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Board game "Puerto Rico": "We didn't want to cancel the game"

2022-10-06T08:44:41.218Z

The board game classic »Puerto Rico« gets a new edition: In »Puerto Rico 1897« there are no more slave pieces, colonialism has been overcome. Is that only politically correct or also historically correct?



Photo:

Henrik Breuer

The board game »Puerto Rico« has been relaunched.

The title has been extremely successful for two decades: A prototype was presented in Essen in 2001, shortly afterwards the game was published by alea, a brand of Ravensburger Spieleverlag, and won one prize after the other: »German Games Prize 2002«, »International Gamers Award 2003«, »Spiel des Jahres« in the Netherlands and Japan, among others.

In the ranking of BoardGameGeek.com, the place to go for board game fans, which was particularly popular in the USA at the time, »Puerto Rico« quickly took first place as the best-rated game.

Up until 2012, the game was consistently in the top three of the rankings, and today it is ranked 37th. There is no question that the game is a modern classic.

Nevertheless, it has now been fundamentally revised.

One of the reasons for this is the Puerto Rican Jason Perez, a passionate board gamer who was taken aback the first time he played.

"The game trivializes colonialism and slavery," he explains.

In the original version of »Puerto Rico«, the players become governors on the island.

In each round they choose role cards and are then mayor, overseer or settler and can perform certain actions.

Mayors, for example, »recruit« colonists.

In the game it looks like brown pieces are taken from a boat and sent to work on plantations.

Anyone who, like Perez, is familiar with the history of the island knows immediately who was toiling on the plantations: no colonists, i.e. people who came here of their own free will, but slaves.

All agricultural products are shipped in the course of the game and make the governors rich.

Pure colonialism.

Enlarge image

Labor used to arrive by sailboat euphemistically referred to as a colonist ship, but today workers are off the labor register and are free locals

Photo: Hendrik Breuer

That's the way it was back then, you might say, history can't be changed.

But Perez doesn't accept this argument: "It's not history, it's fantasy." In the game, the brown tokens only appear as submissive workers, and people's resistance is completely ignored.

»In the game people arrive, work happily, are never sick, do not rebel.

It just wasn't like that,” says Perez.

In any case, "Puerto Rico" is ahistorical.

Several centuries passed between the Spanish occupation in 1493 and the phase of plantation management depicted in the game.

It didn't all happen at once, as suggested in the game.

A passionate gamer, Perez wanted Puerto Rico to continue to be set on his home island.

But he didn't want to feel bad about playing either.

"I quit my first game halfway through," says Perez, after loading "colonists" onto the boat a couple of times.

Enlarge image

Jason Perez

Photo: Jason Perez

At the beginning of 2021, Perez began to criticize the game and what he saw as being too lax in the way the board game scene dealt with the subject of colonialism on his YouTube channel »Shelf Stories«.

But he didn't stop at mere criticism.

In several videos, Perez analyzed the game and found something surprising: »This is not a colonialism game at all.

At its core, it's a farming game." It's about growing and selling agricultural products.

Rather coincidentally, the colonial theme came to the fore.

Perez set out to create a new setting for the game, initially as a hobby project on his YouTube channel.

But Ravensburg soon became aware of the videos.

In 2020, a newer version of the game was released in which the colonist markers were no longer brown, but purple and were called workers.

In addition, a short text historically classified the game, but nobody was really happy with the product.

"We couldn't get any further with 'Puerto Rico' on our own," says André Maack, editor at Ravensburger, "we needed help."

Maack contacted Perez and they agreed to work together.

The only requirement on the part of the publisher and Andreas Seyfarth, the author of "Puerto Rico": Nothing may be changed in the game mechanics.

In addition, Seyfarth did not want to intervene in the redevelopment of the game.

However, he fully identifies with the project because the game is now accessible to a much larger target group, explains Seyfarth.

Perez, on the other hand, knew about the popularity of the game and didn't want to shake its cult status at all: "We didn't want to cancel the game." He decided to set the storyline in the 19th century and call the new edition "Puerto Rico 1897".

In 1897, the Spanish granted Puerto Rico autonomy.

This only lasted for a short time because the Americans soon occupied the island.

Nevertheless, from that point on, agriculture was controlled by free farmers who could grow and sell their own products.

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In »Puerto Rico 1897«, the players then also take on the role of small farmers.

Workers come from a labor register and are hired by a recruiter.

Ships are only used to transport goods, not to bring in workers.

Other roles have been renamed.

The settler is now a planter and the overseer is a producer.

Building tiles, which are central to the game, only show buildings that were actually on the island in 1897.

The game was also reimagined by Gabriel Ramos, a Puerto Rican artist, with portraits of local people.

The response to the announcement of "Puerto Rico 1897" was largely positive, but there were also critical comments on social media.

Should games only deal with politically correct topics in the future?

Perez: "We don't tell anyone which version they should play." Nevertheless, he thinks that most players, when given the choice, would rather be independent small farmers than colonizers.

"Nobody wants to get dirty at the gaming table," says Perez.

»Our goal was not only to change the game, but also to make it cool.«

Incidentally, »Puerto Rico« is not the only board game to be thematically revised this year.

Endeavor: Sailing Ship Era becomes Endevor: Deep Sea.

Instead of conquering the world from Europe, the ocean will soon be explored.

And »Mombasa«, in which trading companies are set up in Africa, becomes the space adventure »Skymines«.

»Puerto Rico 1897« by Andreas Seyfarth, alea/Ravensburger, for 2 to 5 players, ages 12 and up.

Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2022-10-06

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