Saint Petersburg

Rich and Kim and I played a game of Boggle first, since Matt was running late. Every time I play this, I think I might do better. I’ve been doing well at Scrabble, and I’m getting older so I know more words. But no, dead last again. I enjoy the game much more than I used to, but I still found myself saying afterwards, “I coulda played Ricochet Robot!”. They’re both good brain-benders, but at least I’m at least a little better at that one.

Anyway, the main game for tonight was Saint Petersburg, from Hans im Glück and an unspecified (or at least obfuscated) designer. This is a classic impress-your-neighbors game; you’re trying to make a lot of money so that you can build Universities, Libraries, and Statues, or at the very least own a few senators, so people know who you are when you pass them on the street. In St. Petersburg, there are three classes of things you can buy – production building that make money, city building that provide status (and the occasional odd bit of income or special power), and aristocrats that provide a mix. Additionally, there is a fourth category that provides only upgrades to the previous three, so you can turn your Shepherd into a Textile Manufacturer, your Writer into an Aristocrat, or your Market Place into a Customs House.

The general idea is that each round some of these cards from one category are put on offer, and each player in turn can buy one at the printed price or pass. Once everyone passes, the current category scores (money and/or victory points) and some more cards from the next category are made available. After all four categories are run through, any cards left over are discounted for the next round (and any cards from the previous round are discarded), and a new round starts.

It’s only one play, but I quite liked it. It’s simple, your options are constrained enough that it should play quickly. The game is not so much about which particular card to buy at any given point, but when to switch priorities from acquiring income to acquiring victory points, and when to buy a particularly attractive building that may not match your exact plans at this point. I’m not sure whether St. Petersburg really qualifies as a strategy game or not, or if it’s still just a classic German short-term-optimization game; it probably falls somewhere in between. Still, it’s got plenty of interesting choices and is a nice, simple, fast game.

The odd thing about this game is the designer it reminded me of – I thought it could be a Tom Lehmann game. I am hard-pressed to explain why. It is vaguely reminiscent in flavor to an Outpost with the core good stuff extracted and the rest discarded; but Outpost is not one of Mr. Lehmann’s games (although it was published by TimJim, who shared facilities with his Prism label, if I’m not mistaken).

At any rate, the bottom line is that I was impressed with St. Petersburg, and hope to play again. It’s one of those games that would have been good for an immediate second play, if we had had the time.

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