I played Puerto Rico a couple times over the holidays and came to some conclusions about the problems the game has. It does some things brilliantly like randomization and the rotating jobs system but at a very high level of play there are some issues with the game, notably breadth. Terminology can be tricky, so I will try to define breadth of play first. Breadth of play is a measure of how many different ways there are to be successful at the game. Depth, on the other hand, is a measure of how complex decisions are and how difficult it can be to determine the right thing to do and PR has plenty of depth. At a high level of play though many of the options you might think should work simply don't because everyone is either pursuing a Builder strategy or a Shipper strategy and unfortunately both rely on doing the same things.
Anyone going for Builder is planning on building all of the production buildings, a Factory, the Guild Hall, and will take a Small Market if they can. They will definitely plan on making one of each trade good.
Shippers on the other hand build 3-4 production buildings, a Harbour, a Wharf, and will take a Small Market if they can. They will plan on making one of each trade good if they can, otherwise they will make 4 of the 5 goods.
There are a few big problems with these two top tier strategies. For one, they only make use of four of the pink buildings and leave seven largely unused. (Large Market is a reasonable buy, but isn't in anybody's game plan.) For two, the entire strategy set of 'make lots of one good and ship it' is completely missing. Because of the immense power of the Factory and Harbour rewarding diversity and the fact that making lots of one good is incredibly costly in terms of colonists nobody pursues a strategy centered around a single resource. Diverse production is already amazing when Trading because it makes it easy to jam other people and makes it hard for you to be jammed. It is also very useful in shipping because you get lots of choice in making boats and no matter what boats get made you get to ship most of your goods. What it boils down to is that the top tier strategies focus on diversification of production and use only a few buildings that reward that diversification and this is very limited in terms of breadth.
I sat down to try to figure out how the game could be made broader and results more varied instead of just reporting "Well, there were two Builders and the one that got the Guild Hall won." What I wanted to do was fix production so that there was a real incentive to specialize in a particular good that might offset the problems with specialization and also find a way to make little used buildings better and ubiquitous buildings worse. I really want people to think of Hospice - University - Fortress as a valid Builder strategy and Small Warehouse - Office - OMG Tobacco as a valid Shipper strategy. Ideally of course I want plenty of cool ways to win rather than just two, and they should take more description than a single word.
First thing I reduced the cost of Hospice, Office, and Large Warehouse by one. Then I reduced the cost of University by two and increased the cost of Small Market by one. The really big change was that I eliminated all of the extra circles on the Large production buildings and made them support unlimited plantations. Being able to support 5 Tobacco production with a single dude in the production building is *huge* in terms of making that strategy viable.
I tried out my changes and things seemed really neat. The person that won (though I was all the people) had the build order of Hospice, Hacienda, Lg. Indigo, Tobacco, University, Factory, Lg. Sugar, Harbour, Guild Hall, Fortress. Not every day you see that build order win a game, especially when the other players are competent. Thankfully PR has reversible buildings so I just wrote on my changes and can flip them over to play the base game. Now to find people to play 50 games against me so I can see how things play out when I get really good at this new game!