Why I don’t play stuff like Puerto Rico

June 13, 2008

There are things which, lacking guns, swords, axes and the usual implements of war, which still are about violence.

I like resource-y games. It’s just, I can’t look at them absent context of history. Or, you know, when the cover of the boardgame includes a “trader” and some half dressed “native” girl as if it were simply an innocent, equal exchange.



  1. You know what gets me about (especially computer) games that involve, say, building up a global trading empire in the 15th-19th centuries? No slave trade, absolutely none, and without it, the whole dynamic of trade during that time makes no bloody sense whatsoever.

    And it gives anyone playing the games without knowledge of history the idea that the commercial empires that made the world as it is today happened as either a benign trading culture of equals, or purely as a struggle between European rivals.

    Is there a game that actually includes an honest portayal of the slave trade? Or has fear of offending potential buyers led to an editing of history where plantations just have running costs and production?

  2. I completely agree with your post but I don’t see any half dressed anyone on the cover: http://images.boardgamegeek.com/images/pic158548_lg.jpg unless there is an alternate cover. Not that it’s unbelievable that the game would have those images. It’s fairly common. But when I went to check for myself, I could find it.

  3. Well, the editing of history isn’t just limited to games. I suppose I would deal with it a bit better if it wasn’t an entire culture of editing history backing this up.

  4. Hey John, I’m mixing up Puerto Rico’s cover with another Euro boardgame based on trading stuff in the 15-1600’s. Let me stop at the game store tonight and get the correct title.

    Though. Yeah. Still the neutrality of trade in unneutral history.

  5. I’m guessing you’re referring to Seafarers of Catan, which isn’t explicitly set in the time period, but the art implies it.

  6. Thanks Greg! I think I remember seeing another game or two that had similar, sketchy imagery.

  7. It’s not a coincidence that the “colonist” bits in Puerto Rico are dark brown in colour.

    It’s still a cover up, but there is a sub rosa acknowledgment, at least.

  8. Cool, thanks Greg! I always felt uncomfortable that the black piece in Settlers is the robber who steals your stuff.

  9. In high school, for a US history project, I designed a “roll dice and move your pawn” board game about the triangular trade. But it wasn’t really very good as a gamer game: more “game of life” level play without a lot of serious decisions.

    I’d like to revisit the topic, actually. I think that a board game is the right medium for it, because board games are utterly amoral in their approach: Unlike most RPGs, it leaves room to be horrified by your own optimal strategies.


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