I confess, I didn’t know much about Santorini before I started to see amazing photos of it showing up all over social media. It’s not surprising that it created such a visual buzz, the game is stunning.
In Santorini, up to four players (but optimally two), move around the board, building up the famous white towers of the Greek island. The goal is to either get one of your two architects up to the third level of a building, or leave your opponent without a space to move or build. Players take turns moving their architects around the island board grid and then building a level on one of the towers in an adjacent space. When moving or building, players can go to any of the (up to) eight surrounding spaces around them. They can build at any level and move down any number of levels, but can only move up one level at a time.
The buildings are constructed with four different types of blocks. There is the base, second floor, tower, and the dome to cap it off. Once the fourth level dome is placed, that space on the board becomes a dead space. Players can’t build further on it, or move through it.
Each player controls two architects, and learning how to use them to your advantage is key. You have to consider, not only your offense, in getting one of them to the third floor, you also have to pay attention to your opponent and sometimes use your move to block them from having an opportunity to jump to the third level. It’s a push and pull that makes for a interesting and tense dynamic.
On its own this would make for a pretty good abstract game. Puzzling back and forth over the developing island, each player looking for a chance to outwit their opponent and claim victory. But Santorini takes it to another level with character cards that provide special abilities. All of the cards are based on Greek gods, like Apollo, Athena, and Poseidon. Their abilities might help players move around the board quicker, or allow them to build more effectively, or even to push opponents to neighbouring spaces. All of a sudden, the addition of these player powers have you not only concerned with stopping your opponents in the regular fashion. You have to take into account the potential that their ability unlocks. Some of these powers come into play on your turn, others will give you an alternate win condition. There are ten Simple Gods and twenty Advanced Gods included, giving lots of variety in the combinations that you’ll see.
Included in the base set of the game is the Golden Fleece expansion. It adds 15 more Gods to take advantage of, Heroes, and the Golden Fleece variant. The Heroes are single-use powers that are weaker than the actual god abilities. They can fully incorporated into the game, or used to help handicap more experienced players. When players of different skill level face off, the newer players can get a full god ability for the game, while the more experienced players can have a single-use Hero. It helps to balance the playing field a bit while people are learning the ropes. In the Golden Fleece variant, players choose one God power that is connected to the Fleece. A Golden Fleece ram’s head mini represents the Fleece on the board, and whenever an architect starts a turn next to the Fleece, they gain that God power for the turn. It makes board position that much more important.
I’m not the biggest fan of abstract games, but I really love Santorini. The game is just beautiful to look at with the elevated island board and the city slowly taking shape as players battle for position. The art on the character cards is cute and colourful and the iconography is pretty easy to grasp. Santorini is just a fantastic game, in a lovely package. I highly recommend trying out this beautiful surprise.