Puerto Rico 1897 released last month, at least here in the United States. I was excited for this redo of the Andreas Seyfarth classic, and in fact, I had preordered it last fall. I love the gameplay of Puerto Rico, so I was thrilled to have the expansions (and a hard-to-find promo) in one box, all with redone art.
But Puerto Rico 1897 is a letdown, and indeed, it is literally unplayable out of the box due to missing components. Even setting that problem aside, this version lacks several elements of functional design, such as text on the building tiles.
It is with great disappointment that I detail those problems here. I have given the game a low rating on BoardGameGeek, and I do not recommend buying Puerto Rico 1897 until the game’s numerous problems are fixed.
As a threshold matter, at least four of the coffee tiles needed to play the game are not included in the box. This problem seemingly affects all of the classic player counts, plus the 2-player rules (which I’ll admit that I just skimmed), so the game is unplayable out of the box. Worse, it appears to affect many (if not most or all) copies of the game sold in the United States. Ravensburger (owner of publisher Alea) has a form that can be filled out online to get the tiles, but it takes a while to receive the components. I ordered mine in mid-to-late February, but they just hit my mailbox this past weekend.
That is my biggest problem with the game. I get it that missing pieces are a part of the modern board gaming hobby — having purchased several hundred games in my life, I can report that the problem is (fortunately) rare — but I’ve never been on the receiving end of a situation where many copies of a game seems to be missing the pieces. That is a major oversight on Alea’s part.
That said, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post if that was the only problem: mistakes get made, and that one is remedied, even after the inconvenience of waiting a few weeks. But even with the tiles, Puerto Rico 1897 remains very difficult to play, even to an experienced Puerto Rico player like myself.
A big part of the strategy is buying buildings. But here — even after multiple successful versions of the game spanning two decades — the publisher has inexplicably omitted the text from the tiles. Shown below are the building tiles. As you can see, there is no text, no symbology, and indeed nothing that shows what benefit you get when you buy a building.
As shown in this next picture, that text instead appears instead on the back of the rulebook. Fair enough: publishers do that. But even then, for some buildings, the text is inadequate to explain the building’s bonus. Take, for instance, the factory. It says you get bonus coins. But it does not say how many bonus coins.
For that, you need to flip to a different part of the rulebook, where the answer is embedded within text. Alea could have easily put this on the tile (like in past versions) or on the back of the rulebook. but they inexplicably chose not to. To call this a development oversight is understatement.
And even the text that is included on the back of the rulebook is wrong. Notice how these two buildings have the same description. I’m pretty sure they are not supposed to, although I’m open to correction. (I believe the School’s ability applies during the building phase.)
So where does that leave us? If a buyer orders the missing tiles (a step they shouldn’t have to take), they will still have difficulty teaching the game, because for many of the buildings, they’ll need to look not just on the back of the rulebook, but also in the body text. And the back of the rulebook is incorrect, which is likely to lead to additional frustration at the table. And this is just what I, a veteran Puerto Rico player, noticed in one game: there are likely other errors.
I’m not giving my copy a second play. I’m returning it to where I bought it (a step I have, to my recollection, never taken with a board game). And I encourage our readers here at The Opinionated Gamers to not buy the new version until these problems are fixed.
Alea was reportedly going to issue a statement about this situation a few days ago. As a courtesy to one of the once-great publishers in this industry, I held off on posting this until I could also post the statement. But the statement has not yet come.
I regret not posting this sooner: I think we, as reviewers, owe it to readers to say such matters as soon as we noticed them. (Speaking further, I’m a little surprised that more board gaming media has not covered this.) My apologies for the delay on my end.
Update on March 16, 2022: W. Eric Martin has posted about a few additional problems with the game on BoardGameGeek. As part of his post, he noted that Ravensburger has been shipping out additional coffee tiles since October. That is obviously a double-edged sword: it is good they’ve been attempting to correct the problem, but also shockingly bad that they shipped the U.S. edition with known errors like this. Ravensburger provided Eric the following statement:
“With Puerto Rico 1897, Ravensburger took a best-selling, classic ‘Euro’ game and reimagined it into a more welcoming and inclusive gaming experience for today’s player. When the game hit store shelves in February, it came to our attention there were missing tiles and rule book errors. We apologize and have taken steps to ensure these issues are corrected as quickly as possible.
We have stopped production of the game to guarantee that all copies of Puerto Rico 1897 moving forward will have the correct number of tiles and an updated rule book to support an ideal gaming experience. Those who have already purchased Puerto Rico 1897 and have missing ‘coffee’ estate tiles can request the correct pieces to be shipped to them at no additional cost through this website: https://ravensburger.us/service/replacement-parts/index.html. Once the rule book has been updated, it will be available for replacement or to download digitally. At Ravensburger, it is our mission to create quality games with the highest craftsmanship that deliver timeless entertainment and shared moments of fun. It is our expectation that, with the corrections made, Puerto Rico 1897 will meet our players’ high standards of excellence.”
I consider their statement evasive: the complete and accurate rulebook is not just necessary to “support an ideal gaming experience,” but rather any gaming experience at all. They are trying to minimize the events here. And failure to address the fact that they have seemingly known since October is just as frustrating: they imply they learned this in February, but it is plausible (and even likely) they knew beforehand. They also have not said they will be providing text on the tiles, which is an important graphic design element. They should have just recalled the game.