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I've heard a lot of good things about Puerto Rico, but from the 12-page manual it seems a little complex. I revel in the challenge of learning new and difficult games, but sadly the friends I play with aren't as hardcore as I am and are slightly less inclined to reading gigantic rule books. I have no experience whatsoever with Puerto Rico, and want to get some advice before buying. :)

How difficult is the game to teach to new players? Can non-board-game-geeks handle it with some good coaching in the beginning? Are there any other games I should be adding to my collection before Puerto Rico if I'm concerned about new player friendliness but still want a good flexible strategy game?

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I tried to learn Puerto Rico two years ago, and had a second "go" in the past week, "cramming" the rules and strategy recommendations over several nights, and I think I'm still confused. Perhaps it's because the game concepts are different from what I am used to in other games.

The mechanics are simple enough. Each player picks one of several roles (builder, settler, mayor, etc.) and then the players take turns playing that role, with the original picker getting some extra benefits over the other players of the respective roles. Which brings me to the first point:

Puerto Rico is what I call a "curved" game, insofar as what matters is not how much benefit you get in the absolute sense from a role, but how much more you benefit compared to other players. In this regard, its shared roles makes it most like hold 'em (poker) with its "shared" board. If you're a poker player and you understand how hold 'em differs from other forms of poker, you'll get my point about Puerto Rico versus other games. (And if you don't understand this, maybe it's not the game for you.)

The goal in the game is end up with the most victory points, but aiming directly for them might not be the best way to get there. Early in the game, it makes better sense to go for cash, to acquire buildings and other elements of a victory point "machine," and then switch to playing for victory points about mid-game. This back-and-forth is not to everyone's taste.

And then the matter of the victory condition itself. I'm used to games where someone wins if they are the first to reach a specified number of victory points, say 15, or if they have the most victory points at the end of a specified number of rounds, say 15. But that's not how Puerto Rico works.

Basically, you win if the game ends (in one of three different ways) when you have the most victory points. So the goal of the game is not just to get the most victory points, but to end the game when you have the most. If you have the most victory points and can't end the game, and someone overtakes you while ending the game, the other person wins. On the other hand, you shouldn't end the game at a time when you don't have the most victory points, because someone else will win.

Puerto Rico could be a fascinating game for hard core gamers who are willing to take the time to learn its nuances because they plan to play it many times. But as a game to learn once and forget about, I would not recommend it.

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I only played the game once, at a gamers meeting some years back, but this description rings true as best I remember. –  Pieter Geerkens Oct 4 '13 at 4:07
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Puerto RicoBGG is pretty simple to learn. The rules are not too complex and the turn actions are pretty straight forward.

However, like most games that have Victory Points, the game can take a few plays until you understand the flow of actions and which moves are "best".

I would highly reccommend this game. I learned it at lunchtime at the office and, even with experienced players, did pretty well, even tying for the win my third game.

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Having just finished my first game, these are my reactions.

The initial explanation didn't take extremely long, primarily because we left the non-production building explanation for later when we would actually need them. We were able to start playing after about 10-15 minutes of carefully guided explanation.

If the players are open to new things and aren't going to freak out from a lot of parts or a bit of explanation before playing you should be okay. If not, you may want to spend a little bit of time on intro-games to see if they want to take a bigger plunge.

If all the players are new to the game (as in my case) its actually pretty fun to be able to explore it together. I imagine if you had to walk into a jungle when you knew every tree accompanied by 2 people who were still fascinated by the undergrowth you'd be pretty bored.

We started really seeing and taking advantage of the strategies as we found them about mid-way through the game. We were able to share insights and start really applying things. I imagine the next game we'll know our way around more and be able to make more informed choices.

I'd definitely consider it a success. If you have people who are willing to go on the adventure, you'll be able to have fun learning you're way around. I wouldn't play with any experienced people until you've had the time to wander around, get lost, and find the way our yourself. :D

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I don't think the game is that complex. I do think, from personal experience, that it's a tough game for newbies because they can get screwed over pretty easily. When I first started playing Puerto Rico I was regularly reduced to despair by watching my hard-accumulated goods rot away on the pier. Until you've played a few times and have a feel for how the timings work, you'll have to be supernaturally smart to see this kind of thing coming. Many less hardcore gamers don't like this "school of hard knocks" route to success and will give up before they get there.

I've also always found that the buildings - which, let's not forget, are a bunch of nearly identical purple squares covered with tiny text - are impossible to "grok" the first time around. Again, you have to have played the game a bit before their differences and uses become anywhere near obvious, and it takes some stamina to get that far.

In addition, I've heard tell that experienced players get very frustrated with having newbies at the table... because in Puerto Rico you can get such huge advantages from the person sitting next to you producing goods at an opportune time for you, someone acting cluelessly can create a huge swing in the power balance of the game. So not only is the game not much fun for the hapless newbie, it may also be not that much fun for those trying to teach the game to beginners!

But after all that doomsaying, I do have to say that Puerto Rico is well worth it once everyone gets the hang of it. I'd just recommend building up to this level of Eurogame (pretty much the top tier, eh?) in incremental steps, so no one's head explodes from coming to it direct from The Game of Life :D

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I definitely think that its a bad choice if you are going to mix experienced players with new people. Its kind of like pitting an advanced chess player against a beginner. –  Gordon Gustafson Feb 28 '11 at 2:06
    
@CrazyJugglerDrummer: its much worse that pitting an advanced chess player against a beginner, because of the multiplayer effects. –  Chris Dodd Sep 25 '13 at 18:52
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Having just recently completed our first full game of Puerto Rico I have a fresh perspective on this. Previously we only played about an hour into the game. This time we had one new player and she came second place with 1 point behind and 10+ points ahead of the rest.

All in all the individual parts of the game are not that difficult to learn. The manual is very good and with Scott's video you get a good overview on how to get points.

However as others told you already the game is difficult to master. There are a lot of options and it requires some experience to not make too many mistakes.

Contrary to what some commenter said, the game is [or at least can be] very unforgiving for its length. A few bad choices early on coupled with some bad luck can essentially ruin you. To realize that you've doomed yourself to last place and then having to play the remaining 1.5 hours can really hurt! Thus I strongly support Codemwnci's suggestion of playing some sample rounds (~5) before you go for the full game.

Important points to pass on to new players:

  • You win through shipping goods and constructing buildings.
  • Know exactly under what circumstances the game ends.
  • Keep your options open. Make sure that you can profit from most roles even (perhaps even especially) when someone else picks it.
  • Do not neglect your cash flow.

What killed me in our game was cash. I ran out of it in the first or second round and had to pass up three or four building phases. After that everyone had such a big advantage over me that I was never able to catch up again.

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The mechanics are not that difficult but the feeling that a newbie has no clue how to play well is intimidating. I always make sure that they understand that the first few turns don't really matter that much (in a newbie game) and that they'll get the hang of if in a couple of turns. They should just let the complexity wash over them for a couple of rounds.

TRIVIA: The one rule that NO ONE remembers at first is that you can't have two of the same building. I make a point of telling them and adding "...you'll deny that I told you this rule". They still deny it.

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Wait, what? I didn't even know about that rule... –  MrHen Mar 2 '11 at 18:57
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@MrHen: there's a question confirming it, although I imagine you've seen it by now. –  Dave DuPlantis Jun 22 '11 at 16:05
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It depends entirely on the group of people.

I'm good at explaining games, and good at streamlining the concepts to make them easy to understand, but Puerto Rico is far, far too complex to teach to my parents and many of my friends. They would simply fade out after hearing "there are two ways to earn points." These are folks who are thrown by the twelve points rule in Qwirkle, and are much more common than you might think.

Other friends, despite not being boardgame fans, would have no trouble learning the game, and would indeed pick things up after playing a couple of rounds.

Use caution and carefully scope out your audience. See if they're fading out and keep them in the explanation by asking if they have any questions so far, what you should cover again, etc.

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Puerto Rico is one of those games that if you play a 'sample' round or two, the game mechanics and the different role cards can be quickly learnt. It is also such a great game that first time board gamers get hooked on board games because of it. The mechanics of the game are actually pretty simple, but has a good depth of skill required to be a good player.

We often use Puerto Rico as the first game to play with new players. Our second choice is Power Grid.

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Also, the game is very forgiving. No matter the role you choose it has a benefit. My group once played with a five-year-old who ended up beating us all. Since everyone does the action, it's easy for one player who knows it to execute what needs to be done properly. –  Neal Tibrewala Dec 27 '10 at 18:03
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@Neal - I'm not sure if that says more about Puerto Rico or about your group. :) –  Pat Ludwig Dec 28 '10 at 2:06
    
We got better. :P –  Neal Tibrewala Dec 28 '10 at 9:31
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@Code your new players can handle power grid!? that's awesome! Whenever I go to a game store and ask if power grid is good for new players they tell me its one of the worst choices unless they enjoy doing plenty of math to plan ahead multiple turns... –  Gordon Gustafson Jan 2 '11 at 15:32
    
PowerGrid rules are pretty simple. They are unlikely to win because of the strategic element, but they can get to grips with it really quickly. New players don't expect to win first go, but to play a game that is not too complex, yet still enjoy the strategic elements of it has been a good way to hook new gamers. –  Codemwnci Jan 2 '11 at 15:41
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