Chess is a famous game for a reason. It’s a game that relies entirely on strategy instead of RNG to get players through. It’s not really possible for a player to get a ‘lucky win’. Over the centuries since it was invented, many different versions and variations of chess have been invented, including 3D chess, dragon chess (yay, D&D) and, my personal favourite, chess-boxing (note: yes that is real)! Santorini is a game that, in many ways, is similar to chess. It’s a game that relies completely on strategy; players move their pieces around a grid-based board, and it is technically possible to combine it with boxing by punching your opponent if you lose.
Santorini comes to us from Roxley and Spin Master Ltd. and has been constantly under design for the past 30 years by game creator Gordon Hamilton. Santorini can best be described as an abstract strategy game. The game takes place in ancient Greece, on the isle of Santorini, which is famous for its bright, white buildings. Each player must try to build up their structures and place their workers on the third level from the ground. If you manage to build a tower high enough and have one of your workers clamber on top, then you win.
The great thing about Santorini is the fact that it’s so simple. It’s so easy to figure out and play that you can even take it to a first school or have some younger family members get involved. Each turn consists of two simple steps: movement and building. Each player takes in turns to move one of their workers one single space in any direction, although they can only climb one level at a time. The second phase has you building a new layer on any building, which is at most one space away from the worker you just moved. You can build to any level, but you must select the right piece for the height of the building.
That’s pretty much all you need to know to play a game of Santorini. It very quickly becomes a game where you have to try and out-think your opponents and guess where they’re going to be so that you can prevent them from climbing up to the right height while trying to ensure that you can get there yourself. The final level of a building, a little blue dome for the top, prevents players from landing on the coveted third level, which is basically your main way of denying your opponent the victory.
Although Santorini is a very, very simple game to learn, don’t let it fool you. It is possibly one of the deepest tactical experiences going. As you spend a lot of time playing, you start to develop your own little strategies and tricks to try and goad your opponent into a corner. If you play a lot with the same people, you start to learn your opponent’s style of play and have to figure out ways to use that against them. It essentially becomes a huge game of cat-and-mouse as you each change how you play constantly to try and get around one another.
As if that wasn’t enough, Santorini is the gift that keeps on giving; there is actually more to the game than even the already deep strategy. As well as the ‘vanilla’ version of the game, there is also a variant that sees each player given the powers of a god. What these different powers do is affect the way the game is played, either by changing the abilities of each player or by changing how players can win the game. Again, the cards each add their own level of depth and re-playability, and since there are around 30 cards, it takes a long time to have seen and used every power that is available.
Visually, Santorini also looks pretty great. The board is placed on a piece of raised plastic to mimic the cliffs of the real Greek island. Not only does the moulded plastic add a sense of verticality to the visual design of the game, but having it raised off of the table makes it stand out from most other board games. It also complements the natural 3D design of the actual gameplay as well. Since you’re constantly building structures on the board, it keeps changing in shape and size. Combined with the friendly artwork and the light, airy colour palette, Santorini is one of the best games to play on a cool summer’s afternoon.
For more games like Santorini, visit Asmodee or find your nearest games store.
Designer: Dr. Gordon Hamilton
Artists: Lina Cossette & David Forest
Publishers: Roxley & Spin Masters Ltd.
Agree with this review? Have you played Santorini or intend to play it? Let us know in the comments below.