The Five Greatest Financial Board Games #1: Puerto Rico

To celebrate the week before Christmas (and give you a few great last minute gift ideas), Money360 is reviewing five board games that not only are a blast to play, but teach valuable financial lessons as well. All of these games should be easily found at a department store or a gaming specialty shop (check your local yellow pages). Other games in this series include The Game of Life, Monopoly, Modern Art, and Acquire.

Puerto Rico
Rio Grande Games

Here it is, the ultimate financial board game. Many of you have probably never heard of it, and that’s a true shame, because it may be the most elegant board game ever created. It is a complete simulation of a nation’s economy packed into an incredibly fun and easy to play game that takes about an hour or so to play.

How the game works Each player is a capitalist on the island nation of Puerto Rico, back in the days when the island was first discovered by Europeans. The goal of the game is simple: collect the most assets before the island runs out of workers, the capital is completely civilized, or the market has geared up to full capacity. Sound complicated? It could be if the game wasn’t so elegant and enjoyable. The best part of the game is that there’s basically no “downtime” for anyone; all of the players are always involved in making decisions on every turn. No more waiting twenty minutes for Uncle Bob to decide whether or not to put another house on Park Place.

What can you learn from the game?

A successful business always has some cash on hand. In order to develop your city, you need to have cash to invest in buildings, but if you invest everything in a new building and things don’t go well, you might have to wait for a very long time before being able to build again. Thus, keeping some cash on hand ensures that you aren’t just running in place.

A successful business invests in itself at the right time. At different stages in the game, it makes sense to buy different buildings. Early on, you want to build buildings that will support your farms, such as the hacienda; later on, you’ll want to build buildings that are valuable assets on their own. Figuring out how to manage these changes in the marketplace is genius.

A successful business knows who to bribe. The players take turns fulfilling various roles on the island; each turn, a player selects a role to play out of several. The selected role affects all players; for example, if someone chooses to be the mayor, all of the players are allowed to bring in more workers to their farms and move workers to other farms (in order to produce crops, you must build a farm and have a worker on it). So part of the game is choosing which role to take on – and deciding whether or not other players can be convinced to take roles that benefit you.

A successful business knows how to game the market. You can monopolize the market on various crops and basically lock everyone else out of selling crops for a turn or two if you plan well. On the other hand, you can also lose all of your crops if you plan poorly. When do you sell and when do you store crops for the future? It’s another tricky balance.

Besides Acquire, this is probably my favorite board game of all time, and it’s more educational than Acquire because it is a stronger depiction of a full economy at work. The lessons that Puerto Rico can teach about the flow of money through an economy are countless, but what really matters is that it is a lot of fun. Very rarely do I enjoy a game so much that I want to play it four times in a row, but I’ve done that many times with this one.

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