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Subject: Not the Banquet I was hoping for rss

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Daniel Eig
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Huntington
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I had some thought of starting this review with a pithy, well written remark comparing The Banquet to the unwelcome feast found in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But that comparison would probably be unfair, and I lacked the pithiness and the writing skills to pull if off. Oh well, just pretend you chuckled a sentence ago.

Summary:
The Banquet, is a small 12 card expansion for St Pete, designed to inject some new life into one of my favorite games. Unfortunately, while it has some interesting new ideas, what it mostly accomplishes is unbalancing a (mostly) well balanced game. It does this by upsetting some of the most important strategies required to win the game, and by creating out of balance cards - and putting them in the wrong places. And worse, in a game about choices and their consequences, it adds almost nothing.

Mechanics:
I usually refrain from rehashing rules too much in a review, but I think its essential in this case. The expansion adds 12 cards - for the most part in the Nobles and Upgrade decks, so it doesn't increase game length at all.

Three of the cards expand upon the original game. There are two new Potempkin Villages in the Building deck (a 1/4 and a 3/8 to complement the 2/6 in the original), and a powerful upgrade deck card, Tsar and Superstar, which gives discounts on both buildings and aristocrats. I'm fine with these additions - the tsar upgrade is powerful, but difficult to use since it requires the unique Tsar and Carpenter card. The Potempkin Villages are interesting additions as well.

Then there is a second group of additions, the "purple" faced cards. These are one time use cards that must be taken into your bank, and played from there (they can not be played directly or immediately, and have no cost). They are comprised of:
-The Banquet (1 in upgrade deck), which doubles vp's and rubles for a card that has both symbols, for one turn.
-The Jester (1 in upgrade deck), which switches the vp's and rubles for a card that has both symbols, for one turn.
-Cash Cow (1 in upgrade deck), which gives you 5 rubles.
-Double Turn (1 in upgrade deck), which allows you two go two times in a row
-Pickpocket (1 in upgrade deck), which allows you to become the starting player of any round (once).
-Black Market (2 in Nobles deck) - allows you to take one card out of the discard pile, and play it or put it in your bank
-Away With It (1 each in the nobles and buildings deck) - allows you to discard a card from your bank.

My Critique:
At first glance, many of these seem interesting - and they were the first few times we played with them. But problems became clear very quickly. A lot of the strategy in St Pete is positioning yourself to get a card you need - often a noble in the orange deck towards the end of the game. This expansion now makes it so that orange card you so desperately need... could be a useless Away With It card, or a possibly useless Black Market.

Meanwhile, the upgrade deck, which is where most of the gambling/randomness in this game used to come into play, is made into even more of a casino by placing two very very powerful cards into the mix - the double turn, and the pick pocket - either of which can win you a game. The observatory already let you cut the line, but it was by taking cards sight unseen. Both of these new cards allow you to do the same with eyes wide open - devastating when all the players are experienced.

In my mind, these are unforgivable unbalancing mistakes - skilled play in the blue/orange phase is thrown out at endgame - and instead replaced by sheer gambling in the upgrade phase for the new killer upgrade cards.

St Pete is about making choices, and balance - save or spend. Invest in more rubles or more vps. Opening a space on the board, or filling your bank. Blue push or Orange rush in the end game? This expansion adds few interesting choices or decisions. As such, the wasted potential here is what I find most disappointing, and makes me wonder how many times the creator of this actually played St Pete. For example, replacing the orange Away With It with the Pickpocket or Double Turn might have given players an interesting choice.

Final thoughts:
Oh well. Its OK for an occasional lark, and probably won't be terribly unbalancing for a game between veterans and new players. But otherwise, this is just filler to sit next to the much more interesting New Society expansion. Don't go out of your way to get it by itself.
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Daniel Eig
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Huntington
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Putting my money where my mouth is...
Its easy to critique. But harder to give constructive advice. In that vein...

An Addendum - how to fix this expansion

3 of the cards in this are dangerously out of balance the last few rounds. How do you fix it?

After some thought, this is my (untried), solution.
1) Replace the Orange Away With It with a new card:
The Pickpocket Twins. Player may either Take two turns in a row once in a round, OR become the starting player in a round. Play before a round starts

2) Either remove the Pickpocket and Double Turn cards from the game, or turn them into Away With It cards.

Why these changes?

1) A player looking for a new noble the last turn can use this to move to the head of the line for the final upgrade phase. If its earlier in a game, its a wash - you might pickup an "extra" noble, but really you are just replacing the noble you missed out on by picking up this new card. An interesting choice for the player.

2) These two cards give you a lot of something...for nothing. A big no no in St Pete, where everything always costs at least 1. By removing them from the upgrade phase, and putting their power in the noble phase, balance is restored in the universe.

I'll give them a try in the future, and if it works, I'll post it in the variant forum with some real-world-experience comments.
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H-B-G
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Halesowen
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Interesting thoughts. I must confess that I have not yet noted that the special Banquet cards unbalance the game, although I have to say that I have limited experience with them and that is in conjunction with the New Society cards, which is a different situation again. Maybe further play will confirm (or deny your views).

One thing I do have to take issue with you on is the suggestion that any of the cards give you something for nothing. They have one immediate cost in the use of your action to take the card and if the special card is a good one you are going to want to take it at first opportunity, denying you the first opportunity to take any other good card available. In addition to that, unless you are going to play the card immediately, which may not always be the most advantageous use of the special card, there is the cost of taking up a slot in your hand, which is in itself not insignificant.
 
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Daniel Eig
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You're right about the cost - my hyperbole got the best of me. That said I still think there is almost no opportunity cost here. Why? The upgrade phase is essentially gambling. You can hope for a type of card like an orange upgrade - but never expect any particular one. So taking one of the two cards has almost no opportunity cost, in terms of missing out on getting a type of card.

So all you're really losing out on is bank space. You're not missing out on getting a type of card, since you can cut the line with both. You're not spending money or vps. And for that small cost (1 bank space), you can give yourself an extra opportunity, and take away one from your opponents as well. Very powerful.

If the goal is to make whether or not to fill your bank a tough decision, why not take it head on? Make a card that removes a bank space, but gives you rubles or vps every turn in exchange.
 
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Jonathan Takagi
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San Marcos
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dtolman wrote:

At first glance, many of these seem interesting - and they were the first few times we played with them. But problems became clear very quickly. A lot of the strategy in St Pete is positioning yourself to get a card you need - often a noble in the orange deck towards the end of the game. This expansion now makes it so that orange card you so desperately need... could be a useless Away With It card, or a possibly useless Black Market.


I would disagree. It adds a layer of uncertainty that makes the decision more interesting. Also, the Weg Damit is far from useless. It can be used to clear up extra spots in the row, allowing you to pick up more aristocrats or workers.

dtolman wrote:

Meanwhile, the upgrade deck, which is where most of the gambling/randomness in this game used to come into play, is made into even more of a casino by placing two very very powerful cards into the mix - the double turn, and the pick pocket - either of which can win you a game.


These cards are powerful, but I would not call them unbalancing. It's possible that they occasionally may mean the difference between victory and defeat, but you could say that of a lot of the cards in the deck. Getting those cards alone does not guarantee victory. Getting the Double Turn or Pick Pocket early in the game can be bothersome, eating up a spot in your hand that you could be using for other cards while you wait for the perfect opportunity to use it.

Both of these cards force you to evaluate how many cards will be turned up the next round. Do you want to clear up a spot because you're going first, knowing that you could potentially be pushed back in line? Or do you want to clear up a spot for an extra worker or aristocrat, knowing that your plan could backfire and another player could pick up the extra card before it makes it back around to you?




 
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Mario Aguila
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Puerto Montt
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I agree with the reviewer: too much luck involved in this particular expansion. I'm thinking to put a cost of $2 for each purple card. May be...
 
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