Domaine, Puerto Rico

The original Löwenherz (which came out in 1997) was an interesting game. It got good reviews and was well-respected. Many people, including me, thought it was a top-tier type game. But as time went by, I had to keep knocking my rating down, because it just never hit the table, unlike the true classics like El Grande or Modern Art or Through the Desert. I think it was just perceived as too much work for not enough fun. And so my opinion settled on it as a good, but second-tier, type game.

When the “new” Löwenherz (known in the US as Domaine) came out, I thought it was a nice game but wouldn’t replace the original. I was wrong; for me, it has replaced the original. Domaine has been played quite a lot in our groups over the past year and a half, when most games, even many good ones, will last only a couple months – it has that elusive combination of elegance and depth that few designs seem to achieve. Streamlining the game by eliminating the negotiation element has done wonders for it, slimming it down to a much more reasonable play time (especially given the cutthroat nature of the underlying system). In retrospect, it seems like the original perhaps was trying to do too much, and eliminating the negotiation/bidding to focus on cash management and the tactical game makes for a much more satisfactory game. I now feel pretty good about giving it the top slot on my “best of 2003“. And hey, I can actually win at the new edition of the game, so how bad can it be? I could never do well in the original.

This was the first play of Puerto Rico for me in something like a year, and probably only the third or fourth since the game was run into the ground around January 2003 (we had a guy in our game group at the time who only ever wanted to play Puerto Rico, so it just got a lot more exposure than it could handle in retrospect). I do think Puerto Rico is a good game but I’ve never been really blown away by it. It’s also a game that I am really horrifically bad at. I was discussing with Kim after the game why this might be. My theory is that I tend to like games with a strategic component, stuff like Settlers or Traders of Genoa or the wargames I like. Puerto Rico taunts you with strategic elements, but it’s really just a brutal short-term optimization game with a minimal strategic component. Being who I am, I tend to latch on to the strategic elements, which tends to lead me astry.

Perhaps due to my frequent poor showing at it, the one thing I like least about Puerto Rico is how early the game ends for some players. It was clear to me by two thirds of the way through this game I had lost, and there was absolutely nothing I could do at that point to improve my position. Sort of reminds me of Civilization. That last 20 minutes or so of going through the motions can be frustrating. San Juan is a lot better in this respect, which is why I think ultimately I find it to be the more enjoyable game.

Anyway, I don’t want to be too hard on Puerto Rico on account of my own incompetance, because it is a good game. I’m going through a phase of playing more classic games now as it becomes clear (as usual) that the Essen games are mostly not going to pan out, and Puerto Rico is definitely a classic.


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