In Calgary, there’s a really cool event that has been happening for the last few years called Beakerhead. It’s an event dedicated to fusing engineering, science, and art through various shows and events throughout the city. Last year, one of these cool events was hosted at Pips. The premise of the event was to show people the connection between popular board games and the people who do the job in the board game for a living. There was a surgeon paired up with people playing Operation, a forensic investigator hosting the game Clue, and a commodities trader showing the connections between his job and Catan. It was amazing being able to help out these guys as they were trying to showcase their games to others.
One of the people who was helping host a game was a mathematician named Dr. Gordon Hamilton. I was highly enthralled by his passion of including board games in math classrooms as well as his philosophies on how to educate using mathematical problem solving. (If you want to take a look at some of the stuff he’s doing, go to mathpickle.com) I was even more excited when he offered the opportunity to play the board game he and his associates posted on Kickstarter before it was even distributed. It was an absolute honour to play Santorini with Dr. Hamilton that night.
Santorini is a two-player strategy game created by Dr. Gordon Hamilton and was published by Roxley Games. In this game, players move a pair of workers on a 5×5 grid and build buildings on it. Each building consists of potentially three layers and a dome topper. In order to win the game, a player simply needs to move one of their workers to the top of a three-story building first or prevent their opponent from moving and constructing a building.
Santorini has a straightforward setup. Simply construct the board on the middle of the table which consists of a plastic rock cliff and the 5×5 grid. Then put all the building pieces in a place that can be easily reached by both players. Each player then puts their workers on the board and you’re ready to start.
The general rule of Santorini is “move then build”. First, you need to move one of your workers in any direction one space away. This includes moving diagonally. A player can stay on the current level that they are on, move up only one level from a previously placed building, or jump off a building to any level lower than where they currently are. After the worker has moved, they must construct a tower on the grid by placing one of the building pieces in any adjacent space. If there are no pieces on the space, they must put the foundation piece first. If there is a piece on the space, they must put the next level up. The final piece, a dome topper, can be placed on the building in order to block another player from reaching the third level. As more pieces are added to the board, players must find a way to either get one of the workers to the top of the third story, or prevent their opponent from performing the “move then build” action. If they successfully do this, they win the game.
If the game, seems really simplistic, then you can start to incorporate god powers. The game comes with thirty god powers, and potentially even more if you backed the game on Kickstarter and got the other expansions. Like most games that include a special ability mechanic, these powers are intended to change the rules ever so slightly to make the game more interesting. For example, Pan allows a player to win if they can jump off a second story successfully, while Prometheus can perform a “build then move then build” action provided that they stay on the same level that they are currently on.
Now a quick story. I have a lot of couples come into Pips and they always ask me what are some good two-player games. I usually select games such as 7 Wonders: Duel, Patchwork, or Jaipur because I believe that a great two-player game is one where your actions will always affect what your opponent will do and will keep you always guessing. I mean, look at the classics such as checkers, backgammon, and especially chess. When you make a move in these games, your opponent now has to consider a set of new options that become available each and every time.
Under that set of criteria, I believe Santorini is a great two-player game. Any time your opponent makes a move, you now have to consider a new set of options that come up. There are so many strategies to consider when playing this game. You can be aggressive and start trying to get your worker to the top as quickly as you can. You might have to act defensively to prevent your opponent from getting to the top. You can also consider a tactical approach, and force your opponent to move a certain way, in the hopes of trapping them, or distracting them from a future move that you can take in order to get your worker to the top. I find that any combination of these strategies will be essential in order to successfully win the game.
The god powers are also a plus. When you get tired of playing the original game, you can start shuffling and dealing these out to add a little bit of flavour to the game. Your strategies change with these special abilities, and you have to adapt quickly in order to be successful. If you start to include some of the expansions, which include hero cards, the rule book also makes suggestions of combinations of cards that shouldn’t be used together because the game becomes broken, or overpowered for another player.
The components are also of high-quality. The price is relatively cheap for what you get. You get an amazing looking board and set of cards with beautiful artwork. The plastic components are sturdy and well built. I also like the fact that the different layers are distinct, so you know which layer is which, as well as how it fits snug into the other layers. The miniature figurines of both a female and male worker are also highly detailed.
Now with some two-player games, there is a natural consequence that happens. Games like this will often promote analysis paralysis. If I go back to the chess example, you can already start to imagine that one friend who takes forever when making a move on the board. If you have that one friend, this is definitely going to happen if you play Santorini together. This is because there are so many different options that a player may take, that it might take awhile for a player to make the most optimal movement. If you start to include the god powers, there are even more options that can be taken, thus slowing down the gameplay even further for some people.
Santorini also says it’s best played with two players, but offers a set of rules for three player and four player games. I haven’t played these versions of the game, so I am making assumptions. I can see that if a three-player game is played, then it becomes just a bit more crowded and more difficult to make moves. A four-player game is done with two teams of two, with each team having two god powers. I can only assume that this version of the game is a bit better just because you still get to move around more freely as compared to the three-player. Generally speaking, although the game tries to scale for three or four players, the game is played optimally with two.
The only other minor negative that I found with Santorini comes with the components. As you started to fit more pieces onto the board, it becomes a tiny bit more difficult to place the pieces in the centre. I often had to to shift pieces on the side, or drop them perfectly onto the previous layer in order to put the next layer. If possible, I would recommend the gameboard be plastic, just like the rock cliff base, and perhaps have inserts for the pieces to fit into. That being said, this small inconvenience doesn’t deter from the overall gaming experience.
Santorini provides a simplistic gaming experience that is fun, enjoyable, and Calgarian bred. It is a light game that is designed specifically for two people, especially if they like a good strategic movement game. Santorini is definitely great for casual gamers of any age who want a quick game to learn and get into. This is also recommended for avid gamers who want to push their strategic abilities further, but in a lighthearted way. On top of the enjoyable gaming experience, the game looks gorgeous and is well-designed. Santorini is a great two-player game that I highly recommend you add to your collection.
- Really sturdy and well-designed components.
- Quick and easy gameplay.
- Simple to teach.
- Customizable for any player type.
- Variety of tactics that can be used to play this game.
- Although it was designed for three and four players, the game is best played with two.
- Pieces are hard to fit in the middle when more pieces are added.
- May get more lengthy for players who have analysis paralysis.