Santorini, the game I’ve been hearing for a while now, since last year to be exact. It generated a lot of buzz and positive feedback on every boardgame media that came my way. Now, I’m really not a fan of these so-called abstract games (with the exception of Splendor) and I tend to gravitate usually on your usual thematic ameritrash and cube-pushing euro-style games… But the talk I’ve been hearing about this plus the fact that it always gets sold out at all my known FLGS, it gave me the motivation to at least try it out.
Thanks to our good friends at Gaming Library, they gave me a chance to try out a copy. Will this 30-year old game build a spot in my collection? Or will it get struck-down by the gods that this game is based on? Well let’s find out!
Santorini is a 2-4 Player game designed by Dr. Gordon Hamilton and published by Roxely Games. At its core it is an 3D spatial aspect abstract game with tile-laying and variable player power mechanics. There is a lot of tactical maneuvering and blocking involved but the core rules make it simple enough that anyone can pick it up. You win by either making it to the 3rd floor of a building, or if your opponent ran out of legal moves… Pretty simple right? Well it actually is, and that is part of the beauty and elegance of this game. More details to follow but for now let’s have a look at the components.
Well it’s not hard to state the obvious – The components are really top notch!
From the mounted board, to the minis and building pieces, they really did not skip on the good stuff. And it all looks great when everything is built together at the end. I would see people turning heads at a convention at the sight of this at the table. The game is pure eye-candy people.
Now I may not be the biggest fan of chibi-style artwork, but for this game it actually works for me! It really mixes well with the colorful aesthetic the game presents.
From the box to the board and cards, the art gives a very welcoming appeal that can attract even non-gamers to the hobby.
Setting up the game is really simple. Place all the plastic building pieces within easy reach for the players.
For a 2-player game place the mounted board in the center of the table (as if you didn’t know already). Choose a color for your player pieces and place them anywhere on the board, indicating your starting position.
Now, assign a player to choose 2 characters from the deck of god cards and have the opposing player choose one to keep first, with the other remaining cards going to the one who originally chose the cards. It’s a neat mechanic actually, and it keeps the game balanced. You can also get one at random if you wish, but I can see this as a problem down the road as you can be screwed by your opponent having a better or more effective power than you. It might be a rare occurrence but it could happen.
Santorini being an abstract game, you can expect this to have simple mechanics with not much preparation in terms of teaching the game. Honestly, you can teach the basic rules in under a minute! It is that simple. I’ll tell you now… Here it goes… (I’m just putting in more words here actually because it really is easy to learn this)
On your turn you MUST do these 2 actions in this specific order:
- First choose one of your pieces to move an adjacent space (even diagonal) that is equal or 1 space higher from your original location.
- The worker who moved MUST Build on an legal space adjacent to you. Depending on the current level you can either build a 1st, 2nd, 3rd floor or lastly, the roof, preventing anyone from ever reaching the top, which is the ultimate goal of the game.
A player wins when they reach 3rd floor of a building, or if an opponent runs out of legal actions!
That’s it. Simple, huh? Well the basic mechanics are actually fine on its own… But that’s not where the game is truly at – the game really shines because of its god/hero abilities provided by the various character cards! As with any variable player power mechanic, those cards literally break the set rules and give a whole lot of variety and strategy for the game. And the best part is only you can have that particular skill. Having this element in the game really ups the level of fun and tactics on an already solid game.
Take a look at strong guy Atlas (pictured right) here for example, this dude can build the roof (denying access to a space) regardless of level! How about Ares here, this one can actually destroy buildings! This is only a fraction of what you can see in the game! There are 30 gods and heroes in total from the retail version. And all of them greatly make the game a whole lot more interesting and fun!
Not only do you focus your strategy based on your god power, you also have to factor in the ability of your opponents. Adjusting your play style while being involved in board position really hits the game in all cylinders for me. As simple as it looks, by the nature of this game you are always considering a lot of strategic options.
And with a lot of cards included in the game, there are a lot of different pairings that make each game really different from the last. That’s great replay value right there.
Building it all together, Santorini is really a wonderfully designed game that is elegant in both form and function. For me the game is an essential title in everyone’s collection, more so if you still need that one abstract game to round up your shelfie. When you have the chance GET THIS!
- Top-notch components with great art
- 3-dimensional spatial aspect board design is a table-turner
- Easy to teach and pick up
- Elegant mechanics
- Variable powers and theme and breathe new life into every game
- In the long run, it offers a lot of meat in terms of depth and strategy
- Playtime doesn’t overstay its welcome
- Abstracti-ness (yes I made that word up) might put off some gamers
- Plays best with 2 players, which might be a problem for those who want games that fill in a lot of seats.
- Based from experience, 3-player games tend to lean towards “kingmaker” matches. Stick to even-numbered players instead.
Again, thanks to Gaming Library for providing a copy for review. Till next time!