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San Juan

For:   Also on: iPhoneiPad
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San Juan you're winning

Product: San Juan | Publisher: Ravensburger Digital | Format: iPhone | Genre: Card/ board game | Players: 1 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), on one device | File size: 110MB | Version: Europe | App version: 1.0
San Juan iPhone, thumbnail 1
In board and card games, as with most things in life, there's a clear distinction between American and European products.

The affectionately named Ameritrash games are all chits and models, and let you roll gargantuan handfuls of brightly coloured dice.

European games are more sedate, and like to dally with grander matters than hacking orcs to bits with axes or pumping zombies full of imaginary lead. More often than not they're about building cities in the past and laying down cards to outfox your architectural adversaries.

San Juan is a perfect example of the genre. It's sort of like chess with lumber yards, but - while it contains all the depth and intricacy you'd expect from a game about careful card-selection - it's far easier to pick up and play than many other digital representations of its ilk.


The game is for two to four players, be they AI or real life humans, and casts each of you as an architect. In the simplest terms, it's your job to build 12 buildings, amass some victory points, and make the other architects look like they're not very good at architecting.

The cards you're dealt can at any time represent one of three things - currency, produce, or an actual building. Each time you want to build, you need to pay the cost of the building in cards from your hand. These are replenished one at a time through the game, or by using commercial buildings to create products.

During each turn you're given a chance to build, produce, and collect, the twist being that at the start of each new phase every player, starting with the one who's going first, gets to choose a role.

If you choose the builder role, for example, the cost of your buildings is cut, but if you choose the producer you can produce more, pulling in extra cards.

And now I'm a counsellor 

Every building you place is worth a number of victory points, and some have special rules that change how the game plays, or reward you at the end of it for having different cards in play. If you've placed your cards well, you don't have to have all 12 of your buildings built to emerge the victor.

While you're mainly concentrating on your own stretch of the city, carefully manipulating the cards in your hands and the buildings you've created, it's important to keep an eye on the other players as well.

You can easily scupper a plan by grabbing a role that you think an opponent needs, or even hold onto cards that you know would benefit other players, selling them to build your own tiny empire.

Cardboard bots

San Juan can be played online, or by passing your iOS device around a group of friends, and while it does lose a lot of the tactile chicanery that comes from actually playing with a deck of cards it still makes for an engaging interpretation.

It's certainly not going to convert anyone to the cause of European-style card games, and if you like your games full of action and chance you're better off avoiding this.

On the other hand, those who prefer a more sedate pace to their card games will find a lot to like, and anyone looking for an introduction to the hobby will find San Juan a comfortable first step.
San Juan
Reviewer photo
Harry Slater | 17 August 2012
Well built and easy to pick up, San Juan is an intriguing game of building and trade
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