Monday, December 17, 2007

A Quick Look at Audiences and the Acclaim of Puerto Rico

At present, Puerto Rico is the highest rated game on Board Game Geek and is so by a wide margin. Why? What is it about the game that causes it to be rated so highly? What elements of appeal are involved in the game so as to evoke such a positive response out of so many gamers? This article offers a quick look at these issues.


First of all, let’s look at audiences within the gaming community. Audiences tend to be aggregates of people who have some similar dispositions with regard to their gaming tastes. If these audiences grow to a certain critical mass, they tend to be identified and classified with a label. These labels are imperfect mental groupings at best but, despite the imperfections inherent within the type of generalizations that come from using labels, they can immediately conjure up lots of information in the mind of a person when they are used. Calling someone a “Eurogamer” for example carries lots of implications – some of which may be accurate and some of which may not. Nevertheless, the term can be a useful term despite it’s imperfection.

With all of that said, my main argument in this article is that the primary reason why Puerto Rico appeals to so many people is because it has a mixture of elements in it that appeal to audiences who normally don’t have all that much in common with respect to their tastes in gaming. Let’s see why this is.

The “Eurogamer” Audience

The term “Eurogamer” generally applies to a person who tends to like the following elements in a game:

-Fairly simple/streamlined rules set

-Minimal amounts of luck involved

-Interesting mechanics and systems – regardless of how strongly or poorly they reinforce the theme of the game

-Balance in the game play (i.e. prevention of a run-away leader problem and so forth)

The Amerigaming / “Ameritrash” Audience

The label of an “Ameritrasher” is one that still carries some ambiguity. However, there are a few characteristics that can be identified as generally applying to someone who chooses to identify themselves with the Ameritrash label:

-Theme and thematic immersion is the primary goal of a game

-Balance, luck, mechanics, systems, and relative simplicity of rules are all subservient to the goal of having a strongly thematic experience. Exceptions to rules or specialized rule-breaking abilities are seen as being positive or negative within the framework of the question “do they reinforce the theme?”

-Usually, the more direct player interaction in a game, the better.

The “CCG” Audience

One of the main points of appeal of CCG’s (Collectible Card Games) is that a gamer gets to be a quasi game designer as they acquire various cards, build their deck and, through deck building, are afforded the opportunity to use their creativity to determine how the game plays. They are like a painter having access to a wide palette of colors to paint the rules and privileges that they want to try using in a particular game.
Aspects of Appeal

Puerto Rico has the following aspects that allow it to reach out and appeal to a wide variety of gamers:

-The variety of buildings available and the different possibilities for interaction between buildings affords a player the opportunity to create what their gaming experience will be like within the game – much like how CCG gamers create their gaming experience through deck building.

-Unlike CCG’s, and unlike many “Ameritrash” games, the amount of luck in Puerto Rico is minimal at best. This aspect of minimal luck appeals to many Eurogamers.

-The elements of managing a workforce and the different amounts of exceptions to rules provided by the buildings in the game allow an Amerigamer to find some areas of thematic appeal.

-Often times, when you have lots of exceptions to rules in a game, the game can become convoluted if one player’s modifiers have to be reconciled with another player’s modifiers due to direct player interaction. For example “If I attack you with character A using Modifier X but you respond with character B using Modifier Y but I counter with an additional Modifier Z and you realize that if you counter with Modifier…etc.” When games become convoluted, they bog down and the fun of the game can be lost in the math or in the keeping track of some sort of clunky set of protocol. Puerto Rico offers lots of exceptions to rules and benefits through the buildings available for purchase but those privileges and exceptions apply to the owner and only on their turn and don’t have to be reconciled with other player’s buildings because there’s no “combat” per se in the game. Thus, there’s no messy sets of detailed orders of operations that have to be processed.

-On the other hand, even though there is no combat in the game, there are opportunities to really “stick it” to other players. Taking the Captain and requiring someone to ship a crop that they desperately needed to trade is one example. This aspect has potential appeal to Amerigamers because Amerigamers tend to prefer the ability to directly impact other players through one’s own choices in a game.

I’m sure there are other aspects of appeal that cause Puerto Rico to come off positively to a wide variety of crowds but what I’ve listed here are a few of the main points. The number of different privileges the buildings afford their owners allow a person to really play with a wide variety of possible combinations in their approach to the game and the luck of the plantation draws offers just enough variety to keep Puerto Rico fresh over time.

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