Saint Petersburg is an older game, twelve years old to be precise. Published in 2004, but in 2014 they’ve released a second edition, which added new modules to the game and updated the artwork. Let’s take a look at this game from Bernd Brunnhofer and Karl-Heinz Schmiel.
A round in the base game is divided into four phases and during each phase the market is filled up with cards of a specific type. There’s the worker phase, the building phase, the aristocrat phase and the exchange phase. All cards cost you money, but will also give you money or points at the end of the different phases. Worker cards ‘produce’ at the end of the worker phase, buildings give you stuff at the end of the building phase and aristocrats give points or money at the end of the aristocrat phase. At the end of the exchange phase you won’t get anything.
Exchange cards are special anyway because these can be buildings, workers or aristocrats and you can exchange this card with a card of the same type that you already have in front of you. You only have to pay the difference in value between the two cards.
The card market works in a special way. It consist of two rows. During the current round you will place cards in the top row, phase after phase, and after a round ends you will move the cards that are left in the top row to the bottom row, removing all cards that were left in the bottom row. For cards in the bottom row you have to pay one coin less.
Every phase you will draw cards from the corresponding deck until a certain amount of cards is displayed on the board. So, if players buy no cards during the building phase, for instance, no new aristocrat cards will be added to the board in that phase.
In general the worker cards will give you money during the game, buildings give you points and aristocrats give a bit of both. But remember, only at the end of that phase. So, if you spend all you money during the building phase, there’s a good chance that you can’t buy anything good during the coming aristocrat, exchange and new worker phase. Or you have a good amount of aristocrats that give you sufficient amounts of money, of course.
Aristocrats are also very important because they can give you loads of points at the end of the game. The more unique aristocrats you have collected the more end-game points you will get.
This is a short summary of the base game. It ends after the round where one of the card stacks is empty and then you count the aristocrats and the player with the most points wins the game.
I already like this base version of the game. In my opinion the game did not need anything more than was in the box from 2004. The game does look more attractive now, I have to say that, so only that might draw more people in.
The game itself, like you can read above, is pretty simple. There are very few rules and everything play smoothly. It’s mostly just buying the right cards and try to asses if a card gives you enough back in term of money or points.
Because you only get money at the end of certain phases, if you have the right cards, you have to be really careful when to buy what card. In the beginning of the game you will get most of your money at the end of the worker phase, so that means that you have to use your money wisely in the four phases that come after.
The way the player order works might also influence your decision to buy or not to buy certain cards. Every phase has a token and these tokens will move to the next player at the beginning of a new round. If you have the aristocrat phase token, you’ll be first player that phase, so you have first dibs on the new aristocrat cards. That means that you might be able, financially, to buy more cards in the building phase, and it might be totally worth it to do so, but because you are the first player in the next phase, there is a chance that you can get an even better deal in the next phase.
Get your economy running that’s the thing. The later in the game you buy a card that gives you points, the lower the yield. The more rounds it can generate points the better, or it has such a high yield per round that it’s OK again. Yes, if you want to be good at the game, you have to think about these things.
The second edition of the game adds a couple of modules. The most important one is the market. Which is a fun module, but, while the base game is perfect with two players, doesn’t really play well with two. Or, it plays fine, but just isn’t that much fun, that interesting with two.
How does it work? Well, you turn over the board and there you find a track that is the centre point of a whole new phase. In the market phase you can buy commodity cards. These cards give you money and more importantly allow you to move your token a couple of spaces up the commodity track of the commodity that’s on the card you just bought. At the end of the phase, per commodity, you check which player is highest on the track. That player gets the most points and player number two gets a little less. Every round you can get more points.
Only benefits you might think, but there are these really good commodity cards that allow you to advance three steps on a track. However, these cards need maintenance. You have to pay money, every market phase, to keep these cards in front of you. The later in the game, the more money you have to pay to keep them. Are these market cards worth it? That’s something you have to decide.
By the way, you can also find commodity icons on some worker cards, so they also might help you to advance on the market tracks.
This new phase is pretty fun. It adds a whole new layer to the game. It does, however, not add anything fun to a two-player game. A market needs strong competition to become really fun and with two players there’s just too little competition. You sometimes just buy a card to just be present on a track and, at least, get some points for that commodity. The more players compete, the bigger the difference is between losing and winning, the more interesting the decisions get.
Besides this, the second edition of Saint Petersburg is very fun. The modules do not make the game any better, also not worse, but they do add variety to the game, which is also something. Overall it has simple rules, streamlined mechanisms and your decisions matter. All combined makes it a very good family game.