In Puerto Rico players assume the roles of colonial governors on the island of Puerto Rico. The aim of the game is to amass victory points by shipping goods to Europe or by constructing buildings. Each player uses a separate small board with spaces for city buildings, plantations and resources. Shared between the players are three ships, a trading house, and a supply of resources and doubloons. Players earn victory points for owning buildings, for shipping goods and for manned large buildings.
Each player's accumulated shipping chips are kept face down and come in denominations of one or five. This prevents other players from being able to determine the exact score of another player. Goods and doubloons are placed in clear view of other players and the totals of each can always be requested by a player.
As the game enters its later stages, the unknown quantity of shipping tokens and its denominations require players to consider their options before choosing a role that can end the game.