Many years ago I was lucky enough to have my wife come along with me on a business trip to Greece. It was the first time either of us had been to Greece and we looked forward to seeing many sites over a few extra days after the business event ended.
One of the things we really wanted to do was to visit one of the Greek Isles. At the top of my list was Santorini
Unfortunately, with the limited time we had, we could only make it to one island — Mykonos. Don’t get me wrong, we loved visiting Mykonos. I just wish we could have seen more. And ever since then I’ve longed for a visit to Santorini.
I’ll tell you straight out that the game is fantastic!
And I’m not just saying that because of my longing to go there. It’s because it’s a great game on many levels. The first thing everyone notices is how absolutely wonderful it looks. The production, including the components and artwork, of Santorini is completely top notch. But even more importantly, the game is very engaging to play.
But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me first give you a quick rundown on the game play.
How to play Santorini
One of the strong points of Santorini is that it’s a very easy game to teach and understand. Yet it also packs a strategic depth that players will discover along the way.
Santorini is a 2-player board game where players compete to be the first player to get one of their Workers onto the 3rd floor of one of the buildings on the island. The first player to do so wins the game.
The challenge comes in how well players can work their strategy of moving, building, and climbing while also blocking their opponent. And it’s a challenge we love.
The first thing to do in setting up a game of Santorini is to construct the island!
That’s right, you get to build the island base of Santorini before playing.
Don’t worry though. It’s super simple. Place the Ocean Board on the table and then fit the grooves of the Cliff Pedestal into the Ocean Board. Then fit the Island Board onto the top grooves of the Cliff Pedestal.
The first player then places their 2 Workers into any unoccupied spaces on the board. Then the other player places their 2 Workers likewise.
And you’re ready to play the basic game!
On a player’s turn they get to do 2 things – Move & Build.
Move: A player chooses one of their Workers and moves it to an adjacent space, either orthogonally or diagonally. The Worker can move up one level higher or down any number of levels. The space must also be unoccupied by another Worker or a Dome.
Build: After moving, the chosen Worker builds a part of a building in an adjacent and unoccupied space (again orthogonally or diagonally). The Worker can build any level of building no matter what level the Worker is standing on. They just have to use the correct building piece to match the level being built.
For example, a Worker can be standing on the ground level and place a 3rd level building piece on top of an existing 2nd level building piece.
A Worker can also place a Dome piece on top of a 3rd level building piece. A Dome essentially caps a building so players’ Workers can’t get onto the 3rd level of that building.
Once a player has moved one of their Workers and built, play proceeds to their opponent.
Players continue back and forth until one of them gets one of their Workers onto the 3rd level of a building. That player instantly wins the game!
There’s another way the game can end as well. If a player is unable to move then build on their turn, they immediately lose the game.
Advanced Game – With Powers
Since there’s plenty of strategy packed into a game of Santorini, it’s good for players to play a number of games at the basic level before playing the Advanced game.
The Advanced game uses the deck of cards referred to as “God Powers”. These cards are named after Greek Gods and give each player a special ability that only they can use during the game.
After constructing the island, one player chooses cards equal to the number of players (yes, more than 2 can play the game – see next section). Players then see what the special powers are (often checking the rulebook to make sure the icons are clearly understood). In turn, each player selects one of the cards to use during the game.
Players place their chosen card face up in front of them and can use the power throughout the game.
And boy are some of those powers powerful!
The cards are grouped into Simple Gods (purple icon in bottom right corner) and Advanced Gods (blue icon) so players can choose how big of an impact they want to have in a game.
Here are some examples of the powers:
- Apollo (simple) – Worker may move into an opponent Worker’s space by forcing that Worker to the vacated space.
- Atlas (simple) – Worker may build a Dome on any level.
- Demeter (simple) – Worker may build one additional time, but not on the same space.
- Hermes (simple) – If Workers don’t move up or down they may each move any number of times and then either builds.
- Chronus (advanced) – Player also wins if there are 5 completed towers on the island.
- Hypnus (advanced) – If one of an opponent’s Workers is higher than their other Worker, it cannot move.
- Dionysis (advanced) – Each time a Worker you control completes a tower, you may take an additional turn using an opponent’s Worker.
- Poseidon (advanced) – If your unmoved Worker is on the ground level, it may build up to three times.
- Zeus (advanced) – Worker may build a block under itself.
We could go on and on listing these powers because they’re so fun to have in the game.
And as you can see, they can also create a big twist to how you’ll play each game.
The rules state that one player chooses the powers to be played in a game from which the players select the one they want. But we like to add in some randomness when choosing powers. We first randomly draw cards equal to double the number of players, then let players choose which one card they want from those options.
3 or 4 Players
We said at the outset that Santorini is a 2-player board game. But that’s not the full story. It can also be played by 3 or 4 players (for when others really want to play too).
When playing with 3 or 4 players, the God Powers are always used. The cards have icons on them that indicate which player counts to use them with (all can be used with 2 players).
If you lose in a 3-player game, you remove your Workers from the board. If only 1 player remains, they’re the winner.
With 4 players, you play on teams of 2 players each and share control of the 2 Workers. Each player has their own God Power and they sit on opposite sides of the table so that teams alternate turns. If any player wins, their team wins.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. At its heart, Santorini is really a game meant for 2. And only on rare occasions will we play with more than 2.
Can the whole family enjoy playing Santorini?
Santorini gets a very hearty recommendation from us on being a great board game the whole family can enjoy.
It’s also a fantastic game to help all players (young and old) improve their mental capabilities. We know parents often look for games that can help their kids develop different social and mental abilities. Santorini delivers!
The younger kids in your family will be drawn to the game because of how wonderful it looks and because they’ll get to play with building blocks to make a cool island city. But they’ll also discover that using their mind is super fun.
Kids can also play against adults without compromise by using the God Power cards. Have the adult player play normally and give a God Power card to the young player. It’s a great way to keep both players on their toes without the adult needing to hold back.
You may also find your children giving you a run for your money with only a few games under their belt.
While it may look like a cutesy game for kids, adults will find an engaging level of depth in the game. There’s plenty to think about during a game that makes for a wonderful head-to-head challenge against other adults. Even the basic game has much to offer in well-matched challenges. Mixing in the special abilities heightens the challenge for adults by introducing even more to consider every turn. Players need to know how to best use their own special ability as well as understand how their opponent can use theirs. It can be tricky, but it’s also key to doing well.
The island is amazing!
I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t been impressed by the look of Santorini. I took it with me to SaltCon in March and it caught the attention of everyone passing by.
Is the elevated island necessary? Of course not.
The Island Board could just as easily be placed directly on the table. Or it could even be just a simple grid with indistinct pawns. And instead of cool, molded plastic building pieces, players could stack wooden cubes to indicate building levels. In fact, the game Santorini has actually been around for a many years as just an abstract strategy board game with non-descript components.
But I’m so happy Roxley decided to blow it out of the water with this re-implementation and create the cool toy factor of the island and buildings. It totally brings the game to life!
Not only do we love the rising island from the sea, we also love how the building pieces match perfectly with the style of buildings on the real island of Santorini. Plus, they stack perfectly together in the game to create a wonderful looking city atop the island every time.
Our only gripe
Being a religious family, we don’t like the term “God Powers”. Yes, we know they refer to Greek Gods that we all learn about in school. But we just don’t like the use of that term in any game. The good news is that since the only place that term shows up is in the rulebook, we don’t have to use it.
It’s not written on the cards themselves anywhere. So when explaining and playing the game, we simply refer to them as “special abilities” or “power cards”. No problem.
How well does Santorini score on our “Let’s Play Again” game meter?
Santorini scores off the charts on our “let’s play again” game meter!
Have I already mentioned it’s a fantastic family board game?
Well then, you already know why it scores so high on our “let’s play again” game meter. The amount of replay value is tremendous. Abstract strategy board games where players pit their strategies against each other can easily have one player call for a rematch at the end of a game. And Santorini is no different.
Even with just the base game players will discover that every game plays out differently.
With the addition of using the powers, the replay value goes up exponentially (if not infinitely). When one game ends, we’re anxious to try it again with different powers in the mix.
Another reason why Santorini scores high for us is because games go by quickly. Though games will exercise your brain, they don’t last very long. And it’s not like players have downtime during the game.
Even if a player may take a bit more time to make their choices, the other player won’t just be sitting around waiting. Instead, they’ll be evaluating all their options as well. So players are actively engaged from start to finish.
If you haven’t already put Santorini on your game wish list, do so now. Or better yet, just go ahead and buy a copy or Santorini for your family!
P.S. One member of our family will pay a visit to the real island of Santorini this Fall! But alas, it won’t be me. I’ll still just have to bide my time and look forward to a visit at some future date. In the meantime, I’m totally going to take it in vicariously from the photos and stories my wife will share with me during and after her visit. Lucky gal!
We’d like to thank Roxley Game Laboratory for a review copy of Santorini.