Saint Petersburg is one of those games that was a really big deal a while back but now you hardly ever hear about it any more. I'm not sure if people thought it was just a passing fancy or got excited about newer things, but this game is one I come back to a lot.
The theme is the rather odd one of Russian noblemen maneuvering for power and money. I have to admit, I really don't pay the theme a lot of attention but I like the fact that it's not another "Italian Renaissance trader" game.
The art and components are quite nice. They have this colorful "Eastern Orthodox icon" look about them, and the quality of all the components are top-notch. A well-designed box holds all the miscellaneous bits and bobs when not it use. My only issue is with the paper money, but I dislike paper money in all my games (I prefer poker chips).
The basic round consists of four phases, each centered around one of the four types of cards: workers, buildings, aristocrats, and special cards. Each card has a special function: workers give you cash, buildings give you victory points, aristocrats give you money and sometimes VPs, and the special cards can upgrade your other cards to make them pay off a little better.
During the phase, you have three options on your turn: buy a card and place it in front of you, take a card into your hand (for free), or pay for a card in your hand and place it in front of you. You can only hold three cards, there is no discarding, and you get hit for negative points for every card in your hand at the end of the game, so hand management is very important!
In the end, the person with the most VP's wins. It (like many other games) has a continuum where money is really important in the beginning while VP's are pretty unimportant and gradually changes so by the end it's all about the victory points.
There are several special tricks to the game:
1) As you purchase more of a certain kind of cards, the next one of that kind gets progressively cheaper. That makes collecting "sets" really worthwhile, because your third shepherd worker card will only cost one ruble but will still pay you three rubles per turn.
2) You only get the benefit for a particular card (workers=money, buildings-VP, etc.) at the end of that phase, so if you buy a worker during the builder phase, you don't start getting rubles for it until the next worker round.
3) There are only eight slots for cards in the game. If some cards are unpurchased from a previous round, the new round only fills the lineup to eight. It is entirely possible to have, say, an aristocrat phase with no aristocrats out at all! Cards that end the round and are still on the board get moved to the lower row (what we call the "day-old bread rack") and now cost one ruble less. Cards on the bottom row at the end of the round are removed from the game. All of this makes it very important to be able to manipulate the flow of cards through the game.
In summary, Saint Petersburg is one of my favorite games -- the bits and artwork are nice, the game moves along pretty quickly, and I like the management of the tight resources and the challenges inherent in working with the flow of the cards. It also scratches that same itch as longer and more complicated games like Puerto Rico or Goa, but because it is significantly shorter than games like PR, it tend to hit the table a lit more, and in my mind, that is a good thing. If you want to try before you buy, there is a computer version of it available for free, but I bet you'll be wanting to play it with others before long. (My rating: 10/10)
New South Wales
Buster Keaton from 'Go West'
You hardly ever hear about it, but it is ranked 95 and is number 35 on the games played for this month: