I like games where you don’t have the final scores until the end. If you’re paying attention you can usually determine who’s winning, even who’s won before the final scores are tallied. But there’s something amusing about playing a game to the end, counting and re-counting the final scores, and then just sort of saying, “…huh. I guess you won.”
I don’t track information, at least not consciously. I like to play games by instinct. I keep a vague notion of who’s making the most headway, what resources everyone has, and feel my way through the strategy as I play. So when I’m in a game with hidden scores the end can be surprising. So it was with our recent play-through of Puerto Rico.
There were four of us playing; Me, Josh, John Fraley, and G. All of us were coming from a game the week prior fresh in our minds. We know the rules, we got a glimpse of strategies we like and, as Josh has said, we knew just enough to get into trouble.
Fraley won the previous game, by a margin so thin that if we had missed a rule regarding the harbor (+1 per delivery, not per phase) he would’ve been in second by 2 points. As it stood, we couldn’t track how many points were lost to that, but we figured it was more than 3. Fraley has a strong analytical mind. His day job involves gathering, processing, and interpreting data, so in a game with many moving parts he usually keys into what works.
At the start of the game I assume he’s off to an early lead. His buildings all work for him, he’s trading well, and everything is staffed. I look like I’m in the dumps, after I’ve missed the boat on goods delivery, pun intended. I’m doing well economy-wise, and I’m looking to buy buildings to gain points and offset my shipping deficiencies.
Midway in I get my favorite two buildings, wharf and harbor. Wharf gives you your own boat to ship goods. Harbor gives you points for shipping goods. The strategy is obvious, and is part of the longest examples for rules clarification in the book. They’re also expensive, and not worth much if you get them too late, but once you have them they’re easy to leverage. Meanwhile Fraley has bought the first 10 cost building (and will buy another by the end of the game), G has a decent but inefficient plantation going; she’s got two coffee fields staffed but neglected to pick up a roaster until late. Josh has a harbor of his own and is producing a lot of goods. He’s got a good head for role selection, but he trips up one turn with role selection. He chooses craftsman, I see he’s got good to ship but his position is bad, so I take captain and he loses a great deal to spoilage. I ship when I can and try not to waste money on buildings that won’t help in the late game.
When it’s over, we all flip our points and count the numbers. I comment that it looks like Fraley ran away with it. His response was “I feel pretty good about it.” We break it down by trade points, building values, and bonus points from the large buildings.
- the world in black and white
Huh. I guess I won.
Once it was done, Fraley and I had this stunned expression, as we both checked the points again. And again. Fraley was close. If one were to point out the deficiency, you could just look at the points from goods shipping. I lost sight of that mid-game, and just tried to push as much as I could.
Eurogames like Puerto Rico pride themselves on the lack of random influence. All information is public, actions are chosen and shared by players, and everyone has access to the same material, starting plantations aside. When you win, it’s all based on your skill as a player and your ability to read the situation and adapt to the developments of the game, while following a strong strategy. Had I followed and processed everything in the game I would’ve known how it was shaping up. But the feeling of surprise at the end, and the rush of the thrill of victory after everyone had left, are the reason I love gaming so much.
Ignorance may be bliss, but the reveal can be a pretty sweet plum too.