Had been really looking forward to getting to try this out, as both the concept and aesthetics looked fantastic.
The basic game of Santorini hits the easy to learn yet hard to master sweet spot all abstracts strive for. Each player has two builder pawns on the board, and a turn consists of picking one to move one space in any direction then building one level (as appropriate) on an adjacent space to the moved builder. When builders move they may change levels (up one or down as many as they like), and a player wins if they get a builder on level three of any building.
Adding strategic choices are two restrictions: a fourth level can be built on buildings, capping them and preventing builders from scaling them, and if any a player can’t legally move one of their builders on a their turn they lose the game.
It’s a wonderfully realized abstract that I immediately enjoyed. There’s a depth to it that will take some time to get a firm grasp on, like any good game of this type. It also supported by beautiful, high quality pieces. The theme doesn’t matter much for the base game, but the aesthetics are great and do add a “centerpiece” feel to the game.
In addition, the theme DOES matter for the included variants. Each player can pick a character to play (based on Greek Gods and Heroes) that grants them a specific powers. The powers make Santorini a COMPLETELY different game, adding asymmetry and numerous new strategic options that must be considered. One power we played with even added an alternate victory condition for one player.
Players HAVE to significantly adjust playing style depending on both their own power and opponent’s, which is great as it takes a phenomenal base game and changes it into something equally compelling. Both versions great and indicate impressive longevity for the game as players experiment with various pairings of powers and likely also switch back and forth with the base game.
Rules are also included for the forthcoming expansion, with explanations of the new powers. There are also pieces and variant rules for playing with three people or even four (with team rules), although it’s mentioned the game is really designed to be one one one.
Put it all together and Santorini is an wonderful game that clearly had a lot of effort put into every aspect to present to really make it something special. Thrilled with how this one turned out.