Colonial Slavery Board Game Being Relaunched For Third Time


The board game Puerto Rico was released in 2002, and while it by all accounts played very well, it was also a deeply colonial game that made light of the fact you were being asked to build a commercial empire large part on the back of slavery.

That’s, uh, yeah. Luke Winkie’s excellent 2021 piece for The Atlantic sums up the game’s premise:

To win, one must “achieve the greatest prosperity and highest respect.” In practice, that means the mechanics of “Puerto Rico” are centered around cultivation, exploitation, and plunder. Each turn, a player takes a role—the “settler,” the “builder,” the “trader,” the “craftsman,” the “captain,” and so on—and tries to slowly transform their tropical enclave into a tidy, 16th-century imperial settlement. Perhaps they uproot the wilds and replace them with tobacco pastures or corn acreage, or maybe they outfit the rocky reefs with fishing wharfs and harbors, in order to ship those goods back across the ocean. All of this is possible only with the help of a resource that the game calls “colonists,” —represented by small, brown discs in the game’s first edition, which was published by Rio Grande Games and is available in major retailers—who arrive by ship and are sent by players to work on their plantations.

Slaves, then. It’s talking about slaves. Throw in the fact the game completely ignores the island’s indigenous population and environmental concerns and you can see why, in more recent years as board gaming has expanded its audience and sought to reckon with its output, it was not a great look for a major publisher like Ravensburger to be lending its name to the game.

As Dicebreaker report, that led to a revised edition being launched last year, which set the game in 1897—after Spanish rule but before America’s—and basically “decolonized it”, keeping the central mechanics but changing much of the imagery and thematic overlay.

Sadly, while the relaunch had good intentions, it badly whiffed on its manufacturing. As Dicebreaker say, “The game’s release was beset by complaints of missing components – notably four fruit tiles and half the coffee tiles needed to play – and production oversights, including rulebook errors and text missing from building tiles that explained their unique effects”.

Things got so bad that Ravensburger had to “halt production” of the game to “correct the number of tiles and rulebook mistakes”. People who had already bought a copy can now fill out a form to get the missing pieces sent out to them, a revised edition of the manual has been released as a downloadable pdf and a relaunch—the game’s third when you count a 2020 visual revamp—later this year in stores will have hopefully fixed all of this for anyone buying a copy going forwards.

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