Santorini, a city built by the gods on a small island south of Greece. Why was it built? To prove which of the gods is the best, of course. Isn’t that why all Cities are built?
Anyway. Whether you’re a god or a mortal, Santorini will put your city-building skills to the test.
How It Plays
Santorini is primarily a 2-player game, pitting players in a contest of skill to see whose workers can build a tower and ascend to the top of it. Variant rules for 3 and 4 players are included.
Each player has 2 workers. On your turn, you move 1 of your workers to an adjacent space (including diagonals), then build one level of a tower adjacent (again, including diagonals) to the worker who moved.
When you move, you can move up 1 level or down any number of levels (or stay on the same level). You can’t move to a space that contains another worker or a blue dome, and you can’t stay in the same space.
When you build, you can add a piece at any level. Each tower is built out of up to 3 white sections and topped by a blue dome.
If you ever move your builder up so that it is standing on the 3rd level, you win the game! If you ever can’t make a legal move on your turn, you lose.
Once you’ve mastered the basic rules, you can add in the god powers. You receive one card at the start of the game to indicate which god power you have, which grants your workers with some advantage. You might be able to push the other builders around, or build extra levels, or prevent your opponent from moving under certain conditions. Some powers even add alternate ways of winning the game.
The Highest Highs, the Lowest Lows
Sometimes you just want to build something without worrying about all the harvesting of resources, refining of goods, and converting money into points. Soemtimes you want to see buildings go up and up, forming mighty towers that quickly spread across the landscape, capped by wondrous blue domes.
Santorini is almost checkers-like in its simplicity, although much more visually spectacular, and I would argue more interesting.
One move at a time, you must set up your builders for success while making sure to block your opponent. You’ll have to set traps and build walls to box in the other player, but at the same time make sure your walls don’t prevent you from interfering with their plans.
At first the game can seem mundane – pleasant to look at, yes, but mundane in gameplay. You just move one of your people, build a block, and repeat until someone reaches the top. Someone gets that third level? Move your guy and put up a dome. Easy. Simple. Not that exciting.
However, if you’re paying attention you’ll soon realize there’s a bit more depth to it than that. No, it’s not quite Chess, but you’ll soon learn to maneuver your builders to create cages and dead-ends. The more you can limit the other player to the use of one builder, the better. When you finally set up your moves so that you get a level-3 tower they can’t reach in time, or have more level-3 towers in range than they can cover up, you’ll feel brilliant. It’s like a game of cat and mouse where both sides play the cat and mouse at the same time.
The information in play is perfectly available to both players, which certainly opens the door to some analysis paralysis, but here I just say – know your opponent. If they’re going to spend 20 minutes analyzing every possible move they could make (and every possible move you could make in response, and every possible… you get the idea), you might want to consider your patience level before you play with them. I mean, sure, you want to spend time thinking about your moves and not just playing randomly, but the game should take about 20 minutes to play.
There’s probably an interesting sidebar I could go into here about perfect-information games with depth and strategy, about patience, and about the time we spend with our lives. Is Chess a worse game because people can spend fifteen minutes thinking through a single turn, or is it better? Does that make it deeper and more complex, or does it become inaccessible? I do wonder if there’s a league out there of Santorini deep-divers.
Anyway, this is a family-oriented gaming website, and my favorite way to play any type of game is to take enough time on your turn to make good choices, but not try to decipher every possible outcome if it’s going to take an absurdly long time. Keep things moving, make your best choices, use your instincts. If you make a mistake, the game ends soon and you can play again.
Speaking of playing again, if you want to play with more than 2 players – a 3-way free-for-all or in teams of 2 on 2 – or if you want to mix things up a bit, you get to introduce the god powers. The game comes with 30 of these fairly unique powers, and there are a few expansions and promos to toss in the mix eventually.
The powers add a new level of interest and strategy to the game. These aren’t Cosmic-Encounter level game-breakers, they’re more like new strategic options to consider with your movements. It’s like adding chess-piece movements to a checkers game. Yes, each player has something different to work with, but you know what you’re up against. Rather than being forced to deal with someone’s big advantage, you’ll have to re-think your strategies in order to win.
Here are a few examples: Apollo lets you move your Worker into an opponent’s space, forcing their Worker to move to yours. Hermes lets your Workers (both of them) move as many spaces as you want them to, as long as they don’t change levels. Demeter lets your Worker build twice, just not on the same space.
Those are some of the basic powers. Some of the more Advanced god powers include Chronus, who wins if there are 5 complete towers on the board; Bia, who can remove opponent’s Workers from the board; Hypnus, who prevents opponent workers from moving if it’s on a higher level.
While Santorini works just fine without the powers, they excitement they bring to the table bumps up the fun, and it certainly levels up the replay value. Playing a game against Zeus requires a radically different approach than playing against Selene, so you’ve got a reason to come back and keep trying again and again.
Also, did I mention this game is beautiful? Hopefully you can see the pictures, and man. You get a cool (and completely unecessary) island thing to start things out, beautiful clean colors, and those tower pieces are just the right mix of abstract and detailed. The iconic blue domes cap off the whole scenery to create a visually striking experience. Heck, my first few games with my main opponent – my nephew – he just tried to build a bunch of dome towers because he thought it was cool. Don’t worry – he eventually started playing the game as intended and now beats me half the time.
Santorini is the sort of game you can certainly go deep into if you like, but it’s also a lot of fun to play more casually. It’s a feast to the eyes, and the god powers provide a lot of fun replay value to force you to mix up your strategy. It’s a quick game (played casually) lasting about 20 minutes, very tactile, and requires thought and strategy to win. If that sounds good to you, check it out.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Roxley Games for providing a review copy of Santorini.