I've been playing a bit of Puerto Rico against computers (AIs) lately. I'm doing quite well against the easier AIs so I think my overall gameplay isn't so bad but I've realized that I still have problems evaluating some situations from a tactical point of view.

  • Captain and Trader do not offer much choice so their direct effects are quite easy to predict. Still I find that I rarely consider what's beyond the Trader or Captain. Is that a mistake? What should I look for?
  • Mayor and Craftsman are relatively straightforward too. Mayor often leads to Craftsman and Craftsman generally results in Trader and/or Captain. So my thinking is: "Do I benefit from Craftsman enough if I pick Mayor now?" and "Do I get to ship/trade enough if I pick Craftsman now?" I don't think it is feasible to think much further but I welcome suggestions...
  • Settler and Builder are more difficult for me however. They are the most unpredictable element of the game IMO. I usually just think if I need/want a building or plantation and if there's nothing more pressing among the other options then I just go for it. What should I look for when evaluating the benefits of these roles?

Of course with enough time you could thoroughly evaluate every option for your own move and the next one but that would quickly lead to analysis-paralysis. So what can be done in reasonable amounts of time? Are there any kinds of tools to help in training this, aside from playing full games?

  • 1
    My simple motto for playing PR is "What do I get over and above the others, and what are they almost certainly going to play during this round that I will also benefit from.". By weighing up these two factors, you should be able find a pretty solid tactical choices. You can then carry out your chosen strategy, which for me is always about a good balance of goods and buildings.
    – Codemwnci
    Commented Apr 3, 2011 at 10:36
  • The comments mostly echo what I'm currently doing. I think my problem was that the Settler and Builder seem so much less complex to evaluate than the others that I feared there might be some important detail I overlooked. But it seems there isn't and I've been doing it mostly right. Of course there's lots of stuff that still slips past me. So thanks for pointing it out!
    – Kempeth
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 7:13

4 Answers 4


Captain: I would argue that this is actually the most complicated role in the game. If calculating its effects seems easy to you, then Captain might be getting chosen too often in your games. In the group that I play with, it is usually not cut and dry...ie...not all goods will be shipped.

When that happens, so many things come into play:

  • Which of my opponents is likely to captain if I don't?
  • Will I still be able to ship all my goods if they captain instead?
  • Can I force someone else into loading a coffee or tobacco boat when they would rather not?
  • Will the other players in the game understand and silently collude to make that happen?
  • Can I start a coffee or tobacco boat mid/late game to block my indigo and corn shipping opponents?
  • Who has harbors, and how many times will they get to ship?
  • How full is each boat and will the other players get to ship what they want?
  • What about warehouses?
  • How will the leftovers affect the next trader phase?
  • If I delay captaining now, will the next craftsman cause a shortage of goods (ie. the supply will run out)?
  • Will the players with factories be affected by the shortage (and get shortchanged on doubloons)?


  • If trader is a great move for me now, then it's likely that other players won't want to take it. I can wait a turn and it will have accumulated an extra doubloon.
  • If I don't trade, will I still get to if someone else trades (often the answer is yes).
  • What goods are players left with after a trade and who will be set up well for the next trade?

Mayor: the other responses in this thread make good suggestions about mayor.

  • Look for a big gap in benefit (getting 3 colonists vs. 1 colonists).
  • Do other players want me to mayor? If I've got early production (corn and indigo), and they are sitting on coffee and tobacco with unmanned production facilities - there is almost no way I would ever choose mayor. Force them to choose mayor, so it will delay their craftsman by a whole rotation.

Craftsman - Many of the considerations are actually covered in the Captain section. But also:

  • The benefit of taking craftsman is only one extra good, which is not that significant most of the time. When you take it, you are setting up all the other players to have huge moves on the subsequent turns, while you are in the worst position.
  • If you don't craft, will you get shut out because of good shortages?
  • Do you have a factory? Do not craft just so you can get your extra doubloons. Someone else will craft, and you will still get them.

Settler: I try to always take it in the first two or three rounds if I can get a quarry. After that, it feels like the turn you give up to take it is almost always a waste. You'll usually be able to get what you want anyway when someone else chooses settler. If your strategy depends on getting a specific mix of plantations, then you might want to reconsider how you play the game. Which plantations come out is the only element of chance in Puerto Rico, why put yourself at the mercy of it?

Builder: Most of the time I feel like this is one of the easier roles. I usually only take it if:

  • I can build and my opponents cannot.
  • Passing will give an opponent the chance to buy the last of a particular building that is crucial to my own strategy.
  • The 1 doubloon discount will enable me to buy a key building one or two rounds earlier than if I let someone else take it. (although as mentioned by Lance, you might be able to get this doubloon some other way on this turn - often by taking another role with a doubloon bonus already on it)
  • It is mid/late game and I am trying to end the game by filling up all of my building spaces


  • Great answer! The one thing missing is a discussion of how turn order can affect the choices. One example - if the Governor Captains, for the player to his left (IE, the next Governor) Craftsman becomes a much stronger choice.
    – Pat Ludwig
    Commented Apr 3, 2011 at 0:21
  • Thanks guys! That's a good point Pat though I'm not sure what hard/fast things I can say about turn order...as it seems to be pretty situational. In your example, I assume that the player after the governor is probably going after a shipping strategy? If so, then I agree - it becomes stronger.
    – Ryan
    Commented Apr 3, 2011 at 21:54
  • Maybe a good generalization is to watch for situations like you described, where the choice made by the governor (when you act immediately after the governor) "protects" you...because you can select a role now that would set you up for next round, knowing that whatever the governor chose cannot be taken by anyone else till it is your turn again.
    – Ryan
    Commented Apr 3, 2011 at 21:56
  • When someone chooses Builder should I always build something or is it ok to save up for something bigger?
    – Kempeth
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 7:01
  • Sorry for the insanely late reply Kempeth. It's definitely situational, but look out for situations when you know you want a particular big building, but you can still afford a small one now AND the big one next turn (because there will be a trade, or your factory will kick in, or you will select a role that gives you enough doubloons). Also, if you have a few quarries, you should lean towards trying to build as often as possible (which might include a few small buildings you won't actually use) so that you can take full advantage of the free money.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 13:45

Captain is often a tool used in the beginning to have someone have to ship their valuable resource, so that they can't trade it. It's why you don't want to just go and produce one valuable resource, because if you can't protect it with other goods, then it will become shipbound.

Trader get's pulled sometimes because it has money on it and you want to deprive the guy who can really use it, the extra cash.

Mayor you'd generally pull if you need men and nothing else is pressing. I like to pull it more when it's unbalanced, so there's more colonist profit relative to the others.

Settler is the best first pull, to get a quarry going early. After that it's more strategy dependent. The first two quarries you have are the most valuable, with value declining as you get more. Settler of course is a really good pull with a hacienda strategy, since when you pull quarries you still get a plantation, and once you've filled up your island you can take the man off of the hacienda and put him somewhere else useful.

Builder is usually just based on having enough to buy the building you need next, though sometimes you pull it to deprive someone else of getting the big building that they're only one doubloon away from.

Craftsman is the crux of the game, and Craftsman fear the biggest factor.

You might want to read this great strategy guide. It's the best one I've ever seen, and it's principles actually apply to a lot of games.


I'm not expert, but the biggest thing I've found with choosing roles is to figure out the consequences of other people choosing them and you not getting them.

Captain: Look at what goods everyone has and who will benefit most from picking it. If you forgo the captain and the next person takes it, how large will the change in your victory points be? If you're both sitting on 5 barrels of corn, you want to make sure you load first, because otherwise you probably won't get to load much and may even face heavy spoilage. Like Mr. Roberts said, also look at forcing other players to ship goods they'd rather trade, like coffee and tobacco.

Trader: Look at who has what to sell. If you can get some nice cash by selling tobacco or coffee AND screw over anyone else who might want to sell that too, then this is probably a good choice. (presuming they don't have an office, in which case it won't make a difference)

Mayor: Look at how many colonists the picker of the mayor gets vs. everybody else. If the number of colonists on the colonist ship is the same as the number of players, picking the mayor will give you only a 1 colonist bonus over everyone else. If there's more, you may be looking at a 2 colonist bonus over the player to your right, making it more attractive for you. Also consider what things are on your island you want to get into operation as soon as possible so you can use them in the appropriate phase.

Craftsman and Builder: Unless there's a shortage of goods or desirable buildings, I often try to make other people pick these as the bonus for doing so is fairly small. Getting goods or buildings doesn't matter much, usually what's important is who gets to use them, which involves picking other roles. Are you setting up the next person for an amazing captain or trader phase by producing now? Can you earn the 1 doubloon bonus from picking the builder some other way? As I said, if you really need the advantage of producing first or building first, that changes things.

Settler: Look at the available plantations and who would get what. If you really want one of the plantations and there's only one of it, chances are you won't get it if you don't pick settler yourself. If you don't plan on building a construction hut and want some quarries (which are always awesome to have), the only way you're going to get them is if you pick the settlers.

Obviously there are a few other factors that come into play, the biggest being the amount of doubloon on each different role, but I think its affects are pretty self-explanatory, with the same ideas of trying to get the best advantage possible while denying other players the optimal choices. Number of players, buildings and plantations on your and other players' islands, position of the governor marker, number of each plantation and building left in the supply, and time 'til endgame all come into play as well, but to keep this post from getting to long I'll omit those for now. :D

So what can be done in reasonable amounts of time?

If time is a constraint, just try not to think too deeply. Its very easy to spend 5 minutes analyzing every possible move and consequence as all hardcore PR players know. Just look at your options, figure out the pros and cons, keep your future turn simulations short, and try not to second and third guess yourself. When in doubt, go with your gut.

Are there any kind of tools to help training this aside from full games?

Not specifically for PR that I know of, but if you find anything I'd be very interested in hearing about it. :D

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    About training tools. I didn't expect there to be one but it was worth a shot to ask. I'm currently training on tropiceuro.com in case you want to check it out.
    – Kempeth
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 7:06

The best thing you can do is move from playing against AI and play real people. If access to other players in your area is a problem there are free on-line sites (I play on 2 boardgamearena.com) where you can play live or turn based against real people.

In terms of tactics, you must tie them to a strategy. The best general strategy that I read somewhere on-line and which has served me pretty well (when I stick to it) is that the first half of the game should be focused on securing a method of funding. That can be factory, trading, or relying on the doubloons on the roles. It also can mean loading up on quarries. Most people on here are pointing to the very first round of roles and saying that the Settler role goes fast...in my group Settler is a backwater and builder goes first in order to get the Small Market for free or one Doubloon. No one wants Settler for a while because they are already producing corn or getting their indigo production started. Having spoken of strategy let me caveat that by saying your strategy usually has to stay fluid early on because depending on how many people are playing or what the person to your right's (especially) strategy is (i.e., they trade consistently) you may have to modify your play. Two weeks ago I played an on-line game where the winner had only three producing plantations (one of which was coffee) but 4 quarries. They went directly to building the large buildings and ended the game rapidly by filling all of their building spaces before anyone had a chance to produce and ship for many Victory Points. I tried the same strategy in our live group and it worked the first game and failed miserably the next game because everyone saw where I was going and countered my strategy...and I failed to adapt to their changes quickly enough.

So you really want to play often and in many different situations and then you start to develop a sense of how to react to the game you are playing. If you go in with a set strategy and tactics against decent players they will eat you alive.

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