San Juan

Andreas Seyfarth

Publisher: Ravensburger

New edition sure looks prettier than the older one.

San Juan holds a special record in my collection. It is the only game in which I have sold the game twice only to repurchase the game. Most recently, the second edition is my third copy. My long and torturous relationship with this game says something about my gaming tastes I suppose. Either that or most of my Geekbuddies are just plain wrong.

On paper, the game reads as if it would hit all the right buttons. I love the simplicity of the game and the numerous variables each building provides. It also seems like there are many paths to victory. In reading the rules, I would easily expect the game to be a hit, yet everytime I play it, the game fails to live up to expectations. This time around, it again failed to impress. While I love the simple nature of the game, the number of useful actions in the game really felt limited. It boiled down to a cycle of actions which include using the producer, trader and builder in that order to get cards, and spend cards to build buildings. That’s pretty much it. The Councillor or the Prospector were rarely used once you have a decent production facility. Hence, there are 3 useful actions late in the game and these actions pretty much dominate in a 2p game. While I want to think you can get away with an Indigo strategy, I am not sure how well that works. You won’t always have a chance to get many Indigo or Sugar plantations. It depends on the luck of the draw. You can do a cheap building rush, but it won’t get you many points and you hope to end the game in 12 rounds to outscore your opponents. The straightforward path is to get a silver smelter or tobacco plant and slowly accumulate cards to build high value targets. This seems to be reasonable…. and predictable.

The game again fell flat for me in the third go around. For me the lack of choices during action selection and the constant repetition of producing, trading and building just felt boring. Perhaps I am not seeing all that much strategy or I am failing to see the diverse paths to victory because I am pretty sure that in the next go around, I would still try to do the same thing. The game really does probably deserve a couple more go tries before deciding, but my past is already informing my future and I am unlikely to keep the game. Then again, perhaps I will get hooked and reeled in again by San Juan 5 years from now…..

12/2019:
Still no change in rating or outlook for the game. A high value production house still feels vital regardless. If you get a smelter very early on, you’d be hard pressed not to play it. Are there other paths to victory other than relying on production?

Initial impressions: Average

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