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!

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