Updated: Dec 21, 2019
Mathematician, Gordon Hamilton first devised his abstract strategy game more than 30 years ago. It is a simple idea: players move their pawn and build on an adjacent square. In moving, a player can move in the same plane or can move up one level. He can move down any number of levels. He wins if he moves his pawn to stand on the third level, but players can also block off the third level of a tower by capping it… That essentially is the game. Though the rules are simple, the play involves depth, thought and chess-like challenge. Like chess or draughts, it can be grasped by quite young children but is equally engrossing for adult players.
Over the years, this abstract game has attracted quite a following but it was the edition initially launched on Kickstarter that greatly broadened its appeal. The revamped design gave players an elevated three-dimensional board and building pieces that very directly mimic the actual appearance of the iconic white-stone blue-domed buildings that characterise the Aegean island that gives the game its name.
Publishers Roxley went further by incorporating cute and captivating artwork and the option of playing with any of 30 additional asymmetric powers, representing the influence of each of the Greek gods and characters from Greek mythology. The God powers are represented by iconography on the (large format) cards, although some of these are more obvious or intuitive than others so you’ll probably need the rules sheet to hand to decode what some of them do.
Further god and hero powers, and other game variants, are introduced in the small Golden Fleece expansion which can be bought as an add-on to the base game. If you get totally hooked on Santorini, you’ll probably want to get the Golden Fleece expansion if only to see the different ways it affects strategy and play, but the expansion is not an essential buy: you’ll get a lot of play from the base game and from the various interactions of the god cards provided.
In its current edition, Santorini makes for an enticing package, retaining the strengths of the original game while injecting enough theme to overcome resistance from those who might normally steer clear of abstract games. The game incorporates rules for play with 3 or 4 players but it is very much better played as a two-player game. Problem is, it looks so good that if you set it up in a public place, you’ll attract a crowd of onlookers and people wanting to join in. :-)