FTW Staff Picks - Santorini

For The Win Board Game Cafe's Staff Picks is a weekly series where we take a quick look at some of the staff's favourite games, old and new. 


Genre: Abstract

Designer: Gordon Hamilton

Player Size: 2 to 4 Players

Game Length: 15 minutes

For fans of: Chess, Kulami

When you think of abstract games, you usually think of basic wooden shapes or marbles sitting atop a checkered or patterned board. Abstract games represent games at a core and fundamental level. No nonsense, just arrays of probability. When you take your first glance at Santorini, you may be fooled by its cute caricatures of Greek gods and playful battleground. But Santorini is no different from your grandfather's chessboard. Its frills are a bit of a bait. They've successfully tricked a large portion of gamers to fall in love with a game that could have easily fallen to the wayside.

In Santorini, players go head-to-head with two workers. On their turn they must move a worker one space and then build on an adjacent space. Workers may move up on buildings, provided it is only one level above them. However they may build any level from even the ground floor. The goal of the game is to have one worker reach the 3rd level of a building. But when a building reaches 3 levels, a worker can build a cap as the fourth level to block any worker from climbing to the top.

Those are the core mechanics of the game, and you can play the game hundreds of times with high variance and different strategies. But what really adds value to the game is when you begin to incorporate the god powers. Each god grants the workers of a player an ability, whether it's as simple as swapping spaces with an opponent or even granting an entirely new win condition. The game comes with 30 unique gods, so you'll have plenty of strategies to explore with all the different match-ups. And if you want to add more variety you can try the 3 or 4 player variants. They're not as balanced, but it gives you the option at least when playing with more people.

Santorini was a passion project 31 years in the making, from a fellow Canadian out in Calgary. What began as a very bare bones abstract game with a playful theme, became one of the most in-demand releases of the year. Designer Gordon Hamilton credits his partners at Roxley Games with creating the games visual identity. There's no doubt that it played a huge factor in getting the project funded on Kickstarter. And while it's not the most groundbreaking game, it's a great abstract game with the added option of introducing some flavor. It's also a great case study for how to sell a board game in the current climate of the industry.

Earl OliverosComment