Review – San Juan (2nd Edition)

There’s nothing like the Caribbean sun, I’m sure (I’ve never been down there, unfortunately). I know it gets really hot down there, especially when you’re working out in the streets or in the fields, building markets or working the indigo plants. Maybe you are building some statue to some long-honoured military general?

Of course, you aren’t actually out there doing all that stuff. You’re organizing it all, directing traffic, and having others build all of that for you. Still, watching them work while you’re sipping lemonade can be…ok, it can be peaceful. But you might start feeling bad for the workers!

So why not do it all in cards instead? That saves a lot of the hard work involved. And the messy sweat. Now everybody can drink lemonade with you! Or rum, if you like (though maybe that’s more of a Jamaica thing)


You can do all this by playing San Juan (2nd Edition), the card game designed by Andreas Seyfarth, with art by Harald Lieske and Mia Steingräber, published by Alea & Ravensburger. Based on the board game Puerto Rico, it does have some similar mechanisms to its parent game.

But it’s so much more fun, at least for me.

The basic premise of San Juan is that you are building a tableau of cards in front of you, using other cards in your hands as resources to do so. These buildings can be production buildings that produce goods, or they can be city buildings that do things for you (or even just give you points at the end of the game).

San Juan 2
8 victory points so far!

Each turn, the “Governor” (i.e. the First Player) chooses a role. That role will dictate what action is being done. Everybody gets to do the action, but the player who chose the role gets a special privilege that will make doing that action more beneficial or less expensive.

The roles are:

Builder: Players can build one building out of their hands, paying the cost shown at the top of the card. You pay cost by discarding that number of cards from your hand. The player who chose the Builder role gets a one-card discount.

You can have as many of the same production buildings as you want, but only one of each type of city building is allowed.

Producer: In order from the player who chose the role, each player can choose an empty production building (such as the Silver Smelter) to produce a good. Take a card from the top of the draw pile and place it face-down underneath the production building. The Producer privilege lets you choose a second empty production building and do the same thing.

Trader: Turn over the top trading house tile (which sets the value of each good) and then in turn order from the player who chose the role, each player can sell one good that’s currently under a production building, discarding it and drawing the number of cards equal to the good’s value. The privilege lets you do it a second time.

San Juan 3
Obviously they’re not all face-up at the beginning of the game…

Councillor: Draw 2 cards and keep one, discarding the remainder. The privilege lets you draw 5 cards, though you can still only keep one (evidently the Councillor doesn’t have *that* much power).

Prospector: you greedily don’t let anybody else do anything, but you get to draw a card and keep it.

Other buildings you may have out on your tableau can change some of those rules. The Aquaduct lets you produce an extra good in the Producer phase (so you can produce 2, or 3 with the privilege). The Gold Mine lets you draw the top 4 cards from the deck during the Prospector phase. If they’re all different construction costs, you get to keep the cheapest one. It doesn’t matter if you chose the Prospector phase or not, you still get to use your Gold Mine.

So the trick is to get production buildings, city buildings and victory point buildings out on your tableau so that they work together and give you benefits. Each building is worth points at the end of the game as well (that number at the bottom of the card).

Once each player has chosen a role and executed that action, role tiles are returned, the Governorship moves to the next player and he/she gets to choose a role.

Once a player has placed 12 buildings out, the game ends at the end of that round. Tally up your points and see who’s the winner!

San Juan 4
Did I go a bit heavy on production?

Is San Juan an illustrious city or a rattletrap town full of condemned buildings?

One thing I love about San Juan (and its sister game, Race for the Galaxy) is the multiple use of cards.

The cards represent the buildings you’re placing out there, but they are also the money you pay or earn, and they are also the goods that you place under the production buildings. Since the rules state that all discards are face down, including the goods themselves, you can’t really card count to see what may be coming or already out.

Maybe that Guild Hall you’re hoping to build ended up being a good under your Coffee Roaster. It was there all the time and you didn’t know it!

It can also be agonizing to have two buildings in your hand that you want to build, but the cost of them are such that you’re going to have to discard one of them to build the other.

These choices make the game really interesting.

It is true that there is little “direct” interaction, but I wouldn’t call it the solitaire game that others have. There are no “take that” mechanisms, but you can help control the flow of the game which will really affect the other players.

Maybe they are building an engine that takes time to really get going? You can push through and build a bunch of cheap buildings and rush the end of the game before their engine gets going.

That can bite you in the butt, though, if you’re not careful.

Also, maybe they have the perfect building that they want to put out, but they are one short in the number of cards to pay to build it. They want that Builder role, but you go before them and you take it first. Sure, it may only delay them a turn or two, but it can still be frustrating. They can’t build on the turn you chose the role if they really want to build that building. Or they’ll have to figure out some other way to do it.

So there is a lot of indirect interaction, which can be the more annoying because the other player doesn’t even know they’re pissing you off!

The quality of the components is also very good. The cards are sturdy and don’t really require sleeves (unless you play the hell out of it) and the artwork is very good. You won’t be shuffling that much, but they will hold up to quite a few.

San Juan 5
Don’t know how to describe it, but the art does have that colonial feel to it.

That being said, I can’t say the same thing about the insert that comes with the game.

I’ve complained about it before, but I’ll show you again.

San Juan 1

Who thought this would be a good idea? I had to bag the cards separately to keep them from flying all over the place.

Back to the gameplay, though.

I just love the mechanics in this game. Interesting decisions abound. Should you go for a production building strategy that can get you lots of cards? Should you build all three monuments and get an awesome amount of points?

San Juan 6
Silver is much more valuable than indigo, for some strange reason I can’t fathom…

It’s a really easy game to learn. The most trouble for new gamers is getting their heads around the “cards are buildings *and* currency?” idea, but otherwise the concepts are simple and it flows really quickly. Any gamer should have no trouble picking it up.

The 2nd edition of the game has new buildings and some of the old expansion content in it. I have never played the first edition, but I understand that there were a couple of overpowered buildings.

This edition adds a couple of tweaks to the rules and a building or two that helps to balance it out some.

I can highly recommend San Juan to anybody who likes tableau-building card games, or just card games in general.

(Review written after 3 plays)







5 Comments on “Review – San Juan (2nd Edition)

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