Saint Petersburg Was Revolutionary in Its Day
Note: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
What comes to mind when you see the colors green, blue, and orange? Time Warner Cable? Saint Petersburg? A box of Crayolas?
Wait. Saint Petersburg?
Yes, Saint Petersburg the board game – not the city in Florida or the one in Russia. Though Russian St. Petersburg does provide the artwork, if not the theme, for this board game.
Board Game or Card Game?
There is a board you use to play Saint Petersburg, but it’s really about the cards. Saint Petersburg is a fun economic card game that was unique when it debuted in 2004 and still holds its own today. There are 4 decks of small cards – a green deck (workers), a blue deck (buildings), an orange deck (aristocrats), and a mixed deck of green, blue, and orange cards consisting of upgrades for each of the other 3 decks.
To setup the game, you lay out green worker cards on the top row of board spaces. The number of cards depends on the number (2-4) of players. You distribute the 4 start tokens to the players as evenly as possible. Each token corresponds to one of the 4 decks and determines who goes first when that deck comes into play.
You give each player 20 rubles (paper money with denomination only printed on one side for privacy) and place their scoring pawn (red, blue, yellow, or green) on the scoring track on the edge of the board. A second “scoring” token may also be given to each player for visual reference as to who is winning the game, but this generally is not needed.
Whoever has the starting token matching the green deck goes first. In each phase, you have the same basic options. You can buy a card, add a card to your hand (up to 3), pay for and thus activate a card already in your hand, or pass. When all players pass consecutively, the phase ends, money and/or points are awarded to each player based on the cards they activated (except in the 4th upgrade deck phase), and the phase for the next deck begins. Blue follows green; orange follows blue; and the multi-colored upgrade deck is last.
All green cards provide 3 rubles each. Blue and orange cards may give you more money, victory points, or a combination of both. Upgrade cards cannot be bought outright. You must trade in a card of like color (and symbol for green cards) and pay the difference in cost as shown on each card.
Some cards are cheap; some are expensive. But there are ways to lower your costs for either. Most cards are duplicated throughout their respective decks. If you already own a green card that cost you 4 rubles and see another one available on the board, that second one will only cost you 3 rubles. Another, only 2, and so on – though you always have to pay at least 1 ruble for any card.
There is a second way to reduce costs. There are 2 rows of 8 card spaces on the board. At the start of each phase, any empty spaces in the top row are filled with cards from the next deck. After the 4th phase (the multi-colored upgrade deck), any remaining cards are moved from top row to bottom and are slid to the far right. During the entire following round, these cards are still available for purchase for 1 ruble less than their stated price, minus rubles for identical cards already owned as described above. That may not seem like much, but money is tight and that 1 ruble can make all the difference.
If any of these bottom row cards remain at the end of the next round, they are discarded to make room for new cards coming in from the top row. Note that at the beginning of a new round when placing green cards in the top row, you only fill in spaces until there are a total of 8 cards on the board – top and bottom rows combined. Thus, if there were 3 cards moved to the bottom row at the end of the round, only 5 green cards would be drawn and placed in the top row (at the far left).
Hint: You can sometimes use this rule to try to control how many of each type of card are available for purchase. Also, since the game ends in the round in which any one of the 4 decks is exhausted, you may also be able to use this rule to control the tempo of the game – hopefully to your advantage!
At the end of each round, the starting tokens are passed clockwise to the next player.
For the first several rounds, it is wise to gather green money cards. You’ll need the cash to spend later on buildings (which are sometimes rule breakers) and on aristocrats, especially when you see new ones appear.
At the end of the game, there is some final scoring. You get points for every 10 rubles in your hand, but you lose 5 points for each unpaid card still in your hand. The biggest boost though comes from the aristocrat bonus. You get points for every different aristocrat you played according to a scale (shown on the board) that increases arithmetically for each additional card. So 1 gives you 1; 2 gives you 3; 3 gives you 6; and so on up to a maximum of 55 for 10 or more different aristocrats. The player with the highest total wins.
Saint Petersburg is best when you can find 4 who will play. It’s also okay with 2 players, but only mediocre, in my opinion, with 3 because of the uneven distribution of the 4 start tokens.
The theme is there only in the artwork; it has nothing to do with actual game play.
Saint Petersburg is a good value if you can find it for under $20 which should be possible. There isn’t much of a learning curve, so you should be able to jump right in and have many hours of fun with it.