Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Saint Petersburg

Lifted from BGG

Author: SebastienBoisson
Okay, I might not be an expert, but I'm hovering between twentieth and fiftieth on BrettSpielWelt. I wanted to reply to some people that are struggling with improving at this game.

I noticed that many of these "strategy" guides consist of a list of rules. The problem with rules is that you will never play really well using them. You'll never play better than the person who discovered them. I believe that rules kill creative, intelligent play and the sense of discovery. You'd just be stuck applying rules you don't understand.

Instead of rules, I'm going to try to explain the key ideas behind the game, and then relate those to actual gameplay. This kind of analysis is still useful when you become an expert. And while you get there, hopefully they get you thinking about what's going through my head while I play.

Key ideas:
1. The beginning of the game is about maximizing income; the end of the game is about maximizing victory points.
- that's why you must try to get as many workers as possible in the first two rounds
- that's why you should avoid building buildings in the first two rounds--even a 1-ruble pub can cost you the game!
- that's why you want to build big aristocrats in the first round (but ask yourself: does this aristocrat mean I'll get to build one less worker? Will this aristocrat produce as much income as the worker I'll lose?)
- Early in the game, the best upgrades are those that increase your cash flow. Late in the game, you want those that increase points. I don't understand why some players don't value a first-round bank -- it is usually the best upgrade.
- On the second last turn, you will usually focus on buildings because that's when you're getting a great deal: 3 rubles for 2 points, and those rubles can't really be used to generate much cash.

2. How many buildings to take in the first round of a 2 player game.
- Notice how this is my second point-- it's a very important point that even good players don't get right.
- The first thing to check is whether you're going to draw the first worker in round two-- if so, you want to expose an odd number of nobles, otherwise you want an even number.
- If you are drawing nobles first, you must expose at least one noble, but you would like to have as many exposed as possible. That means, if you expose one, and your opponent exposes a second, you should consider exposing a third, but never bother exposing a fourth.
- If you are drawing nobles second, you usually want to expose another noble (the case where you might not is where you will draw the first worker and the first upgrade). Almost never draw a fourth.
- Make sure your hand doesn't get too full. If you exposed a card by just building a pub or a warehouse, then you have freedom to expose more cards. This is why the warehouse is a great first round building (potemkin village is better unless you know you will want to take a lot of cards)

3. How many cards to take in the first upgrade round of a 2 player game:
- This is another bit of opening strategy that is critical
- The main goal is to get more workers than your opponent or at least as many
- If you know that he has in his hand a bank, or mistress that he wasn't able to build, you would like to delay allowing him to build it in round 2 by forcing him to buy two workers instead of one
- How do you accomplish these goals? Figure out how much money he has. Get used to doing this and you will be able to do this quickly in your head.
- This part can be very probabilistic: e.g., if he is picking workers first and has 6 rubles (common after building a mistress with the 6,7 workers) and a full hand while you have 12 rubles, it's a good move to expose three workers; he might get 2 while you get 1, but it's very unlikely. Get used to taking chances. If he has hand space, you'll need to expose another worker or else a good player will just take un-buildable workers in hand.

4. The transition between the "beginning" and "end" of the game depends on how many turns the game will last.
- you should try to end the game early if you are at a victory point advantage but an income disadvantage -- and conversely, you should prolong a game in the opposite circumstance.
- similarly, end the game early if you have a noble advantage that will be eroded, or a noble deficit that will be exaggerated.

5. Observatories
- In three and four player, observatory is usually the best card because it is much harder to get nobles.
- In the two player game, the observatory is not as important:
-- If your opponent builds an early observatory (or two observatories at any time), then he will probably be short on cash, so focus on building your cash flow and use it to build buildings later on to get at nobles.
-- If you have an observatory or two, then one strategy is to focus on getting your ten nobles and try to end the game before your opponent can catch up. Another strategy is to starve him of noble upgrades, so that no matter how long the game lasts, you'll have ten nobles, but he'll have fewer.
- Don't use an observatory unless the value of using it is more than one victory point. If your hand is pretty full and you need the room for the next two stages, there's no point in using the observatory. Yes, I know it's exciting to draw a card.

6. What you can learn from the workers that have come up.
- If you and and your opponent have cheap workers at round three, then you can expect the expensive ones to come up later. Since no one wants to build many expensive workers in the last round then you can you usually expect a longer game-- and vice versa.
- Also, you can use the cost of the played workers to estimate how much money you need to save for the green round. A rule of thumb is to save 5 rubles per worker you expect to buy (in the two player game). If you have built some expensive workers, then you can expect to spend a little less because of the bulk savings and because cheaper workers are bound to come up.

7. And the buildings that have come up....
- If the cheap buildings came and went in the first couple rounds, then expensive buildings are up ahead. Those are hard to build, so you won't be able to get many nobles as easily -- observatories are worth more! And vice versa.
- Also, if there are a lot of markets left over, then an early market is a good investment since it will allow you to pick up the later markets for cheaper. (Same idea for the 8-cost buildings)

8. Properly valuing the tax man
- The tax man is usually only worth building once you have five workers down
- The tax man is a very good card in two player, but not so important otherwise.
- The tax man is not as good as other upgrades in the last round of the game unless you are using him to build extra aristocrats that you would not normally afford

9. Winning difficult games
- Throughout the game, ask yourself what the opponent wants and what you have that he doesn't. More income? observatory? more nobles? more upgrades? more vp production? both pubs? Then, figure out how to leverage that.
- Conversely, to seal a victory make it so that you win regardless of what your opponent does-- make it so that if he tries to exploit one of your weaknesses, he opens up to one of your strengths. A common mistake is to seal the long game completely only to be beaten in the short game.

10. Manners
- Never complain about your opponent's luck. You might as well be saying "You don't deserve to be winning." You knew going in to the game that there would be some luck. Always play your best and be polite.
- Be modest in victory and loss.

I'll add more to this thread if people are interested.... Have fun, and remember not to play too much! Go outside!