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Subject: Session Report- St Petersburg rss

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Terence
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Players: Terence, James, Keng Ho (“KH”) and Weng Keong (“WK”)

Although I bought this game more than a year ago, I have not had the opportunity to play it face to face before. Yes, I am one of those guilty of having too many games and too little time to play them (although I’ll never admit that to my wife). I have played it a few times against the excellent program I downloaded from the Westpark gamers website though. This being my first face to face session of the game and I thought I should record it as a session report. After a brief rules refresher by KH, we started.

First Phase:

During the first build phase, James and WK took the opportunity to construct some cheap VP buildings. James also lucked out as the start player for the build phase, and picked up the Potjomkin’s Village (which he promptly upgraded with a trading card the next build phase). KH picked up an Observatory and used it to pick up a worker. Inspired by James’ example, WK built a customs house. I thought it was odd for WK to construct in the very first round as he was the start player for the aristocrat phase and this would affect his ability to buy aristocrats later, but didn’t comment. James then bought his second building- another cheap VP building. The construction continued until 4 buildings were bought. The upside was that these builders saved me from having to put buildings into my hand to clear space for aristocrats to appear. When the first aristocrat phase came around due to their cash deficiency, the rest picked up the cheaper aristocrats and allowed me to pick up the Judge, which I played immediately.

I was the start player for the trading phase and snapped up the Bank when it appeared. I played it during the next Build phase (over a lower row building which I bought for this purpose at a –1Ruble discount). I thought the Judge and Bank gave me a fair amount of flexibility cash-wise for the rest of the game, even though KH had noticeably more workers than me later in the game, income-wise, I think we were about even.

Early Strategies:

As the game unfolded, each player’s strategy revealed itself.

KH picked up an Observatory in the second Build phase and put it to use immediately, drawing workers. During the third Build phase, he picked up another Observatory and a Warehouse and spent the first 3 rounds or so drawing workers, then for the rest of the game, aristocrats. He built no VP buildings for almost the entire game, relying entirely on his Observatories and Warehouse. His hand was usually filled to capacity (4 cards). I thought he had a good strategy going as he had the most workers (and money) and was using the money to buy quite a few of the cheaper aristocrats. I believe his income increased fairly quickly for most of the game and he was always rolling in the cash. The only problem with this strategy (that only became apparent to me midway through the game) was the lack of VP generators. His marker sat at zero VP for two thirds of the game and I felt that he would have a very hard time converting the VPs efficiently later although I was really worried about all the cash he was generating.

James and WK picked up some aristocrats, but were clearly relying on the VP building strategy, building one or two buildings each build phase for most of the early game. Their VP buildings were quietly churning out VPs every round and they were building up considerable momentum by the midgame. I thought that the only thing holding these guys back was income. These guys were clearly behind KH and me in the income race by midgame, as they had less workers and aristocrats. I thought this lack of cash cost them a few opportunities to buy aristocrats (especially the more expensive ones) and aristocrat trading cards. However, they made good progress on the VP track and were leaving KH further and further behind (KH was still at zero!).

My strategy focused on collecting aristocrats and buying buildings from the midgame onwards only when I had excess cash, always from the lower row at a discount. In case anyone is wondering about my definition of ‘excess cash’, it basically refers to the money I have left after the worker phase payout, less some provision for buying aristocrats. I’ve learnt from playing against the computer that unless for I will be able to acquire more than one aristocrat during the aristocrat phase (e.g. I am the start payer for the aristocrat phase and/or there are sufficient new aristocrats appearing), it is generally useful to set Rubles in ‘aristocratic’ denominations e.g. 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 7, 4. Of course this is subject to adjustments depending on the aristocrats I already own (e.g. if I already have an author, I will set aside 3 Rubles or the next higher denomination) and the appearance of the more expensive aristocrats e.g. if both Mistresses of Ceremonies have already appeared, I need only set aside up to 16 Rubles since the most expensive aristocrat is a 16 Ruble Judge (unless I already have a Judge in play in which case I will only set aside 15 Rub... I think you get the idea).

Even though KH had the clear advantage in collecting aristocrats using his Observatories, I made sure I got at least one every round, and got more than my fair share by scooping the ones that WK and James couldn’t afford or couldn’t squeeze into their hand (their low income also made clearing those hands more difficult). I generally picked up the more expensive aristocrats and cheaper aristocrat trading cards, and relied mainly on aristocrats to generate my VPs.

Midgame:

Somewhere during this point of the game, a curious thing happened. 2 Pubs appeared in the same build phase and for some reason, the rest passed, or played cards from their hands, allowing me to waltz in and buy them from right under their noses. Perhaps they were distracted calculating their moves or didn’t think much of them, so I picked them up and left them unused until the last build phase...

By the midgame, my VP generating aristocrats and VP generating building (I had only one) allowed me to inch ahead of WK and James on the VP track. Ultimately, the lack of income prevented them from continuing to build VP buildings at the initial rate, and they lost momentum and had to coast along VP-wise, relying mainly on their existing buildings and the odd purchase. KH remained firmly entrenched on the zero VP space on the VP track, and only started gaining VPs near the end of the midgame. By early midgame, he had stopped using his Observatories to hit the worker deck, and was now demolishing the aristocrat deck. The cards in his hand now consisted of aristocrats, and looked rather ominous to me. Since these cards were mainly from the Observatories, I had no idea whether they were unique or not…for all I knew there could be 4 authors in there…or a Mistress of the Ceremonies. Who knew?

KH also built the taxman aristocrat trading card, which netted him one income per worker. Needless to say, this netted him lots of cash as he had more than his fair share of workers. With a huge pile of cash and a hand full of aristocrats, I expected a huge aristocrat rush from KH near the endgame, but he was awfully far behind on the VP track. The question is- would his aristocrats be enough to make a difference? The tension was starting to build.

Final Round:

The final round came around and we really squeezed almost every deck dry. We ran out of workers (only 2 appeared) and buildings (again, only 2). At this time, I had a healthy lead on WK and James on the VP track, and KH was still trailing behind. I pumped another 20 Rubles into the Pubs and edged ahead another 10 VPs, just as KH sniped the last aristocrat and kept it in his hand. No aristocrats would appear next phase!

Since no more aristocrats were due to appear, I played my last aristocrat from my hand and got ready to tally up the score. WK, myself and James had 4, 8 and 4 types of aristocrats each, so I was fairly confident that I would maintain my lead over them. The gap between my score and KH’s was fairly sizeable, so it was impossible for him to beat my score even if he had more than 10 unique aristocrats as the aristocrat bonus drops considerably after 10 types of aristocrats. My victory was safe.

During the trading card phase, 2 aristocrats appeared (the only type that mattered now). I went first and picked up the cheap 8 Ruble aristocrat trading card. This was purely defensive, as my aristocrats were all different and they would not generate any income or VPs (other than the endgame bonus). That left the expensive 24 Ruble Czar to James and KH (in that order)… At this point the game slowed to a crawl as James was seized with analysis paralysis. Since James had unique aristocrats, while KH had one duplicate (and two more in hand) should James suck it up and pay for the Czar to deprive KH of another unique aristocrat? KH already had 8 aristocrats and one additional type of aristocrat could potentially mean up to an additional 10 VPs for him…which would have made a difference to the 2nd and 3rd placings. James had the 12 Rubles to upgrade his aristocrat and claim the Czar, but would have to lose one VP during the endgame when 10 Rubles converted to 1 VP…

I must admit that my attention wandered at this point since I had won and the others were fighting for the other positions (and James was taking quite a while). After determining that my final score was 105, I started thinking about which game to play next… when James finally announced that he would pass on the Czar, because (if I recall correctly) KH would still be behind James even with an extra 10 points.

Then came KH’s turn to agonize… it appears that even though he had lots of cash, he didn’t have enough to play both aristocrats in his hand AND claim the Czar. After some number crunching KH announced that he would play his aristocrats (to avoid the –5 penalty) but couldn’t afford the Czar.

Final Scores:
Terence 105
WK: 67
James: 65
KH: 63

It was a lucky win for me as I got to pick up the Judge and Bank right and the start and simply pounced on the extra aristocrats which James and WK practically handed to me…

Overall, I think playing face to face was slightly more fun than playing against the computer, as I actually tried abit harder to think ahead (noone is around to care whether you beat the computer) and it is definitely more fun when you win. However, the AP can cause the game to drag on near the end.
 
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Brett Kildahl
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not2fear,

Good report. If you end up playing many games against the computer, please let me know what your win percentage is. I'm convinced that in 2-player games, the computer player is bad enough that something between 85 and 90 is sustainable.

Brett
 
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Werner Bär
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not2fear wrote:
[...] just as KH sniped the last aristocrat and kept it in his hand. No aristocrats would appear next phase!

You may not grab the last card from any deck with an observatory.
 
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Daniel Corban
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Werbaer wrote:
not2fear wrote:
[...] just as KH sniped the last aristocrat and kept it in his hand. No aristocrats would appear next phase!

You may not grab the last card from any deck with an observatory.


Are you serious?

*edit* Well, the French->English translation says this. I never noticed that line. I will double-check my English rules later. I believe I have seen the Observatory end a game or two this way.
 
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Terence
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BrettK wrote:
not2fear,
please let me know what your win percentage is.
Brett


I've only played a few 2 player games against the programme (less than a dozen), but now that you've mentioned it, I've not lost yet...

 
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Terence
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Werbaer wrote:
You may not grab the last card from any deck with an observatory.


Wow! I've not noticed that rule before. I checked the rules and you are absolutely right! Thanks for pointing it out.
 
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