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Subject: How to Lose at St. Petersburg rss

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Paul Harrington
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This is the first in a set of articles on intermediate and advanced strategy at St. Petersburg, similar to my ‘How to Lose at Power Grid’ articles. Beginners should look elsewhere, and here are some suggestions.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/92363

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/26300

Some of this will overwhelm beginners, but a serious beginner should give these a read, play a few games, and come back and reread them.

How to lose at St. Petersburg #1: Not having enough respect for hand spaces.

In a game of experienced but not expert players, I believe this is the most common factor causing players to lose – in fact, the first several ways to lose will be on this topic.

Have you ever played a game of 4-player St. Pete where everybody has a full hand and there’s lots of good stuff on the board but nobody can take any of it without buying it at great expense and causing the player to be left out of the next green phase? I’ve seen it a lot – but frequently there will be one player who has spaces available and he is at a great advantage.

At the risk of being redundant, if you fill your hand with stuff that you don’t want to buy very soon, and one of your opponents has more than one space available (in 2 player, your only opponent), you may have lost already. If good upgrades come up and you can’t buy them, you have almost certainly lost.

And of course, if everybody else is full too, but you could have had spaces, you haven’t lost but you have lost the opportunity for an easy win.

How do we avoid this debacle? Well, if you find yourself in the first two rounds having to take a blue card to get an orange, take another one to get an upgrade, and take another one to get a green card, you have seriously hampered yourself. Before taking your card to get an orange, you need to look ahead and ask yourself which phases you’re going to need to take a card for. Not getting an orange card in the first round is OK, as long as you’re not first in oranges (especially since it reduces the chance for one of your opponents to get a game-breaking Mistress), but not getting a green card in the second round is probably going to be costly. So, before opening up that first orange card, ask yourself, ‘what if nobody else opens up a slot, what will happen in the next two phases’? You might decide to let it go. This is especially true when considering opening a slot for a SECOND orange card, green card, or upgrade. It might seem like the thing to do at the time, but if your hand is more full than one of your opponent’s, he might be in position to become a hand-space juggernaut in the next round or later this round… which brings me to

How to lose at St. Petersburg #2 – not retaining hand fluidity.

There are few more certain roads to defeat than treating your hand like Fort Knox, storing away lots of hefty upgrades for the endgame. A player recently took a library (blue building costing 17) to open a slot in the first round to get a second green card in round 2 – and jokingly stated that he was taking a warehouse in reverse. He soon found out much to his dismay how true that was. Of course, it didn’t help him any that his opponents were quick to jump on his misfortune, opening a lot of slots in the next round. The Zarin (red upgrade costing 24), and foreign minister (red upgrade costing 20) have similar properties. These are frequently not taken by decent players in the first round, especially if it appears that there will be a lot of spots opening up next round (lots of markets – blues costing 5 is your first clue.) It is ideal to go into the red phase with two open slots so you can store a red card that you can’t afford, and an upgrade. If you can afford any red, or are pretty sure you can get one you can afford and will be happy with leaving a Mistress for someone else (not in the first round!), then one free space is palatable, but you should plan to be able to play some of your hand out next round. In theory, you should have at most one card in your hand that you don’t plan to buy next round. The warehouse lets you have two (although its use is primarily to put pressure on other people’s handspace, which is difficult to do having tied up two of your four spots.) This is toughest to do going into round 2, for you expect there to be a lot of green cards coming up in Round 3 (unless there was a lot of turnover in Round 1) and don’t want to be left at the station not being able to afford the workers, and buying blue cards in round 2, although possibly necessary, can be costly. Speaking of Zarins and Foreign Ministers:

How to lose at St Pete #3: Not getting those big red upgrades out of your hand.

For many games, I hoarded those red upgrades, since I never knew which red cards were going to be duplicated and I wanted to be sure to upgrade the right one. This is silly. An example should suffice. In the third round, you have a red 4, 7, and 10, and in your hand is the Admiral (red upgrade costing 18, paying 3 rubles and 3 VP), among other things. You could wait to see red card gets duplicated before buying your Admiral. However, buying a blue card that gives you 3VP per turn costs you 11 rubles, whereas you can plan to spend only 8 rubles in the orange phase instead to upgrade your warehouse manager (red 10) to the Admiral. More importantly, this frees up the hand space, which will allow you to grab another important upgrade and keeping it out of the hands of others.

How to lose at St. Pete #4: Not respecting the warehouse.

Your opponent with a warehouse, if he plays properly, will win all hand space battles. He paid 2 rubles for that privilege. Unless your opponent has got himself into hand space problems, you should not enter into a free-for-all (taking lots of cards, opening lots of spaces) against a warehouse. The best way to render a warehouse useless is to slow the game down dramatically and take very few cards. In fact, if you have an observatory, in a 2 player game, and one of you has the aristocrat symbol and the other the upgrade symbol, you might do well to take nothing or one blue card during the blue phase, and observe. Of course, if your opponent has at least one more “unusable” card in his hand than you do, negating the warehouse’s threat value, you can ignore this advice. Which brings me to:

How to lose at St Pete #5: Letting the warehouse go to your head.

I’ve seen this happen a lot in 2-player games. A player gets a warehouse and then plays as if he has infinite hand space. It is just as bad to fill your hand with 4 cards you can’t use next turn as it is to fill a non-warehouse hand with 3 cards you can’t use. You may have opened a space for a card you wanted to be dealt in every phase, but you are now playing at a serous disadvantage. You paid 2 rubles for that warehouse to be able to put pressure on your opponent’s play, so do it! The threat of taking lots of cards is worth a lot. It gives you the ability to “overspend” on blues and store a lot in the red and upgrade phase, knowing that they’re going to be bought next turn, knowing that your opponent can’t ding you by opening up an extra space.

How to lose at St. Pete #6: Letting your opponent with two observatories have the warehouse. (mainly for 2 player games)

Somebody with two observatories is going to have serious hand space problems if he tries to use them both every turn (and maybe even if he doesn’t!) If the warehouse comes up and you have the opportunity to take it, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which you shouldn’t, even though it does you no good, because it would be SO helpful to your opponent who wants to use the observatories as much as possible, and needs hand spaces if he be so lucky (?) to draw some big red upgrades. And since the player with the observatories is going to have trouble storing what he wants,

How to lose at St. Pete #7: Not pressing the observatories.

This is true for 2 player games, for 3 player games where each of your opponents has an observatory, and for 3 or 4 player games where your most dangerous opponent has an observatory or two. He is going to have trouble storing everything that comes to him and what he observes. You should add to his woes by flipping as many cards as possible each round. In 2 player games, this means overbuying in blues, forcing him to leave some red cards on the table for you to pick up next time. Of course, this is easy if the blues are 5’s and 8’s. If there’s a lot of big blues that are going away, perhaps you should wait a round to press the observatory – let him have his way this turn but make him miserable next turn. And, of course, the corollary:

How to lose at St. Pete #8: Letting your observatory get pressed.

If you are in the early game with an observatory, seriously consider not opening up a spot for a desirable card. This has a lot of desirable effects: it slows down the game for more turns (great for a player with an observatory in a 3 or 4 player game, perhaps not so hot in a 2 player game, but that’s for another post), and prevents the other players from pressing you. If you are to be first in orange with nothing but nondescript buildings on the board, consider taking nothing and observe an orange card! The opponents can either let you get the only orange card this round, or open up a spot for you to get two oranges (and first choice to boot!) and does not cost you a valuable hand space.

Here was a couple of hand space issues that I screwed up badly recently (both belong in the Hall of Shame.)

How to lose at St Pete #9: taking the upgrade that is less easy to use

Round 1 of a 2 player game. I have the aristocrat and upgrade symbols, which should, in theory, give me a big edge. Nondescript blue cards all costing 8 or more. We each grab one. I get a controller (red 14, paying 4 rubles and 1 VP), my opponent gets a red 10. The upgrades are the bank (blue costing 13, paying 5 rubles and 1VP), and the builder (red upgrade costing 10 and paying 5 rubles.) Both of these cards are awesome upgrades. Which one do you take? Well, I took the wrong one. Figuring that 5 rubles per turn costing 10 rubles plus an extra red in the end was pretty good, I took the builder. I now have 2 cards in hand. We each get a green, and two more nondescript blues come up. My opponent grabs a discounted blue and upgrades it to the bank, and has two hand spaces to put the red card and the upgrade that were forthcoming. If I took a blue, I would forlornly watch having all my hand spaces used. I could hope for small reds and upgrade to the builder, but certainly my opponent would leave a big one up there and not let me do that if one was dealt. Heck, I couldn’t afford a Mistress or Judge! He could leave it and stick it in his hand if the upgrade that was dealt was something fairly useless. Or if he left something like a secretary (red 12) I could buy it and then get way behind on the flood of workers that was about to be dealt. Notice how different it is if I take the bank. He can still upgrade his red 10 to the builder but I can buy the customs house out of my hand and upgrade it to the bank and have lots of hand space, or if he takes a blue, I can take a discounted blue and also have 2 open slots to fill in the orange and upgrade rounds. Needless to say, the result of this game was true Hall of Shame material.

How to lose at St. Pete #10: Putting yourself in a position where you can’t afford anything

In a 4-player game, in the first round, I was second in blues, and last in reds, and the first blue player took the village (2/6), and I took the observatory. Being first in greens, I had bought a 3 & 4. I thought, “Cool! I might observe a Mistress and be able to afford it!” Well, I didn’t observe the Mistress, but just a warehouse manager (10). You would think that this isn’t a problem since I have 8 rubles if I buy this and no hand spaces used. However, I needed to take an upgrade (which someone else opened up), then I had to take a blue card to get a green the next round, and it was a 7, and then in round 2, people starting taking blue cards and was about to get a red and an upgrade turned up for me. The red was a 12, so I could take it in hand (that’s slot #3) and lose the upgrade, or let somebody else get the secretary (red 12.) Now, you wouldn’t think that somebody that started with 24 rubles going into the first blue phase, and didn’t take a blue card to open an orange would be in money & hand space trouble during the 2nd round, but that is exactly what happened. (It was even worse; I had observed a green card in round 2, so even if a low red card came up which I could afford, I couldn’t afford the green I observed and also the green which was about to be dealt.) Now, I should be experienced enough to know better than to get myself in this position. Having the green symbol the first round is kind of like a reverse warehouse because you frequently have to take some crap to get a green card in round 2. I should see this coming, especially if I’m not going to open up a red card for myself – there’s not going to be much reason for anybody to take a 4th card but me. If I’m going to observe in round 1, I should observe something I can afford (looking ahead, it was clear I couldn’t afford the red 10, even though it seemed like I had money to burn at the time)… another green card. This would cost 5 or 6 less than the red card did with the same early payoff. (I could always throw away an observed shipbuilder, the green 7.) This would leave me more money to buy a red if need be. Having observed the red and bought the red card, I could have looked ahead and seen that I would be short one spot in my hand if people started taking cards, and just not opened up a spot for a green card. I would have one less green than everyone else, but I could make up for it by observing one in round 2. The one I passed up, being last in greens, would almost certainly be a 7 or 8, the one I observed might be cheap. And the hand space saved by not taking a blue would be oh so important to a player with an observatory.
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Robert G.
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I'll make you a deal; for every entry you add, you get 0.01 . In all seriousness, this is a great article. Thanks for writing (and updating) it.
 
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Paul Harrington
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How to lose at St. Pete #11: Thinking that superior money means you necessarily lengthen the game.

This is an easy one to get caught up in, and in general it is true. If you are earning more income than your opponent(s), then longer games usually benefit you. A notable exception is when an opponent has vastly superior "VP income"; where he will be earning more VP's than you per round even after you spend your massive income on buildings. You may be lost already in this case, but what you must do here is attempt to end the game on the turn in which you can turn your money advantage into the largest advantage in different reds. Many times I have seen a player (frequently me ) prolong a 2-player game with a big money and red card advantage, only to see that the extra turn allows his opponent to catch up in reds.

Miscalculating the effect of an extra round can cost you a won game also. It would seem logical that if you have an advantage in both income and VP income, letting the game go another turn would only "pile it on", i.e. extend your advantage. One clear way that this is wrong is if your opponent has pubs (schenke). If you don't extend the game, he probably can't profitably use them because he needs all his money to go for different reds. Lengthening the game may put his pubs into play. Opponent's observatories can work against you too... if you're picking up an extra 2 or 3 VP per round but your opponent observes a Zarin or St. Catherine's (blue upgrade paying 1 ruble and 5 VP), he's outscoring you this round. It can be really bad to extend the game when your opponent has a Zarin and another big red in hand; the more turns these cards score, the better for their holder. Usually better to end the game and make the holder of these cards sacrifice total number of red cards in order to play these cards at all.

In a 2-player game, if the game goes on long enough, both players will get 10 different reds. The object of the player with more income is to end the game when he can afford a lot of reds and his opponent can't.

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Paul Harrington
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How to lose at St Pete #12 - losing with a Mistress against an author

Having come back to Saint Petersburg after a few months layoff, I'm finding that all the people I used to beat are now beating me. So I should have lots more ways to lose to post, but I should post the most embarrassing of them all first.

Playing a 2-player game on BSW against one of the people near the top of the ELO rankings (i.e. he's pretty good), I was dealt the two good symbols (aristocrats & upgrades), got a shepherd (5) and shipbuilder (7) the first round, both upgradable for good early money. He had a lumberjack (3) and a shepherd. Two pubs came up. My opponent passed, I took a pub as did he. Then, up popped a Mistress and an author. I offered to restart, foolishly thinking it wouldn't be much of a game, and he declined. I took the Mistress and he took the author. Now for the fatal mistake. Hoping for two upgrades to one, I took a market into hand and bought my pub. Well, some decent upgrades came up, but I wasn't going to be able to use them. I was going into the green round with 6 rubles, and would likely come out with at most 12. Two of the upgrades were the harbor (blue upgrade costing 16 paying 5 rubles and 2VP, a nice early card), and the red upgrade costing 8 paying 4 rubles. I believe the other one was the carpenter's workshop, a card that only my opponent could use at this time. I took the red upgrade into hand, leaving myself a hand spot to take the third green card if he took the other two upgrades. He proceeded to take the blue upgrade into hand, bought the carpenter's workshop, bought the pub out of his hand, and took two more cheap blues opening up 5 greens! As expected, with 6 rubles, I was able to buy one green and take one into hand, and he bought three. He had enough money to use his harbor (discounting both the blue card and the harbor), and still was able to grab a card to give himself an upgrade. Not that many cards were going off the second row, so he didn't have to worry about spending too much on the harbor. So, after the second round, he had 6 more income than I did depsite the Mistress. I ended up losing by about 20.
In retrospect, I should have seen this possibliity coming, and could have "ensured" my win by not taking the market going into the first upgrade round. I would have had 7 rubles left, had two free hand spaces plus a 1 ruble pub in hand, and first choice on the upgrades. Losing from that position would have been just about impossible.
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Jerry Wang
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paulhar wrote:
How to lose at St Pete #12 - losing with a Mistress against an author

Having come back to Saint Petersburg after a few months layoff, I'm finding that all the people I used to beat are now beating me. So I should have lots more ways to lose to post, but I should post the most embarrassing of them all first.

In retrospect, I should have seen this possibliity coming, and could have "ensured" my win by not taking the market going into the first upgrade round. I would have had 7 rubles left, had two free hand spaces plus a 1 ruble pub in hand, and first choice on the upgrades. Losing from that position would have been just about impossible.


Getting that early Mistress in 2er is conceptually similar to having Observatories on your opponents. You have 'commitments' for your money while your opponent does not. Versus your opponent's Author, your Mistress is productively using $14 to generate $5/3 over him. The Mistress player wants to stuff the draw for two more turns to allow the Mistress to pay itself off.

Tactically speaking, this is a common way to counter to Mistress when you have a $4 or $7 noble up front: try to net two workers on the Mistress player in round two. If your first noble is a $10 or $12, you're pretty much dead against the opening Mistress.
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Paul Harrington
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How to lose at St. Pete #13: Not having your money work for you.

Starting with Round 3, assuming you're proudcing sufficient income in the red phase to buy any cheap greens in the green phase, you should endeavor to spend all the money you have after the green phase in the next two phases; i.e. put all your money to work. This is harder at a 2-player game because if you buy a lot of blue cards, your opponent can turn up enough cards to give you grief during the red and/or upgrade phases. However, in a typical 4-player game, you should look at what's in your hand. If possible, you want to get most of it on the table this round. Whatever cash is left over, you should spend on blue cards. (I'm talking about players who don't have an observatory - clearly their strategy is far different.) Ideally, you would like to take the desired blue card at a time when it opens up a red card for you (which if you have enough hand spaces, you can spend your excess money a blue card, put the red card and upgrade card in your hand for next round. You need two hand spaces to do this. Then next round you plan to buy that red card and use the upgrade, and spend any excess on a new blue card.)

Sometimes your opponents can foil this strategy by either turning up lots of cards, making you wish you had saved money to buy red cards and have hand spaces for upgrades, or by not taking enough blue cards themselves to force you to take two or more blues to get a red card. The first instance should be easy to spot - a lot of cheap cards. You might in this instance want to leave a few rubles in reserve. The second instance might require you to buy two blue cards or store an extra one in hand - or perhaps buy a huge blue card and forget about a red card this turn.

Of course, if your red cards don't provide enough income for the next green round, you will have to save a few rubles for that purpose.

The mistake is to come out of the red phase with about 20 rubles before collecting; you've essentially wasted a turn of VP collection.
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Paul Harrington
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More ways to Lose at St. Petersburg, plus a BSW editorial
I have noticed a proliferation of many new players on BSW that have not played very many games but have very high winning percentages for St Pete (around 80%) and play the game (at least 2 player) very well, or at least well enough to trounce me on a regular basis. While it's possible that there are all of a sudden a lot of new St Pete experts, and it's also possible that these strategy articles are making everybody so good at the game, a more likely explanation is that one or two actual humans are responsible for almost all of these accounts. As one player recently said to me, "Five of my accounts are on the top twenty of the ELO rankings for St. Pete!" (a chess-like rating system.) So if you're #20, you're really at least #16 because at least 5 of those above you are really the same guy. I suspect that another same guy might soon be responsible for at least five others.

Well this doesn’t bother me for at least four reasons; playing against these awesome players can only improve my game, the fact that they split their accounts allows me to win St. Pete monthly medals despite the existence of better players (note that my number of different opponents component for the medal calculation is now higher, because I typically get to play against all of the versions of the same person), they give me more fodder for ‘How to Lose at St. Pete’ since I’m doing so much more often now, and I get to invoke the saying ‘Those that can’t, teach!”

So, on to more ways to lose this game:

How to lose at St. Pete #14 – allowing the game to end too early (and the corresponding How to lose #15; not recognizing that you can ding your wealthy opponent with an early end)

I was happily going along one Pete game getting way ahead in income, planning to convert my income advantage to a point advantage the last couple of rounds. I gaily took another shepherd (green 5) to go with my other two; what could possibly be wrong with that play? It turned out to be a fatal mistake. My opponent who was poor as dirt, bought a fur trapper (green 6) in essence costing himself 2 rubles, and then filled up his last two hand spaces with a discounted blue 8 and a blue 14. This exhausted the blue deck, and my superior income wasn’t much good now as I could no longer catch up. The problem is you don’t expect someone to take green cards that cost them money, and you don’t expect someone to take discounted blue cards into his hand. But beware – there’s a new breed of player out there and you had best expect the unexpected!

This can take many forms. You can get way ahead in income and lose due to an early end if you get a fair piece behind in VP’s, or if you get behind in different red cards, or if your opponent has a couple of observatories and some red upgrades and can quickly gain in different reds on the last turn. A warning signal is that there are a lot of expensive blue cards up because you won’t be able to open up a lot of red cards.

Of course, if your opponent is the one way ahead in income, you should be aware of the possibility of ending the game early, even though it costs you rubles to do so. I’ve seen a player with no shipbuilders (green 7’s) take three of them, costing himself 6 rubles to make sure the game ended. I once saw a player take seven (!) cards during the green phase to end the game. The point is, you must ask yourself whether you’d be happy if your opponent starting clearing the cards during the green phase (normally, you would be because he’s costing himself money), and if the answer is no, you should seriously consider not taking a card you would normally take.

How to lose at St. Pete #16 – overrating the Mistress.

She’s a good card. Everybody knows that. Almost always, she’s worth taking since she’s better than most upgrades. But “almost” means “almost” and there are exceptions. This one is pretty clear: You’re in the fourth round of a 4 player Pete game and there are only four blue cards left in the deck. It’s a good bet that the game is going to end the next round. If you can afford the Mistress, by all means, buy her and get the 6 rubles and 3VP. But if you can’t afford her, it could easily be right to let her go. Of course, if it’s the only way you’re going to increase your unique aristocrat count, you might put her in hand anyway. But these five-round games are frequently won by somebody who acquired a lot of cheap aristocrat and cheap red upgrades. Taking a red card you can afford now gives you some income, an extra red card, and relieves you of the responsibility of having to spend 18 rubles to bring her out of your hand next turn; 18 rubles that could be more profitably spent on another red card, pub points, or perhaps just blue cards. As good as the Mistress is, when they count unique reds at the end of the game, she only counts as one.

How to lose at St. Pete #17 – not making the transition from a 2 player game to a 4 player game.

There are major differences between a 2-player game of St. Pete and a 4-player game. Most players on BSW are significantly better in one than the other and become like a fish out of water when forced to play with a number of players they’re not used to. Even one of these new 80% experts claimed he thought I was still superior to him at a 3 or 4 player game (I’m not sure that he’s right, but he recognizes the vast differences in the game and is aware of his lack of experience in the larger games.) There has been a lot written on playing 2 player games as opposed to 4-player games on this site already; I’m just trying to reiterate that there is a difference and if extra people come and join in the next game or if some leave, you had better adjust your strategy to the new situation or you will fall victim to Losing #17. Two main differences are: In a 2 player game, the somebody with two pubs will generally benefit from lengthening the game to the point where everybody has all their reds and he can just grab an extra 8 VP by using them (10 minus the 2 that he would have got for the 20 rubles.) In a larger game, pub owners are generally better off with an early game end; where the aristocrat bonus is low and 8 points is a lot. The observatory works backwards! In 2 players, if the game goes on long enough, both players will have 10 unique reds, so the player with the observatories generally wants to end the games when he has the red cards but his opponent doesn’t. In a larger game, there’s not so many red cards that everybody can have ten, and the observatory owner benefits more from a longer game, where each additional red card is worth more. There are many other differences, but these two are the most striking in my opinion (the Round 3 worker flood in a 2-player game is another huge difference – preparing for the Round 3 worker flood in a 4 player game only works if all your opponents drain their resources so you can get all the green cards. This rarely happens – you’re better off planning on just getting a couple.

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Paul Harrington
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Another Hall of Shame entry
How to lose at St. Pete #18: turning up a lot of spaces for aristocrats and not keeping enough for an author. I imagine that some of you are saying 'Duh' right now, of course you want money for the aristocrat phase, right? Well, not always. In fact, frequently in the midgame, it's correct not to. If you're already getting enough income from the red phase to see you through the next green phase, and can bring your hand down enough so you can place a red and an upgrade there, it can be right to spend everything on buildings to get your money to work for you.

This was a different situation. In the fourth round, I was first in reds, and my opponent was first in upgrades. The blue round came up with an observatory and several markets and customs houses (5's and 8's) and a couple expensive blues. My hand was full and my opponent had two free spaces. He took the observatory, figuring he'd observe two reds and I would get one red and then he'd get the upgrade. If I took a blue card, he'd get a red one. I passed. He observed a red card into his hand. I passed. He observed another red card into his hand. Now I started buying markets and customs houses like crazy. I was picking up several extra VP's each blue round while he had just spent 11 rubles on observatories to get red cards and then was going to have to pass a whole bunch of red cards that were coming up due to lack of funds and hand spaces! I was in great shape with five new red cards coming up but I decided to be really sadistic and take another customs house and put up 6 red cards he couldn't afford! I was left with 3 rubles. I figured my building VP advantage would be decisive since he'd have to pass on a lot of reds and I'd pick 'em up later on the discount row. There was almost no way I could lose this game at this point.

So, up pops the six red cards, five authors (red costing 4) and an administrator (red costing 7.) He took his 18 rubles that he had saved for a Mistress and bought all six of them as I watched helplessly. Two of his authors cost 1! I ended up losing by 2VP, and never did get an author. If I had simply not taken that sixth blue card, I could have taken a couple of those authors and would have won by about 20. It wasn't sadism that cost me the game, it was sheer stupidity. Once my opponent took the second observatory, nothing could have made me lose except having my opponent be able to afford all the reds. I can guard against that simply by keeping enough to buy a cheap one. If all expensive ones come up, so much the better. He would have to pass some of 'em up.
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Paul Harrington
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How to Lose at St Pete #19 - failure to recognize the early run for the money...

You are playing in a 4 player game (maybe 3), and it's one of those wide open games where everybody opens up a spot for their red card, the player first in reds takes another blue card in hand to open two spots, and the second in nobles does the same. Clearly this is not going to be your typical game. Six reds are coming up and in all likelihood, six upgrades and quite possibly six greens. In round 2, everybody's hand is going to be stuffed and there won't be too much action going on, except in the unlikely event that a lot of the special blues come up. One thing that might point to this type of game being developed is that the player second in reds in round 1 also has a warehouse, giving him an edge when a lot of cards get flipped. If you are third or fourth in reds in round 1 and see this situation, and you feel that you would be at a severe disadvantage in a game with 18 good cards coming up before the next blue phase, you might want to avoid this by not opening up a spot for your red card (i.e. leave only 2 or 3 holes for red cards) which also has the added advantage that the Mistress or Judge is less likely to fall to the player first in reds.

OK, let's say we're past that point. The six red cards are flopped. The player that can get an income and hand space advantage is going to be in good shape. There are likely to be greens cards coming up in round 2 because the hands are full and nobody can afford them. Someone with a hand space can take the green card and use it in round 3 when green cards are still desirable and hardly any will be coming up because nobody can afford to flip blue cards. OK, now that we think we know what is going to happen, how do we deal with it? With the exception of the Mistress and Judge, bigger is no longer better. The secretary (red 12) is clearly a better bet than the comptroller (red 14) which pays an extra VP. The two extra rubles might let you buy an extra green. Also, planning to buy two small red cards is probably better than buying a 12 or 14 and using a hand space to store the other one. Reason: The upgrades are coming; people are going to be in hand space trouble, and you want to be able to take as many income producing upgrades as you can. The builder (red upgrade costing 10 paying 5 rubles) or that other one which costs 8 and pays 4 rubles only is good for you if you have a cheap enough red to use it on. The green upgrades which pay double income are great here but only if you can afford to put them on the table. The big money blues are also huge cards here. In this situation, you are probably better off leaving any 'late game' upgrades on the table for others to take! Let them stuff their hands. These would be fur shops (green 6 upgrade costing 10 and paying 2 extra VP), the big red VP cards (including the admiral, costing 18 and paying 3 rubles and 3VP), and the heavy VP blue upgrades. With all those spaces coming up, only take one of these if it will give you a spot for a green card that you can afford.

You might be able to predict how much money you're going to have going into the next blue phase. (You'll buy a green, assume average price for your green position and calculate the payoff.) If you don't have the opportunity to play a big income card, a middling blue upgrade may be a great option for you. Let's take the blue upgrade costing 15 and paying 3 rubles and 3VP. If you think you can afford it next round, and have a blue card tying up your hand, it could be very good to take that upgrade, and create 2 free hand spaces by playing your blue and your upgrade next turn. With so few cards expected to turn next time, there's not much danger of needing the money immediately for green cards, and you can simply take a red card and an upgrade into your hand if they become available to you. (If they're not available, you might be in the unique position of being able to take a card during the upgrade phase to give yourself a green card in round 3 - with everyone else's hand being full.)

In a normal game, it's not that common to want to leave an upgrade on the table early if you have a hand space. The situation above is a special circumstance and in the first two rounds, all hand spaces should be used for green & red cards, and income producing upgrades.

By the way, if you forsee hand space problems worse than your opponents' (perhaps you have an observatory), it's likely that you won't even take your second red card if it's pricey, preferring to leave the spot open for an upgrade or a green card (which has a better income return.)
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Paul Harrington
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How to Lose at St. Pete #20 - not opening up a second hand space for an upgrade when it's easy to do.

In the midgame when you have something like 11 income coming from the orange round in a 3 or 4 player game, you certainly are going to have enough income to buy any greens you want. You may think that one hand space is enough for an upgrade since you only expect to get one, but frequently other players don't take an upgrade (because their hand is full, and they don't want to part with the money at that time, or maybe they don't think it's any good to them) and you have a second upgrade available to you. As the red phase is ending, if you still can afford to buy a card out of your hand to create that second space, you probably want to do that. Of course you have to weigh the likelihood of getting a second upgrade (look for opponents' full hands) against the chance of getting a green upgrade that you'll need extra cash to bring on board this round.


How to Lose #21 - not putting a card in hand catering to the unexpected (and vice-versa):

A typical scenario is the following: Late in a 4-player game, you go into the red round with 15 rubles and 1 free hand space. The two cards in your hand are a big red upgrade and a warehouse manager (red 10.) Up pops the comptroller (red 14) and three warehouse managers. You quickly buy the red 14 and then one of your opponents doesn't take his red card (can't afford it; saving the handspace for an upgrade), and you could put the red 10 in your hand and decide to do so. (If you don't, an opponent who needs the red 10 will snap it up, so you put it in hand.) Now the upgrades come up, and enough red upgrades come up to let you take one. You have no hand spaces, and you have the option of buying the red upgrade and upgrading a non-duplicate (and ending the game with duplicate red 10's), or leaving it for someone else who will upgrade a duplicate to your detriment.

Of course you intend to buy the red 14 in the red phase but why not put it in your hand? If all the red 10's get taken as you expect, then you simply buy the red 14. If a red 10 is left for you, you can buy THAT, and when you get your red upgrade, you can upgrade your duplicate. Yes, I'm aware that if you don't get a red upgrade, you've cost yourself 1 income and 1 VP, so once again you must weigh the possibilities.

This happens more in reverse in the upgrade phase - where you put an upgrade in hand and then it comes back to you with another upgrade available and you wish you had bought the upgrade so you can put thie big expensive upgrade that's still left in your hand.

This situation comes up a lot more often than I might think - it can evan happen in the green phase! You have an open handspace, and one of your handcards is a wharf (upgrades a green 7.) You have 15 rubles going into the gree phase and there's a couple shipbuilders and the czar & carpenter but the cheapest is a green 4. Certainly it's better to put the green 4 in your hand, then buy the shipbuilder and upgrade it to the wharf now than it is to buy the green 4 and the green 7 and use the wharf later. (Of course, this is assuming that it's late enough in the game that you don't plan on collecting more shipbuilders.)


How to Lose at St. Pete #22 - taking the "better" upgrade that can't be used this turn.

First some background. Here's how I suspect the midgame should go (midgame usually starts in round 3 and ends just before dash to play nothing but pub points and aristocrats for the bonus.) Everything should be "used" to its full potential; if you have money lying fallow for an entire round, you're not running your game efficiently and are costing yourself VP's. So, assuming you have red income that is sufficient to buy all the cheap greens next round, your green income is used only to buy blue cards, saving enough to get whatever red cards you have in your hand on the board this round (that includes the Czar too - better to get him out there earning 6VP a turn than to hog a valuable hand space!); blue income (if any) helps buy the red cards out of the hand, the red cards provide income for the next green phase. Of course, this is less true in 2-player because this simplified strategy can be exploited by a player that waits until you've performed your blue buys and then opens up a lot of spaces for red cards which he can pick up, and then attempt to end the game at a point where you have 5 reds and he has 9. But, the basic idea is that you get your money working as quickly as you can.

The same should be true of upgrades. THe green upgrades tend to be pretty decent cards going into the third round since their payoff is decent compared to their cost. However, if you will only be able to afford the green cards that come to you this round, the upgrade will have to wait a round and will hog a valuable hand space (unless you want to buy it during the blue phase when it doesn't pay for another whole round, an undesirable strategy.) It's better to take an upgrade you'll be able to use sooner. The same is true with the big red point cards. They're great cards which take income that you don't need late and turn it into VP's which you do need late, plus they give you unique reds for the bonus. However, as pointed out above, you want enough red income to pay for cheap greens. If your red income is lacking, big red VP upgrades aren't going to solve that problem. You need more red income, and don't plan to upgrade any reds this turn. It's perhaps better to take an upgrade that will you more immediate good.
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Paul Harrington
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How to lose at St. Pete #23: Not employing the Tiger Gambit, or employing it at the right time.

What is the Tiger Gambit? After about three thousand games of St. Pete, I got to see this for the first time (and just as surprisingly, saw it for the second time with none of the same people in the game; it's like two people independently came up with this.) I have had several occasions to try it and it works very well.

In a four player game (it might work in three also), the idea is that the player first in reds has a huge edge because he might turn up a game breaking Mistress or Judge, whereas the second player usually gets something nondescript like a Secretary (red 12). If all the blue cards are junk, or there's one decent card but it's not the observatory, the Tiger Gambit player who is second in reds refuses to take a blue card. Either the first in reds player only looks at one card, or someone else has to fill their hand with a bad blue card to give our hero a free red card. Usually nobody does this. (There might be reason for the player first in reds to do it, but he might not get the opportunity once it's clear that the gambit is being invoked.) So the first player gets his low red card, and now everybody takes cards to make sure they get a green card. People are pretty flush in the second round and want to put their money to work so they buy some blue cards and a whole bunch of red cards are gonna pop in round 2, making the gambit player first. There is a good chance that the gambiteer will get a Mistress or Judge and will have quite an advantage. The first time I saw this, I was the player first in reds and drew a controller, a red 14 paying 4 rubles and 1VP. This should have given me quite an edge but as expected, the Tiger (for whom the gambit is named) got his Mistress the next round with several cards to pick from and waltzed on to victory despite my 4 ruble and 1VP edge from round 1.

OK, when shouldn't the gambit be used? If an observatory pops in round 1, its owner is going to profit most by the gambit, since he'll be able to take advantage of the slow pace of the game. Essentally, you're playing against two good draws instead of one.

I saw the second time that it was bad today. The Tiger himself was first in blues and second in reds with bad blues up and played the gambit. Unfortunately, being first in blues meant that his next opponent was going to be first in blues next. So when we turned up 5 green cards in round 2 and took them, not surprisinglyl, an observatory turned up and its owner observed a red card and refused to take one, so he essentially was put in the gambited position himself, except that his one red card counted once in the first two rounds while the first player to get a red card counted his twice.

So it appears that the gambit is great when you're first in upgrades, it's OK when you're first in greens (normally a bad spot), and it's not so hot when you're first in blues. It's also not so hot when somebody snags an observatory in round 1 (unless it's you), and also obviously if the blue card you fail to take is the village or warehouse, since somebody else is certainly going to grab it.
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How to lose at St. Pete #24 - graciously accepting defeat when the Duck Gambit is available.

First, a couple of caveats. (1) The Duck Gambit is purely a despiration move - it's trying to make the best of a bad situation. If you playing in competition that you are the favorite despite a bad start, I wouldn't recommend this gambit. (2) No, I am not making these names up (answering someone in my BSW town and maybe others.) The Tiger gambit is named after the first player who I saw use it successuflly (who has Tiger in his BSW nickname) and the Duck gambit is named after somebody on BSW with Duck in his nickname. (3) The great thing about the Duck Gambit is it looks so stupid that it totally frustrates the opposition when it works (kind of like moving the rook pawn in turn 1 in chess.)

First, the conditions. 1. You are playing a 4-player game. 2. You are first in greens, already a disadvantage. 3. You are last in reds, another disadvantage. (It's possible to work third in reds and last in upgrades.) 4. A whole lotta bad blue cards come up. I wouldn't try this against an observatory, because one of the key elements is trying to make the game last only 5 rounds and the observatory player will beat you by slowing the game down, only observing reds and not taking any cards. It works well when you can get a blue 14 or 17 in round 1; depending on what you can afford, if you can pick off discounted markets (blue 5's) in the green phase of the second round, it's even better.

So, you're destined to lose based on your awful starting tokens. Buy a huge blue building and plan not to get a green card in round 2. The idea is to pop way out in the lead in VP and then end the game before your 'superior playing' opponents can catch up. So, round one goes like this - you buy a blue 14 or 17, and you don't get a red card, and you take an upgrade that will help your cause (good upgrades are big blue VP cards and small reds, or the patriarch (red 16 paying 4VP which will be played later and is almost as good as buying a blue 14 later.) You do not plan on picking up many red cards but you will snag an occasional red 4 to stop your opponents from gettng it. Red 7's are also ok if you have an upgrade. Basically each turn you go for as many VP's as you can get, while leaving just enough money to get a cheap green card if one becomes available. Since you wish to end the game early, and the blue deck usually runs out first, take cards in the green phase when it doesn't hurt too much. Discounted markets are great but if you must a blue in hand, it's worth it to force one more card up. By the way, pubs work well with the Duck Gambit. The red upgrade costing 8 and giving 4 rubles is great to get early, because you can simply spend all your money each turn on blues or to buy out any small reds you might have picked up the prior turn, since the 4 rubles will be enough to pick up either a cheap green or a discounted market.

If you don't end the game in five rounds, it will probably be a disaster. You can get good practice using the Duck Gambit with Baron Manchaussen's AI software where you play vs 3 robots. I'm finding that I can win about half the time with the Duck Gambit going first in greens and last in reds, while I win less than half the time with that starting configuration playing "normally".

This is the edit: I almost forgot to tell you that when playing the Duck Gambit - if a surprise big red comes your way, you generally ignore it. Let the other players stuff their hands with those non-VP-producing cards - if the game ends in 5 rounds as you intend, they're not going to get a boatload of reds. Same is true with upgrades; early in the game, you want to let the big ones go - let the opponents deal with 'em. I have actually had more success in my attempts where I concentrated solely on small reds and VP's than in games where I got an early bank or harbor (huge money blue upgrades) which would normally be first-pick upgrades early in the game. That seems counterintuitive - so I might have to do some more testing.
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Today I played a weird variation of the Duck Gambit. First in greens and last in reds, there was an observatory, warehouse, four markets, and two customs houses (blue costing 8) up. The observatory and warehouse were snapped up, and I decided to buy a customs house figuring that nobody would take anything else. This happened, and in the next green phase, I took all the discounted markets. (So much for the flood of workers in the third round!) Because I was able to turn up seven new blue cards, it was much easier to end the game in five rounds despite the observatory player's efforts to slow down the game. Going into the last round, I had 30 VP and a pub, and the next closest player had 11. The observatory player was funbling over hand cards. So, I guess it is possible to successfully use the Duck Gambit against an observatory but you need some special conditions to make it work.
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Today I had the opportunity to play a "semi-duck". Normally in round 2, one is still looking for big income cards and saving money for Round 3 greens. However, in a 4-payer game when three customs houses (blues costing 8, paying 2VP) came up in Round 1, I immediately saw the opportunity for a "semi-duck" gambit where I could ignore taking cards in Round 1 to pick up all three discounted customs houses in Round 2 for 18 rubles. Since this was done during the green phase, a lot of new blues are coming out, reducing the necessity for having money in round 3. Once again, I ended in Round 5, going into the round with 40 VP while one opponent had 23 with no reds and the other two had less than ten. The point I'm making is that you always have to be on the lookout for opportunities to grab a big early VP lead on the cheap. Also note that any of my opponents could have tried for the same thing; the fact that they didn't implies that players are still surprised by the "big early VP" game.

On to more ways to lose.

Lose at St. Pete #25: Overspending in the green phase.

In round 2 or 3, it's usually correct to spend as much on green cards as you can. However, there are exceptions. If taking that shipbuilder will leave you short of playing the Bank or Harbor (big money blue upgrades) from your hand, or buying the Mistress from your hand, perhaps it's correct to let the green card go. This is even more true if you have hand space problems and getting that big money card out of your hand will be a big boon to your handspace. I saw a really sad instance of this play recently; with no green 5's or 6's out, a player bought the Czar & Carpenter (green 8 upgradable to anything) rather than the green 7 so that he could be the only player to use the green 5 or 6 upgrade. Did I forget to mention that this player was first in reds? His 17 rubles was not quite enough to buy the Mistress that popped up. Now, this requires that you look ahead and see how much money you'll have after the green phase and noting if there's something that you really need to buy out of your hand. "Oh horrors! You mean that there's math involved in this game?

Another form of this principle comes in the third round when you are going to be first in reds but your hand is full, and no Mistresses or Judges have shown up yet. Assuming you can't play anything out of your hand in a hurry, you need to have 22 rubles coming out of the green phase; 4 to buy the discounted market to open up a space for yourself, and 18 to buy the Mistress that comes up. (If there are no discounted markets, you'll need 23; it's a logical assumption that a market or something cheaper will appear.) Being able to afford the Mistress in this situation is huge. Even if you have one handspace, you'll want those 22 or 23 rubles so you'll have a spot to put your upgrade. Normally, I like to get the stuff out of my hand as quickly as I can. However, the likelihood of a Mistress or Judge coming up is pretty good and the difference between being able to buy it or not is pretty significant.

Lose at Pete #26 - not correctly determining who "status quo" is good for.

You are about to embark on a blue phase. Ask yourself, if nobody takes any of these cards, is that good for me? If the answer is yes, you might not take a blue card even to open a red! This is likely to happen if you can buy a Mistress or Judge or huge blue upgrade out of your hand. Even though it sounds counterintuitive not to open up a space going first in reds, if you can play cards from your hand that will give you superior income/VP generation, and everybody is going to open up a red spot for themselves anyway, why rock the boat? Just pass and force the opponents to open up the spot for you. If nobody does, buy that big thing out of your hand and get on with it. This is especially true when you have handspace issues and most of your opponents don't. (This might backfire in two-player if your opponent can now open up a bunch of spaces where he can use the cards and you can't.)

The flip-side of this is that you may be the player hurt by the status-quo. If you can see that the player who is about to be first in reds has a status-quo advantage (sometimes the observatory might work as a status-quo advantage too), you need to be prepared for the fact that he might not open any spaces for the red round. This means that if you have an empty hand, that your money won't work for you this round (unless you want to open up a free space for the player first in reds.) You can prevent this by slipping the highest blue card you can afford into your hand during the green phase. Then, when he doesn't take any blues, you simply buy the blue card from your hand.

Lose at Pete #27: Misanalyzing the amount needed for greens. This also goes with an earlier post about not being ready when changing from a 4-player game to a 2-player game. A lot of my posts are about 4-player games where you need 5 or 6 income coming out of the red phase to be confident that you can afford cheap greens; if you don't have that, you need to either get it or keep enough aside to buy greens next round. In a two-player game, it seems as though you need about 10 rubles going into each green phase. The downside of not having that is that your opponent will be getting extra greens, which will give him more discounts on future greens, and will eventually be picking up green 6's and 7's for 2 or 3 rubles each.
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Michael Pavelich
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You know, I have never played this game, but my local gameguy has it for sale cheap so I decided to download the rules. Well, I read thru the rules and I couldn't understand where the game was! It just seems like nothing at all!

Then I read this post and I can't believe the complexity (immposibilty) of this innocent looking card game.

You should ask permission to re-write the rulebook to give folks a true idea of this game's real value!

I am now scared to death to even try this thing.

Where did you learn all this stuff? It can't be from reading the rules..
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Wapahala wrote:


I am now scared to death to even try this thing.

Where did you learn all this stuff? It can't be from reading the rules..


You shouldn't be scared - it's a fun game and most people do not play at the level described in these advanced articles. These are strategy hints developed through experience; some of which may be contraversial.

Sometimes it can be surprising at the strategic complexity that can be involved in a game with such simple rules. (Chess, for example.) One game with rules that seem to put it on a level with tic-tac-toe but actually has a great deal of strategic subtleties is the 1994 Spiel des Jahres winner, Manhattan. It takes five minutes to learn, and you would think that there is no strategic value at all to the game, but try playing somebody decent on BSW and you will quickly find out differently!
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How to lose #28: Failure to recognize advantages from not taking the "obvious" card.

This seems so clear, but not only have I never thought about it before, but I have never seen anyone else take advantage of it either despite playing frequently against some of the top players. However, I saw one player not take the obvious upgrade twice in one game, both to his great advantage!

The situation comes about early in a 2-player game when your opponent has a full hand. (Early enough that taking any green card, even the Czar and Carpenter costing 8 is to your advantage.) There is a totally awesome upgrade up there, but you don't take it because all of the following apply:

(1) your opponent has a full hand
(2) your opponent either can't buy the upgrade outright, or if he does, it will seriously damage him for the next green phase, and
(3) you are about to receive one more green card than your opponent, a situation which would not exist if you took the upgrade.

I must have had hundreds of opportunities to take advantage of this situation, and probably my opponents have had a lot too (although I tend to be careful with hand spaces) but as far as I know, everybody has missed all the opportunities.

If you have more open hand spaces than your opponent, and are going first in the next round's green phase, there could be things you could do in the red phase to prepare for the likelihood of being able to take advantage of this opportunity.
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Kevin Everingham
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How to lose at St. Petersburg #29:
"The Beginner's mistake" Playing the same way, all the way through..

Here is a short simple mistake to remember;
I didn't seet his point listed yet, and it's common that new players will pick a strategy and stick with it for the whole game. Example: Picking a certain type of card and purchasing as many green (or blue or red) cards as they can afford. Going only for money or only for victory points or only for aristocrats the whole game. Picking up all of the best cards. This is a first instinct because many games work this way.

But, in Saint Petersburg, you must have a varying strategy that is flexable based on what cards are available and what the other players are doing.

The reason focusing on one thing does not work with St. Pete is the dynamics of winning by victory points but not being able to get victory points withough money... so it is often advantageous to go for money for the first 3 rounds then shift your strategy to VP buildings or various aristocrats. I've seen various approaches work (focusing on buildings, or aristrocrats) but none of the consistant winners that I've seen, have played the same from start to finish, they always play different at the start of a game than they do at the end.
 
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Wow, has this thread really been dormant since 2009? Certainly I have found some ways to lose, but one today has made such an impact that it certainly deserves a Hall o' Shame entry. I can't believe I haven't posted this type of error before.

(Conceding #29 to Kevin)
#30 Taking a first round upgrade that is going to get your hand stuffed

But first, let me describe the variant I was playing.

*** Description of St. Pete Plus ***
St. Pete Plus uses the regular St. Pete deck except that each of the cards that can be replaced by one of the New Society cards is. St. Pete Plus is a far better version than the regular because it replaces the game-breaking Mistress paying 6 rubles and 3 VP with one you don't even want to take the first round, paying 3 rubles and 4VP. It also replaces the virtually worthless Manjik Theater with a more useful one.

St. Pete Plus is available for online play on Yucata.de, a totally awesome free turn-based site. I probably am forgetting some, but:
The two Mistresses pay 3 rubles and 4VP
The Manjik Theater upgrade costs 20 and pays 1VP per red card (pretty good late round card in 2 player)
The czar & carpenter cost 3 rubles but only pays 2 per green round and still can upgrade to anything
The observatories cost 8
The academy costs 25 rubles and pays 9 VP (instead of 23 and 7)

On to the new Hall o' Shame entry:

#30 Taking a first round upgrade that is going to get your hand stuffed:
2 player St. Pete. My opponent was first in buildings and aristocrats. After a green round of (4,6,6,6), the blue flop was a warehouse and 7 buildings costing 8+. He of course took the warehouse into hand, and not wanting to totally get toasted on hand spaces, I figured I would let him have one red card and I would get the only upgrade. (If I took a blue card in hand, he would have 4 spaces to 2 which would quickly become 2 spaces to none before the next green phase, as you will see shortly.)

He bought a warehouse manager (red costing 10 paying 3 rubles) and up pops the Senator (red upgrade costing 12 paying 2 rubles & 2 coins.) I took the Senator and look what happened next: He took nothing and I had to take a blue 8 to get a green card. He took another blue 8 into his hand, and now I had to take a blue 11 to get a second green card (else I would be down 6 income after the first round, a total disaster!) Note that he has 3 open spaces by buying the warehouse, and I have none - my hand consists of a blue 8, a blue 11, and a red senator when I have no red cards are unless I get lucky and flop a pub or village, I'm not getting a red card anytime soon. So, now I have a full hand, am down 3 income, he has hand spaces galore, and the game is a total disaster.

You might think that letting a red upgrade go so easily not be wise, but consider the position I'd be in if I left it. He would take the upgrade and I would take a blue so I could get a green card. Maybe he takes another blue card and I take another blue card but I have a hand space and will with only 4 greens coming up in round 3, I'll be able to buy the red card outright. Sure, it's not wonderful, but it can't possibly be as bad as what happened.

The good news is that I resisted the "Way to lose #25" in the Yucata.de tournament - buying the obvious green card costing 6 in the midgame would have left me 24 rubles and a 25-ruble academy in my hand (St. Pete Plus again - try it, you'll like it!) so there is some merit in finding new ways to lose as long as you don't repeat them.
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