• Number of Plays: 11
  • Game Length: 20 – 30 minutes
  • Mechanics: Abstract Strategy
  • Release Year: 2016
  • Designer: Gord!
  • Artist: Lina Cossette, David Forest
  • Publisher: Roxley Games

Named after a city in the Aegean Sea, known for it’s bleached white buildings and brilliant blue domed ceilings, Santorini burst into my life in a clattering mess of plastic.

I like toys

The box is larger than average with most of the space being used by these chunky 3D sculps of stackable buildings. Let me tell you the toy factor here is quite satisfying.

Santorini is played on a plastic grid slightly elevated off the table by a brown plastic rock. Each player takes the role of a Greek God and places their two heroes onto the board. On your turn you must do 2 things. You must move one space (diagonal or orthogonal) and you must build.

You can move to any of the 8 spaces around you, unless they already have a hero in that spot, or if a tower spire of plastic is in your way. You can move up one level, or down any number of levels, but unless you have a God assisting you, there is no vaulting skyscrapers in a single bound. If you cannot legally move or cannot legally build on your turn, you lose. The winner is the player who gets one of their heroes to stand on the third level of a building. This sounds easy but considering that both players are vying for the same potential victory spots and if their opponent feels they can’t reach it first, they can simply build the 4th level which drops a bold blue cap on the victory spot, making it inaccessible to both players.

The back and forth play reminds me of a duel between fencers. every turn a step, parry, and riposte. A subterfuge, seeking a hole in your opponents defenses want waiting for your chance to strike (strike in this context is climbing to the top of the tower.

As with most asymmetric games, inevitability the question of balance comes into play. Some Gods do appear better than others, and some Gods specifically seem to do very well against other gods. The real strength of Santorini is the length of each game. If players are afflicted with a serious competitive nature, then play is fast and furious. If you do fall into a matchup that heavily disfavours one side, the game ends quickly and with a sweep of the board you both draw new powers and you start anew.

I really enjoy the production value that went into creating this product. So many abstract strategy games are completely theme-less and embrace the aesthetic of black and white bits of wood on a grid. Santorini by contrast has a risen textured brown board with ivory white towers and brilliant blue tops that lift the game up off the table. The game board develops into spires quickly and it’s visual appeal had made people stop as they walk by the table to gaze in awe at the quality.

Part of me understands that Santorini could be played with simple discs and a much smaller board which would reduce Santorini’s footprint on my shelf by quite a lot and encourage me to bring it along when I travel. But a lot of the charm comes from the satisfying towers and quality components. The strategy is deep too which makes the component quality simply a bonus. I have toyed with the idea of creating a ‘demake’ travel version as most of my 2 player gaming happens at restaurants or airports (at least it used to).

Santorini was a favourite when I got together with my old chess rival. If you have a lot of 2 player gaming going on in your life and you enjoy the head to head nature of a abstract strategy game, then I implore you to give Santorini a try.