FTW Staff Picks - San Juan
For The Win Board Game Cafe's Staff Picks is a weekly series where we take a quick look at some of the staff's favourite games, old and new.
Genre: Tableau Card Game
Designer: Andreas Seyfarth
Player Size: 2 to 4 Players
Game Length: 45 minutes
For fans of: Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy
One of the first games I played was Race for the Galaxy. It was a confusing mess of a game to learn and subsequently to teach, but overall had a lot of really cool things that made it feel like a rewarding experience. I've admittedly had people recommend San Juan to me, and ignored it mostly due to my own personal aversion to games featuring that kind of theme and aesthetic. I'm glad I finally got around to it because San Juan is essentially all the things I like about Race for the Galaxy, without any of the clunkiness that turns many gamers off.
In San Juan, players attempt to become the most prosperous citizen of San Juan by constructing buildings and adapting to game as it progresses. Each round one player acts as the Governor whole will begin by selecting one of the five roles of the game: Builder, Producer, Trader, Councillor and Prospector. Each role allows the players to take an action, but the player who selects that specific role will get a small bonus. Once a player has completed their 12th building, the game concludes. The player with the highest total of victory points is declared the winner.
The core mechanics of San Juan were pretty much borrowed entirely by Race for the Galaxy. The economy of the game is represented by the cards in your hand, which places an emphasis on hand management. You are constantly trying to squeeze value out of every move you make, including trying to predict the roles that other players will select. Unlike Race for the Galaxy, the role selection is done publicly and in turn order which makes things a little more interesting. You can set up a good situation, but if you need to produce before trading, and another player recognizes that - it could really mess with your turn.
I was impressed with how streamlined San Juan felt compared to Race for the Galaxy. I would never introduce newcomers to Race, because it would likely turn them off from the hobby altogether. But San Juan is a really great introductory game for beginners. It feels competitive, it has great mechanics and it's easy to follow along as you go. Not everyone is as into "point-soup" games as myself, but if you are San Juan is one to check out.