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Subject: The farmers of St. Pete: Can you win without aristocrats? rss

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Ender Wiggins
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Short version: aristocrats are the "farmers" (cf Carcassonne) of St. Petersburg, but unlike Carcassonne, you can't win without them. To what extent is this true?

Long version: From what I've read, it seems that many are of the opinion that getting a variety of aristocrats is the only path to victory. If this is true, it means that all players will be trying to get as many aristocrats as possible, and in most games the players will be striving for the same objective. However, games are often more enjoyable if there are multiple paths to victory, e.g. in one game of Carcassonne, you might opt for farmers and multiple small cities to get points in the end game; in another game of Carcassonne you might adopt a strategy without farmers but with immediate points - these different strategies and possibilities make a game interesting if they are well balanced. It seems to me that aristocrats are the "farmers" of St Petersburg: they require an initial investment with little immediate reward, but they reap their rewards in the end game point-scoring. But while it is possible to win Carcassonne without a farmer strategy, is it possible to win St. Petersburg without aristocrats?

If the answer is "no", then it means that St. Petersburg doesn't really have multiple paths to victory, and there is really only one way to play and win. I think the game is very good, as is, even if getting the maximum number of aristocrats is the optimum strategy for all players, because the game still requires careful logistics and maximizing the cards that are available. But if the game had multiple paths of victory (e.g. you had equal chances of winning if you focused on a building with immediate points strategy, or an aristocrat with end game points strategy, or a combination of these two), maybe St. Petersburg wouldn't just be a "very good" game, but a "great" game. Perhaps with some tweaking it could have been this, if getting aristocrats wasn't quite as essential or powerful? Or is it possible to win without trying to get the maximum number of aristocrats?

What do you think about the "farmers" of St. Petersburg?
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Eric Brosius
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I think you will find it hard to win if you buy no aristocrats. Like in many games, you are often handed an opportunity that is so good you just have to take it. Aristocrats are not only good for endgame points, but also give you extra income that is valuable early in the game.

On the other hand, you often have a good chance to build blue cards starting in Round 3. This is a strong strategy as well. I have won the game with only 3 aristocrats when I got a lot of buildings early. The blue upgrades are especially good in this regard (except in the final round, when ordinary buildings or, even better, pubs are better.)

St. Petersburg gives you many choices, some easy and some difficult. It's the difficult ones that make it a great game.
 
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Dave Eisen
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Re: The farmers of St. Pete: Can you win without aristocrats
Best I can tell, the 4 player game degrades to a contest as to who can build the most aristocrats. This is why I mostly don't play 4-player any more.

But with 2, this just isn't true. As Eric said, I have won with surprisingly few aristocrats in a 2-player game. Management of building blue buildings is a much larger part of the strategy when playing with 2.
 
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Russ Williams
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Re: The farmers of St. Pete: Can you win without aristocrats
I've been playing the computer version a lot lately, and after many games it confirms what I've observed in games with real people: aristocrats seem pretty crucial usually, but not always - occasionally someone wins with just a lot of buildings.
 
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Geeky McGeekface
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I usually play four-player and always think first of gathering a good variety of aristocrats. But sometimes that just doesn't happen. In those cases, I'm always quick to pick up some nice buildings (the building upgrades can be particularly juicy). Like Eric, I've won with as few as 3 buildings. Even if I've succeeded in an aristocrat strategy, it's a mistake not to invest in a few buildings at the right moment.

I don't feel that St. Pete is a great game, but it's not true that it has only one path to victory. Like so many tactical games, the key is to remain flexible and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
 
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Fraser
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Re: The farmers of St. Pete: Can you win without aristocrats
To answer the question on the subject. Yes, but provided other players don't concentrate on Aristocrats.

Most games have their "mine shaft gap". If one player gets to far ahead in mine shafts it can be difficult to catch up.

If somebody specialises in Aristocrats in St Petersburg and you don't (thus allowing the mine shaft gap) then you are going to have do something pretty special to catch up.

If the other players merely dabble in Aristocrats, then you need do no more than that, but beware of the Building gap meeple
 
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Jonathan Franklin
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Re: The farmers of St. Pete: Can you win without aristocrats
It really depends on the number of players.

I prefer the game with 2 or 3 because it deemphasizes the issues you are raising.
 
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Paul Harrington
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I don't agree. I rarely have the most aristocrats in a 4 player game but I've won almost half of them. A frequent theme is to get way ahead in blue VP's while others are grabbing high-priced aristocrats and then end the game in the fifth round where the player with the most aristocrats has about 5 of them.

I recently played a tough 4-player game on BSW where three of the players had very strong records and the fourth was a relative newcomer to BSW (but had clearly played some St Pete!) He stunned us by grabbing the village and upgrading it to Catherine's (costs 17, pays 1 ruble and 5VP per round) in Round 2, and got so far ahead in VP's that he won with 3 aristocrats while we each had about 8. He got 25 VP from Catherine's alone (typical 6 round game), and decided he wasn't going to score much for red cards anyway so he might as well keep buying blue ones. He won by about 15.

Also, although the first round Mistress is virtually unbeatable, I have seen it lose. Every time I've seen it lose, it is because the player was going for reds. (Buying the observatory with the first round Mistress is just asking to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.) The "top" 4-player Pete players (i.e. the ones that play a lot of 4 player games and do well at them) will maintain their initial advantage and spend their money on blue points and to play the reds and upgrades out of their hand that they picked up the prior round. This player will end the game with only two or three other red cards to go with this Mistress but will win handily. (Of course it's not that simple, they do still make some feeble attempt to get their share of red cards, they're just not anal about it.)
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