then your opponent would be making more money off of his or her cash crop while your lonely cash crop sits on the boat and watches from a distance. But, I can see how "freezing" up the Trading House for a bit can sort of aleviate the devestating economical effects of having your cash crop shipped early.

By the way, thanks for the compliment on the summary and the flow chart.

To Philip:

There are times when using the same strategy as the person to your right is helpful but not always.

If, for example, there are only two shippers in the game (you and the person to your right) then I believe you would have a slight advantage because the builder(s) - will not want to Craft. They will know that either one of the shippers will take care of that for them. So, if you can comfortably wait and let the person to your right craft while you Captain, then your first choice of which type of good to ship can negate the one barrel extra advantage your "shipping buddy" gets from taking the Craftsman (if that person doesn't have a wharf).

If, for example, there are only two builders in the game (again, you and the person to your right), then you would only have an advantage if both you and the person to your right are oriented towards acquiring the same types of buildings and you can both benefit somewhat equally from the Trader - regardless of who takes it. If neither of you is getting in the other's way in building purchases then the person to your right would have the advantage because choosing the Trader allows them extra money for better buildings. But, if both of you are, say, going for the Guild Hall, and the person to your right takes the Trader, trades, then you trade, and now you both have enough money for the Hall, then, assuming the Builder is still available, you now have the timing advantage and you can snag the Builder and build it before they do.

So, there are times when having a strategically like-minded player to your right is helpful and there are times when it is not. It just depends on the circumstances.

Philip Thomas (Philip Thomas):

Right, so by extension, if the person to your left is a shipper, you shouldn't ship (of course, it may be too late by the time you realise that)? And, if the person to your left is a Builder, you can Build too, so long as you steer away from the sort of buildings he purchases? The next question is of course- how does one tell?

Mike Compton (compman):

Therein lies the problem. It's usually during the Mid-Game stage when a person commits to emphasizing either shipping or building in their game play and, from my perspective, it usually comes down to a particular building choice in a crucial Building phase. Once someone commits to purchasing a major "points" building (a.k.a. the Harbor or the Wharf) and it wasn't just a shoot from the hip move by someone who doesn't know what they're doing in the game, then you can reasonably hope that that person will occassionally craft and/or take the Captain to try and get some extra use out of that building. Then, if you are faced with a choice between, say, a "late" factory or an "early" points building, it becomes more likely that the early points building will pay off.

However, rather than intentionally going for building or shipping from the beginning, or trying to force a shipping or building strategy into your game play because of what the other players are doing, the best thing to do is to simply try and focus as much as you can on income in the beginning, take what the game gives you, and then see where you are in the Mid-Game. I talked in my article about how round 9 can sort of serve as a reference point for judging the effectiveness of "points" buildings. If you have established a variety of crops, you have obtained a factory, and you can also afford a "points" building before the end of round 9, then you can reasonably do well in both aspects of the game. If, however, you find yourself in a position where you have a choice between buying a money building late or a major points building early, then the strategy choices of others and their seating positions become more important considerations in your choice.

I don't believe the seating positions of others and their building vs. shipping strategy orientation is as important as your questions are implying. Nor are they as important as perhaps my previous comments have made them out to be. I brought up these ideas in my discussion because there are times when it is helpful to be aware of these things in making decisions. These points should be considered but they should not be so heavily considered that you feel compelled to awkwardly re-route your game strategy because of them. That would be too rigid of a mind set.

If, however, you have a reasonable choice between two building options - one leading you towards more of a shipping emphasis and one leading you towards more of a building emphasis, then take the seating order of the other players and their strategy orientation into greater account and make what you perceive to be the best decision possible.

Note: Though strategy orientation with respect to seating order can be more or less important from game to game, remember that seating order with respect to cash crop production is consistently relevant. Producing the same cash crop as the person to your right is going to give you trouble almost every time.

Mike Compton (compman):

I started this thread as a means of presenting conventional, strategic principles for the basic game of Puerto Rico to help those new to the game get their feet wet. Now, with that same intent in mind, I would like to take the discussion a step further and discuss unconventional strategy.

I want to hear from people who have implemented or seen an extreme strategy or very different method of play actually win a game where experienced players were playing.

-I emphasize actually winning, not "coming close", because coming close can have the effect of "over-validating" an approach. I want this thread to continue to be true to its primary intent - that of being a resource to those new to the game. By discussing out-of-the-box thinking that has actually produced a victory, those who are new to the game and who are reading this thread can learn to recognize such unconventional approaches and then deal with them in a more informed way. If we start talking about any and every sort of extreme strategy just for its own sake, regardless of whether it has actually helped someone win a game or not, then this thread could move from being an effective discussion of strategy into one big digression.

-I also emphasize the importance of there having been experienced players in the game where the unconventional strategy won because inexperienced players can be susceptible to making mistakes that can over-exaggerate the effectiveness of a given strategy. (Granted, the classifications of "experienced" versus "unexperienced" are debatable so use your best judgment.)

-Also, if you present an unconventional strategy here that has actually succeeded, I ask that you please try to provide an explanation (as best you can) for why it did succeed.

Now, here we go.

One different type of strategy I saw the after-effects of was a "colonist" strategy that was a combination of an early Hacienda purchase, early purchases of the Large Indigo and Sugar buildings, and heavy Mayoring. It depleted the colonists quickly, thus ending the game earlier, and there were only five total shipping victory points earned among all the players in the course of the game. This method apparently produced a victory. I arrived just after the game ended and the person who used that strategy discussed how experienced players have a hard time adapting to it. From what I understand, the reasoning behind this approach is that an early Hacienda allows a player to get extra plantations through Settling while they also spend smaller amounts of money on purchasing the Large Indigo and Sugar buildings early (both of which have three colonist spots). Then, the player using this strategy focuses on Mayoring and putting the extra colonists on the extra plantations they acquired through their Hacienda instead of putting them in their city - resulting in larger colonist requirements for refilling the Colonist Ship in subsequent Mayoring phases. Thus, the Colonists can deplete a lot faster. I believe the game in which this strategy won was a three-player game so I don't know if it would work as well in a four or five player game. I also think it's posslbe that the best response to this strategy would simply be to avoid shipping as a focus altogether and focus instead on building as much as possible since a shorter game tends to favor builders over shippers.

I've also noticed that there are times when other players have chosen to Mayor as their first move when they were the Governor in the first round instead of going Settler-Quarry. (I remember one such instance where the player who did that actually ended up winning the game.) I believe the reasoning behind such a decision (assuming the player making it isn't just making some random move) deals with the plantation selection available in the opening draw. If there are lots of corn plantations available, choosing to Mayor instead of taking Settler-Quarry prevents any other players from manning a quarry in the first round if they choose to go Settler-Quarry while also disrupting the traditional Settler, Builder, Mayor sequence in a three-player game that leaves the third player with one colonist on their corn plantation and another on a potential Small Market. Also, if anyone else chooses the Settler in the first round, then the player who was the Governor first can get a corn plantation early which can serve as a valuable "protection" good for their cash crop later on.

So, those are a few examples. Let's hear some more.

Mike Compton (compman):

Because of a lack of response to the request I made in my last post, I'm getting the impression that there just aren't that many unorthodox strategies out there that actually do succeed in an arena with experienced players. I suspected as much but I still made the request anyway just to see if there happened to be any I hadn't encountered. The point to be made by this is that, while it may be exciting to try an extreme approach and to come close to victory in using that approach, without viable victories in credible scenarios, a strategy is not worth much.

One final point

I've been posting a lot of information here on this thread for newbies to Puerto Rico. One last point I want to make is in connection with a point I made earlier in my article about the role of randomization in Puerto Rico. Not counting seemingly "random" plays made by players who are unfamiliar with the game and who "shoot from the hip" rather than calculate appropriately and not counting random "kingmaker" moves made by suddenly disillusioned players in the interest of "giving" the game to another player for emotional reasons, there are only three random elements of Puerto Rico:

1. Seating order

2. Who the Governor is in the first round

3. The plantations tiles available in each draw

I bring these up because it is important to know that a person may study every strategy there is, play a "perfect" game, and still not win (assuming all of the other players play a perfect game as well). This is because the three elements of randomness (especially the tile draws in the Opening stage of the game) do not necessarily result in equal footing for every player.

Granted, you can make it much more likely that you will win if you:

-Become familiar with the various dynamics of the game outlined both on this thread and on the many other strategy threads and articles availble,

-Become familiar with a variety of game scenarios through repeated playing so that you will be more adaptable to a given situation,


-Study the tendencies of other players so you can make calculated guesses as to how they will approach certain scenarios.

However, there are no guarantees. If you can win at Puerto Rico more than you lose, then you are an accomplished player.

Philip Thomas (Philip Thomas):

Well yes. For one thing, even if you are playing only with 3 players in all your games, winning 50% of the time is some 17% more than you would expect to win if the winnner was determined randomly. Play with 5 players and this rises to 30% more.

Mike Compton (compman):

Precisely. I would say that most of the time, games of Puerto Rico played on BSW are three player games (since it's a lot quicker and eaiser to get a three player game going as opposed to waiting around for a fourth or fifth player to show up and join). As of right now, the top ten Puerto Rico players on BSW win 63% to 77% of the time when they play the game. Considering the percentages you pointed out, that becomes pretty remarkable.

Yehuda Berlinger (Shade_Jon):

There is one other potential random element: Hacienda.

Mike Compton (compman):

You're right. I hadn't made that distinction because the plantation tiles are involved with the Hacienda but it's use does constitute a fourth element of randomness that is seperate from, and in addition to, the randomness involved in the available draws. With the draws, the random element is which tiles are available in that particular draw. From that random availability, one may make a deliberate decision regarding which tile to select from the tiles available knowing full well what the consequences may be. With the Hacienda, the consequences are unknown to the player who chooses to use it (and to the other players in the game as well) until after the random tile has been acquired. Thus, the usefulness of a Hacienda either for one's self or for an opponent does become a fourth random element distinct from the other three. Excellent point.

Mike Compton (compman):

I do have an extreme strategy to add to this thread that did produce a victory against experienced players. The scenario was a three player game on BSW in which, at the end:

-I had the Guild Hall, one of every production building (large and small), an operational small market, an operational factory with all five types of goods being produced, and an operational Harbor (obtained on, I think, round 10). I came in third.

-The second place player had an operational factory, a small and large market, a corn plantation, small sugar and small indigo facilities along with coffee and tobacco (all being produced), and both a manned Residence and Fortress.

-The winner (who won by one point) had two early corn plantations, manned them, produced over and over again (allowing both myself and the second place player to trade effectively), didn't buy any buildings for several building phases at the beginning until he finally made his first purchase - a harbor - at about round 6, he had a small warehouse, small sugar, and coffee (all in production), and a token hacienda (which he never got to use) by the end. He only had two corn plantations for most of the game until near the end when he acquired a third.

The winner didn't really focus on income at all during the entire course of the game. He focused solely on shipping points from the beginning. The second place player and I put tobacco on one ship to try and stop the bleeding but the other few goods (sugar and indigo) that the winner was producing were occassionally on ships and the Harbor paid off for him in Spades. The funny thing about the game is that it was the colonists, not shipping points or filling a city with buildings that ended the game (though there were just two shipping points left in the pile at the end). I attribute this to the Fortress purchase made by the second place player and his accompanying end game mayoring.

I built a Harbor at the risk of letting the second place player potentially take the Guild Hall in hopes of riding the "shipping wave" that the winner was creating. It didn't work - in part because I wasn't in the corn production business until late in the game and that was what the winner was primarily shipping. Also, I eventually got the Guild Hall because, if I remember correctly, the second place player decided to go for more diversity in production instead and built a Tobacco facility. The winner didn't have a single big building. There were even a few rounds of shipping where he only got 1 or two points while myself and the second place player caught up a bit.

I have heard of strategies like this coming close before but never really succeeding. They just didn't have enough juice to surge ahead of those who focused on income in the beginning stage of the game. As a result, it was hard to take the shipping efforts of the eventual winner seriously in this particular game because he was so far behind in buildings and big building extra points and because I've heard of and seen similar types of efforts fail in the past.

The second place player, had he built the City Hall instead of the Residence, would have had the extra point to tie the eventual winner and would have won the tie-breaker by two doubloons but decided not to go with that big building. I believe this was because of his diversity of good production and the resulting number of non-violet production buildings in his city. Nevertheless, a victory was produced by an extreme strategy - a slim victory, but a victory none the less.

Mike Compton (compman):

Counting Issues

In my article, I placed a strong emphasis on counting rounds. I would like to back up and discuss a few issues here with regards to keeping track of things in the game before dealing with round counting specifically.

First, though I advocate counting rounds, I do not advocate keeping track of the other players' shipping points as it is, in my opinion, against the spirit of the rules. My rule book (which is the Rio Grande Games version) specifies that “a player keeps his victory points, unlike his money and goods, secret from the others.” The game is designed with the intent that each person’s shipping point total stays secret – hence the single-sided design of the shipping point chips in the regular board game edition and the fact that you are only able to see your own shipping point total and not that of the other players on the Puerto Rico game interface for BSW.

However, there may be some who would seek to justify keeping track of others’ shipping points because of a quirk in the BSW Puerto Rico format. There, as the game is played, text messages appear at the bottom of the screen indicating who traded what and for how much, who bought what, and which goods were shipped and for how many victory points. Those messages help clarify what is going on in the game as the game progresses (in case you looked away or missed something in how the interface portrayed the action of the game). The problem with this format is that those messages do not go away during the course of the game. Thus, someone could (if they wanted to) scroll back and use those text messages as a means of helping them keep a written track of the shipping points of the other players. The worst part of this is that no one would ever know. Even though the format makes such an action possible, my firm stance on this issue is that doing so would be against the spirit of the rules of the game and would constitute cheating. You may, however, keep a mental count of others’ shipping points if you are able. There is also the allowance for keeping overt track on paper of the shipping points you (and you alone) earn after the victory point chips happen to run out in the middle of a Captain phase in a f2f game.

Round Counting

Even though keeping track of other players’ shipping points is not legitimate, keeping track of which round you are on is, in my opinion, perfectly legitimate and not at all in conflict with the spirit of the rules. The problem, then, with the practice of round counting is not its legitimacy. Rather, it is the perceptions of others. Let me explain.

When one is playing on BSW, round counting is not a problem. You can just keep track on a piece of paper. However, when playing f2f, other players who can see what you are doing may have a problem with your keeping track of anything on paper during the course of the game because of the element of secrecy that accompanies each player’s shipping point total. In other words, they may not be able to see the distinction between legitimately keeping track of the rounds and illegitimately keeping track of the other players’ shipping points. This lack of tolerance for overt round counting will become particularly true if you ever play in a f2f tournament.

The issue then becomes how to legitimately count rounds within the confines of a f2f game (as opposed to writing the round numbers down on a separate piece of paper). In other words, how does one count rounds within the rules of the game using the resources the game provides so as to not arose the suspicions and prejudices of the other players. With this question in mind, let’s look at some of the rules for placing the resources the game provides.

Again referring to my rule book, it specifies that money and goods earned by a player are to be placed on the windrose of that player’s game board:

The rule book also specifies that shipping victory point chips are to be placed (face-down) on the player’s windrose. The important point here is that it is not specified in the rules how those resources are to be arranged on the windrose. Recall that I discussed how there tends to be about 16 rounds in Puerto Rico. Well, with a little counting, we realize that the following, very convenient, reality exists:

Now, a player may spend all of his or her doubloons and may ship/trade all of his or her goods so it is not assured that those resources will remain on your game board. However, once you obtain at least one shipping point chip, you guarantee yourself that you will have at least one victory point chip on your game board for the remainder of the game. Once you have that chip, it can then become your round counter due to its placement on the board:

Each time the Governor card moves, simply rotate your shipping point chip one more notch around the windrose. This way, you will be able to keep track of which round you are on and, more importantly, which phase of the game you are in:

You will also be more aware of how close you are to round 9 (which tends to be the major points building acquistion deadline) and where you are with respect to the two thresholds of the game:

When I play Puerto Rico on BSW, I actually use a printed out windrose and a moving marker as my way of keeping track of which round I'm on. This way, it is not so much of an adjustment when I switch to playing f2f.

Yehuda Berlinger (Shade_Jon):

I may as well add: I have won a minority of games against extremely good players with a "different from usual" strategy. The strategy includes:

A few corns, sugar, tobacco (late in the game, round 9 or so), Harbor, and Custom's House. By taking only roles with GP on then initially, I have money. The early VP advantage can get as high as 10 points which is worth a big building. And the Custom House has ended with sometimes 11 point bonus. Sugar usually trades when others trade tobacco and coffee. The tobacco is used only for additional shipping and VP for the building.

Also, in most games I play, I take no quarries at all, unless I am first player in first round.

Mike Compton (compman):

How early would you say you take the Harbor when you try that strategy? In the game I documented previously, the Harbor was the first building purchase of the eventual winner and, if I remember correctly, he passed on some early builder phases to have the doubloons necessary to buy the Harbor so early. Would you do something similar with the approach you're describing or not?

Also (if you will indulge me) what would you do to counter someone else if they were using the strategy you are describing? My initial impression would be to either take steps through mayoring and building to try and end the game as quickly as possible (perhaps even using the "hacienda - large indigo and sugar buildings - heavy mayoring" strategy I described earlier on when I first brought up the subject of successful extreme strategies) or just copy the early shipping strategy as best you can and ride it out for all it's worth. What types of counter approaches have you found to be the most effective against it?

Evertjan van de Kaa (ejvandekaa):

Best is to first go for the money. The harbor is only interested if you have different goods. thus i think you need to have a cash crop first, preferably tabako or koffee and a corn. also pay atention to the fact that the road to the factory and to the harbor are the same. thus if the harbors are gone a factory might be a good choise. (this gives you potentionaly more money, thus enabling you to use the builder strategy)

I think you should build the harbor as soon as you can, which means after the sale of a cash crop (coffee or tobako). but this might actualy be the point to decide wether to build or to ship.

one way to respond to that strategy wopuld be to produce a lot of the same goods. Another to create ships where he cannot deliver to.

Naturaly the blocking with goods he does not produce will eventualy be imposible because a harbor strategy means that the player would want to produce a lot of different goods. (it might be posible to make sure that the harbor player cannot get a coffee or tabak factory but the chance is small).

The producing a lot of the same (combined with not chosing the crafter) would work the best.

pay attention that your goal is to lower the amount of different shipments that player can make. Thus blocking ships is best (with goods he does not produce or by filling a ship up) but baring that reducing his shipments is also good (ie make sure that that player cannot deliver again next turn (don't make ships where he can deliver one cofee 5 times))

on a seperate point after captaining people tend to have goods left over. make sure that the player(s) with the harbor dont get a chance to deliver them while you cannot ship. these goods are an easy 3 points (for one good) for the harbor player.

Evertjan van de Kaa

note that you should use the information this gives about his strategy. as mentioned above it means that he would want to produce a lot of different goods. if succesfull he would then also be interested in the factory and in the warf. also the guild house is of interest, as is the custems house. especialy the custems house can give a lot of points if the harbor strategy works very well.

Information it gives you is that that player will want to ship. thus the roles crafter and captain are of more than average interest to him.

Mike Compton (compman):

To evertjan,

The discussion at the moment is about extreme strategies that work in the face of conventional play. Shade-Jon posted a strategy that was sort of unconventional prior to the questions I posed in my last post and it was concerning that strategy that my request for futher information was directed. What I'm trying to get at, at the moment, is how certain "extreme" strategies work or how they may even depend on the other players playing conventionally. In other words, if someone goes for an "extreme" shipping strategy that defies the natural rhythm of "income first, points later", is it possible that the other players playing conventionally is precisely what allows such a strategy to succeed? Is there something about shipping "protection goods" to set up your cash crop for trading that actually facilitates a victory via the use of an extreme early shipping strategy by another player? And, if so, what should one do differently (if anything) in the game once one picks up on the fact that another player is using such an extreme approach?

In asking these questions, I'm kind of approaching Puerto Rico much like one would approach chess. There are a wide variety of traditional opening combinations in chess and each opening was, at one point, unconventional and needed analysis before it became common place and even received a recognized name. An prime example of the type of play I'm trying to discuss would be a "gambit". A chess gambit is set up by the opposing player offering a sacrifice of one of their pieces to the other player in exchange for that player giving up their established presence in the center of the board. Usually, you do not want to sacrifice a center presence. However, choosing to take the other player's offered sacrifice can be beneficial if you know the predictable long-term consequences of such a move and you know how to navigate around those consequences.

Forgive me if I mis-understood, but it seems to me that most of what you discussed in your last post was very traditional, conventional play and that you were simply repeating some of the basic suggestions of conventional play that have already been discussed in this thread. I do agree with the point you bring up about blocking ships as a potential remedy - but, in this context, one has to ask at what cost? In other words, in order to stop such an unconventional strategy, should a player play unconventionally and actually seek to ship their cash crop early rather than trade it early simply to stop someone else from getting a large amount of early victory points? Traditionally, such a move would be fatal as income is so much more important in the beginning stage of the game. But, is there a scenario where it would actually be beneficial to ship your cash crop early if, perhaps, another player has found a game plan that exploits some of the predictability of such conventional play?

Simply continuing to play conventionally is something a person can do and understand without engaging in this current discussion. I'm trying to find out if there are times when traditionally "unconventional" play actually becomes "conventional" in that it is the only successful way to combat an extreme strategy. Again, forgive me if I'm mis-understanding you or somehow missing your point. I believe the language barrier is perhaps the problem in this instance.

Philip Thomas (Philip Thomas):

When you say the Harbor is the first building he purchased, are you including Production buildings? I.e, he was only producing corn??

Mike Compton (compman):

Yes. It was a situation where the winner actually did buy a Harbor first before any production buildings. He had two early corn to work with and, after buying the Harbor, established sugar with a small sugar facility. I eventually did buy a Harbor as well but I didn't get a corn planation until later in the game so I wasn't able to take proper advantage of the situation. I watched lots of corn get produced and shipped before I got into the mix. Part of the reason why I believe I underestimated his approach was because he only had two early corn plantations. If he had three or four early I would have been worried (though he eventually got a third before the end of the game). He crafted like crazy which I felt played to the advantage of myself and the third player. The winner gave us trading opportunities on a platter in exchange for being able to ship his goods consistently.

At this point, my suspicion is that such a strategy depends heavily on fortunate circumstances (i.e. the plantation draws) and is not necessarily a high-winning-percentage strategy when compared with the traditional "income first, points later" approach. However, I've only seen it once as it is so unconventional. So, I'm trying to find out if it is something that demands enough attention to justify breaking out of traditional methods of play in order to deal with it or if it is something that, 9 times out of 10, will fail when compared with the more proven methods of play.

Philip Thomas (Philip Thomas):

Well it obviously relies on early corn draws and is best for starting with corn. In order to get the Harbor he needs 8- in a 5 player game he has 4 to start with. Prospector, Prospector, Builder, would be one method. And that position, a Harbor on turn 3, looks pretty powerful. Assuming you get 1 VP from the harbour each turn (some turns the Captain doesn't happen or they block you, but other turns you ship multiple goods so it balance out), that is about 12 VPs extra (taking 1 turn to man the Harbor). What is the opportunity cost of this tactic? Well, you don't get a small market in the 1st build phase, or a hacienda in the second. The small market is worth perhaps 10 gold over the game (at best).The hacienda is more difficult to quantify but can't be worth that much. You lose out by picking Prospector but again it can't be that much. So it looks as if this strategy has merit.

If you are the 4th player, player 5 can annoy you in round 1 by picking the 2nd Prospector. Which might happen if he has the same idea as you, confirming the general PR truth about duplicate tactics. So this is a better 5th player tactic than 4th player. Problem there is that you can't guarantee getting Builder in round 3. (Indeed picking Builder on rounds where Builder+this player's gold=8 is a good idea...). This pushes the Harbour to round 4, losing you a VP and imposing extra opportunity cost.

In the 4 or 3 player game the strategy is weaker as you start with less gold and the Prospectors are not so available.

Responses to this tactic. The 2 Prospector picks are a bit of a giveaway, when combined with not building anything. Try to pick up the corn plantations, and also any other crops he is producing. If you can get into heavy corn production you can seriously cramp his style (given he is on your right). He will be shipping as much as possible, so make sure you are getting maximum benefit from shipping. Buying the second harbor seems a good plan.

Mike Compton (compman):

Excellent analysis - especially concerning how the strategy would change in its effectiveness depending on the number of players. The game I played where the early harbor strategy won was a three player game, and the winner wasn't able to get the harbor out until about round 6. It still paid off quite well for him though. Getting the Harbor out three rounds before the conventional deadline of round 9 must have made enough of a difference to help offset his lack of building "money" buildings in the Opening Stage when considered in conjunction with some other facts:

-He was doing all the crafting in the Opening stage (which gave him extra barrels of corn to ship). Both myself and the other player traded initially with indigo and corn but then, because of a lack of other crops having been developed, the Trading House became locked up. After that, both myself and the other player began to focus on roles with incentive doubloons on them while the winner continued to take the Craftsman and the Captain (both of which were lacking incentive doubloons due to the winner's frequent use of them).

-Because the eventual winner was doing all the shipping he was also reaping an additional victory point each time he shipped as his privilege for taking the Captain role (which added to his Opening Stage victory point total).

The general wisdom of Puerto Rico is that points in the beginning are less valuable than doubloons and that that relationship gradually changes in favor of points as the game progresses. Rather than defying this relationship, perhaps an early harbor, combined with heavy crafting and shipping, simply produces enough early, extra victory points to offset the advantages of having early income.

If that is true, then I believe that the Harbor is perhaps the only "points" building that would make such a strong difference so early on in the game because the issue of ship blocking (for which the Wharf and Warehouses act as solutions) doesn't really become relevant until after several of the players have had time to develop a variety of crops or to heavily develop one type of crop (both of which would occur later in the game).

The other advantage of going for a Harbor early would be that you could potentially "wait" to develop the particular cash crop that ends up on one of the boats - and you could do so at about the same time in the game that the other, more conventional players, would be turning their attention away from crop development and more towards "points" building acquisitions.

However, as you pointed out, the effectiveness of an early Harbor strategy obviously depends on having some early corn draws (which is subject to the random element of the draw). Without those early corn plantations, there wouldn't be enough early barrels produced and shiped to provide enough extra points to overcome the initial "doubloons are worth more than points" opportunity cost relationship in the game. Also, there would be quite a burden on a player using the "early Harbor" strategy to completely outdistance the other players in early shipping points in order to offset the potential advantages a focus on early income would afford the other players later on in the game.

Philip Thomas (Philip Thomas):

Turn 6. He started with 2 gold. Since he isn't earning doubloons any other way, he has to take roles with bonus doubloons on them, especially as there are no Prospectors. In turn 1 no such roles exist. So he has turns 2,3,4,and 5 (and possibly turn 6 if Builder has any doubloons on it). It follows that at least one role he took must have had 2 doubloons on it (or Builder had a doubloon on it in turn 6).

Anyway, my analysis had some flaws. Firstly, he would buy a harbour in turn 9 anyway, so the VP flow from the early harbour is only 6 (at most). On the other hand, in order to buy in turn 9 he has to focus on income in the early game, whereas the early harbour master can get points by shipping after he has the harbour. Secondly, the buildings unbought are worth Vps as well as having a function, so the opportunity cost is something like 3 VPs.

Evertjan van de Kaa (ejvandekaa):

Concerning the message of Mike Compton, posted Wed Nov 30,2005 03:42 am

Actualy it was more a question of giving an answer to a mail without looking to the previous mails (or looking/recognizing the name), reading only the mail vrom Wed Nov 30,2005 02:35 am the answer i gave was a valid one as in that mail no mention was made of conventional or unconventional.

as for unconventional ways to stop this i can only over a few things i did not mention before. I do not know if they are conventional or not. First of having the harbor does not make it active. shipping as much points/goods before it gets active can help.

One could make sure that the harbor player needs to ship alone, meaning he needs to chose both captain and producer himself. this means he needs twice as much tiime. combining this with making him chose other roles either by making those more interesting or as a defencive action. however i do not know how this last one can be done, though one might force him to chose the builder.

Mike Compton (compman):

I tried the "early Harbor" strategy on BSW last night (passing on initial Builder phases so I had the money for it earlier) and it failed miserably - just as I thought it would. I will admit that I was racking up early victory points because I focused on corn early and I was willing to Craft and ship in the opening but the other players saw that as enough of a threat to put Tobacco, Cofee, and Sugar on the boats while I was still only producing Indigo and Corn. Once that happened, the game was over for me because those were slow filling boats and I finished a distant third.

Going so completely with one focus like that is VERY limiting - again, just as I thought it would be. The guy whose victory with the early harbor that we have been discussing did have some balance to his game while ship blocking should have been more of a focus on the part of the other player and myself in order to stop his momentum. Common sense dictates that most extreme plays leave a player really vulnerable and, thus, easily defeatable by the other players. It's just a matter of knowing when someone is being successful enough with extreme measures to justify addressing them.

I want to point out that this was the first time I've really tried an "extreme" strategy on BSW. Usually I try to play as balanced as I can and then pick a focus (building or shipping) in the Mid-Game depending on how the game has evolved for me. In other words, I follow my own advice that I gave back in my strategy article. The reason why I have shied away from trying really extreme, unconventional tactics is because, as I said before, common sense dictates that most extreme strategies have severe weaknesses to them that are easily exploited. I believe that when others choose to join a game, they are doing so because they expect genuine competition and gamesmanship from the other players. Thus, I really detest the idea of making a game my own personal "science experiment" where I'm trying out ideas that I already do not think will work simply because I'm curious. Granted, I did have to play lots of games on BSW to begin to distill the principles I've brought up in this thread but those games were all genuine attempts at winning rather than just seeing what kinds of results came from extreme plays regardless of whether they actually produced a victory or not. For these reasons, I brought up the "extreme strategy" topic here so that many of us can take advantage of the experimental "dirty work" done by a few of us. I believe, when someone chooses to play a game with me, that I owe them the best competition that I can give them (unless the game is a learning game and they need my help figuring out how things work).