In Saint Petersburg, you and your fellow players race to construct the famed city named after the most forward-thinking and benevolent Czar of Russian history.
Seems pretty straight forward at first, there are three different types of cards you can add to your tableau. Adding them is as simple as paying the cash (gold is the only currency here) and moving the card to your side of the table.
1) Craftsmen (Green)
These cards are almost entirely used to generate money
2) Buildings (Blue)
These cards are almost entirely used to generate victory points. These seem good to grab because the person with the highest victory points wins, per the rulebook. Makes sense to me.
3) Nobles (Orange)
These dudes do a little of both! Wow! They generate money or victory points or sometimes even both. But they seem a little overcosted, I mean a shipbuilder is 7 while a "warehouse manager" (that's a mighty low-rank noble) costs 10. More on that later.
So you take all three of these colored cards, and you build your tableau.
As a note, I had no idea what the term "tableau" meant until I first played Race for the Galaxy probably 5 years ago. I read the instructions and kept thinking "why does this rulebook keep using that fancy French word to refer to the tabletop?" But now I do it all the time.
So if time machines are ever invented, I hope future me sends a message back to past me:
Tableau - an area of the table used to organize cards with permanent effects during a game. These effects commonly involve, but are not limited to, on-going special powers, game objectives, end-of-game triggers or set collection.
Back to these cards. To sum up…I acquire craftsmen as money-generators, buildings to generate victory points (important!) and nobles as a weird combination of both.
Finally, at the end of the turn you can purchase upgrade cards to replace anything you currently have in your tableau of the matching type.
So I started playing. I got beat, and I got beat incredibly bad. And I didn't even know why at first.
Here's where Saint Petersburg screws you.
If you don't read the rulebook close enough, you might miss a little chart towards the end. You see there's also a set collection aspect to Saint Petersburg. Beyond the craftsmen and the buildings, you are supposed to be collecting nobles.
In a game with people who know what they are doing, at least half of the points of the game (like 30-40 points) are generated by counting the number of different kinds of nobles you've collected.
It would be like playing Carcassonne without knowing about farmer scoring. "Weird! Why are those meeple just out laying in the field? They aren't doing ANYTHING!"
More insidious than Carcassonne, however, the nobles in Saint Petersburg obviously do something…they pay out money and victory points just like any other card. So you don't really notice unless someone explains it at the end. By which point your tableau looks like a mile of rough road, potholes stuffed with duplicate Administrators (boy, that doesn't sound like a type of noble, either)
Whereas the guy who knows what he is doing has a world reknown collection of handsome nobles, categorized by height, smell and district of origin.
What style. What pizzazz.
The other thing they don't teach you in Saint Petersburg 101 is money management. Well, I would teach it. I would teach that one on the first day. With a refresher in a couple weeks just in case someone added the class to their schedule late.
If you start generating VP's too early, you probably converted your money into something that isn't going to easily give you much more money to continue construction.
During your first play through, when you get to the building phase to grab blue cards, just pass 'em all by. You don't need them, you need money. Every time you buy a building, that is a permanent portion of your income you can't use to generate more money.
And the most important thing in the game, the nobles, comes as the THIRD phase. You probably want to be saving some money for those, hopefully the nobles that generate money back at you.
Sometimes when you start a new game, you think "I'll just learn the rules as I go." In the case of Saint Petersburg, this is like writing a term paper and at the end of the class finding out your teacher doesn't understand the language its in. Should have probably known that going in!
So here is Saint Petersburg for beginners.
1) Collect Nobles
2) Disregard Buildings
Expert players out there probably have more to add. But since I don't know any (except for the dudes online who happily keep the info to themselves) this is what you get.