Author: Andreas Seyfarth

Publisher: alea 2004

Awards: none



It is a rare occasion that a successful game is not simply expanded but instead is taken and modified in a way so that it actually forms a new game with a different playing concept. The Settlers of Catan Cardgame was a very good example for such a successful adoption, but now ALEA / RAVENSBURGER once again has published a very promising game. The new game San Juan is a cardgame version of the very popular, award-winning boardgame Puerto Rico, and with San Juan Andreas Seyfarth has created a game which by no means needs to hide behind the fame of ist predecessor...

San Juan once again takes the players to the area of the Caribbean, and there the players try to build the most successful (and valuable) colony by erecting different production- and city buildings. The game is totally driven by playing cards, and it is the unique factor of this game that the playing cards are used for three different purposes: A player can openly place a card in front of him so that it becomes a building (provided he can pay the building costs), a player can discard cards from his hand (as payment for a building) and he can place new cards from the draw-pile face-down onto his production buildings so that these cards become resources / goods which have been produced.

At the beginning of the game, each player has a total of four randomly drawn cards on his hand and one production building for Indigo (the cheapest resource) in front of him. During his turn, a player now may take one of 5 different profession-cards by which he will determine the activities which can be performed during his turn:

  • The Overseer allows the production of goods. If this card is chosen, each player is allowed to draw a card and place it face-down onto one of his production buildings. The player who has become the Overseer enjoys the privilege to produces a second resource, provided he still has a production building which has not yet produced a resource.
  • When goods have been produced, the Trader allows players to sell the goods. If a player chooses the Trader each player is allowed to sell one of his resources. The price for all goods in this trading-phase is determined by turning over one of the randomly mixed price-lists, and each player now may draw the amount of cards which corresponds to the resource which he has sold and add these cards to his hand. As his privilege, the Trader may sell a second resource in the same trading-phase.
  • Next come the Builder. The players now go through the cards on their hand and they may decide which of the buildings (all cards show buildings) they might want to buy. Each cards has a number printed on it which is the building price for that specific building, and a player must pay (discard) this amount of cards from his hand in order to be allowed to play this card. As his privilege, the Builder pays one card less then he normally would be required to.
  • The Counsellor allows the players to search for specific cards. Each player draws two cards (the Counsellor himself draws five) and is allowed to chose and keep one of these cards.
  • Finally, the Digger allows the player who has chosen him to draw one card from the stack, whereas all other players get no benefit.

During a round of play each player chooses one of the available profession-cards, but each card can only be chosen once per round. Thus, if all players have taken their turns, the cards all are returned and a new round is started, with the provision that now the next player in clockwise direction becomes the Governor (starting player) who may chose if profession first. This way it is ensured that once in a while each player has a free choice of all available professions.

Whereas the rules which I outlined so far represent the basic playing-mechanism of the game, the playing depth and strategic options come through the different buildings which a player may rise. Some buildings allow a cheaper production of other buildings, others allow to draw or hold more cards, while even others allow a better sale of the goods which are produced. There are quite a few different cards in the game which allow a player to go for different strategies, but each card is included several times in the deck and due to the high cards transfer-rate which comes from the fact that cards also serve as building-payment there is a good chance that a player may get cards which he needs.

Each card also has a value for victory points which will be important at the end of the game. When a player has built his 12th building, the game will instantly end with this Builder's-phase and each player now adds up the victory points as displayed on the buildings which he has built. A few of the very expensive buildings now will be of special importance, since their only playing-purpose has been the generation of additional victory points at the end of the game. Thus, a player with a Guildhall now receives additional victory points for each of his production buildings, whereas a player with a Townhall receives additional points for each of his city buildings. However, these special buildings are harder to get, since only two of each special building have been included in the deck of cards. The game then will be won by the player with most victory points.

Seasoned players will soon discover a lot of similarities with Puerto Rico, but nevertheless San Juan offers a totally different strategic scope and a quite varied playing mechanism. It's not simply based on luck, but instead the players will have to decide carefully which buildings they should build, which cards they should discard and which cards they should keep for later. A lot of interaction between the players also arises through the choice of the profession-cards, since by this a player also determines the other players' actions for this turn, and a profession might always come in handy for one player while it is not useful for another player at the same time.

San Juan sells at a relatively high price of about 18 Euros, but I would still recommend the game as being absolutely worthwhile and a very good addition for each player's collection. The price might seem unusual for a cardgame, but it offers a lot of playing fun and a very interesting, innovative playing mechanism.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

[Gamebox Index]


Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany