Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad
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A little over a week ago, I took a trip to Puerto Rico, but what would a trip to an exotic location like this be without an excursion to San Juan as well? True to its geological theme, San Juan is the smaller, card game variant of the big box Puerto Rico. The two share a tremendous amount of gameplay and aesthetic similarities, but in the end I think San Juan is the better game (at least as far as the iPad is concerned; having never played either of these in their cardboard editions, I don't feel comfortable making a judgment in that arena).
Anyone familiar with Puerto Rico will instantly recognize most of the mechanics in San Juan. Players choose from a pool of roles (Prospector, Builder, Producer, Trader, etc), each of which allows a slight tweak to the rules of the game. The goal is to generate resources (represented by cards) that can be used to purchase buildings (also represented by cards) which ultimately get converted into victory points at the end of the game. The game diverges from Puerto Rico in that it eliminates several nuances/complexities from that big box game like the need to place and manage workers and shipping goods. It's enough here that players produce and trade goods. No shipping is necessary.
Puerto Rico took me a while to grow into. It's deep and complex, and frankly there were so many choices in any one round I had no idea what sort of strategy I was employing. Not so in San Juan. The elimination of certain mechanics actually makes for a much more immediately accessible game, one that I deeply enjoyed from the very first play. As I continue playing both, it will be interesting to see if the complicated Puerto Rico becomes more enjoyable over time, while San Juan becomes less desirable. That's the true value in these games; they may not have the explosive sales numbers of other apps out there, but thanks to their sophisticated mechanics and incorporation of GameCenter multiplayer, they provide a seemingly endless level of challenge.
And finally I have to question the necessity for Ravensburger to publish both of these games. I fully realize their differences, but they are, in the end, strikingly similar. And since both carry a higher price tag than most/many apps ($7.99 for each), is there a justifiable reason for anyone outside of a boardgame enthusiast to own both? Possibly, but if there's a choice to be made between the two, I'd say San Juan is the best one to grab first. Unlike its big brother Puerto Rico, it's universal, so it can be played on both the iPhone and iPad, plus it's more immediately understandable and playable. Anyway, once you visit San Juan, you might just want to see what the rest of Puerto Rico has to offer.