Jul 10

Saint Petersburg: Description and Review

Saint Petersburg, designed by Michael Tummelhofer, is a game in which players compete to bring the greatest reform to Russia during the era of Czar Peter the Great by employing workers, constructing buildings, and bringing the aristocracy under their control.  It is card drafting/economic based game, that requires players to manage their limited initial money and use the options available to them create a victory point producing machine.

Saint Petersburg is played on a board that is surrounded by a scoring track, displays the four decks, defines the drafting area, contains a discard pile, and has a chart explaining the endgame scoring for the total of different aristocrats that a player controls.  There are four decks: workers, buildings, aristocrats, and trading cards. Each deck has a symbol that corresponds with a starting player token.  The player who holds the appropriate starting player token plays first when in the phase that associated with that deck.  The game begins by placing two cards from the worker deck for each player in the top row of the drafting area.  The player with the worker token plays first and has the option to:  Buy a card at face value and put it in his play area, place a card in his hand for free(Max hand size of three), play a card from his hand for face value, or pass.  Once he has decided, play proceeds in a clockwise manner around the table until all players have passed.  Unlike many games, where  passing means a player is out for the rest of the phase, in Saint Petersburg a player is always offered another turn when play reaches him until all players have passed once around the table.  After all players have passed, the current phase is then scored.  This means all cards in a player’s area of the type representing the current phase provide the amount of victory points and/or money(rubles) shown at the bottom of the card.  Once all players have received their rubles and points, the game then moves into then next phase with buildings following workers, aristocrats following buildings, and trading cards following aristocrats.  When entering a new game phase, enough cards to bring the available total cards up to eight are drawn from the current deck, and play begins with the player holding the round appropriate marker.  This process is repeated until the end of the trading card phase, which has no scoring, when the cards still available on the top row are moved to the bottom row and the top row is filled in with sufficient worker cards to bring the total up to eight between the two rows. Cards that are placed in the bottom row will be available in the next game round for a one ruble discount.  Any cards that were on the bottom row at the end of the last round are discarded from play.  At this point starting player tokens are passed clockwise and the player with the marker displaying the worker symbol begins everything anew.  The game continues in this fashion until the last card of any one of the decks is placed on the board.  From this point on the game will continue as normal through the trading card phase when the game comes to an end.  Players will then score their total number of unique aristocrats they control according to the table on the board and receive points for their remaining money.  The player who finishes with the most victory points wins the game.  In the event of a tie the player with the most money wins.

My Review

Saint Petersburg is a highly tactical game, as players have a very limited idea of what cards will be turned off the top of each deck.  This often leads to a situation where players simply draft the “best” card available that they can afford, independent of any greater plan. It is not so much a case of trying to implement a strategy, but rather to position oneself to best take advantage of any opportunities that are presented.  While this can lead to some players being frustrated by a lack of creative options to explore, others find it exciting that everyone knows what the other players are trying to accomplish, and the player who does it best will win.  There are many subtleties involved that range from defensively drafting cards, to controlling how many cards fill in during a phase.  It is small maneuvers like those that will often separate the winner from the losers.

Having played Saint Petersburg several times over the years, I can safely say that it provides a unique challenge to players regardless of group size.  I prefer the two player game for the greater level of control, but many players will tell you they like the four player game best.  I think that Saint Petersburg is an excellent game that finds a fairly comfortable balance between luck and skill.  I give it a solid rating of 7.75 out of 10.0.  This is one that I have played many times with my wife, and it has a bit of a reputation as a game popular with couples.  Perhaps this is due to the immediate style of decision-making in the game.  Deeper study is not really required, and within a few plays most players are able to make fairly competent decisions allowing them to, if not win, at least compete.  This makes Saint Petersburg accessible to casual gamers as well as their more hardcore brethren, who are able to advance to an even higher level with repeated plays.  While I have witnessed extreme cases where luck was responsible for deciding the outcome, more often than not the best player wins.

As for any negatives, I would say the list is fairly limited.  I find the lack of alternate strategies to be a bit disappointing.  Pretty much the game begins with players trying to establish and income with workers so they may acquire buildings and aristocrats for points during and at the end of the game.  The fact that aristocrats are worth so many points in end game scoring, most efforts revolve around players positioning themselves to have the best shot at buying as many unique aristocrats as they are able.  Some people have complained about the artwork, but I have always felt it to be evocative of the period that the game is trying to portray.  Beyond these minor limitations, I have found there be few negative criticisms to level at Saint Petersburg.

In conclusion, I would recommend Saint Petersburg to any gamer in search of a relatively light card drafting experience that can be easily taught to newcomers, and be played in about an hour.  While I would consider Saint Petersburg slightly more advanced than a gateway game, it could definitely be considered the next step.  It provides sufficient challenge for hardened veterans while not being so overwhelming that less experienced gamers feel lost.  All in all, Saint Petersburg is a quality game that will challenge and entertain most play groups a good long time.


If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Saint Petersburg please consider Circle City Games.


    • Heather on July 11, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    First I would like to say, once again… well written. Then I would like to remind you of our difficulties at Gen Con learning this game. Although once figured out, the rules are pretty simple – if you have the money and you wish to purchase another card, then go ahead… but trying to learn the rules from the rule book almost cost us the joy that the game later gave us. I mean, we took twice as long to figure out the book as it did to actually play the game! If there is a negative to this game, that would be it.
    **I also think that there is a HUGE benefit to the first player – especially in a two player game. Having a line of all workers and the first player getting the option of all of the lower priced ones, which ultimately leads to the first player receiving more money at the end of the first round and better setting him up for the next… I almost feel as though the second player (or third and forth for that matter) should start with more money to even the scale.
    Other than that, I too give the game a decent rating…7.5, definitely one that can be a quick play fun game or if needed, a cut throat strategic game, but mostly one that should hit the table more often!

    • on July 11, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    I agree with much of what you said, in particular the advantage to the first player during the first workers phase. While it can be a powerful edge in a two player game, I believe that it worsens greatly with each additional player. I think that some balancing rule would be an improvement, but Saint Petersburg is still an enjoyable and challenging game. Actually, in the course of writing this review I came to realize that this game is similar in many ways to Ascension and in my opinion superior to it. This required me to slightly lower my rating of Ascension from an 8 to a 7.5.

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