Infiltration: A Few Zettabytes Later

February 6, 2013

Gabriel at work.

Gabriel finally found the motherload – Cyber Solutions, Inc sever room. He jacked in and started extracting zettabyte after zettabyte of data files, knowing Hugo was right behind him. He pulled up an augmented reality screen during the download and checked the alarm level. Still at three, he thought, although the security will be here soon. Gabriel scratched at his shoulder where his cybernetics attached to flesh. Something wasn’t right, Hugo should have burst through the door by now and started his own download. He pulled up surveillance feed of the facility. He found Mr. White had dispatched James Harris, Cyber Solutions in-house security, with a well placed shot from his flechette pistol but was wounded and slowly making his way to the exit. Gabriel continued scanning, the itch getting stronger. There was Hugo, in the shipping yard, he had accessed a terminal and was talking to an AI secretary. Yes, Hugo, thought Gabriel, get her to turn down the alarm and we’ll clean this place out! The alarm monitor spiked and raced up to five. “Hugo, you jerk!” Gabriel shouted. He should have know he’d be double crossed.

Infiltration is semi-cooperative game of a cyberpunk styled cooperate heist. Having a fondness for books like Neuromancer and Snow Crash and games like Shadowrun or Syndicate, Infiltration was a must buy for me. While the game is fun, has a strong narrative, and builds tension nicely, it isn’t without its faults. Most games end far to early. The game is divided into two “floors” and most of the second floor often not seen as the proximity dial (the timer for when the game ends) advances faster than the operative can move through the building. And items, while, interesting often go unused because they are too situational.

It is often all to easy to point out the faults of a good game. When everything else stands out as fun, the lees fun parts become more apparent. Fortunately, Infiltration lends itself to variants very easily and even lists a number of them in the rulebook. Here’s what I’ve found makes the game more fun:

  • Use the “Extract” cards rather than the download cards, this makes the player spread out a little more and increase the risk/reward factor.
  • Consider starting the alarm timer at -1 for the traditional 2 floor layout to let operatives get deeper into the facility.
  • Use 6 items rather than 4. This give people more opportunities to use their items and provide greater variety in actions taken.
  • Try a 4 x 4 grid layout where there top two rows are floor 2 and the bottom two rows floor 1. Advance lets you go forward or right. Retreat goes back or left. Adjacent means only those cards in the same row.

Give them a try and let me know what you think. I’ll keep experimenting too.

Commands & Colors: Napoleonics: Russian Expansion Preview

February 5, 2013

After the awesome game-giving generosity of my family at Christmas, I am eagerly awaiting the next few expansions to C&C: Napoleonics. Word just came out today that GMT Games is charging the credit cards of those who preordered the Russian expansion and games will be shipping toward the end of this week. Getting this sort of news causes me to obsess more than a little about what might be in the box, but luckily C&C:N dot net spilled the beans today. You can now go here to check out the rules pertaining to the new army.

(From what I can gather, GMT Games sent advance information about this expansion to Michael Dippel, who creates the Napoleonics VASSAL modules free of charge so folks can play it online. Then on the day the credit cards were charged, Alesandro Crespi, who runs C&C:N dot net, was allowed to release this info. What an awesome sign of a board game publisher trying to strengthen the community people who play its games!)

So, how do these forest green fighters stack up against their opponents?

The Russians will field 15 different types of units: 6 infantry, 6 cavalry, and 3 artillery. I’m most impressed by the infantry, most of whom can ignore one retreat result in combat. So if you pit them against the other major nations, this is what you get:

British: Excellent at ranged fire.
French: Excellent at melee v.s. other infantry.
Spanish: Awful at everything (but hey, they’ve got guerillas)
Russian: Excellent at ignoring retreat results (to a point)
Austrians: Still unknown
Prussians: Still unknown

At the same time, Russian cavalry aren’t bad either, and in fact I’d say that they just squeak past the French in terms of ability, though I would guess they’ll be rare in the scenarios. Most cavalry field 4 blocks, and the elite units can often ignore two retreat flags.

The other thing that makes the Russians unique is unfortunately-named “Pre-Battle Mother Russia Roll.” (Say it ten times fast!) Some infantry units will be set up at partial strength (3 blocks), and then after a pre-battle roll of the dice is made, a few of those infantry can be beefed up to their “on paper” strength of 4 blocks. If one gets a different result, he or she can place fieldworks hexes or Cossacks. I’m particularly interested to see how the latter play out, as they are 2-block cavalry units that will not hit on saber results (making them weak in melee) and retreat 3 hexes per flag rolled against them (making them very apt to run away). At the same time, killing them off doesn’t net the French player any victory points, so you really can just send them at Napoleon’s columns in an attempt to break them up.

All in all, this looks like a strong addition to the Napoleonics line, and I may alter my routine, skip over the Spanish for a bit, and get the Russians to the table!

Expect an “Inside the Box” review soon. I’m interested to see if the disappointing drop in quality we saw in the Spanish expansion has been corrected.

Commands & Colors: Napoleonics: Spanish Expansion, Guerillas

January 24, 2013

When I first started playing Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, I promised myself I would play through the entire base game without ever repeating a scenario. As of 1/1/2013, I can say, “Mission accomplished!” Yesterday I met up with a new acquaintance at the Fantasy Flight Event Center in Roseville to play through the first scenario of the Spanish expansion, the Battle of Balién. Thankfully we had enough time to set up, play, switch sides, and play again. In both cases the French won, once by a margin of 3 banners and once by a margin of 4 banners.

I didn’t feel very comfortable bringing my camera into the gaming area, but I do feel just fine discussing my first thoughts about the Spanish army: They are horrible. Like whoa, dude. We are talking about huge penalties to ranged fire when they move, huge penalties to melee attacks when they move (!), and massive retreat penalties. (Which might lead everyone to wonder, “Who the heck would ever want to play this expansion?”)



Full disclosure here; both my opponent and I played the Spanish completely wrong. Once we had realized it, we didn’t really have time to have a third go-around, so we will just have to explore them further in our next meeting.

The guerilla rule does make the Spanish a bit easier to play. Basically you can spend guerilla tokens to cause the French to lose a turn. When my opponent played his token in the first bout, he did so to stop my Frenchmen from snatching up the last two banners. In the end it gained him one more turn, but didn’t improve his position any (I never received a guerilla banner in our second bout). On my drive home, I thought about the guerillas as they are represented in the game and had a little gaming epiphany. Guerilla tokens should not be used to cancel a devastating French play (like Forward!, where 9 units get activated). Instead, they absolutely must be used after a successful Spanish play (again, like Forward!).

It’s like this: The Spanish are so brittle that even if they have one successful turn, they will give up banners on the French’s next turn. So it is absolutely imperative that a player saves two similar cards, makes his first move, does some damage, cancels the French player’s turn with a guerilla token, and then follows up his previous gains with a second card that capitalizes on the first. It may be as simple as two Attack Right cards in a row, or as complicated as Le Grand Manoeuvre followed up by a Bayonet Charge, but it absolutely must do significant damage to the enemy. At first I thought the Spanish should be played defensively, but now I’m seeing that they need to only do so in preparation for very bold assaults.

Guerilla tokens are so critical to Spanish victory that I am theorizing that a Counterattack card, which allows a player to mimic his opponent’s last card play, should practically always be held in the Spanish player’s hand–until the French plays a Scout card. Then the Spanish player can play Counterattack, mimic the Scout card, and pick up a guerilla token. (This is the only way a Spanish player can gain more guerrilla tokensScout). If the Spanish player can ever get two guerilla tokens, he needs to use them back to back in order to have three uninterrupted turns.

Who says you don’t learn from losing? I’m very excited to test this out in a few weeks.

2012 Gaming Highlights

January 6, 2013

Although I don’t keep stats on my game plays anymore, I do remember certain plays over the past year. Below are some highlights to my 2012 gaming.

New Year’s Eve Gaming
My last game played of 2012 was Dixit. We hadn’t planned to do anything for New Year’s since we have 3 young kids and a 4th is immiment. But when our neighbor said they were planning on staying home we decided to have them over for some games and snacks. I grabbed Dixit off the shelf since it could handle the bigger group and the large age range (4 years up to 35+). After a brief explanation where the neighbor kids looked confused we started playing and I said, “You’ll get the hang of it.” After a few rounds everyone was enjoying themselves so I wasn’t surprised when after the first game ended they immediately wanted to play again. And then we played a third game. It was a big hit and we had a great time. I love that my kids could play and compete with kids twice their age and adults alike.

Black Friday Game Day
We had a game day on Black Friday this year. It was a great time visiting with friends and playing games. The most memorable experience was a game of TransAmerica. The first game was with my wife, me and two couple that hadn’t played before. I explained the game and we were soon off building our railroads. My wife always does well in this game and this time was no exception. I think the game ended after only three rounds and she lost only 1 point! They wanted to play again now that everyone knew how it worked. After one round in the 2nd game my wife needed excused herself to the bathroom. We quickly conspired against her and dealt her what we thought would be the worst hand. She didn’t do well that round, but even so she managed to take third place. After the game was over we spilled the beans and all had a good laugh. [Editor’s note: Margin of Victory Games does not condone cheating.]

More Cheap Games
Although this one isn’t a gaming session it is one of my highlights: my game collection has increased greatly and I didn’t have to pay much for it. I use my lunch breaks a couple times per week to visit 2nd hand stores like GoodWill and others. I’m amazed at what gets donated to these stores and I’ve had some great luck this past year. I scored a brand new copy of Rune Age – which is an interesting take on the deck-building genre by Fantasy Flight. I also picked up copies of Can’t Stop and Bohnanza and have played each more than a dozen times with family.

I can now say I’ve owned and played a copy of Jati. I found this in a thrift store for a mere $2. Back in the 1960s 3M (yes, the Post-It Note people) used to make games. They made a couple hundred prototype and review copies of a simple abstract game called Jati. However, they decided not to produce the game and scrapped the remaining copies. However, several copies (probably most of the review copies) still exist. There’s a German site that tracks the number of owners and claims a mere 57 copies in existance. So the one I found would have only been the 58th surviving copy. For collectors of the 3M Bookshelf series of games it is their Holy Grail. My wife and I played one game and found it rather uninteresting. But it was cool to be a brief part of gaming history. I sold my copy for much more than $2 and couldn’t be happier.

Spies in the Dark
My top gaming highlight of 2012 is, without a doubt, a few of games of The Resistance on Memorial Day weekend with my family. Earlier in the evening a thunderstorm had rolled in. We were actually in the middle of a game of Bohnanza when the power went out. We were almost finished so we grabbed some candles and flashlights and finished the game. Since it was still early and had wanted to keep playing games I pulled out The Resistance. The dim lighting really added to the atmosphere and helped hide the spies’ identites. We played 3 games in a row and then finally had to call it a night.

I know that 2013 will provide some more good gaming memories. I’m also looking forward to getting some new games to the table as well as several classics. What was your favorite gaming moment of 2012? And what are you looking forward to in 2013?

Virgin Queen – A Disappointing Start

January 2, 2013

I never thought I would play a game of Virgin Queen even though I’m a big fan of Here I Stand. Our group hardly ever gets HIS to the table due to the number of people who really know the game well enough to play plus the time commitment. So why learn another game that would never get played? But with John now owning a copy the likelihood of playing it had increased dramatically. So when the opportunity for a PBEM game with John and a few others I had played HIS with before arose I jumped. Here’s how the first game of VQ went.

Virgin Queen
Campaign Scenario
July 3, 2012 to January 3, 2013

Ottoman: John!
Spain: WB
England: SB
France: DN
HRE: Me!
Protestant: AU

After I got my power assignment I took a look at the rules. Fortunately a big chunk (army movements, battles, etc.) are identical to the HIS rules. The new stuff looks really interesting and how it will work in the game. I decide my goal for the game is to score higher than John.

Turn 1
5 / Patron of Arts & Sciences: I’ll use this for the event.
2 / Morisco Revolt: Sell to the Ottomans!?
4 / City State Rebels: There’s a familiar card! I might save this to use on Metz next turn. A treasure would be handy to use with this.
5 / Foreign Volunteers: Instant Army.
3 / Ruler Falls Ill: This card is the VQ version of Haley’s Comet, but less powerful.

I initially thought that a good way to rack up VP would be to get the ruler of Central Europe, but after taking a look at the map I quickly dismissed that and instead allied with John’s Ottomans. I also allied with Spain and tried to marry away a daughter. I’m not sure if it was the best idea to do so, but it’s early in the game. I also gave away 3 Mercs to Spain for a card draw and 1 to France for free for hopes of sweetening a deal for next turn.

Card Draw:
3 / Nostradamus’ Prophecies: I think I’ll use this just to get a look at more cards.

Spring Deployment:
Nobody moves. This turn will be used to build armies and try to get some early bonus VP from artists and scientists so I keep my Patron home card. I also decide to pick Catholic as my religious preference. I had no idea what to pick but picking a side has a higher risk/reward so I went with one.

Action Rounds:
I use my first impulse to take a look at some more cards with Nostradamus:
2 / Taxis Family Couriers: I have mercs each turn to use for diplomacy and this is low CP so I ditch this one and keep the other:
5 / Holy League: 5 cp will be useful. And if the Ottomans can get a couple of VP I’ll use the event to try to get Venice on my side for some more boats.

Then I go for the for the miscellaneous VP that – while risky – can’t be taken away from me. So I patronize an artist and a scientist. I also add some influence into Venice as it looks like the Ottomans will make it to 14VP for me to use Holy League. I build up my army through Foreign Volunteers and some CP in case things sour between the Otts and I.

Meanwhile France is able to fight off the English in Edinburgh and then is able to ally Rome through a Papal Bull. This puts him dangerously close to an auto-win! Fortunatly I have Holy League and score Venice and its powerful fleet. The turn ends with some failed marriages – costing me a card – but I manage to score some VP and the Ravelin to defend my keys. I’m looking forward to Turn 2 and some more excitement.

Turn 2
5 / Holy Roman Intercession: I’ll use this for the event (see the diplomacy phase)
2 / Morisco Revolt: Held over from last turn.
5 / Holy League: Again… I’m glad France doesn’t have this.
3 / Ruler Falls Ill: Again… Did anyone shuffle?
4 / Rising in the North: I’m not sure the board will allow the event to even be attempted so another good CP card.

I again agree to ally with the Ottomans, but then Spain has a proposition. Go to war with the Ottomans and he’ll attack in conjunction. I also give my 4 Mercs to him (which I find out no one else wants) and I’ll get a treasure in return. I figure it’s as good a chance now with all my CP to put up a good fight. The treasure should help get my army in place as well so I agree. Plus this way I get to attack John!

Spring Deployment:
I move my troops into Pressburg waiting to pounce.

Action Rounds:
The rounds starts with the Otts scoring some more VP and then before I even get to take my first impulse in which I will unleash my powerful HRE horde on Buda the game ends. France plays Eloquent Ambassador and realigns Venice. The French get an auto-win before it really begins. And even worse John’s Ottomans have 17VP to my 13VP (with my religious preference).

So my first play of VQ didn’t go as I expected. First off, the game lasted 5 months for essentially what was one turn. Between holidays, conventions and other issues the game seemed to drag on. I can’t fault VQ for this it just was bad timing for this particular PBEM. As far as gameplay… well I don’t really think I got far enough into a game to really experience what makes this game different than HIS. The religious struggle, spying and other intricacies of diplomacy were basically never given a chance. I’d like to try this again to get a more in-depth play.

As the HRE I felt like I was playing a minor power – which I basically was since it is a minor power when less people play the game. The HRE just don’t seem powerful enough to actually fight off a determined Ottoman force. So they are forced to get their VP through the end of the turn art and science rolls. I also thought the game added complexity where there it wasn’t needed. Activating the minor powers gave the impression of many people having the chance at gaining an ally, but basically with +3 or +4 influence added before a die roll the chances were slim. I think the HIS version of activation would have sufficed.

But it’s not all bad. I think the diplomacy phase in this game has more options. The marriages and my 4 Mercenaries to give away certainly gave the powers leverage to negotiate instead of relying on the luck of the card draw. HIS and VQ really shine when good diplomacy occurs and all the powers can scheme against and with each other. Having more power and options to do this is definitely a good thing. I also like the treasures – although I really wished I could have used mine.

So I guess I’d give HIS the edge, but I’ll need a few more plays to really make a decision. What do you like better?

2012 Personal Retrospective

January 1, 2013

Once again, it’s time for the statistical breakdown of last year’s gaming! I continued to keep a record of games played throughout the entire year and present my 2012 retrospective (2011 retrospective here, 2010 here, 2009 here):

Games played: 98 (down from 121 in 2011, a 20% drop)
Wins: 41 (41%, down 1% from 2011)
Losses: 57

Average time between games: 3.7 days
Best game month: March with 17 games played (mainly due to a Metro Game Day)
Worst game month: June and July with 3 games played each month (due to teaching summer school)

Two player games: 45 (45% of all games played)
Two player wins: 26  (58%, a 3% increase from last year)
Multiplayer games: 53 (55% of all games played)
Multiplayer wins: 17 (32%, an 9% increase from last year)
Multiplayer second place finishes: 20 (37% of all multiplayer games)

Most regular two player opponents
1. Sara (21 plays, 11 wins)
2. Rick (7 plays, 4 wins)
3. Russ (3 plays, 2 wins)
4. Joe (3 plays, 1 win)

Most popular games of the year
1. 7 Wonders (16 plays,  4 wins)
2. Commands & Colors: Napoleonics (11 plays,  9 wins)
3. Hive (9 plays, 8 wins)
4. Cribbage (8 plays, 4 wins)
5. Ingenious 6 plays, 1 win)

Games played for the first time: 12 (12%, the exact same as last year)

Most of these statistics came out as expected. My wife is stillmy most regular opponent and continues to be a very challenging adversary in our favorite games.

As I stated last year, I’m less concerned with winning than I used to be, though I will still be keeping up the yearly retrospective. My new year’s gaming resolution is simple: once again, try to get recently unloved games to the table. Here I Stand…wow, it’s been a while.

Happy New Year! I’d love to hear about your slightly less obsessive personal gaming retrospectives in the combox.

We’re Still Here! Plus iOS Games

December 20, 2012

Yes, the four horsemen of the boardgaming blogging apocalypse are still here (Rick, Russ, Joe, me). We are all living and breathing, just incredibly busy in our own ways, and more familial, academic, and professional responsibilities unfortunately means less time for gaming. But rest assured, dear readers, we will limp along here at Margin of Victory.

Juggling a new job, I haven’t had as much time to game as I’d like since September, but I have had some time to check out a few iOS implementations of some great board games on my iPad and iPod Touch. The first one I looked at was Neuroshima Hex back in April. It’s still a game I return to again and again because the AI is quite good, it’s easy to play against other people, and the electronic implementation enforces all the rules, some of which are a little vague in the original cardboard version. It’s also quite cheap ($2.99) and comes with the original four teams, while the five expansion teams are available as in-app purchases at $0.99 apiece or $3.99 for the group. It’s best on iPad, and I wouldn’t suggest checking it out on iPhone.

I’ve also purchased Ingenious, which I also prefer to play on the iPad. At $1.99, you’d think it’s a steal, but I have found that I much prefer the board game to the iOS app. The chief reason for this is that I find it difficulty to manipulate the pieces. Rotating them on the iPad is a pain, and there aren’t great tooltips for how to clear off your board and pick up all new pieces, which should be intuitive considering how critical it is to gameplay. After a few months of fiddling with the app, I’ve got the hang of it, but playing such a simple game should not be that difficult.

Last week I picked up the iOS implementation of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. This is the only board game app I own without having owned or played the actual board game first. It was free last week on Free App a Day, but now retails for $4.99. This may seem like a very high price point, especially considering the expansions are in-app purchases at $2.99 apiece, but I think it is well worth it. First, the game is a deck-drafting/Magic the Gathering mashup, which is awesome. Second, the soundtrack is excellent. Last (and most importantly) you can play 2, 3, or 4 player matches online using the app’s online game function. Most games play in 10 minutes or less, and the iPod implementation is just as much fun as the iPad one, featuring a zoom function that makes it easy to read card text even on a small screen.

I know we don’t normally do reviews on the blog, but there might be some iTunes gift cards in your stocking this Christmas, and if a foot of snow makes it impossible to get to your friendly local gaming store, checking out these apps might be worth your time.

Happy gaming!

C & C: Napoleonics: Salamanca (Right Flank)

July 30, 2012

My brother Mike came over on Friday night and we did battle in Commands & Colors: Napoleonics once again. Like last time, Mike took the redcoats while I took the forces of the Emperor in the Battle of Salamanca (French right). I again enlisted the help of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, who through some zany time machine plot I still refuse to go into, was now three months old and giving me strategy tips. You may remember that last time I won by s sizable margin; I was looking to repeat.   Here’s the layout of the map at the start:

17 Allied units v.s. 14 French units.

 With one game under our belts relatively recently, we had to look up no rules and cruised right along. My plan was to simply wait behind the hills in front of my lines and use timely bayonet charges to rip the British to shreds. Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way in the end. Mike got a great starting hand with a lot of center activation cards and began advancing his line. (Apologies for the cell phone pics that follow)

They’re fording the river!

However, the action began in earnest on the right, where my impetuous French cavalry mixed it up with British artillery. This did not go well:

Horses and canister do not mix.

“Let’s just quit while we still can,” General Josie suggested. “I need to get to bed anyway.” “Nev-ar!” I retorted in my worst French accent, and ordered more units.

“It looks bad for us, Dad.”

The British continued to exert pressure on the French right, bringing up heavy and light cavalry to mix it up. I was forced to form square, but to no avail. Meanwhile, British riflemen had taken the town in the center of the map and were peppering my infantry at the same time:

“Never surrender!”

While the center lines traded potshots, I finally got some cards to activate the French left and drove back a strong force that was advancing toward the hills. I gently reminded Mike of how combined arms attacks work when I rolled eight dice in one attack:

“See? No way you can win.”

As Mike brought more crack troops up on the left and the right, I began shifting forces away from my center to reinforce those flanks. However, the cards were against me. We were both losing units at a quick clip, and were tied at 5 banners apiece.

The map quickly empties out…

The tension in the air increased dramatically as we both realized the game was nearing its end. Mike made what I thought was a dumb move, manoeuvring a unit of Guards Grenadiers into a river on the French left within easy range of my cannons. At the same time, I didn’t actually have the cards to destroy it, and when the redcoats swarmed my last block of artillery, it was all over.

What I had to endure as my opponent gloated.

And with that, the British won, 6-5. In truth, I learned quite a bit in this scenario. First, as I only had been given one unit of cavalry, I should have done a better job of protecting it. It had far more value as a potential threat, and its presence throughout the scenario would have made Mike think twice about advancing infantry on my right. However, once I got them beat up, he had no reason to hold back from sending cavalry across the river. This forced my infantry on that side to form square and eventually get destroyed by musket fire.

Also, I’m starting to see a pattern in how our games develop. Usually we are reluctant to get involved in the center of the map because it  comes down to who has the better dice rolls and cards; in short, it gets really bloody and chaotic in the center unless you’re cautious about it. This reluctance means most of the action gets driven to the flanks, where we often have fewer units and thus more room to manoeuvre. Once those flanks are decimated, the game is almost over and we’re more inclined to activate units in the center. (This, by the way, is not something I think I would have ever caught on to if I didn’t blog about these sessions…maybe all this writing is actually making me a better player?) Anyway, I need to think about this a little bit more and see if this realization can be somehow turned to my advantage in the future.

Now that summer school is over and I have a little bit more time off, expect new sessions reports soon!


Inside the Box: Here I Stand, Second Printing

July 16, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Here I Stand (HIS) was originally released in in 2006 by GMT Games. Four years later, the second printing came out, and recently I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy and have been largely impressed by the value of the contents. It currently retails for $85, but can be purchased for much less through the usual channels. HIS, like its sequel, Virgin Queen, is a card-driven game of war, diplomacy, discovery, and religion.

As with all GMT games put out in the last few years, the 3 inch deep box is incredibly sturdy and heavy. Upon opening it, I realized I was getting a lot of material! 4 counter sheets,  a rule book, a scenario book, a fully mounted game board, two decks of cards, dice, two player’s aid sheets, two sheets for sequence of play, and six power cards. 

Wow, that’s a lot of gaming stuff!

Of course, I am able to compare it against the first printing on my game shelf, and I am impressed by the choices GMT made. The most visually appealing elements are the new mounted board and the thicker counters. There is a lot of text on the board, but it is all easily readable. Also, there are several charts that are fit on the board, which means less supplementary charts lying around like in Virgin Queen. No more putting plexiglass over this gorgeous game–you can just setup and enjoy. I also appreciate the thicker counters. I remember punching the counters in the first printing and having some tear at the corners–no problems this time around.  

I am also very happy to have a completely updated rulebook in my hands. Unfortunately, GMT decided not to go to a color copy, but it’s not that big of a deal. The scenario book also has rules for how to play the two-player variant, which originally came out in C3i magazine some years ago and had to be purchased separately. The two-player diplomacy deck has also been included right out of the box, which is a huge bonus. I feel like I’m getting a lot of goodies for just a modest increase in pricing.

An example of a card from the two-player diplomatic deck.

Another excellent addition is the turn sequence sheets. There are two of these (full color), and they include a multiplayer side and a two player side. No matter what version of the game you use, you’ll find them helpful, as they provide a convenient chart on which to lay out the various cards and game pieces that are added to the game turn by turn. This was one of the biggest hassles of the first printing–separating out the deck and pieces and trying to figure out what came in when. Now you can just lay it all out on a side table and refer to it once you wrap up a turn. Simple and effective. This is another case of GMT listening to its customers, as I think they figured out everyone was downloading turn sequence aides on Board Game Geek anyway.

The new turn sequence sheet.

Here I Stand, second printing, is a great example of how GMT’s production values have improved over the years. They’ve also included enough new material to make this worth picking up for people who own the first edition. With a mounted map, thicker counters, and a useful turn sequence aide, the game is pleasing to the eye and a blast to play. And now…with a nice looking board, people will definitely be eyeing this from across convention halls all over the world.

Saint Petersburg Strategy

July 10, 2012

Before there was Dominion or 7 Wonders, there was Saint Petersburg. A game for 2 to 4 players that had you purchasing cards to rebuild and expand your part of the Russian city. Those card purchases created your own economic and point engine with whoever doing this the most efficiently being the winner. If you’ve played the more recent games, you can certainly see the inspiration that Saint Petersburg had on those – although all three are very good in their own right.

But today I want to break down this fantastic game a little bit. Essentially on each turn your decision is to either 1) buy a card 2) hold a card now to buy later or 3) save your money and pass your turn. The main action used being “buy a card”. Each card has a cost in the upper left and the benefits you’ll receive from that card each round on the bottom. Below are three card examples showing their costs and their benefits of money and/or points.

Example Cards from St. Petersburg

The early game of St. Petes is to create an economic engine. You want cards that will give you cash to buy more and better cards later. Also, the sooner you buy a card the sooner it pays off. Take the Fur Trapper in the cards above. It costs 6 Rubles now and only pays out 3 per turn. So it’ll take 2 turns for this card to pay off. If this is the first card you buy in the game and the game lasts 7 rounds you’ll be ahead 15 Rubles by games end. So buying as many cheap Workers as possible early in the game is ideal.

For each card of each type you already own you also get a discount the next time you buy that card. For example, if I buy the Fur Trapper for 6 Rubles, the next time I buy one it’ll only cost 5 Rubles, the next one 4 and so on. Buying the same type of card over and over again is good and helps to get a faster return on those investments.

The orange Aristocrat cards also pay out cash, but usually at a slower rate. The Warehouse Manager will take more than 3 rounds before he starts earning his keep, but some money is better than no money. With four phases in each round having cash payouts every other phase (the green Workers in phase 1 and orange Aristocrats in phase 3) you’ll get a steady stream of income to buy the cards you want.

The blue Building cards are the main ways to earn points. Early in the game I generally avoid buying too many points though. While points are what determines who wins or loses, investing in points early will take away your buying potential. In the first few rounds of the game avoid buying any expensive buildings. One early cheap building, like the Customs House shown above may not be too bad an idea. After 7 rounds those 8 Rubles will have earned you 14 points and there are 4 more in the deck so future purchases of this card can be discounted. Only towards the end of the game when money isn’t as tight is buying those higher point buildings a good idea.

However, don’t neglect the points on the other cards. Three of the Aristocrats and many of the Trading (or Upgrade) cards have points as well as money on them. These cards can offer you the advantage of an income while gaining points at the same time – the best of both worlds.

There are two point adding bonuses at the end of the game: money and Aristocrats. You’ll get 1 point for every 10 rubles you have. This is hardly something to consider in this game. Spending money on any card with points on it pays off at a better rate. But the the Aristocrat bonus can be huge. The bonus pays off 1 point for 1 different type of Aristocrat, 3 points for 2 different types, 6 for 3, 10 for 4 and so on, until you get 55 points for 10+ different types of Aristocrats. A different type meaning each orange card with a different name. In a two player game you should strive to get 8-10 different types of Aristocrats in front of you for a nice end game bonus.

Holding Cards
Often it is in your best interest to just buy cards you need as they show up. But sometimes it is better to grab that card and just hold it – usually because you can’t afford it now. This can be a good strategy when you don’t want your opponent getting a certain card. Another reason to grab a card is to free up space for the next round. Each round only 8 cards are ever on the table. For example: it is the end of the Upgrade phase and only one green Worker card will be coming out next round due to lack of open spaces. If you go first in the next round this is fine, but if you aren’t, then you will lose out on the opportunity to buy another Worker to gain even more money. It may be wise to put a card in your hand to free up another spot on the board. Don’t be afraid to put a couple cards in your hand, but make sure you buy them soon so that you can get the benefit from the card as well.

Specific Cards
Some cards in the deck just hardly ever seem worth grabbing while others I grab without hesitation. Here are some specific cards you’ll want to keep in mind while playing.
Czar and Carpenter – This card pays out like all the other workers and can be upgraded to any of the green Upgrade cards. Unless he comes out in the very early rounds though he usually doesn’t pay off since he costs 8 and there’s only one so there will be no discounts for future Czars. I usually avoid him, but he’s not terrible. Just think through his payoff and consider many of the green Upgrade cards cost less then he does so you aren’t saving any money that way.
Mariinskij-Theater – Every upgrade card is usually worth grabbing – they rarely stay on the table long. However, this upgrade card usually ends up in the discard. It gives you 1 Ruble for each orange card you have down. While money is good in this game, by the time you have enough Aristocrats to have this building pay off, you’ve usually switched your buying strategy from money to points. I rarely ever purchase this card.
Pub – This is a nice blue card to grab as costs only 1 Ruble. During the last building round you can use this card to cash out 5 points for 10 rubles instead of the normal 1.

Cards to Keep in Mind

Potjomkin’s Village – This card is used only as a blue building card for upgrading. It costs only 2 Rubles and then saves you 4 when you upgrade it. I really like having this card available for upgrading later in the game.
Observatory – This card gives you the ability to use it during the blue round to grab a card off of any deck. This is great early in the game to get more Workers or later in the game to get more Aristocrats or Upgrades. Don’t be afraid to forfeit the free card draw though to just take the alternate benefit of 1 point that round though. Going fishing for a specific card can often lead you to hold more cards than you’d like if you can’t afford the card you just randomly drew.
Mistress of Ceremonies – 6 Rubles and 3 Points every round – this is my favorite card in the deck. If I know I’ll be going first in the orange Aristocrat phase I make sure to save 18 Rubles just so I can grab this card. It pays off in three rounds all the while gaining you 9 important points. What’s not to like? The Judge and Controller are good too, but don’t quite have the appeal as the MC.

So with a few simple things to keep in mind you are ready to play Saint Petersburg:
– Get lots of money (green and orange) early
– Go for points (blue) later
– Upgrade to get the best of both worlds
– Hold cards to your advantage
Now, who’s up for a game.

Also, if you’ve never played and want to try to game. It is free to play against other people on Yucata. [And that’s not an advertisement of any sort. It’s just a website with a few dozen board games that the publishers have allowed online free play. It’s a great site and they’ve done a good job with the games. Just another way to get a gaming fix in if face-to-face isn’t an option.]