Santorini: A Perfect Game For Families

Santorini: A Perfect Game For Families

Santorini is a unique tabletop game for two to four players ages 8 and up. The game was designed by Gordon Hamilton of Math Pickle, with art by David Forest and Lina Cossette.

Roxley Games raised more than CA$700,000 on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to bring the game to production, and it’s set for retail release in January.

The game is available for preorder at several online board game retailers for about $32, with the Golden Fleece expansion coming in at less than $12. The suggested price for the base game is $49.99, with $18 for the expansion.

In Santorini, players take on the role of Greek gods manipulating workers to build the city of Santorini, complete with its iconic white buildings and blue domes, while trying to reach the third level of a building and win the game.

The base game also includes an illustrated children’s book: Santorini, The First Game.

How it works:

Santorini has two ways to play, and the expansion adds a few more.

In the basic game, each player has two workers (you play in teams if you’re playing with four). On your turn, you choose one worker to move exactly one space in any direction, including up one level or down any number of levels. Then you put down a building tile in a space adjacent to that worker, though it could be on any level. There are three different levels, plus a dome, and they have to be built in order.

Workers can’t move onto domes, and to win the game, a worker has to reach the third level.

Once you’ve got the basics down, each player gets a card with a god on it. And that card gives the player a special power or a different way to win. For example, Hephaestus, the god of blacksmiths, can build a second block on the one he just built. And Pan, the god of the wild, can win by moving a worker down two levels.

If you buy the Golden Fleece Expansion, you get more cards. Some of the included gods use hidden movement, moving their workers on a small board behind a screen. They also place traps and other things. There are lots of tokens that move the wind direction (into which no one can move), add whirlpools that act as portals to each other and more. Some gods give you extra workers, and those are included, too. The Golden Fleece statue gives yet another way to play the game, where a worker must be touching the statue in order to use a god power that both players share.

Why you might buy Santorini:

This is an amazing puzzle of a game. It’s got lots of push and pull, and once you get the base game down, it has an incredible number of matchups, with even more ways to play when you add the expansion.

For such simple rules, the game isn’t easy. You have to pay attention to where your opponents are, and you have to stick close so you can put a dome on a tower when you need to. But sticking too close means you can be blocked in between tall buildings with no way out, effectively leaving you with only one worker. (Yes, that happened to me.)

When I started playing, I worried that some god powers would overpower others, but it didn’t happen.

In the Golden Fleece expansion, some matchups are simply not allowed because they wouldn’t be balanced.

This game is perfect for families. With four people, you can play in teams. Without the expansion, there is no hidden information, so you can talk about your moves easily. The rules are simple for kids to learn. (My 4- and 5-year-olds had no trouble picking it up, even though the game is rated for ages 8 and up.) And the god power cards have very good icons so they’re easy to memorize.

The rulebook shows how much thought was put into family play, from the way powers are distributed and workers are first placed to the cute cartoons and children’s book.

The expansion also makes it possible to play a hero, who only gets to use a power once, against a god, who can use a power whenever. You can give a child a god card and an adult a hero. You could do the same with an experienced player vs. a new one. This allows for balance without making the adult bored or the child feel like the adult is letting her win.

All of the powers in the game actually relate to the god or character on the card. This sweetens the gameplay. It’s an added bonus if you’re a fan or student of Greek mythology.

Despite being set in ancient Greece, the artists used lots of different skin colors, and there are many women portrayed. It’s nice to see such diversity in a game that could easily have made excuses for not including it.

The little plastic buildings with their tiny staircases and windows and the bright blue domes that top them are fun to play with. When I pulled them out of the box, my kiddos immediately started stacking buildings together.

Why you might want to buy the expansion:

The Golden Fleece expansion adds a lot of variety to the game, plus the hero cards that help balance it out with players of differing abilities.

Working behind the screen is particularly challenging, and adding tokens to the board that make all kinds of interesting things happen makes the game infinitely replayable.

Why you might not want to buy Santorini:

Santorini plays best with two. The rulebook is up front about this, but it is worth noting. Four players have to work in teams, which isn’t bad but isn’t quite as engaging. It works with three players, but there are some cards you won’t be able to use.

It’s a little bit expensive, but the box is full of plastic pieces and cards. The sale price is very reasonable for the quality of the game, but the suggested price may be a turnoff.

Why you might not want to buy the expansion:

Santorini has lots of replay value without the expansion, so it’s definitely not necessary. The suggested price seems a bit steep for the small box.

My conclusions:

Santorini is one of the best two-player games I’ve ever played. It seems so simple, but every card you play with changes the game just enough to make it feel completely new. You still know how the game works, but you no longer know how to optimize your moves.

It’s very tight, and it will make your brain hurt. In a good way.

The toy-like quality of this game is hard to articulate. The pieces just look and feel really good, and you will want to play with them.

I love games that I can play with my kids without getting bored. The beauty of Santorini is that — though it’s not recommended — my 4-year-old can play this game by the rules. And it will grow with him all the way into adulthood. The better he gets, the more challenging god powers he can play with.

I don’t usually like expansions, but Golden Fleece adds a lot to an already great game, and at the sale price it seems like an obvious purchase.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Santorini and the Golden Fleece expansion from Roxley Games. I was not required to give a positive review. These are my honest opinions.

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I'm a journalist living in Central Oregon. I have two little kids, which for me has meant staying home. And playing board games. Lots of board games. I'm also an avid reader and a theology nerd. You can follow all of my interests and personal quirks on Twitter @teresawjackson and at www.tablebyteresa.com.