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Subject: Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles rss

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Alex Rockwell
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Puerto Rico Opening Theory


Introduction:

The opening is a critical part of any game of Puerto Rico. Unlike a game like chess, where strong play in the middle game will beat strong opening play nearly every time, the opening is actually quite critical in Puerto Rico. Also unlike chess however, where openings can be analyzed very accurately, far into the game, the multi player nature of Puerto Rico makes it extremely difficult to analyze the opening beyone the first few moves.

However, it is still possible to analyze the common, mian line, openings through the first couple of turns, especially the first few moves, and also to discuss general opening principles which will aid players to play well in the opening, regardless of which path the game takes.

I will attempt to discuss the merits of various opening variations which are frequently used in Puerto Rico, and to outline some general principles which will enable the reader to improve their opening play, and to set themselves up for a strong position in the midgame.

While the opening is extremely important, good opening play alone will not win the game. Solid play throughout the game is necessary in order to beat strong opponents. Falling behind in the opening, however, can prove disastrous, as it can be extremely hard to catch up once one falls behind.

In Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: Opening Principles, I will outline and discuss five principles which I find to be key to opening play. In part 2: Openings, I will discuss specific moves and specific openings during the first couple turns of the game, for various numbers of players.
Link to part 2:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/14480/puerto-rico-openin...

Opening Principles:

#1) Money and Income are King:


Your focus during the opening phase of the game should be to gain money and to set yourself up with a solid income base, which will sustain you throughout the game. This will allow you to purchase the buildings necessary to meet the needs of the positions you find yourself in later in the game, and will allow you to generate point scoring opportunities. In addition, through the purchase of the large buildings, this income can be converted directly into points, near the end of the game.

Early on, one doubloon is worth far more than one victory point. The money that you invest in buildings near the beginning of the game will pay off far more than the initial investment, in terms of income and points returned. This is because it will provide you with abilities that will generate money and points for you throughout the game, provided that your building choices are sound.

Six doubloons invested into a coffee roaster, which is then used to produce coffee and sold for much more money, and also loaded onto the boats for victory points, will provide far more benefit by the end of the game than one would receive by having a six victory point lead at that time. In general, it is perfectly fine to be trailing in terms of victory ponts in the opening, and even somewhat the midgame, provided that one has acquired the money and income to compensate.

It is much better to have a 5 doubloon lead in terms of current cash plus what buildings one has purchased, (provided that they are good purchases), than to have a 5 point lead in victory points. Nearer to the end of the game, this would not be the case however. Focusing on shipping and scoring points early on is a poor choice, if it means that one is ignoring taking money roles and is not setting up a solid source of income. Of course, if you can attain a lead in money/income, and a lead in victory points at the same time, then this is preferable.

Due to the high importance of money in the opening, choosing roles with bonus doubloons is extremely important. First of all, you gian money from choosing these roles, and secondly, you do not allow those bonus doubloons to be passed on to an opponent for them to take them. The importance of denying money to your opponents, while gaining money yourself, cannot be overstated.

Note that if other players are playing at least moderately well, they will also place a high value on the roles with bonus doubloons, and this can help you to better predict their actions. However, you must not be blind to other options, as often the benefit from some other role will be greater than the bonus doubloon. Do not assume that your opponents will be blind to this as well.


#2) The Importance of the Trader:

Of key importance during the opening, and throughout most of the game as well, is the Trader role. Generally, choosing the Craftsman in such a way as to enable one or more opponents to make a trade of goods for money, while you cannot also make such a trade, is a bad move. The only times when this is acceptable is when the Craftsman has bonus doubloon(s), and the trade would happen anyway if you did not take Craftsman (because your opponents would craft and trade).

Even more important is not allowing an opponent to choose the Trader with multiple bonus doubloons on it, AND make a profitable trade at the same time. This can provide a large quantity of doubloons to one player, and give them a solid lead. Often in this case, if the trade cannot be prevented, the correct play is to take the Trader yourself, pocket the two bonus doubloons on the role, and thus deny the large bonus to the other player.

Also, if you forsee a large trade coming, taking the Trader when it has one doubloon on it, and your opponents do not yet have goods to trade, can force them to choose the Trader when it has no bonus doubloons, reducing its benefit. This move also nets you the bonus doubloon from the Trader, so it gives you some benefit as well.

Generally, avoiding allowing other players to trade goods unless it benefits you at least as much as it does the others is very important. Often, this can be achieved by choosing the Captain, and forcing players to ship goods. You must pay attention to how the boats will be filled if the Captain occurs, given that players will probably do whatever they can in order to prevent their high value goods from being shipped early, instead saving them to be sold to the Trader.

One more critical tactic is the setting up of a 'solo trade' for yourself. This often occurs when you have a choice between choosing the Trader, and choosing some other role. If you choose the Trader, you will trade your good, but others will also get to trade, and gain money. However, perhaps by choosing the Captain, you can force the other players to ship the goods they wish to trade, while also maintaining your own trade good. For example, if you currently have a corn and a tobacco, and two other players have only an indigo, and only a sugar, (or there are already boats created for the appropriate good types), then you can choose the Captain, ship your corn, and watch as the other players are forced to ship sugar and indigo. Then the following turn, you can trade your tobacco without allowing other players to make their trades. This is especially beneficial if it forces high value goods of your opponents onto the boats, yet maintains your own goods. Note that if another player also has your trade good, this will likely not work. Also, if in the above example, one of the other players also had a corn, then they could choose to ship their corn insttead, leaving a boat empty when it gets back around to you, and forcing you to ship your trade good. In this case, it is probably important to choose the Trader and make the sale.

However, in some cases you will find a position where if you choose the Captain then your trade good is forced onto a boat, yet if any other player chooses it then you are NOT forced to ship that good. (because you dont have to go first). In these cases, if no one else has your good, and the Trader has enough space for you to trade your good, no matter who chooses the Trader, then you will not be forced to take the Trader in order to make your sale. In still other cases, the Captain being chosen by certain players will force on your good, whle if it is chosen by others you will keep your trade good, due to the turn order. You must analyze what you think will happen, and play so as to ensure your trade.

In cases where if you do not choose the trader, you will still be able to trade your good at a later time, whether to choose the Trader depends on several factors:

a) Are there any bonus doubloons on the Trader? If there are, it is probably best to choose it anyway, unless another role has an even greater reward (counting the additional bonus doubloon for the Trader priveledge).

b) Do you need the money right now, or not? If you do not immediately need the money, then choosing the Trader may be unnecessary, if it has no bonus doubloons.

c) Do others need th e money right now? If they do, then it may be best not to trade, (again, if it doesnt have a good bonus)

d) Is there some other role which provides you with an even greater bonus than the Trader? For example, if the Mayor had a doubloon on it, and you needed the colonists, then this would probably be a better choice, if you were guaranteed the trade anyway.

There is one more case we should look at. That is the case where you have a good that could be traded, but other players would stand to gain more money from the trade occurring (either due to markets or higher value goods). In this case, if by choosing the Captain you can force all of these goods onto the boats, then you should definitely consider this choice, even if it also forces your good onto the boats as well. Denying money to everyone is preferable to falling behind in the money race.

The Double Trader:

Sometimes, you can set yourself up for a manuever where you are able to trade two times, while your opponents are only able to trade once. Clearly, this will occur over two Trader phases. An example of this is the following:

You produce tobacco and corn, while your opponents produce various combinations of corn, indigo and sugar. By choosing the Craftsman at this time, you can take an extra tobacco as your priveledge. Provided that another player chooses Trader (before the Captain), you will be able to trade one of your two tobacco. If the trading house is filled as a result (it often will be), then you will be left with another tobacco, and an empty trading house. It is unlikely that others will still have goods to trade, other than perhaps corn. Thus, you will be able to choose the Trader another time, and trade your tobacco once again. This is an example of the double Trader. If you can prevent a double trader for occuring for your opponent by declining to trade a low value good (such as corn with a market, or indigo with no bonus), then this is quite possibly a good move. In general, if you have weaker than average trading income, becasue you do not have the big goods, it is to your advantage that the trading house does not get emptied and filled efficiently.

In the case where you choose the Craftsman, producing one corn and two tobacco, if the Captain occurs after the Trader, and the boats are (or become as a result), corn, indigo, and sugar, then all the others goods will be on the boats and you will maintain your tobacco for a solo trade. This will frequently happen if you can set up the boats to work like this.

What about the case where after you craft, another player chooses Captain before the Trader? Here, you will either create a tobacco boat (not recommended), or discard one of your tobacco. Then you cannot make the double trade. When you are choosing the bonus good for your Craftsman choice, you must thus consider whether you think Trader or Captain will occur first in this case. Often this will be decided by the number of doubloons on the two roles, and by whether the players directly after you benefit well from trading, or whether they prefer to force goods onto the boats, since they will do poorly during a trade. The benefit of taking the extra tobacco is the possibility of the powerful double trade. The benefit of the corn is the guaranteed extra point (provided there will be room on the boats).

Note that in this example, the goods in question can of course be changed, but the principle remains the same.

#3) Do not allow your trade good to be shipped during the opening:

Early in the game, if you have a valuable good such as tobacco or coffee, you do NOT want to create a boat for this good type. Doing so will limit or even destroy your ability to trade that good, as you will be unable to hold it after a Captain phase, and will be forced to ship it. (There will be plenty of room for it on the boats for a long time). Thus, if this occurs, you will need for the Trader to occur before the Captain, after each Craftsman phase, in order to allow you to trade. Other players will likely not allow this to occur. (And if you are in a position where an opponent has the valuable good and wants to trade it, you should try to force it onto a boat).

The reason that you want to trade, and not ship, this good, is because in the opening, money is far more important than victory points, as we have already discussed. Also, selling your good will yield several doubloons, while shipping it will yield only one point. Shipping it may deny shipping points to other players, because they do not have enough boats free to ship their different good types, but this is not nearly as critical as the difference in value between money and victory points early on.

How do you prevent a boat of your big trade good from forming? Several things help to assure that this does not happen.

a) Try not to produce tobacco or coffee until corn, indigo, and sugar are all being produced. If you do produce tobacco or coffee earlier, take extra care to ensure that the phases occur in the correct order for you. If an opponent does this, try to assure that their trade good ends up on a boat.

b) Produce more types of goods than just the tobacco or coffee. If you also produce a corn, indigo or sugar, then you will have another good that you can ship on a boat, so that by the time you are forced to ship your valuable trade good, all the boats are full and you cannot ship it. For example, if you produce corn and coffee, you can ship the corn during the first shipping chance you get during the Captain phase, and by the time you have another chance, the boats will hopefully be occupied with corn, indigo and sugar.

Clearly, you will often be able to tell whether or not this will work, based on who has what goods, and who chooses the Captain. You should be on the lookout for ways in which your trade good could be forced onto the boats, and try to prevent these.

Generally, it is worth producing both the corn and the coffee in this case, even if doing so requires you to leave a quarry or small market unoccupied, in order to have a colonist on your corn. The only time this is not the case is if the three boats are all already occupied with different good types, and you thus do not need the corn to 'defend' your trade good from being shipped.

Note that indigo or sugar can also be used to defend your trade good, however this requires more colonists, more money, and more buildings to work. This is one of the primary reasons why having corn is so strong, especially near the beginning of the game. Indigo and sugar are better defenders, however, because you know that there will be a corn boat, but indigo and sugar may not already be in production by others.

c) Produce a good that no other player produces. Clearly, having a monopoly on a good is beneficial, and much of this benefit comes from the fact that no other player can be forced to ship it early on, which will then force your good onto the boat as well. Also, you will not have competition in trying to trade that good. Even if you produce the same good as the player after you, such that you have the superior position for trying to trade it, the fact that they can ship this good onto a boat and force you to ship it as well is a big disadvantage. Often they will be forced into shipping this good. Other times, since they are at a great disadvantage in trying to trade the good, they may be inclined to do this in order to deny you income, and punish you for making a good that they were attempting to trade for income. (This 'punishing' move of forcing both your goods onto the boats, when you are right after someone producing the same trade good, is often a good play, unless by allowing them to trade it and use up their good of that type, you will be able to trade yours in the following round). Also, when you are directly after someone who is producing the same biggest good that you are, you will want to produce a different good that can provide you with trade income. Even if you are in front of them, you want a different good type in case they ship your good onto the boats.

Also note that while you do not wish to create a boat of your trade good type during the opening, once you reach the midgame it becomes more desirable, and once you are in the endgame it is highly desirable. There are two reasons for this. First, while money is more desirable than points in the opening, points are more desirable in the endgame. By shipping your good you score victory points, and often deny large quantities of points to your opponents, by occupying a boat with a good that is not produced very much, which will fill slowly, and thus prevent them from shipping one of their types of goods. If you have a harbor, your benefit is even larger, and if your opponents to not have a warehouse or wharf, their loss is larger.

#4) Do not allow yourself to suffer from a severe colonist shortage:

Generally in the opening, and throughout most games, you will not have enough colonists to man all the buildings and plantations that you would like. Acquiring extra colonists, and limiting your colonist needs, can be helpful in mitigating this. The main way you can do this is to take quarries and corn plantations during the Settler phase. These require only one colonist to use, and thus reduce your colonist burden without requiring you to choose the mayor.

Choosing the Mayor can also help to reduce your colonist shortage, especially if the Mayor is unbalanced. (That is, there are more colonists on the ship than the number of players). If the ship contains 5 colonists, and there are 4 players in the game, then choosing the Mayor will provide you with 3 colonists and others with one. Note that a ship with 2x colonists, where X is the number of players, is not unbalanced, since by choosing the Mayor you will receive 3 while others receive 2, still a gain of only one over the others.

A partially unbalanced Mayor, in which more players than just the Mayor will receive more colonists, can also be beneficial, but it will also aid the players after you who gain the extra colonists. For example, a colonist ship with 6 colonists in a 4 player game will yield 3 colonists to the Mayor, 2 to the player after them, and 1 to the others. If the player in front of you chooses the Mayor, you will thus gain much of the benefit of the Mayor role, without using your role choice.

Because of this, you will want to take unbalanced Mayors if you are very short on colonists, in order to quickly make up the difference. Generally, the Mayor is a weak role, unless it has at least a bonus doubloon or is imbalanced, and even then there are often other roles that you would prefer. Thus, making the most of your Mayor choices is critical. If the Mayor is not unbalanced, and does not have a bonus doubloon, it is probably not worth taking, unles you are very desperate. (Obviously turn 1 is an exception, which I will get to when I cover specific openings. Choosing it as player 1 is still, of course, very poor). That opening principle #4 tells you to keep your colonist shortage low does NOT mean that you should choose mayor frequently. The goal is actually to avoid NEEDING to choose the mayor very much, so that you can focus on more powerful roles. You will do this by limiting your colonist needs whenever possible, and by making the most out of your mayor choices. When you have a shortage of colonists (which will be most of the time), you will move your colonists between your plantations and buildings during the mayor phase, always keeping them on the most important locations for the present time.

If you forsee yourself having a colonist shortage, it is good to try and set up an unbalanced Mayor, if possible. (Provided that you are reasonably sure you will be able to take it at a good time for yourself). Also, if you forsee that the player in front of you is very colonist short, while others are not, you would want to try and set up a colonist ship with two extra colonists, so that when that player chooses the Mayor, you will benefit be receiving two colonists instead of one. (If the player two seats in front of you is the one very short, then three extra colonists, and so on).

Also, if the colonist ship is unbalanced, and both you and the player after you are short on colonists, you should give extra importance to choosing the Mayor role. This is because if you do not, the player after you is likely to take it, and then you will receive only one colonist from the unbalanced ship, putting you even further behind the others.

The main benefit of choosing the Mayor when the ship is unbalanced is that you relieve your colonist problems more than your opponents do, and thus free yourself up to be able to take roles which will provide you with money and income, while they must continue to choose the weak Mayor role. Thus it frees up your options to be able to focus on income.

While the effects of unbalanced colonists ships are the same throughout the game, it is more pronounced in the opening because the total number of colonists that each player has is much smaller, and filling your important production and building ability spaces is more critical.

Along with the benefit from imbalanced colonist ships, one should try and keep their colonist needs reasonable. One potential problem with the hacienda is that it creates an immense need for colonists in order to utilize all of the plantations that one is receiving. Unless you are able to choose the Settler role yourself and take quarries, take corn plantations and receive some from the hacienda, and/or benefit from unbalanced colonist ships during the Mayor phase, it is unlikely that you will gain much benefit out of the hacienda. If you can do these things however, then it can be a powerful building.

Buildings such as the Hacienda, Construction Hut, and Small Market are often purchased early, and require colonists in order to utilize. Often, it will be beneficial to leave these buildings unoccupied, and use the colonists in more critical locations, some of the time. For example, if a Settler phase just occurred, and you figure that another Mayor phase will likely occur before the next Settler, you can deactivate your hacienda or construction hut and activate some other critical location such as a corn plantation. If your trading prospects are minimal, you should probably not waste a colonist on your Small Market, and instead occupy some other location, if it will be of more benefit.

If you are having a colonist shortage, or fear that this will occur, it is often better to save your money, and to not buy buildings such as these, which you will never have the colonists available to be able to use. Also, it can be very beneficial to acquire a couple quarries (reducing your colonist need), and build buildings such as the large indigo plant or tobacco plant, which will help to create an unbalanced colonist ship.
Obviously this will depend on many factors, and just buying a large indigo plant in order to create an unbalanced ship, when you dont have 2 quarries, will be a waste of money, since money is so important early on. The goal of creating the imbalanced Mayor and reducing your colonist need is such that you will not need to spend as much time choosing the Mayor, and will be able to focus more on income!

Another way to relieve your colonist problems is to purchase the hospice. However, the hospice is usually a poor choice because its cost is so high. Paying four doubloons for the hospice will hamper your ability to secure an income source such as tobacco or coffee early on. You will usually lag behind the other players in terms of income. The best use of a hospice is to choose the settler several times (probably two) and take quarries, which come immediately occupied with a colonist. Thus, one is both gaining an income source and increasing the colonist shortage of their opponents, without increasing their own colonist shortage. You will still want to acquire corn and a trade good as well, and try to set up another income sourcec beyond your quarries. The hospice is best in a five player game where it is the most difficult to relieve your colonist shortage, and the importance of the timing benefit of having immediately occupied plantations is the greatest. Also, your starting supply of 4 dubloons makes it the most affordable in five player. I would not recommend buying the hospice in a three or four player game. In some situations in a five player game it is warranted, but most players who purchase it here usually do not buy it at a correct time.

The number of colonists you will be receiving plays a big role in the very early game in determining which buildings you would like to buy. For example, as player 1, you will be choosing the Settler and taking a quarry (which has the side benefit of reducing your colonist need!) You will not likely have a chance to take the Mayor early on at a good time for you, and will thus be limited in your number of colonists. Buying a hacienda very early on, (such as turn 1), will be a poor choice for you, as you will not have the colonists to man both it and the quarry, or to man the plantations it provides later. However, as player 3 or 4, buying a hacienda is a better choice. Player 3 will be able to choose the Mayor and occupy their Hacienda and Corn plantation during turn 1. (It is corn in a 3 or 4 player game). Then, they will be able to use the Hacienda during the next Settler phase. Hopefully, they will be able to choose the settler themself and take a quarry, ensuring that their colonist shortage will not grow too high.

If player 2 receives a corn plantation in the initial Settler phase, when player 1 chooses Settler, (and you should take this corn if possible), then they will have an immediate colonist need of only one, and building the hacienda or construction hut is probably poor. When the Mayor occurs, they would have to choose between occupying the hacienda/construction hut or their corn plantation. However, if they did not receive corn, they have an immediate colonists need of zero. Here, buying a building which can make use of one colonist is a better move, as the player will be able to occupy it in the first Mayor phase without negleting another plantation or building. Small indigo is another possible choice, however it still is inactive with one colonist. Still, it will lead to a smaller colonist need overall, than having another building which requires a colonist to man, since you will eventually want to buy the indigo plant. Small market is actually a good choice as well, because it is a very beneficial building, disappears quickly, and will provide much benefit later, even if it leaves you with nothing immediately usable.

Whether or not you are going to have to make a choice between occupying a corn plantation/quarry, and the Settler phase building such as a hacienda, is a big factor in deciding whether to buy this Settler phase building. If occupying it will come at the expense of occupying something else, its probably best to get a different building. Small market is a good alternative, and is always a desirable early purchase. Small indigo plant for the indigo players, and small sugar plant for anyone who drew a sugar plantation are good choices, as is buying nothing at all if the small markets are gone and no other building will be of much help to you. Buying nothing as player 1, if you have an unoccupied quarry and there are no small markets left, is especially desirable, as you will be able to buy the small indigo plant for free a little later, and save one doubloon. I often do not build anything when I am player 1, and have an unoccupied quarry during the first build phase. Instead I save my doubloon, and look to buy an indigo plant and then a coffee roaster or tobacco storage with the money I saved, and hopefully pick up a corn plantation during a coming Settler phase.

I will cover the specifics of this more when I talk about specific opening moves.

One further note about the Mayor is that there are certain times when taking this role is very beneficial for you timing-wise. If you have recently purchased an important production facility, and need to get it occupied before the craftsman phase, it may be important to choose the mayor even if it does not contain a bonus doubloon or have an unbalanced colony ship. Also, if your opponents are about to build important buildings, but you are not, the mayor can be a great choice to screw up their timing. They will build their buildings after the mayor phase just happened, and thus will need to mayor again before they are activated. If you will not be getting an important building as well, throwing off your opponents timing can be critical. Timing issues may make the mayor desirable without a bonus doubloon, but hopefully you will set up a situation, through good tactical play, where the mayor will contain a bonus doubloon or there will be an unbalanced colonist ship at the same time that you need the mayor to occur for your timing purposes.

#5) Which planations to choose during the Settler phase:

During the opening game Settler phases, which plantations you receive will be highly important. Quarries are very powerful and desirable, both because they provide income during the builder phase (in the form of reduced costs), and also because they require only one colonist to activate, at a time when colonists are in short supply. Remember that income is king, so quarries are thus very powerful. Corn is also very desirable, because it allows you to produce a type of good without spending money on a production building, at a cost of only one colonist to activate, and then use that good to protect your more valuable trade goods from being shipped onto a boat. Having a diversity of good types is also very beneficial, and corn is an easy way to get another type of good going. Diversity is good because it gives you increased benefit from the powerful buildings Factory and Harbor, it gives you better chances of being able to trade (and get market bonuses), and allows you greater chance of being able to ship your goods on the boats, and score victory points.

Taking a plantation of a good which will provide you with solid income is also a high priority. Sugar, tobacco, and coffee, (especially tobacco and coffee), are the obvious choices here. Once one already has a corn plantation, these should be your next priority. (The ability to take a quarry, of course, is always welcomed, UNLESS one already has a quarry, and does not yet have a plantation that can produce a trade good. It is generally better to have your first three plantations be something like: indigo, quarry, coffee, than to get indigo, quarry, quarry. Once you have two or three goods and an income source, an additional quarry is of course excellent.

If you take two quarries very early on, you will want to get a trade good as soon as possible. The problem is that due to the randomness of the tiledraw, this is not always the case. Even if you do get the chance to draw one, it may be of the same type that another player is trying to produce. Thus, I prefer to take only one quarry before I have a good trade good set up, and allow another player to take the Settler for a quarry, and get a trade good plantation during that Settler phase. In the perfect world, my initial plantations would be corn, indigo, coffee, and a quarry (or corn, sugar, coffee, quarry as a starting corn player), with no other player having a coffee plantation, and that I would have only had to take the Settler one time in order to achieve this. (Taking the others during the Settler phases of other players). Obviously, this will not usually happen, and you will have to choose the Settler more times (hopefully with doubloons on it!), and/or have a weaker planation selection. Having tobacco instead of coffee is also perfectly fine, it is the monopoly of the trade good that is the most beneficial thing.

Sometimes, there will be no coffee or tobacco in the second tiledraw, and choosing the Settler and taking a second quarry will be a good play. Your goal will then be to pick up a trade good plantation during the next Settler phase.

Sometimes you will not really desire a quarry, since you already have one and you want to draw a trade good, because you dont have any income source other than your quarry. In this case, you want your opponents to choose the Settler, and then for you to draw the desired plantation without having to choose the Settler yourself. Choosing the settler to take a non-quarry plantation is usually a weak move. If your opponents will not choose the Settler either, then you may be put in a position where the settler is the most desirable role for you, with one to two bonus doubloons. Here, it is often best to choose the settler and take another quarry anyway, and try to get a plantation later. However, choosing the Settler and taking your tobacco or coffee plantation is also fine here, especially if it gives you a monopoly on that good, and you will be able to afford its corresponding production building.

Quarries are a great income source, but alone they cannot do very much. When you combine quarries with solid income from trading or a factory (with several types of goods), they become extremely powerful.

When choosing your plantations, avoid taking a second indigo or second sugar plantation. In order to gain the benefit out of this plantation, you will have to purchase the large indigo plant or large sugar mill. This will not improve your trading income at all in comparison to producing just one of this good, and will only increase your shipping capacity. The extra money you spend in purchasing the large plant or mill will slow you down in achieving a good income source, which is the focus of the early game, not points. Later on, you might buy the large indigo plant or sugar mill, depending on your position. (Multiple quarries will help make this a better purchase).
Voluntarily choosing a second indigo plant is a sign of a new (i.e. weak) player.

Choosing a second coffee or tobacco plant is a reasonable move, as you have the capacity to produce both of these goods with your production facility. Also, doing so can help maintain your monopoly, by preventing other players from drawing that type of plantation, at least for a while. Producing two of this trade good can help you to set up double trader manuevers, or to ship more points worth of goods later in the game.
A third coffee is of course of no use, except in maintaining a monopoly, and should only be taken if there are no other reasonable choices. A third tobacco plantation is still of some use.

Taking a second corn plantation is often a great move, unless it is preventing you from setting up a trade good (source of income). Even then, if you can get a plantation of a trade good later, it can be a good choice. For example, as a player who starts with corn, taking a second corn plantation during the first turn Settler phase is acceptable, as you have plenty of time to set up a trade good.

I would recommend against trying to produce both coffee and tobacco, as you can get almost as much benefit out of one of those goods plus a lesser good, but at much lower cost. This will allow you to build powerful buildings such as the factory or harbor sooner.

In short, your priorities are quarries, corn plantations, and a trade good, hopefully a trade good monopoly. Having one indigo and/or one sugar plantation is also helpful, but these are often easier to acquire (especially the indigo), so they should be a bit lower on your priority list. Indigo will be lowest on your list, and you will plan to pick one up at a time when you have late pick in the settler phase and there are not any better choices left, if you do not start with one.


Conclusion:

Money and income should be your focus during the opening phase of any Puerto Rico game. Money is far more valuable early on than victory points, because it will purchase the means for you to create many more points by the end of the game.

Your primary goal during the opening phase will be to secure a solid source of income. Choosing roles with bonus dubloons is highly beneficial in achieving these goals,

Due to the power of early money, the Trader is of high importance. Enabling yourself to make trades early in the game, especially of valuable trade goods, and also preventing your opponents from doing the same is necessary. You should avoid having your trade good shipped on a boat early in the game, and should attempt to force your opponents to ship their most valuable goods, and stop them from trading. Creating more goods than just tobacco or coffee is extremely important, in order to ‘defend’ your valuable good from being shipped onto the boats.

Reducing your colonist needs in the opening can help you to focus on stronger roles, and to be able to avoid the weak Mayor role. Choosing quarries and corn plantations, and taking the Mayor when there is an unbalanced colonist ship can help to achieve this goal.

During the opening, you should focus on attaining a diversity of plantations, and hopefully acquire a trade good plantation, and best of all a monopoly on one trade good. Try to avoid taking a second indigo or second sugar plantation, and avoid buying a large sugar mill or large indigo plant. Also avoid trying to produce both tobacco and coffee, as you can achieve most of the same benefit by producing one of these goods and a smaller good, at a much lower cost.

As the game progresses the importance of money shrinks, as there is less time to make use of it through the purchase of new building abilities. Converting your money directly into points via the large buildings becomes more and more desirable and efficient.

During the middle phase of the game, you will be using the income source and money you have acquired during the opening to set up a source of points, such as more production buildings, harbor, warehouse or wharf. Alternately (or even in addition, if things go very well), you may build buildings which will further increase your income, such as the factory, provided that you will have enough time left in the game to benefit from them sufficiently. A factory or other income source may be considered a source of points due to the ability to convert income into points by building buldings, especially the large buildings. When focusing on converting your money into a source of points, you will also be focusing on gaining boat control, especially if you are set up well for a shipping heavy strategy.

Late in the game, points are better than money, and you will have to focus on converting your money and income into points through large buildings, while simultaneously shipping as effectively as possible given your position.
This reaches an extreme during the late endgame, where players rush to purchase their large buildings and occupy them before the game ends and their money becomes worthless, except in a tiebreaker.

To focus on developing income during the opening, converting that income into a source of points during the midgame, and efficiently using your point source (shipping abilities or further income used to buy several large buildings), to score many points during the endgame, is the dominant strategy in Puerto Rico. Focusing on money and creating an income source early on should thus be your focus throughout the opening turns of the game.

Thank you all for reading, and good luck in your future Puerto Rico games!

- Alex Rockwell (Alexfrog)









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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Alexfrog (#18972),

Great work. This does a fine job of setting up the discussions of specific moves that will follow.

I've been playing with Cyberboard PR lately, specifically working toward making viewable replays of various opening sequences. The idea is to show the next 2 turns after a particular decision so that the effect on income can be seen. I think it would be useful to have a game file that replayed all of the examples from part 2 of your article, along with some commentary.

I'm also making slow progress toward a replay file of the 2003 WBC final game. That's actually been much more time-consuming than I thought it would be.

Jim
 
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Thanks.

I got a start on the second part as well, actually, and have 5 pages written just talking about the very first move of the game. Sigh....

Also: how does an article become a featured article in the spotlight articles section of the main page? I would like to get this there...
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Alex,

Thanks for this excellent article. I like the attention to details that you put in.
I try to follow the general strategy you and Jim have outlined (set up a source of income first, then turn income into points) but I still consider myself merely a 'good' player but not an expert. (That is, I beat newbies but I fail against experts in most cases)
I attribute this to the fact that there are always little things that I overlook. Your article highlights a number of those and I hope I can use your tips to become a better player.

Marcel (Mac-S on BSW)
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Alexfrog (#18972),

Nice :-)

Toss in one key addition to defending your cash crops:

If a boat can fill up on the next captain phase, that crop is no longer reliable for preventing a forced shipment of a major crop.

Typical scenario:
You are sitting in 4th seat in a 4p game with a rainbow plantation draw. 2nd seat grabs a corn and you grab a tobacco. Saving your pennies, you have a tobacco plant manned by round 3. You decide to craft, hoping for a double trade on tobacco. Everything seems safe: you have two crops and there are four in the game...and if nobody trades, you'll be happy to next round as governor. Life is good.

Unfortunately, 2nd seat isn't happy with his choices at the end of round 3, but he can screw you with captain by shipping corn. 3rd seat ships corn. The full corn boat forces you to ship tobacco.


"Focusing on early income" does not mean getting the maximum doubloons per round for the first 5-6 rounds. It only means getting lots of money relative to the other players.

In a nutshell, "early income" means:
a) Make sure the roles you want arrive to you with doubloons on them. This is subtly different than not passing roles with bonuses.
b) Make sure you are involved in the first few trading rounds.
c) Make sure "temporary buildings" (<5db cost) will generate immediate benefits. They aren't worth the money otherwise.
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
paeanblack wrote:

In a nutshell, "early income" means:
a) Make sure the roles you want arrive to you with doubloons on them. This is subtly different than not passing roles with bonuses.
b) Make sure you are involved in the first few trading rounds.
c) Make sure "temporary buildings" (<5db cost) will generate immediate benefits. They aren't worth the money otherwise.


a) During the first five turns, a role with a doubloon on it is one of the roles I want, almost regardless of which role it actually is. For example, a common move is a turn 2 captain that gives me 1 bonus doubloon and no VPs and earns 1-2 VPs for one or more of my opponents. I'm clearly doing more to increase my final score than any of my opponents, since a doubloon earned on turn 2 has time to be invested and reinvested until it generates at least 3 VPs (and typically more than that).
b) Note that "involved" often means "forced an empty trader with a bonus doubloon on it". Using the trader well doesn't necessarily involve moving a barrel to the house.
c) I'm sure Alex will have plenty to say about reasonable/unreasonable building choices in part 2 of this article. I predict that the word "hospice" and one of the words "no" or "not" or the prefixes "un-" or "in-" will appear in the same sentence.

Jim (icetrey)
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Correct, it is possible to have corn and still have that not protect your trade good, becasue the boat can fill. This is another reason why indigo and sugar are better protectors.


It is very true that denying income to your importants is often at least as important as getting it, especially when you have a money lead. If something gives you a couple doubloons but your opponents more, its not good....find a way to deny them that trade.


When Jim makes the move of choosing captain w/1 dubloon, it isnt really 'scoring' the others those points. Those points were already guaranteed by the craftsman phase, because early on there is plenty of boat space. In fact, choosing it yourself instead of allowing your opponents to have it denies them the bonus point. And more importantly, it denies trading possibilities.

If you cant trade, try to prevent anyone from trading. If you can, try to get more out of it...

@Marcel: which details in particular did you find helpful?

My second part will be far more detailed, and I fear it will be too specific. I have like 7 pages already just about the first move of the game.... (not turn, just the first move) I fear it will be too in depth for most people...
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Alexfrog wrote

My second part will be far more detailed, and I fear it will be too specific. I have like 7 pages already just about the first move of the game.... (not turn, just the first move) I fear it will be too in depth for most people...


Could you be more arrogant?

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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Shrauger (#19065),

My guess is that Alex's comment wasn't meant in arrogance, but rather the opposite.

I can describe what my desk looks like down to the coffee stains, but really doubt that anybody would want to read it, so it would be too in depth for most people.

Hopefully, this was the meaning that he meant.

Happy Gaming,
Scott
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
7 pages?

There's certainly choices to be made in the first turn, but it's just not that complicated. Most first turns go by in about 2 minutes, the choices are reasonably clear.

I've played maybe 20 games of Puerto Rico and I hold my own on BSW. I've won a couple, placed last in a few and generally been respectable, so I don't feel clueless.

I'll be curious to read the article, but I would think the writing mantra "You're not done until there's nothing left to remove" would apply.
 
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Shrauger (#19065),

I see no arrogance here. Alex has more to say on the subject than many people will want to read. He is concerned about writing it for that reason.

No arrogance.

Not clear to me that there is enough content to justify 7 pages on the first move, but I won't know until I read it. Post away, Alex.
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Agreed, I don't think it was arrogant and I should have said so in my followup post. Alex is clearly passionate about the game and that's nothing to scoff at

My point was I'd guess at 7 pages it's over-analysis, perhaps covering options that are clearly pointless moves (like picking Captain as player 1 on the first turn).

Then again, Alex may surprise me!
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Indeed, I just think that it will be more than the average person will be inclined to read...and may be overanalysis.

I spend only a sentance stating why craftsman, trader and captain are bad, so you dont have to worry about that.

Basically, I wanted to cover all the possible opening moves for player 1, and show why every one of them is clearly inferior to taking a quarry, in every case. (In particular spending most of the time covering various builder options, as they are so prevalent, yet still far worse than the quarry)

Then I gave advice on what plantations to choose for the other players, and what to do if player 1 does not choose settler/quarry.

Is in depth analysis of this type of thing interesting to people, or is it overkill?
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
I'm interested. Taking a quarry as the first player just seemed the right thing to do, but I'm curious about actually crunching the numbers and "proving" it, so to speak.

An example I'm curious to compare against is taking the small market. Small markets seem to always dissapear quickly and I'm curious how choosing to build and take a market is worse than taking a quarry. Instinctively, I think it's worse because I think I'll use my quarry more than I'd use the market. But, my having the market deprives another player of it, so that's something to consider.
 
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
ckessel wrote:
I'm interested. Taking a quarry as the first player just seemed the right thing to do, but I'm curious about actually crunching the numbers and "proving" it, so to speak.

An example I'm curious to compare against is taking the small market. Small markets seem to always dissapear quickly and I'm curious how choosing to build and take a market is worse than taking a quarry. Instinctively, I think it's worse because I think I'll use my quarry more than I'd use the market. But, my having the market deprives another player of it, so that's something to consider.


Indeed, the small market has the best chance in the settler-quarry vs. builder debate. This is both due to its rarity and its general utility. However, it's still not even close to the quarry in value, for a reason that I explained in my article:

"The builder offers an immediate 1-doubloon discount, while the quarry offers a 1-doubloon discount for the rest of the game. Since money is the highest priority early in the game, there’s just nothing you can build as #1 that will make up for the difference between those two choices."

Even if you get to use the small market 3 times in the first 7 turns, you'll get to use the quarry 4 or 5 times; it's better, especially when one considers that it's not necessary to give up barrels to use a quarry. Quarries are also outrageously efficient in terms of labor. Trading is far more difficult than building in PR.

Another way to look at it is this: Both quarries and small markets are very worthwhile to acquire as it becomes convenient to do so. Making a substantial detour to acquire them is unwise, however. Given a convenient oportunity to acquire one or the other, the quarry is clearly more effective (assuming it is one's first quarry). Passing over a quarry to go builder-small market is essentially announcing "I believe the small market is critical to victory in this game, and fear that I won't be able to get one if I don't buy it now." I haven't seen anything that justifies that point of view.

Jim (icetrey)
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Another big reason for not taking builder is that you arent just denying that small market to someone else, you are in fact handing a QUARRY to someone else...

And not only that, but putting yourself last or at best late in the plantation draw, so you get a poorer pick.

There are further reasons as well. (Hint, think of all the opening principles, and which ones support getting a quarry)...I'll get into it in the next part.
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Alexfrog (#19088),

One notable exception to the settler/quarry start is the settler/corn opening in 3p when the initial draw has one corn and no sugar.
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
paeanblack wrote:
One notable exception to the settler/quarry start is the settler/corn opening in 3p when the initial draw has one corn and no sugar.


Could you please offer some further explanation? No doubt this puts #2 at a serious disadvantage, but I'm not sure that's very good for #1.

Jim (icetrey)
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
paeanblack wrote:
Alexfrog (#19088),

One notable exception to the settler/quarry start is the settler/corn opening in 3p when the initial draw has one corn and no sugar.


I'll talk about this when we get to the openings themselves. Settler/corn is indeed the second best opening, but it is not better than quarry, even in that case...
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Alexfrog wrote:
@Marcel: which details in particular did you find helpful?


Well, for example: The little tactical moves you can make to increase your chances of making a big sell early on. Like manning a corn plantation when your quarry or market seem more attractive.
There are many more of those tactical tips throughout your article and I think it is attention to these details which separate the good players from the great players.

On an unrelated note, I think 7 pages to explain why settler/quarry is the best opening move is a bit too much ???
 
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
Alexfrog (#18972),
HI i have a question regarding the rules of PR. For(3 player game)..for the roles that are not taked...at the end of the round...one person puts 1 doubloon on each role from the bank...and if the same cards are not taken the next round, do we put 1 more doubloon on cards already having doubloons?

Thanks
 
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Re:Puerto Rico Opening Theory part 1: General Principles
oboman2002 (#20514),

Yes. They can get several if not taken for several rounds.
 
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I am super late to the party but I have to say your articles are phenomenal. This the third time I have gone through your and Jim's articles in about a year. Every time I learn something new.

Pure gold.
 
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Jarno Nousiainen
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Amazing. Still is. Thank you.
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