Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How to Improve on Saint Petersburg

I don't know about you, but I am not a fan of games where the entire game is wrapped up in taking turns making choices of offered items. For example, I strongly dislike Saint Petersburg, a game by Rio Grande games that, like Alea's Puerto Rico, is more of an exercise in frustration than an evening of fun.

I much prefer games where players get a chance. After playing Puerto Rico a number of times with cut-throat players I got fed up with other players taking the "job" that did not really help them, but would've greatly benefited me. Saint Petersburg is a bit more of the same. Players end up "hiring" cards (which represent various vocational characters or buildings). Many times, this means another player will make a selection just to prevent another player from taking that card. All of this based on a revolving turn order in which each player will go first in one of the four phases.

At least wargames have objectives that can be fought over. In games like Saint Petersburg a player is simple stuck with the luck of the turn order and can almost rest assured that the player who makes his selection/purchase will take the card that he wants. No fighting over it. No combat, just picking what someone else wants. The only actual restrain is cost.

So, I was thinking.. how could one improve Saint Petersburg. I've got several untested ideas I'll throw out. I haven't been able to convince my friends that like this game to try them yet, but if they want me to keep playing they will have to at least experiment with one or more of them.


First, I would propose an assasin variant. Perhaps a player could pay a certain amount to have another player's card assasinated. The cost of the assasination should be more expensive than the actual purchase of the card. I would suggest trying such a variant where the cost of an assasination would be COST + 3 of the card. So if a card initially cost 12 for a player to purchase, another player could pay 15 and destroy it. This action would, of course, be instead of making a purchase of a card.


Or perhaps we could propose a duel variant. A player could, instead of purchasing a card, use on of his orange character cards to challenge another player's orange character card to a duel. The challenging card would have to be of equal or lessor cost of the card being challenged. Then, both players roll a 6 sided-die. High die roll wins and the losing card is eliminated OR "reincarnated" to the board, immediately available for purchase. Perhaps a die roll modifier should be added to prevent a 4 value character from challenging a 10 value character. Give a +1 to the die roll for the difference between values to the player with the highest value character. Perhaps a "Fine" for dueling should be paid by the loser to the bank.


How about an all out War? During the orange phase, a player could pay something like 10 and declare an attack on another player. Both players add up the value (cost + VP's) on the orange cards they wish to send into the battle. Each player rolls 2 six-sided dice and adds that result to their value. Player with the highest total value wins. The losing player must eliminate orange cards equal to the difference between the totals, not to exceed the number of cards he sent into battle. Therefore, a player who lost that only sent one card into the battle would only lose one card. The attacking player will not be able to count the victory points or collect money for cards that were in battle for that phase. The attacking player would have to declare which cards were going into battle. This system could be more throughly explored, adding rules for losing green cards in place of orange cards, etc.

All I am saying is that players deserve a fighting chance. Turn order should not determine the outcome of a game. Far too often, that is the case in Saint Petersburg, and I'm tired of seeing my ship fail to come in over and over and over.

I'd also like to add that while I loathe Puerto Rico, I thoroughly enjoy its sister game San Juan. Go figure!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Napoleonic Miniatures for Beginners!

I got my first taste of "Napoleon's War" from Worthington Games last weekend and thought I would share my initial thinking. My opponent and I played from the first scenarios of this series, offered in a boxed set called "Napoleon's War: The Hundred Days." Rules range from simple to intermediate and then to advance, but honestly, there were no complex rules in the game. A basic 8 page rules set that lets the players scan and play is provided.

The maps have large hexes (similar to Avalon Hill's Battlecry!) and the terrain is essential to the strategy of both defensive and offensive players. On the Ligny map (shown above) the ridges played a huge role in combat. First, it blocked line of sight so that offensively players could not fire over it. Second, when shooting at a unit on the Ridge the attacker received one less die to cast. Third, a unit can shoot or move, but not both. Therefore, a unit moving onto a ridge becomes a sitting duck for units sitting on the other side. The unit moving onto the ridge will be fired upon before getting a chance to shoot. At least twice during our two games I moved a unit onto the Ridge in hopes of getting a shot at an opponent and then my opponent got lucky with his limited number of dice, rolling two sixes and thus eliminating my artillery unit with one volley. Artillery units may not be rebuilt.

The miniatures are simple plastic miniatures. The set we played with featured only two colors, grey and blue. I imagine other colors will be added in other expansions, judging by the photo above which comes from the Worthington Games website. The pieces were utilitarian, meaning they they were not works of art but worked well for gaming purposes.

I mentioned that artillery may not be rebuilt. Leaders, however, may "rally" a wounded unit (assuming the leader began the turn in the spot with the unit and that the unit or leader will not do anything else on that turn). It isn't automatic, a die roll is compared to the current morale of the hex, but if successful a figure that matches the unit being rallied is placed back into the hex.

Cavalry can charge and attack, but only if they are not "engaged" (in contact with an enemy unit) at the beginning of the turn. We did have problems interpreting the "Cannot shock combat, i.e. melee, across a stream" rule. The problem? Does that mean you cannot charge across a stream and move two hexes and shock, or does it only mean you cannot shock across a hex into a hex that is adjacent to the same stream? We took the most restrictive interpretation meaning that Cavalry could not shock if they crossed a stream on that turn. When Cavalry charges infantry, the infantry have a chance to form a square by rolling against their morale. If they are successful it becomes harder for Cavalry to effectively hit them. However, then the infantry is still in the square formation and the only thing that they can do on their next turn is fire at greatly reduced effect (only getting 1 die) or unform the square, which of course makes them vulnerable to another attack.

The system using a varying number of action points for each side. It costs one action point to move, shoot, melee (shock) rally, etc. At the beginning of the turn, a player is normally granted 4 action points and then rolls a die. Depending on the die roll, the player may have 5, 6 or 7 action points. (7 was the maximum). My opponent, a pleasant fellow who always has problems with hot and cold dice, seemed to always be hot when rolling for his extra command points and had 7 points per turn for nearly the entire game. I was lucky to have 5 most turns and only managed to obtain 7 two or three times in a twenty round game.

Combat is normally conducted using 3 dice. Normal rolls of 6's count as hits. Artillery will hit on 5's and 6's if they are adjacent. Cavalry can shock and obtain hits on 4's, 5's and 6's. A unit attacking a unit in some types of terrain will only be permitted to roll two dice instead of the normal 3.

This turned out to be a neat system and I really enjoyed the game. In a three hour period we managed to play the game twice. Setup is very simple because each map has a letter indicating what units go in that hex. There were minimal rules lookup and the game moved quickly once we knew the basics of movement and combat. We used the simple rules for the first game and intermediate rules for the second game.

If you're looking for a simple miniature game, I don't think it gets any simpler than this. I can easily see players substituting their painted miniatures for the plastic pieces and playing this one over and over again. Simple and very action-filled. Also, this would make a good introductory wargame for players about age 10 and up. Players who like games like "Battlecry" or "Memoir '44" or "Commmand and Colors" will definitely want to play this one.