Santorini (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Gordon Hamilton
  • Publisher: Roxley Game Laboratory
  • Players: 2 – 4
  • Ages: 8 and Up
  • Time: 20 Minutes
  • Times Played: 8 (with 2, 3, 4 Players)

santorini

Santorini is an abstract strategy game first created by Gordon Hamilton in the mid-1980s.  The game was previously self-published, but then last year Roxley Game Laboratory picked it up for Kickstarter release.  Santorini’s campaign was one of the most successful Kickstarters of 2016, and copies of the game started shipping last month.  

I’d been playing Santorini for a while now — mostly at www.boardspace.net, which still has a digital version of the game with decent bots — so I was eager to back the Kickstarter and get my copy.  When it arrived, I was impressed, and Santorini made it into my top 10 games of 2016.

Two Player Base Game Walkthrough

Santorini is played on a 5×5 grid.  The first player begins the game by placing their two workers anywhere on the grid, then the second player places their two workers.  The winner will be the first player to get one of his or her workers on top of the third level of a building.  

The game is remarkably simple.  On a player’s turn, he (1) moves one of his workers, and then (2) builds.

You can move onto any of the unoccupied spaces (even diagonal spaces) adjacent to your worker, as long as you don’t move up more than one level.  (This means you can move along the same level or even move down as many levels as you wish.)

santoriniimage

After movement, you can build onto a level of any height, regardless of which level your worker occupies.  The first three levels are accessible to workers; once you build a fourth level — represented by a blue dome — that tower is complete and workers will no longer be able to move onto it.

You win instantly by being the first player to get one of your workers onto the third level of a building.  You also lose instantly if you are ever unable to move or build on your turn.

It’s that simple.  If you’re interested in trying it out, http://www.boardspace.net has decent bots that will show you the two player game without gods.  

The Addition of Gods and Rules for 3-4 Players

The new edition comes with 30 gods that give the players asymmetric powers throughout the game.  Each player will receive one of them.  A few of my favorites include:

  • Apollo.  Your worker may move into an opponent worker’s space by forcing their worker to the space you just vacated.
  • Artemis.  You worker may move one additional time, but not back to the initial space.
  • Athena.  If one of your workers moved up on your last turn, your opponent’s workers cannot move up this turn.  
  • Demeter.  Your worker may build one additional time, but not on the same space.

Kickstarter copies of the game come with the the “Golden Fleece” expansion, which includes additional gameplay elements, including more gods.  The Golden Fleece expansion will be available at retail.  

With three and four players, you must play with gods, and the gods show which ones are appropriate for three and four player games.  The three-player game is every man for himself (with each player having two workers), whereas the four player game involves team play using the four workers from the base two-player game.  

My thoughts on the game…

Santorini is incredibly easy to learn but deeply strategic.  A typical rules explanation in Santorini takes less than two minutes — even if you throw in the gods — yet there are numerous viable strategies to achieve victory.  You likely could spend countless hours trying to master the game, especially if you start adding in Roxley’s new gameplay elements.  

My favorite way to play is still the two-player base game without the gods, although they are a certainly a fun addition.  Some of the gods and combinations of them work better than others — Artemis (two moves) versus Demeter (two builds) is a fun set — and I eagerly await the BGG threads discussing the best matchups.


Like the abstracts of old — Chess, Checkers, Go, etc. — Santorini demands planning several moves in advance.  Even after dozens of plays I haven’t figured out the best strategy.  I’ve seen players win focusing on the edges, and players win focusing on the center of the board.  Similarly, I’ve seen players win with both offensive strategies and defensive strategies.  If there’s one hard and fast rule I know it is this: make sure you’re taking advantage of having two workers, and always try to anticipate your opponent’s next move.  

The production value of the Roxley edition is stunning.  Every detail — from the eye-popping game board to the beautiful (and functional) tower pieces — is top notch.  Santorini will always be an abstract game to me, but because of the production value and theming, I’ve managed to trick my abstract-averse friends into trying the game, and they’ve enjoyed it.  

In the groups I’ve played with, gameplay tends to be reasonably fast, and we finish the game in fifteen to twenty minutes.  That said, like with any abstract strategy game, gameplay will ultimately depend on the players: this is the sort of game where you could ponder each move for several minutes.  

I love this new edition of Santorini, and it has been a big hit with everybody in my game group that has tried it.  I’ve never been a fan of describing games as “elegant,” but this game is elegant: the simple rules unfold into deep strategies.  In my experience abstract titles stay relevant long after their themed counterparts, and after 30 years, Santorini is now proving its relevance with a fresh theme and top-notch production value.  It was certainly one of my favorite games of 2016.  

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers

Lorna: I have the old wooden version, much nicer bits IMHO. Interesting abstract, I’ve only played with 2 and I’m not sure I’d enjoy it with more players. The main benefit of seeing this KS be so popular along with the reprinting of the GIPF games is that I hope gamers will be more open to trying abstracts as there are a lot of really good ones out there.

Doug G: Gorgeous pieces, and I love the fact that the base raises the platform to make this a showcase.  Some of the gods’ special powers don’t work as well as others, which can lead to an imbalance in any particular game.

Mitchell T: I also have the old wooden version. It’s a very interesting and original abstract game, and I’ve enjoyed playing it over the years. It’s unforgiving—one bad move and you’re finished. It takes practice to play well, and the special powers add great variety to the game.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Chris Wray
  • I like it. Lorna, Doug G., Mitchell T.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…
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One Response to Santorini (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. Pingback: Congratulations to the 2017 IGA Nominees! | The Opinionated Gamers

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