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Puerto Rico’s golden age returns. Through you! Players travel now to the capital city of this beautiful island. Who will build the most important buildings? Players build palaces, poor houses, silver smelters, gold mines, and many others - each with its own special features. The cleverest player will build well and win!

As with the board game Puerto Rico, players choose roles which can help all players, but the choosing player gets a special privilege with the role chosen. Players build buildings, produce and sell goods, and so on. The game is based on Puerto Rico, but different enough to give players new challenges and opportunities for fun and enjoyment.

San Juan

User Reviews (10)

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Viscount / Viscountess
Advocate Beta 1.0 Tester
115 of 122 gamers found this helpful
“Light game with a strong gotcha component, for those so inclined.”

In San Juan, you build a city worth the most points you can. There is a single deck of cards from which all players draw, and each card represents (among other things) a building. Once any player has constructed 12 buildings, the game ends and the players tabulate whose buildings are worth the most points.

Sound like a deck builder?

It’s not.

Those familiar with Race for the Galaxy will see something familiar in that description immediately and the games are often, rightly, compared, but for those not familiar with RftG, here are a few things both games have in common:

1. You have a hand of cards. Each card says right on it what it costs to build. The Victory Statue, for instance, costs “4” to build. In order to pay the construction cost, you must take that many cards from your hand and put them face down in the discard pile. So cards are both potential buildings *and* the cash you must use to build them. You have to decide which will be the one you build, and which you will sacrifice to do the construction.

2. Some buildings produce goods, which you can trade for more cards in your hand. The “Coffee Roaster” allows you to put a good of one type on it, and each good is symbolized by a card taken from the top of the deck and put, face down, on the producing building. Later, when you trade that good, it goes directly to the discard pile. So the cards can also be these goods.

3. Each turn is composed of several phases. Build, trade, produce, and so on. You don’t do every phase of each turn, instead, you take turns picking which phase you will do. If you want to trade, you will have to pick the ‘trade’ phase when it’s your turn to do so, or perhaps your opponent will pick ‘trade,’ in which case you can piggyback your own trade(s) because when one of you picks a phase you all get to do it.

4. The person who picks the phase also gets a little boon for doing so. If I’m the one who picks the ‘produce’ phase, everyone gets to produce a good on one production building (Indigo Plant, Coffee Roaster, Silver Refinery, Sugar Mill, and so on), but the person who selected ‘produce’ gets to produce a good on a second production building as well. Each phase has a similar boon for the guy who picked it.

Buildings are all worth some victory points toward your final score and most also have some handy little power as well. Some are production buildings, giving you goods for trade, others give you some bonus like an extra card every time you trade goods.

Your hand and your cards in play will vary widely from one game to the next, so there’s not really going to be one winning strategy. You might win one game with a bunch of Silver Refineries but find that strategy impossible for one reason or another in the next game, which you win by building a bunch of statues and a couple other buildings which give you a fat bonus for having statues.

There is plenty of replayability here. The cards will tend to repeat after awhile, though; even if the strategies vary from game to game the cards will soon become very familiar. The game also plays quickly, in about 20-30 minutes for the 2 player game.

I recommend this game for those looking for a game that plays in 20 – 30 minutes and is a card game but also has a sprinkle of “gotcha.” I also heartily recommend this game to those who, like myself, really like Race for the Galaxy but struggle to find people *cough* *suckers* willing to sit still long enough for me to explain how to play.

**** Comparison to Race for the Galaxy incoming: ****

There are a couple very important ways in which this is *not* Race for the Galaxy, with which it is often compared. And which I would, truth be told, prefer playing.

First of all, Race for the Galaxy is *much* deeper. There is much more variety in that game and many more paths to victory. This game plays much easier and I wouldn’t hesitate to teach this game to anybody; it just isn’t as much of a punch in the eye as RftG. So it’s not as deep as RftG, *but* it is much more of a crowd pleaser. And it almost scratches the same itch, so it’s a good one to be aware of, if you’re a fan of RftG.

Second of all, the phase selection process is different in a very important way. The phases are laid out in the middle of the play area for all to see. If I pick ‘produce,’ we all produce, but only I get the bonus. And that can be terribly important. If I see your strategy likely depends on a trade of a couple goods, I can submarine you by selecting ‘trade’ myself. Even if it’s not ideal for me, I might have completely undone *you* by denying you the boon I guessed you were anticipating.

Unlike RftG, there is a *significant* “Gotcha” factor in this game. You may not see it or use it, depending on who you’re playing with, but it’s not something to be overlooked in the right group.

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I'm a Real Person
114 of 122 gamers found this helpful
“Strategic, light and importantly 'wife friendly' :)”

This is always the game my wife wants to play (and who am I to turn down any game?)So my review is going to be biased towards the 2 player aspect and will be presented as how I teach the game to a new player.

Simply, the cards are potentially buildings, goods to sell or ‘currency’.

Each building in the game will benefit you in some way: more goods, more cards, cheaper buildings or give you the victory points needed to win. You pay for these buildings by ‘spending’ the cards in your hand. (This of course means the often painful choice of building quickly or saving a card you want to keep for a future turn.)

Every round you have a choice of five roles.
Builder – build a building paying with cards from your hand
Prospector – Gain a card
Councillor – Choose a card from 5 drawn cards – everyone else chooses 1 from 2 drawn
Producer – Produces a good on a production building
Trader – Sell a good for cards

Each role can be chosen once per round and your opponent gets to use that role as well. However, the player that chose the role gets a bonus – cheaper building, sell or produce an extra good etc. In the two player game, the first player chooses the 1st and 3rd roles.

The game ends when 12 buildings have been placed and that entire turn has finished. Victory points are tallied up to decide the winner.

That’s basically it.

The strategic side of the game is what tactic you will use based on the cards you get: production bias or cheaper buildings? When to choose roles and by playing cards that ‘leech’ off other player’s choices. Knowing when to build and when to risk saving a card for later use and expecially knowing when to get out those expensive 6 cost cards.

A great game that scales well for more players, quick to set up, easy to learn and deep enough to know it was not just ‘bad luck’ that stopped you winning.

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Comic Book Fan
Novice Reviewer
113 of 121 gamers found this helpful
“A simple strategy game of roles, building, and raking in the victory points.”

Have you ever dreamed of running your own territory? Being the governor of a prosperous new region? Deciding which buildings are erected and how resources are managed? Enter San Juan, a card game from Andreas Seyfarth, Alea, and Rio Grande Games. In San Juan you will race against other players to develop buildings, create a structured production of goods, and accumulate the most victory points. Do you have what it takes to develop the capitol city of Puerto Rico, facilitate the needs of a region, and emerge victorious? If so, then I welcome you to the city of San Juan.

San Juan is a strategy game where you build important buildings like houses, palaces, smelters, statues, and other essential building blocks for a populous city. To win the game you must have the highest amount of victory points at the end of the game. Players earn these points by constructing buildings and through secondary goals. The game automatically ends once a player reaches 12 buildings, so San Juan is a game in which you need to be aware of your opponents’ plays. Turns are split up into rounds with players choosing a “role” and then performing an action associated with that role. Roles include governor, trader, builder, miner, councilor, and producer. The way a typical round would go is that the governor, a title passed from player to player each round, would go first by selecting a role, say “builder” for example. Everyone then gets to discard cards from their hands in order to build structures. The amount of cards you must discard to build are listed on the structure card, with some buildings requiring up to six cards to be discarded from your hand. It is only when someone has chosen the builder role that people are allowed to build. The incentive for taking the builder role however is that the player who drew that role gets to discard one card less to build. Each role has a special privilege that only the person fulfilling that role receives. Other role actions include drawing more cards, producing additional goods, or trading more goods.

After everyone has taken the action associated with the governor’s role, the next person would get to choose a role, followed by everybody taking that role’s action. This continues until everyone has chosen a role and taken the action that goes along with it. Once this has occurred, the roles are put back in the middle of the table, and the next person at the table receives the governor title, beginning a new round. Depending on how many players are in the game, not every role will be chosen each round, so some rounds will be centered around producing goods, or building, or just drawing more cards.

Certain cards play off each other so be aware of how you are helping and hurting your opponents. A good tip is to make sure you have several production buildings that can create indigo, sugar, tobacco, coffee, and silver. Having these buildings produce goods for you, and then selecting the trader role can boost your hand size, allowing you to build more structures the next time the builder role is selected.

Included within the game box is 110 cards, 6 role placards, 5 trading house tiles, and one scoring pad. The cards are sturdy and form a single pile. The cards are colored to indicate what type they are and each type of card has a distinct picture and explanation of its uses. The role placards are heavy cardboard and have a description of each role’s abilities printed on the placard itself. This helps alleviate the need to look through the rules to determine uses. The score pad is only used at the end of the game and comes with a lot of pages, allowing for dozens of plays before you need to replenish your paper supply. The game is simple enough to where you could keep score on a blank piece of paper though, so it isn’t a bad thing if you blow through the game’s score pad quickly.

The cards included in the game all give their owners special abilities for different phases. Some buildings will allow their owner to produce more goods, or require less cards to build. These abilities are similar to the abilities unlocked by selecting roles, but are permanent throughout the entire game. Violet cards are the more powerful cards that players will want to build, and are restricted so that a player can only build one of each type. One special violet card you will want to use early on in the game is the chapel, which allows you to place cards from your hand underneath it to add victory points at the end of the game. This can really add up if you continuously add cards as you play.

When my wife and I sat down to play San Juan for the first time we ended up struggling with the instructions on how to play. There are examples included in the booklet, but if you aren’t familiar with San Juan or Puerto Rico, you may find it easier to look up a video walkthrough on how to play it instead. We had never played a game like San Juan before and were unfamiliar with playing in rounds and picking roles. Once you get the hang of the way the rounds work you should be able to devise your own strategy and play rather quickly. The only other problem we had was that it felt like the violet cards, which restrict you to owning only one of each type, seemed to overwhelm the rest of the cards. There were times where we had nothing but violet cards in our hands because of the majority of the card deck containing these types of cards, and would have liked to see a more diverse amount of production and house cards.

San Juan is a unique game that pits players with a choice of what kind of role they want to fill in a developing coast nation. Its simplistic layout and strategic gameplay keeps players coming back for more and I for one am hooked. To date it has earned such honors as the 2004 Spiel des Jahres Recommendation, being a 2004 International Gamers Awards Nominee, and winning the 2004 Japan Boardgame Prize for The Best Japanese Game. If you are looking for a great building game that puts you in control, and allows you to play with 2-3 of your friends, then look no further. San Juan will be your own bustling metropolis before you know it! Game on!

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Advanced Reviewer
Rosetta Stone
92 of 99 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“Dynamic Engine Builder”

My interest in San Juan started when I bought the app for my iPod. I could easily find myself getting lost in time as I built up my tableau of cards representing the buildings in a district of San Juan. I had not played Puerto Rico and therefore had no experience with some of the key mechanics of the game. I loved the variable role selections that were offered and the clever use of the dual purposed cards as both buildings and currency. It was a new experience in hand management and very enjoyable at that.


San Juan is a card driven game where players are building up their own district in San Juan. Players start with a random selection of cards and a basic production building to get their tableau started. At the begining of the turn, the first player is considered the governor for the round (this role rotates clockwise each round) and select one of a number of roles that will give all players an identified action in the round. The player that selects the specific role gains an added benefit for that action. These actions will allow players to build (pay for the construction of buildings that are added to the tableau), produce (allowing their production buildings to produce goods), trade (allowing players to sell their goods), counsellor (permits players to draw a number of cards and select one of these cards), and prospecting (generally only affects the prospecting player allowing them to receive a free draw).

Players build their respective tableaus by paying for and placing the buildings in their player area. The buildings themselves also afford special player powers and sometimes have cumulitive effects that are triggered by the various role selections. Buildings are divided into 2 categories: Production and Civic. The production buildings range from low value product such as Indigo up to the Silver Smelting which has the highest trade value. The Civic buildings afford players their various ability modifiers. These buildings range in effectiveness and usefulness, and like the production buildings, vary in cost that reflects the usefullness to the player.

The end game is triggered when the first player fills up their tableau with 12 cards. In the round when this occurs, the round is completed and players tally their scores as reflected on the building cards. There is more to this game that I ahve not explained such as the use of the unplayed building cards as currency and the variable trading chart that reflects trade values. However, the basic fundamentals have been described.

The game plays with 2-4 players but shines when played with 4 players. Gameplay with experiened players is generally around 35-45 min but much longer with inexperienced players as their is a steep learning curve to players that are not familiar with this style of play.


The components of this game consist of the cards and role selection tiles. The copy that I have is the 2nd edition. The cards in this edition are a Eurpoean sized card and one that I find to be a little small, my preference for a game that consists entirely of cards is the American sizing. The artwork on the cards is simple and not very exciting, the description of the building modifiers can sometimes leave inexperienced players scratching their heads as they try to determine their meaning.

Another issue is the confusing colour schemes with production buildings vs. the civic buildings. In the first edition, all civic buildings had a violet background and each production building had its own specific colour. This was a very simple yet effective manner to differentiate buildings. However in this edition, all the colours have been muted and the civic buildings now have an aged parchment colour that blends into the colour of the production buildings. I have found this to be barrier to new players as they attempt to learn this game.

The cards of reasonable quality but I would have prefered a card with linen finish and more defined graphics and colour.


Despite some of the production woes of this game, I have found that it provides some very strategic, and at times, challenging gameplay. Players are always in a position to decide between saving their cards to build higher point valued and effective buildings vs. completing their tableau quickly so as not to be too far behind the other players. There can be a noticible learning curve to this game if no one at the table has any experience with San Juan and players are being guided by the rule book alone. However, once players become experienced in this game, it can be a very rewarding play time with a very dynamic challenge. I love this game but realize that it will not be for everyone.

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Professional Reviewer Beta 1.0 Tester
Silver Supporter
Sentinels of the Multiverse fan
98 of 108 gamers found this helpful
“A most excellent card game! Makes a good family game!”

San Juan is a game that was inspired by the groundbreaking strategy game called Puerto Rico. It has the same theme and same role selection mechanic contained in Puerto Rico along with some nice twists. It’s a pure card game and is a lot less fiddly than Puerto Rico, and it plays 2 to 4 players.

In San Juan, you again take on the life of a plantation owner where you build your plantation to produce goods and improve parts of the capital of San Juan with better buildings. The goal of the game is to get the most victory points, but the points are found in the cards.

This game requires skillful hand management as you try to improve your “tableau” of cards. To put a building or a plantation card down in your “tableau” during the building phase, you must pay for it with cards in your hand to the discard pile. This is the tricky part, because you have to give up some good cards sometimes to put down the right card for the next phase of building your “tableau”. But don’t fret, the deck is reshuffled when it runs out, so you might see the card you’re looking for again.

Players choose roles such as building, producing, trading, etc. Each player gets to perform the same roles that is picked, but only the person who picked the role gets the role bonus. The bonus usually involves getting extra cards for some phase for example.

The first person to have 12 cards in their tableau ends the game. Then players add up the their points as explained in each card in their tableau. The person with the most points wins.

I really like San Juan, because it has a good amount of strategic depth versus standard card games. However, it’s a good game to introduce people to the next level of card driven games like Race for the Galaxy which shares a lot of core mechanics. As I mentioned early, it is a snap to set up, because there are very few extra items beyond the cards themselves. Even though the game says it plays 2 to 4 players, it plays better with 3 to 4 in my opinion. It makes a pretty good family game too!

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Intermediate Reviewer
Gamer - Level 3
113 of 125 gamers found this helpful
“A Light-Medium Card Driven Strategy Game”

In San Juan players are racing to achieve fame and fortune by building up the city of San Juan. The winner is decided when one player finishes building his 12th building. The player at the end of the game with the most victory points wins. Each round 5 actions are made available through the use of role placards; each role grants the same action to all players, and grants an additional privilege to the role owner. Each turn players must decide which action they want to take; however, once a role has been chosen it is unavailable until the next round. The actions vary from drawing cards, building, producing goods, and selling goods (which grant you more cards). The cards in San Juan function as three things, the building printed on the card, currency (used to build the building), or a good; this simple fact causes players to carefully weigh which buildings they want to construct, and which ones they are going to use as either goods or currency.

The game plays quickly and despite the simplicity of the rules there are some key decisions to make throughout the game. Choosing the right role at the right time, to either leverage the privilege or deny that privilege to other players, is the main player interaction mechanic, and the fulcrum of your strategy; however, since the cards you draw are random players will need to continually evaluate their strategy and adapt it based on their current circumstances. Beyond choosing which role to assume on your turn, players must carefully consider how to best use each card in their hand, as some cards must be spent (discarded) in order to win the game.

San Juan is not a deep thinking strategy game, instead it is a fast light-medium to medium strategy card game rewarding careful decisions and adaptability.

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Intermediate Reviewer
Novice Advisor
93 of 133 gamers found this helpful
“Puerto Rico light”

San Juan would be a much greater game if not Puerto Rico existed. It’s a more lightweight younger sibling to PR, and if you enjoy PR you will probably consider SJ a little sloppy and simple. That does not mean this is a bad game, on the contrary it’s an elegant game with beautiful card work and the same type of choices as Puerto Rico.

One great niche for this game is as a travel game, it does not include all fiddly pieces that PR does, so setup and play is much easier even in more compact spacing.

Using the cards as money is smart and the games does not take as long as PR to play or setup. I guess this could be a great game for someone who consider PR to heavy and hard.

Conclusion, it’s a good game but we never play it if there’s a copy of PR around. But if you like PR and haven’t tried SJ I really think you should give it a shot, it’s still slightly different although you will recognise the feel and touch of PR.

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97 of 145 gamers found this helpful
“Love it!!”

I’ve never played Puerto Rico yet, but I’ve played San Juan MANY times. It’s a lot of fun! It’s one of our favorites.

In order to speed up the game, we like to do some of the jobs simultaneously (at least the ones that can be like builder, trader). .. especially for builder. Instead of waiting for each person to build in turn, everyone can build at the same time. We call it “speed San Juan”.

We’ve taught this to a few people too and they seem to catch on rather well. At first, the cards do take a bit of explaining to “newbies”, but we all play fair and unbiasedly help anyone who needs it. It’s easy to catch on after a few times of playing.

Great game to travel with too as the components are just cards and a few thick cardboard cards. Personally, they should have omitted the scoring pad and charged less for the game. The scoring can be done on paper following the scoring order that is in the manual.

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Gamer - Level 3
Intermediate Grader
“Fun and simple gateway game”

The game consists of a deck of cards of average quality. There are also 5 role cards and trading cards printed on the cardboard.
The box also includes a pencil and a nice pad to keep scores.

Nothing special. It looks fine if you take it in its theme, but it is not great.

At the beginning of the turn, Governor (first player) selects the role he wishes to play. Role is actually a type of action that is played by all players (except Prospector, that is played only by the player who chose it), but the player who chose the role gets its benefits. At the beginning of each turn, the Governor token is sent to the next player.
Actions include building, producing, selling and taking cards… And cards are everything in this game, they are buildings, money, goods. So, i.e. a player has 4 cards in his hand, he chooses to build a building (from his hand) costing 4, he will take a Builder role (which gives him the benefit of building at -1 cost) and will discard other 3 cards to pay for it.
A producer will put goods (cards from the top of the deck) under his production buildings, and a trader will sell these goods for the amount depending on trading cards and goods type.
Anyway, once any player has 12 buildings, the game ends and total points are tallied.

I really like San Juan. It is a very simple and fun game with a nice amount of strategy. Number of cards drawn are so huge that luck is really at the minimum, though luck on trading cards can greatly influence your plans. Anyway, it is a fast, easy to learn game, that is actually great for 2 players.

I had San Juan for many years in my collection, and it is a game that was brought to the table many times. But never for too many times in a row. Anyway, my personal feeling is that game has a nice replayability, but should not be exploited for too long…

Very, very fun and simple game, with (probably) nice replay value, but unfortunately packed in average quality components and with bland design.

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46 of 143 gamers found this helpful
“Not a match for Race for the Galaxy”

Don’t waste your time on this if you want replayability. Like Puerto Rico it gets mechanical and the game begins to play you.


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