June 21, 2003
Gaming: Part II
The other game that I’ve been playing recently is Puerto Rico, a resource management game set in colonial Central America. Each turn consists of each person picking a job, and then all players get to use the benefits of that job. The trick is that whoever picks the job gets a benefit or discount on their own use, and they get to use it first. For example, when you pick Captain everyone gets to ship goods. However, you get a bonus for your shipment, and you get to place your goods on the ships first, which is important, because space may run out.
The trick of the game is managing to work off of what other people decide to do, and picking jobs in the right order. But its very tricky to do in practice. In addition, the points are hidden during the game, so it’s tough to figure out who is actually winning until the end. My first game, everyone was so certain that I was winning. However, the end of the game came around with all its bonuses and so forth, and I ended up in last place.
The game looks incredibly complicated to the casual observer, but once you start playing, you pick it up very fast. And you can play a whole game in an hour or so. lots and lots of fun.
The most interesting part to me, from a design perspective, is how the end-of-game state is reached. There are a number of endgame triggers (someone fills up all their building spaces, there are no more colonists left, etc.), any one of which is sufficient to cause the game to end, and people to start counting up their score. Every round, at least one of these endgame triggers gets closer to going off, so the game is necessarily limited to about 10 or 15 rounds at the most. The amazing thing is that the game is so well balanced that most games end with all of the endgame limits happening in one round.