Puerto Rico is a flawless adaptation of a tremendously fun and challenging board game

We’ve seen big name hobbyist board games from Carcassonne to Catan make their way to iOS devices, but amongst all of the titles that make enthusiasts mouths water, few make them water quite as much as Puerto Rico. A somewhat more challenging game than the average casual board gamer might typically encounter, Puerto Rico‘s transition to the iPad is utterly sublime.

Puerto Rico tells the tale of up to five players vying for the coveted title of Governor of Puerto Rico. To earn this title, they’ll need to prove themselves by growing and shipping different crops back to their home country of Spain. The more crops you send home, the more victory points you’ll earn. It’s a fairly simple concept to follow, but in execution, Puerto Rico offers a tremendous amount of depth and decision making.

Puerto Rico

During each round, every player will get to choose a role that will dictate what everyone in the game will be able to do on their turn. Choosing the builder, for example, lets players construct buildings that are necessary for the processing of crops. They can also build a host of other buildings that will provide a variety of different bonuses, and the buildings themselves will earn players victory points at the end of the game. And since there’s only a set number of each building type available, players will need to be quick to buy up the structures they’ll want to use in the game.

But to buy things you’ll need money, and earning money means selling crops that might otherwise get loaded onto a ship to earn you victory points. To sell these crops, you’ll need to pick the Trader role. Each crop is worth a different value, but when trading you’ll have to be aware of certain rules: the trading post can only hold four different crops at a time, and can never have more than one kind of the same crop in their possession. Little elements of decision making like this are present in every single element of play, from choosing the Mayor role so that you can put workers on your buildings and farms, to choosing just the right time to produce goods using the Craftsman role.

Some might argue that this incredible level of depth makes the game super-complicated, and admittedly it’s this very reason that I’ve personally held off on trying the tabletop version of Puerto Rico for so long. But the team at Ravensburger have made sure to include a wonderfully accessible tutorial that will walk you through every corner Puerto Rico via a sample game. If you’re interested in Puerto Rico but find the premise a little too daunting, rest assured that the tutorial is both comprehensive and user-friendly. It’s competent enough to get players of any level up to speed.

Once you’ve mastered what the game has to offer through the single player experience, you’ll likely want to take Puerto Rico online. Using Game Center as their backbone, online play supports 2 to 5 players over the internet. The range of players is actually an improvement over the print version (which touts a 3 to 5 range), but if you’re playing against real people, you’re going to be stuck playing against real people only. It would have been nice to be able to mix in some AI opponents to help round up the total number of players in any given game, but I suppose this is more of a nitpick thank an actual complaint. If anything it’s a testament to how great the AI opponents are, as we’d love to bring them along with us even when we leave the single player experience.

Puerto Rico

Still, the online experience goes off without a hitch. Playing with others feels pretty much identical to the single player game, which is exactly what you’d want from an online experience. The only downside is that, due to the nature of the game, your opponents might take a while to decide on what choices they’re going to make next. It seems as though the online play might benefit from some kind of a timer, but honestly, that runs counter-intuitive to the nature of the game. Maybe what it really needs is patience on the part of the player – which is sadly not something everybody is going to have.

In terms of presentation, Puerto Rico does a fairly stellar job of recreating the look and feel of the tabletop game’s presentation. Certain art elements – like the depiction of player roles – all remains intact, while other parts look both better and worse than the original release. For example, the buildings here are depicted as actual buildings rather than simple text cards, and little lights in the windows denote the number of workers inside rather than wooden marker pieces. But on the flipside, the island itself lacks some of the detail and polish found on the original board – possibly as a result of a need to declutter the presentation.

Musically the game has a very fitting and mellow Spanish guitar vibe playing throughout …or maybe it’s a lute. Honestly, I’m not that well-versed in my stringed instruments. This music itself is on a loop and sounds mostly original, but there’s one small section that comes right out of the world’s catalogue of Christmas music. Hark! The Herald Angels Sin/Gloria In Excelsis Deo to be precise. It’s a strange piece of infinitely recognizable music to include, and it kind of shakes you out of the experience every time it comes around. An odd choice to be sure.

Still, despite a few nitpicky critiques about little elements of the presentation, we really don’t have a single bad thing to say about Puerto Rico. Since its initial tabletop release in 2002, Puerto Rico has been heralded by many board game enthusiasts as one of the best of all time. This iPad edition does little to detract from that fact. If you’re a fan of casual board games but looking to up your challenge level, or simply a fan of the tabletop version in search of some online competition, Puerto Rico is an absolute must buy. We can’t wait to see what Ravensburger decides to bring to the App Store next.