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.
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.
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
– 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.
– 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
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.]