Version Reviewed: 1.1
Device Reviewed On: iPad
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The German/designer board game experience is showing up all over iPad screen these days, often with hit-or-miss results. The screen real estate of the iPad is ideal for playing a traditional board game, but the design has to be carefully implemented in order to retain the spirit of the original experience without becoming cluttered or difficult to manipulate. Fortunately, fan-favorite Puerto Rico has now successfully made the transition to the iPad, and every element of this classic decision-driven strategy game is intact.
Players new to Puerto Rico are well advised to start off by playing through the entire tutorial. Yes, I realize that this isn't NEARLY as much fun as just diving right in, but trust me when I say it will save a countless number of bewildered moments later. Yes, Puerto Rico is a complex game, but not so complex that it can overwhelm or alienate players. One play-through of the tutorial was enough to give me a good enough overview of the game to play on my own, even though I had my Puerto Rican hat handed to me by the AI opponents.
Puerto Rico, like many other classic German games (think Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, or Catan), is ultimately about agonizing decisions. Players are Puerto Rican landowners trying to develop their lands into crops and buildings in order to make money for larger buildings. Shipping crops, developing land and buildings all add up to victory points, and the player with the highest victory point count at the end of the game is the winner. Like Ticket to Ride, players often don't know who the winner is until the very, very last moments of the game, and most games are very tightly contested, making every single decision extremely important.
Graphically, Puerto Rico lacks some of the spit-and-polish seen in other board game translations, but it does an admirable job of presenting the game in an easily understood and accessible way. There are some nice touches, such as when workers are added to factories (the lights come on and the smokestacks start firing), but it's not going to overwhelm anyone with graphical flourishes when it's first played. Likewise, sound is a simple affair, with most of the sound coming from a pleasant, drowsy Spanish-influenced guitar. It's the perfect music for the game, creating a relaxed, coffee-house vibe that soothes the player even while he or she is faced with one taxing in-game decision after another.
Puerto Rico is an easy game to recommend to anyone interested in German/designer games. It plays well, features challenging AI opponents, and even allows for asynchronous online play with friends and strangers through Apple's GameCenter. What it may lack in bells and whistles it makes up for in terms of sheer playability. It may not be a perfect gateway into the world of designer games for those who have never played them, but it's still a heck of a trip.