Puerto Rico is one of the richer islands in the Caribbean. With an average year income of more than 2200 euro (almost equivalent to the same amount of US Dollars at the moment) and an average life expectancy of seventy years, Puerto Rican life is of relative good quality. The welfare partly comes from the deep-rooted American influence.

History

The Spanish

Columbus discovered Puerto Rico in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. When the discoverer arrived on the western shore of the island with his companion Juan Ponce de Léon on that November 19, it was already inhabited by indians. The so-called Taino tribe consisted of 30,000 people. The Tainos called the island Borinquén, but the Columbus crew named it San Juan Bautista, after the baptist St. John.

The Tainos were turned into slaves by the conquistadors when Ponce de Léon returned to the island in 1508. The invaders erected their first town on the south shore of what now is the San Juan Bay, and named it Caparra. Six years and a Taino rebellion later, there were only 4,000 natives left. The colonizers consequently introduced African slaves to take part in sugar cane agriculture.

All kinds of new treasures sailed the oceans heading for the home ports in Spain. To protect the rich island (hence the name) from French, English and Dutch pirates, the Spanish fortified the town of San Juan (now the capital). The fort called El Morro showed its muscles fruitfully against attacks by the fleets of the British (Sir Francis Drake, 1595) and the Dutch (Boudewijn Hendricksz, 1622). San Juan was taken and burnt down by the Dutch but they left when El Morro could not be conquered. The only non-Spanish influence in the next century came from contraband with surrounding Dutch, French and British islands.

The Americans

As the 18th century progressed, the American influence in the Caribbean grew steadily. When the English ports of Jamaica and Barbados were closed to Americans, they shifted to San Juan looking for trade opportunities. During the American War of Independence, some American ships used Puerto Rico as refuge haven. In 1868 a rebellion in the town of Lares eventually led to reform in the shape of abolishment of slavery in 1873 and autonomy from Spain in 1897.

Autonomy lasted not even a year. Soon after the Spanish-American War broke out in April 1898, the USA seized Puerto Rico and settled their own government in San Juan. On March 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Law, granting Puerto Ricans American citizenship, western freedoms as liberty of speech and freedom of press, and a democratic Senate and a House of Representatives. The governor was still appointed by President of the USA, with a right to veto anything.

In reaction to poverty and American supremacy, the Puerto Ricans longed for independence. In the so-called Ponce Massacre on March 21, 1937, a forbidden nationalist march ended in 20 casualties. The Puerto Rico Independence Party was founded in 1946. The Americans were willing to provide more autonomy, resulting in the first Puerto Rican governor in the same year. One year later the population was permitted to democratically elect their own governor. Another nationalist rebellion produced 23 killed people in 1950.

In the last half century, Puerto Rico developed into an industrial economy. Rum and cigars may be the most eye-catching traditional activities, pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries are the most important sources of income. The share of tourism in this figure grows each year.

The island currently has almost four million inhabitants.

Nature

Despite its small size (100 by 35 miles, or 160 by 55 kilometres), Puerto Rico's landscape is diverse. The mountain range Cordillera Central physically represents the island's spinal column. The tropical forests profit from over 600 centimetres of rainfall each year, which contributes to 250 different tree species and other widely varied flora and fauna. El Yunque (or Caribbean National Forest, as it is sometimes called) is the most popular rain forest, with its 284 different species of colourful birds and its musical coquis (tiny tree frogs) that are only found in this part of the world. The trained hiker finds a real challenge in ascending the 1,338 metres tall Ferro Punto, the highest peak of Puerto Rico.

One of the most enchanting National Parks in the Caribbean is the Rio Camuy Park in the northeast. Only five hundred tourists per day are allowed in the park. The main attraction features a tour to the third largest underground river cave system in the world, with stalactites, stalagmites and a species of blind fish. Not recommended for the claustrophobic.

Temperatures range from mid to high 80s in Fahrenheit, or mid to high 20s in Celsius. Bahia Fosforescente (Phosphorescent Bay) in Parguera is popular because a species of tiny marine plankton create a luminescent glow whenever there is movement in the water. Other aquatic activities for the nature lover include whalewatching and scuba diving.

Cities

Puerto Rico's capital is San Juan, a historical city with old, 13-metre high city walls and the fort El Morro. The all-around Coca Cola and hamburgers make clear this is America. San Juan hosts botanical gardens, museums and galleries, apart from the many historical buildings.

The buildings in Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities are unlike any other in the world. San Juan and many other cities and towns are a unique blend of new and old. A much-needed expansion of the capital resulted in the construction of modern San Juan, where new buildings and large hotels can be found. In contrast, Old San Juan’s restored 16th and 17th century buildings look out over charming, cobbled streets.

Part of the movie Contact was filmed in Arecibo Observatory, which does research here looking for extraterrestrials. The Bacardi Rum Distillery in Cataño is the largest rum distillery in the world. Ponce's Museum of Art is housed in a dramatic building designed by Edward Durrell Stone and features a collection of more than 2,100 pieces of art, by artists like Pieter Paul Rubens and Thomas Gainsborough. San Juan's Cathedral was built in 1529 and is the final resting place of Juan Ponce de León.

Puerto Rico is a fantastic German strategy board game released by Rio Grande Games in 2002. The game was designed for 3-5 players to play in 90-120 minutes. The player count is pretty firm regardless of the 2 and 6 player variations that exist, however, the time allotment has been known to end up truly being 30-160 minutes depending on how many first time players you have and how many people think before they are expected to make decisions. The basic concept of the game places players as plantation owners in Puerto Rico when it was first being settled (i.e. goods were mainly shipped by wind-powered boats). Players grow crops and attempt to manage their plantations more efficiently than their opponents.

Written by Andreas Seyfarth, Puerto Rico has a unique "role" system which allows the players to choose when certain game mechanics take place with the ultimate goal of achieving victory points. When a player chooses a role he or she gains a privilege for their choice and then also forces all other players to play that role for one round. Roles include settler, mayor, trader, builder, captain, craftsman, and prospector. Crops include corn (cheap and quick), indigo (some players begin with a field of this), sugar (middle of the road crop), tobacco (high yield, higher cost crop), and coffee (low yield, most expensive crop). Key strategies evolve from building choices. Many buildings improve your play during only certain roles (phases), some allow you to process your crops, and still some (the "large" buildings) give you bonus victory points (vp) at the end of the game.

Note: for full rules and variations please see boardgamegeek.com or do yourself a favor and buy the game.

Since the game's release, Rio Grande Games has released, via the Internet, a collection of "extension" buildings to use in the game. These buildings add some new twists such as forests, guest houses, and even a black market. Players who venture to Brettspielwelt (http://www.brettspielwelt.de) will find a plethora of board games to play online including Puerto Rico with or without the new extension buildings.

The key undertone to Puerto Rico is strategy. Players have quickly realized every strategy they may develop or try in the game is both viable and worthless at the same time. Each game you play may require you to alter your strategy based on decisions your opponents make. Strategies regularly revolve around a single building such as the harbor strategy (quick harbor and lots of shipping), factory strategy (lots of different types of crops), and even the hospice strategy (easily farmed plantations). Many conversations both online and in real life will deconstruct the value of many strategies only to find that what they have destroyed will work for some games they end up in. The depth of this game keeps you coming back for more games with many people.

Resources include: Puerto Rico (the game), Rio Grande Games, boardgamegeek.com, and many hours spent contemplating whether I should buy the hospice or the hacienda only to realize I was going to lose anyway.

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