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.


Another Game Day in Honor of St. Patrick

April 8, 2012

Two years after our first St. Patrick’s game day and party evening, we did it all over again…and it was good. The number of adults playing dropped substantially, but the number of kids on the scene increased dramatically (hmm, funny how that works out). And the beautiful weather outside–78 F on a Saturday in March in Minnesota–definitely meant folks had lots of early spring choices outdoors. But we had a blast regardless.

First up, a four player game of Cuba around 11 AM. My wife and I had never played before, but Rick was happy to teach us. The board was beautiful, there were a lot of wooden playing pieces being grown/produced/shipped/sold, and, unlike some Euro style games where I cannot figure out what the heck is going on, this game clicked after about one turn of play. I love that there is a “legislature” and that I got to spend all game happily making cigars and shipping them to wealthy Americanos. Rick won, I took second place just two points behind him.

Homemade pretzels and board games. Nom nom nom.

Next up, lunch. Feasting took place. Hurray! I put on a green shirt finally to celebrate the day. After lunch, Rick, my wife, and I sat down to play a game that recently arrived on my doorstep, Cosmic Karma. We quickly read through the rules and began playing. After a turn or two of looking up rules interactions, things began to click and we had a good time. While this is not normally my style of game (“roll and move” mechanic) we enjoyed ourselves and it was light enough that we could hold a conversation and play.

Oooh, pretty mandala board. 

Our third game of the day was Hare and Tortoise. Our friends Russ and Lily joined in for this one. This was also brand new (to me, anyway!) and I really liked how the presence of other rabbit racing players near my token limited my choices. You can’t plan too far ahead, but you also have to be aware of who is in what position on the board. And apparently, unlike in the animal kingdom, you get penalized for hoarding because you can’t cross the finish line with too many carrots. (This led to my demise.) Lily cruised to a first place finish while I had to sit on the last space and “munch carrots.”

High five for theme-appropriate snacks!

We finished our afternoon with a few rounds of 7 Wonders and a full table of players. And man, did the dining room table fill up fast with cards! I won the first round with the Colossus of Rhodes (A side), but took last place using the Statue of Zeus in Olympia (A side) in the second game. I always enjoy the good-natured griping that occurs in this game. It’s fun hearing, “Who shuffled the deck?” and the like.

Rick is the most accusatory of the Margineers.

After this, folks arrived for dinner and the games were put away in favor of other pursuits. And while it was a smaller game day than two years ago, we still had a lot of fun and will likely do it again! Thanks to all who came.


When It Rains It Pours

February 13, 2012

Much like John, I was also clamoring to get back into some gaming over the holidays. I thought I would get a great day of gaming in on Black Friday as my wife and I were hosting a game day for all those people who didn’t go shopping. Unfortunately a stomach flu affected me, my wife and my oldest daughter so the gaming plans were scrapped. This lead to a drought of gaming in the early part of winter due to my #1 gaming partner, my wife, busy baking and crafting various things for Christmas.

But the long holiday weekends over Christmas and New Years started a gaming binge that lasted a couple of months! Below are some of the highlights:

Blokus: I gave my parents a copy of this game so now when I visit we usually get a game of this in. My sister’s family was in state to celebrate Christmas and I was able to get a few games in with of my nieces and nephew. After our first game, which I won, I made the mistake of letting them know I had never lost a game of Blokus before. I was immediately destroyed in the next game… and the next game after that. That will teach me to keep my mouth shut.

7 Wonders: My 4 siblings and I draw names for buying Christmas gifts for each other each year. This year I drew my younger sister’s name. She’s been getting into board gaming and I thought she would enjoy 7 Wonders. We let her open this gift the night before the others so that I could teach her (and other family members) how to play the game. I think I lost some people while explaining the rules, but I assured them that once you start playing it’s actually a simple game. After the first game we played again and it was a hit. I played several more games of this over New Years when my sister stayed at our place for a few days. I find myself really liking this game: quick playing, always involved and you get to create a civilization in just 18 card plays.

Zooloretto: As Jon mentioned, my wife and I were finally able to host that game day. We were rescheduled for Martin Luther King Jr Day since I had the day off from work. Our Priest was able to make the game day and my daughters and I were able to get in a couple of games of Zooloretto with him. It was nice to hang out with Fr. Mike outside of church – I think the girls especially enjoyed that. I don’t remember the scores, but we all had a great time creating our zoos.

Age of Conan: Later in the month Joe, Russ and I sat down to capture treasure and women and slay some monsters. Russ and I spread our armies across the board and were scoring points for the first age. Joe didn’t score a single point, but his emissarries were out filling his coffers. After the second age Joe got on the board, but still lagged in points. However, he was moving Conan effectively and was able to crown him king. That swing in points along with some military progress in the third age catapulted him into first place by the end.

The gaming binge culminated this past weekend with another game day. This time it was the Minnepolis Board Game Madness on Saturday. This is a monthly meet-up of local gamers to spend a weekend doing what we love. With the kids at my parents house it gave my wife Jess, and I the opporunity to play.

St. Petersburg: Our first game of that day was St. Petersburg with Greg and Trish. Greg was new to the game so I was explaining the rules. After hitting all the points, I finished by telling him how the game ends: when one of the decks runs out the game ends after that phase. Trish stopped me and told me differently – we finish all of the phases of that round. She was certain and after a rules check I realized she was right! Jess glared at me. I’m pretty sure a few of the recent games where I had bested her would have been different had we been playing it right… I think we’ll be getting this to the table again soon to play it correctly. The game finished with Trish scoring huge bonus points with 9 aristocrats to give her the win.

Cuba: After lunch Jess and I were joined by Brian and Nadine for a few games. One that I taught was Cuba – I kept the rules close just in case! I got off to a good start using my Large Branch Office to ship plenty of products. But my wife was able to get a Distillery and Rum Cafe together to churn out VP. Brian and Nadine got their little plantation engines going as well. At the end of the final turn we paid our final taxes and duties and awarded the bonus points for buildings. The final score was 71VP to Nadine, Brian and Jess finished with 72VP and I eeked out a victory with 73VP. A very exciting finish to a close game.

I’m sure I’ve averged at least a game per day over the last couple of months and it’s been a blast. I’ve learned new games and played some old favorites. I played with family, friends and complete strangers and had fun the entire time. Hopefully I can keep up a steady number of plays through out 2012.

Now I need to get back to the Kremlin to plot my next move…