Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Is two-player St. Petersburg a runaway?

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
Hurricane Sandy motivated me to leave work early this afternoon, which provided Kathy and me the Saint Petersburg (designer Michael Tummelhofer alias Bernd Brunnhofer, artist Doris Matthaus, publisher Rio Grande).  I've really come to like St.P. as a multi-player game, and I really hoped that it would work well as a two-player option.  I have to say that the jury is still out, though, on whether this will become a cocktail-hour regular.
opportunity to play our first complete two-player round of

Our full game - with occasional interruptions - took about two and a half hours.  By all accounts, this is not typical.  At first I had the impression that the two-player game runs longer - i.e., takes more turns to complete - than a three- or four-player game.  My thinking was that, because the total purchasing power among the players is less in a two-player game, fewer cards are removed from one phase to the next and therefore fewer cards are dealt each phase from the decks.  But as I tried to work out the math, I realized that on average, as fewer cards are purchased, more cards are flushed from the discount market at the end of the turn, so that the net number of cards that require replacement from one turn to the next is the same regardless of the number of players.

The real issue that emerged in our game is the problem of a runaway leader.  Whichever player develops the more efficient money- and point-generating engine early in the game will necessarily build a stronger array from one turn to the next.  Although Kathy made a bold move at one point mid-game and accumulated three libraries and another five-point building to catch up with me point-wise late in the game, the surge was temporary, as my stronger income more than made up for her buildings by allowing me to assemble a large array of nobles.  The outcome of the game became relatively obvious, as I was gaining more cash and points in nearly every phase.  The cash in turn allowed me to widen the gap and strengthen my lead.

Kathy doesn't share my impression that there is a runaway problem.  She felt that her buildings kept her in contention for most of the game, and it was only her cash-flow problem that kept her from taking and keeping the lead.  And my limited research hasn't turned up any other discussion suggesting that Saint Petersburg has a reputation for a runaway leader, so I shouldn't put too much weight on this observation.  Perhaps we can get the game to the table a few more times (and finish our games in a more reasonable timeframe as we get used to the rules) and assess whether it really is a much closer game start to finish.


  1. I've played this game a few times with my wife, and it was only in our last game that there was a runaway leader problem. I'm not sure how regular this is, but we've still enjoyed it. I like that the game has very simple rules but offers some keen tension and good decisions within that ruleset.

    2 1/2 hours?! That is a loooooong game of St. Petersburg!

    1. In any of these games did the person who ended up running away with the game get an early Mistress of Ceremonies? I don't think the game in general has a runaway leader problem so much as the Mistress is essentially a guaranteed win on turn 1.

      Note the expansion actually comes with a different version of the card (4VP and 3 gold instead of 3VP and 6 gold) to try to help with the problem.

  2. Okay, yes, I think I put the Mistress of Ceremonies in my hand in the second round and was able to save up enough cash to put her in play in the third. In the interest of good sportsmanship, I'd alerted my wife to the value of the MoC before the game started, but as it happened I had the start player marker for the Noble phase on this occasion, so I snapped it up.

    There does seem to be a general sentiment on boardgamegeek that the original MoC is too powerful. Sounds like I need to get the expansion.