Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Rio Grande Games/Alea, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $24.95)


Unlike other game authors, Andreas Seyfarth has not designed a truckload of games. But what he has created is impressive. He won German Game of the Year honors with Manhattan (Winter 1997 GA REPORT) and created the stellar “gamer’s game”, Puerto Rico (Spring 2002 GA REPORT). Now, he’s revisited the sunny Caribbean and come up with an offspring for Puerto Rico in his new card game, San Juan.

San Juan comes with 110 cards (divided into 42 production cards and 68 violet buildings), the Governor card, 5 role cards and 5 trading house tiles. It even includes a score pad and pencil!sanjuan

All players begin with one blue production card (for producing Indigo) and is dealt a starting hand of four cards. The remaining cards become the draw pile. In Puerto Rico, one of the unique features is the choosing of roles which govern the actions allowed during a particular turn. This device is maintained here. But the unique feature of San Juan, one that makes it startlingly different from its “parent” game, is the way cards are used. Each card can serve multiple roles: as money, as a building or as produced goods!

The starting player takes the Governor card and displays the five role cards to the other players. The Governor chooses the first role to be played. Roles available are Builder (construct buildings), Producer (produce goods), Trader (sell goods), Councillor (choose cards and keep one), Prospector (draw a card). All players do the action chosen (but the person who chose the role gets a bonus, known as a “privilege”).

When playing the Builder, a player may place one building from his hand onto his play area in front of him provided he can pay the cost of construction listed on the card. Cards act as money here as payment is made by discarding that number of cards from his hand. (For example, if a building has a construction cost of 3, then 3 cards must be discarded.) Players may have any number of production buildings (Indigo, Coffee, etc. ) but only ONE each of a particular type of violet building. All buildings are worth Victory Points but violet buildings can convey special advantages to a player, such as an increased hand size from a maximum of 7 to 12 (Tower), reduced building cost (Quarry), sale of an additional good (Trading Post), cache cards for Victory Points later (Chapel) and earn additional Victory Points at game end (Guild Hall, City Hall, Palace).

The Producer activates played production buildings as one card from the draw pile is placed, face down, on ONE production card to indicate goods produced. (The Producer, as his privilege, may place a card on TWO production buildings.)


The Trader allows goods to be sold. When this role is chosen, the top trading house tile, indicating values for sold goods ranging from 1 to 3 depending on the type of good (although Indigo is always 1), is revealed. Players remove the card on their production buildings and draw the appropriate number of cards from the draw pile into their hands.

The Councillor gets to draw two cards and keep one. (The privilege is to draw FIVE and keep one.) The final role, the Prospector, is unique in that only the player choosing the role draws a card into his hand.

After each player has chosen a role, the Governor card shifts to the player on the left and the next round begins. Play continues until at least one player in the builder phase constructs his 12th building. At that point, that particular phase is completed and the game ends. Now Victory Points are tallied.

Players receive VPs equal to the number printed on each building card plus 1 VP for each card stashed underneath a Chapel (if the player has built one) plus VPs for Triumphal Arches, Guild Halls and City Halls (if built) plus VPs for the Palace. The player with the most Victory Points wins the game!

San Juan, dubbed by some as “Puerto Rico Lite”, captures the flavor of Puerto Rico well while adding a few clever twists of its own. Without question, the game is a learning experience, primarily because of the powers the cards bestow. The Chapel, for instance, allows you to bank a card each round which is worth an extra VP per card at game end. Nice to have but, at the same time, drains your hand of cards that can be used to pay for buildings that might result in even bigger payoffs! Card combinations can be devastating to the opposition but you won’t know which combos work for you until you play the game a few times. But play this game over and over again, you most certainly will. — – – Herb Levy


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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