That Caribbean Island Euro-Game

April 30, 2014

I recently picked up a copy of Puerto Rico and (finally!) had a chance to give it a try. One of my favorite games is Cuba so I wanted to see how it stacked up and if one was really better than the other. Let’s take a closer look at each game.

A Brief Description
Puerto Rico involves producing goods – like sugar and tobacco – and then trading them in for money or shipping them for victory points. The game consists of individual player boards that represent plantations that produce the goods and hold buildings. Erecting buildings will bend the rules for the owner to give them a strategic advantage over their opponents. For example, if a player has a Warehouse, their goods won’t rot allowing them hang on to them to use in future rounds. However, to get goods or have the building effects occur, there must be a worker in the right spot to activate those spaces. Building also are worth points at the end of the game. Players carry out the various actions – like building, producing, trading and shipping – by selecting roles. Knowing when to choose each role is crucial to your overall strategy. If timed properly you can score big and prevent your opponents from doing the same.

Cuba involves producing goods – like sugar and tobacco – and then trading them in for money or shipping them for victory points. The game consists of individual player boards that represent plantations that produce the goods and hold buildings. Erecting buildings will bend the rules for the owner to give them a strategic advantage over their opponents. For example, if a player has a Warehouse, their goods won’t rot allowing them hang on to them to use in future rounds. However, to get goods or have the building effects occur, there must be a worker in the right spot to activate those spaces. Building also are worth points at the end of the game. Players carry out the various actions – like building, producing, trading and shipping – by selecting roles. Knowing when to choose each role is crucial to your overall strategy. If timed properly you can score big and prevent your opponents from doing the same.

Gaming in the Caribbean

Gaming in the Caribbean


“Wait a second…” you say. “I just read the same thing twice!”

Yes. Yes you did. The similarities between the two games are striking.

“So which one should I buy? I clearly don’t need a copy of both games on my game shelf, right?”

Well, let’s take a look at the differences.

Role Selection
In Puerto Rico, the main strategic decision to make each turn is – which role do I pick? There are 7 roles for all of the players to choose from each turn. Each player at the table will only choose one of those roles. The person that chooses the role will get to carry out that action first and get a bonus for choosing that role. The other players will also get to take the action, but without the bonus. This means a couple of things.

First, not every role will be used each turn. You need to know which will help you the most and your opponents the least. Secondly, you need to try to figure out which roles they may choose and make sure you are able to capitalize on the actions they chose as well as your own.

Cuba is quite different. Each player has a personal hand of 5 role cards to choose from. Each player will play 4 of those roles in any order they want. Timing which role to choose is still important, but you are no longer forced to take an action that you didn’t want to take this turn.

In Cuba, role selection is part of the overall strategy, but it isn’t the main mechanism that is driving the hard decisions in the game like in Puerto Rico.

Shipping
In Cuba there is a deck of ship cards with 3 available to load for VP each turn. Every ship has 5 spaces to hold 3 different types of goods (2 of one type, 2 of a second and 1 of a third). The ship in the 3rd dock gives you 3VP per good placed on it. The ship in the 2nd dock gives you 2VP per good and the final ship is 1VP per good. The shipping strategy is basically to fill up the most valuable ship before your opponents so that you score more points. The ship in the 3rd port leaves each turn offering players plenty of options for shipping. Although certain buildings will allow players to turn goods into point directly so shipping isn’t even necessary for some players.

The 3 ships available in Puerto Rico just show a number of spaces on them. When a player ships goods they must place as many goods of the type they’ve chosen to a ship gaining 1VP per good. Once a ship has a good type on it, it can no longer carry any other good type. This means it is possible (and wise!) to load a ship with a good type your opponents don’t have. Preventing them from utilizing that action and from scoring points. This really is a big key to victory – if you aren’t able to ship your goods you likely won’t generate enough VP to win.

Player Boards
The plantations and building you gain in Puerto Rice go on your player board, but it makes no difference where you place them. You do need colonists on the buildings and plantations to have them activated, but it’s not too difficult to put them where they are needed.

The plantation in Cuba is a 3×4 square grid already populated with your production capabilities. To gain any resources and goods you must have a worker in the right spot. The worker only activates the squares in his row and column. So placement of the worker each round is critical. On top of that, when you add a building to your board you cover up a resource or good square with the building. And to activate those you again need your worker in the right row or column. This means placing your buildings is a tough decision during the game. Placing that worker each round will also make for interesting choices – gain more resources and goods or put him in the right spot to capitalize on the buildings. I find that this spatial puzzle mechanism that gets played during the game is what really makes Cuba interesting for me.

What Else?
The other component that sets Cuba apart is the Parliament phase. At the end of each round the role card that wasn’t used to carry out actions is used for votes here. The players are also allowed to buy votes in simultaneous secret bidding. The player with the most votes will then choose 2 of the 4 possible bills and enact them into law. These bills may change the rules slightly for each round but more importantly will change how bonus points are awarded each turn. Preparing for the possible changes is helpful, but sometimes it is important to win the vote and enact the bills that will really help you while hurting your opponents.

Conclusion
Cuba has multiple paths to victory points through shipping, the use of certain buildings and making sure the laws that are enacted help you. Cuba is a bit more forgiving if you don’t make the perfect play because of these options. The spatial element also adds an interesting twist that I enjoy.

Puerto Rico is less forgiving. A couple of bad plays can really take you out of the game. But it’s great when you can pull off a turn where you score big and your opponents are left with nothing to do.

Although the overall themes of the game are identical, the differences in strategy and gameplay really set them apart. And so my game shelf will contain both Puerto Rico and Cuba.