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2 Player Reviews – San Juan with Chris & Valerie – Boardgamery

San Juan

Quick Facts
Board Game Geek:  Here
Dice Tower Review:  Here
Plano Box Size:  Not Necessary
Number of Players: 2-4
Val’s ‘Gamer Intensity’ Rating:

Hey there! We’re Chris & Valerie and we like to play games together. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for us to find others to play with – this means we often have to pay special attention whether the selected game is a good fit for two players. Here we explore these games and help you decide the all-important question, “Can this game work well with just two players?”

Voted “best with 3 to 4” players by Board Game Geek, San Juan offers a simpler and quicker experience than its mature brother, Puerto Rico. How does it play with just two players? Let’s find out.

As usual with our write-ups, we’re not going to go over the game play in its entirety. We all know others have covered that before and of course we’ve linked a few above. That said, a very brief overview of the core play mechanics can’t hurt for those that don’t have the time to watch a couple of videos prior to reading an article on a game that will take you less time to play than the above research.

Core Mechanics

  • The object of San Juan is to amass the most victory points based on the types of buildings built within several rounds of game play.
  • In every round, there are 5 roles to choose, each which help in erecting buildings.
  • In a 3+ player game each player only picks one role per round, but in the 2 player variant the “Governor” (starting player) gets to pick a second (thus 3 roles are chosen each round).
  • The main gaming component is cards, which in San Juan have multiple functions. They are used to building buildings, as currency, and even as goods for production type buildings.
  • Rounds continue until the victory condition is met, having built an 12th building.

With that out of the way lets talk about what we think about the 2 player version of San Juan.

Chris’s thoughts:
This is the game that taught me that I like ‘building’ games. You know the kind, they’re the ones that allow you to build an engine and watch it go. They’re the ones that allow you to build something from the ground up, in this case a small city, and watch it flourish I truly feel bummed out when we finish a game as I’ve just started to enjoy my engine’s progress. That said, that doesn’t tell you much about if it’s a good fit for 2 players.

I’ll tell you simply – this game is fine for two players. The cards never allow you to screw the other player, so the play mechanic doesn’t really change between 2-4 player games. What does that mean? Ultimately your game consists of you and whatever cards you get from the random draw. Sure you can chose roles that will minimize your opponent’s turn, but that’s it. Your strategy is really thinking about the many ways to develop your end game and rolling with the punches as the random draw of cards either allows it or ‘helps’ you choose another strategy.

Not only is the game good for two players, it’s a relatively accessible game for those of you with friends or significant others who are not into deeper experiences (related to boardgames). The theme is approachable. The play mechanic is simple (cards are either buildings to build or money to build with). The game duration once learned is no longer than 45 minutes, and that is including bathroom breaks. I’ll speak for Valerie when I say we’re both sad to see a game end. We’re currently working on some house rules that may extend the game, if we come up with anything solid we’ll post them here.

Valerie-IconValerie’s thoughts:
Currently, this is one of my favorite games. Set-up is quick, the rules are fairly simple and well explained, and time-wise the game is neither too long nor too short. We have never played this game with more than 2 players so I can’t compare the 2-player game mechanic to 3 or 4 players. However, this game is designed for at least 2 players (and is not a 3+ player game with special 2-player variant).There is only one specific “2-player rule” (the Governor role mentioned above) which is simple and logical. The draw of the cards makes it hard to prepare a strategy in advance, but this is actually a good thing – it increases the replay value and lessens the chance that your opponent will use the same strategy to decimate you every game.

My one (small) complaint is just about when you think your master strategic plan is coming to fruition, the game is over. I feel there is a sense of urgency once players reach 9 or more buildings which doesn’t really allow for full completion of your plan of action. House rules such as increasing the number of rounds or the number of buildings required to initiate game end could potentially correct this. That being said, I highly recommend this game for 2 players. I feel there are many strategies that can be employed, re-playability is fairly high, and the game runs smoothly with two players. Don’t let the artwork on the box fool you in thinking this is a boring game and cause you to pass it up!

Suggested House Rules:

  • Increase the number of building to initiate game end from 12 to 13. Illuminati has 13 and I (Chris) feel that’s a good number. That said, the down side may be that you get to use all the facets in the game more often, which could reduce the lifespan and re-playability of San Juan in your house. “Always leave ’em wanting more.”
  • Halve the count of Production Buildings regarding the 12 building victory condition. This will help you deploy Production buildings without junking up your city. (Eg, you have 6 Production buildings, they only count as 3 towards your count of 12.)
  • You can demolish buildings at twice the cost of their purchase price.  Late game this wouldn’t be worth it but it would be a good way to clear out your city for mid game.

In Summary:
This is a wonderful game for two players. It’s approachable, inexpensive, easy to learn, highly re-playable, and most importantly isn’t wonky for two players.  You may dislike the limited play time but that’s simply going to give you more re-playability as you inevitably say, “lets play again!”

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