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Thinking Out Loud

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

St. Petersburg >> First Impressions

I finally got around to trying St. Petersburg out for the first time last night. I know, I know, it's highly rated and been out for a while... But I had always been a bit skeptical by comments I had heard about the game -- that the rich get richer, that initial luck of the draw on the first turn is huge, that the game feels (gasp) broken, etc.

Trey Dembski (yayforme) was kind enough to teach me how to play. Other than reading a few reviews online, I had never read the rules, and knew nothing about the actual gameplay. I have to say, having a great teacher goes a long way toward enjoying a game. Trey and I played through a few dummy rounds of the game as he explained rules and tried to convey some of the strategies and how to evaluate the strengths of different cards or actions. Then we re-set the game and played for real.

I focused more on smaller incremental VP gains, thinking that in the long run, earning 1-2 extra VPs every turn over the course of the entire game would add up, rather than holding off for the larger 5+ VP cards that you only need in play for a few turns to offset their costs. It ended up costing me in the long run, as Trey was constantly flush with money and I was struggling to add cards each phase... The final score was 107 to 87, which I felt pretty good about for my first game.

The real puzzler for me was that during setup and instruction, Trey had mentioned the game was reminiscent of Hansa, another game I enjoy a great deal. At first, I didn't see it. At all. But over the course of the game, as Trey's suggestions and advice started to click (and I finally started to see the trickle down effects of some of the game's decisions), I slowly understood the Hansa reference.

My first few games of Hansa actually did feel quite a bit like my first game of St. Petersburg. I was so caught up on my own turns and actions, that I failed to see how I may be setting my opponents up for a good turn, or that I can actually help steer the course of the game with my current turn to help position myself for a better future turn. Once I saw this interconnectedness of actions, my enjoyment and opinion of St. Petersburg increased.

Current Rating: 7.0

Interesting decisions and quick, simple gameplay. I can see why people grow frustrated with initial draws for cash. At first, I felt the game suffered greatly from "rich get richer" problems -- but over the course of gameplay (and thanks to an excellent instructor) I began to appreciate the ability to block opponent's moves and steer the course of action to mitigate these effects. In essence, the rich only get richer if you let 'em! Definitely warrants additional playings, as strategies finally started to click.

5 Comments:

  • Very similar to my impressions. Some have complained that the game plays itself after players become adept at strategy, but I haven't found that with any of my playings (and I've played against some solid players).

    If you haven't already, you might want to try out the PC version of St Pete that has a decent AI.

    http://www.chrisbrooks.org/2004/08/31/StPetersburgPCGame.aspx

    By Blogger Chris Brooks, at 11:21 AM  

  • While there is a good deal of strategy in terms of money management, hand management and setting up turns, I think the comments about the "game playing itself" are probably geared toward the very mathematical nature of the game.

    I'm sure with familiarity, you can evaluate the different options from a purely mathematic standpoint, making some decisions no brainers -- which means players need to rely on strong strategy for all the other decisions that don't involve that degree of mathematical precision.

    By Blogger Jason Little, at 2:49 PM  

  • Rich only get richer if you let them? Jay, you must have been playing a different game.

    I've played over a dozen games of St Pete, and 6+ games of Hansa, and I really don't see how those two are related at all. Hansa is a game about positioning and leader targetting. It's quite easy to target the leader: Just take over his ports. In many cases, this leader targetting is 'free', just like in El Grande: you lose very little while making the leader lose A LOT. In the same way, if someone is getting clobbered, he will have way less trouble getting good board position and maintaining a decent market stand network.

    In St Pete, targetting is releagated to taking whatever the leader wants. In many cases, there's just a superior card that is the best for everyone, so it can't even be called targetting. The most common ways of targetting a leader are picking up workers that would be cheaper for the leader than for you, damaging your position in the process, and taking the aristocrats the leader wants, instead of taking the aristocrat that would help you the most. This makes the pretty limited options for leader targetting quite unnatractive, and you always want somebody else to attack the leader instead of doing it yourself.

    Another important difference is the economic models: Hansa's VP and money distributions are completely linear across the game, while in St Pete early moves are much more important than late moves. THat's why a first turn Mistress pretty much seals the game: You get such a huge economic and VP boost that it's hard to catch up. In Hansa, a couple of good turns early make other players wary about your position, and probably does more damage to your chances than anything else.

    By Blogger hibikir, at 8:31 AM  

  • Jorge -- that could very well be, and I've heard many references to the "first turn Mistress" issue... But it didn't bother me so much in St. Pete since the game played so much more quickly than I was expecting...

    And again, based on 1.5 plays (basically) and only a 2 player game, I know I haven't seen all the possible permutations of effects and turn order issues... But I do get the feeling that St. Pete may be better as a 2 player game than a 4 player game.

    After doing a bit more research on BGG, I was a bit surprised to see that St. Pete doesn't have a built in handicapping/hobbling system -- either seeding players with certain Green/Income cards initially for optimum equal distribution to offset luck of the draw issues, or giving more cash to players later in the turn order to compensate.

    Ah well, from the first play, it's definitely a game I'd like to play again. But it's quite possible the chrome would fall off after 2-3 more plays. Then again, how many times to I really get to play a game 4 or more times? :)

    By Blogger Jason Little, at 9:38 AM  

  • The game is much better with 2 than it is with 3 or 4: Most of the worse issues I have with the game go away with just 2 players.

    By Blogger hibikir, at 11:22 AM  

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