Building on up

 Ravensberger Digital has been really hitting it out of the park lately. Their digital implementation of Puerto Rico was very well done and honestly helped me get comfortable enough with the game to get it for our tabletop gaming group. Now they’re back with the card game version, San Juan, which has impressed me enough that I’m willing to bet I’ll be introducing it to my game group soon.

As I mentioned above, San Juan is very similar to Puerto Rico, and that’s because they’re supposed to be. It’s a card game version of the immensely popular worker placement game that has you building and harvesting products on your way to glory (it’s more exciting than it sounds). It’s a bit stripped down, with no workers to place to generate resources for example, but I found that it not only serves as an excellent intro to the larger game, but also stands very well on it’s own gameplay-wise.

San Juan

In each round of San Juan, players will select to play as one of the available roles. These roles stipulate which actions all players will take, with the player that controls the role receiving a bonus. For example, if I select the Chancellor role, all players get to look at 2 cards and keep 1, but I get to look at 4 and keep 1. Or selecting Builder lets each player build a building, but the person who selected the role can do so at a reduced cost. Each round the roles are reset and players choose again.

The role selection is practically identical to Puerto Rico, and it’s just as critical to success. Selecting the right role at the right time is typically what wins or loses the game. Sometimes it’s about picking the role that helps you the most, other times it’s in an attempt to make sure your opponents can’t do the same. It’s a delicate balance.

San Juan is a race to build, and when one person constructs their 12th building the game is over and all players are scored. Some give you straight points, while others play on what kinds of cards or other buildings you have. Whoever has the most points wins.

San Juan

You can play locally via pass and play, or against AI opponents, or a mix of the two. You can also take the game online and play over the internet as well, which is always a welcome addition. I did enjoy the AI and found them to be pretty challenging in the higher levels, but a human player is always preferable.

As far as the iOS implementation, I actually found San Juan to be a nicer experience over its board game brethren Puerto Rico. While both games hinge on a similar mechanic and identical theme, I found the simplicity of the cards to help immensely with the UI. The Puerto Rico app is great, and I play it often, but I still found its UI to be confusing and clunky. Granted, it needs to convey a large amount of info, so it may be a necessary evil, but regardless I’d still take San Juan over it. It’s well worth the price of admission.