5 Chits, 3 Giggles
I wouldn't usually start out a review with such a hyperbolic statement, but for those out there who are looking for the abstract strategy game for your collection, well, this is it.
It's as simple as that really. Well, not the game, that has a little more to it than a simple sentence (and we'll get to that shortly), but this really does offer a refreshing 'simple to learn, difficult to master' experience that has huge replayability.
Let's start with the beginning. Santorini is a remarkable city in Greece, famed for its perfect white stone building and their blue domed roofs. This iconic look makes it a stand out place in a beautifully historic country, and was probably the best reason to select it as the setting for this game.
Created by Dr. Gordon Hamilton, a Mathematics professor, this game was created in its original form in the 1980's, but was self published. An actual proper release was done in 2004, but the look of what you see in these pictures comes from its most recent, and certainly most beautiful release last year. It has evolved numerous times, most notably with a lot of Greek gods and famous figures, which give each player their own unique ability, bonus or win condition.
The game is ridiculously simple. Are you ready? On your turn, you move one of your two workers into an adjacent empty space (even diagonal). Then you build on an adjacent empty space (again, including diagonal). Each building can have three stories, then a roof which blocks that space forever, and you can only move up one story at a time. You win by moving one of your workers from the second story of one building, to the third story of an adjacent one.
This in itself would be a fantastic, simple game. However, the addition of 'powers' i.e a card for each player that is selected at the beginning of the game, makes this not only more repayable but more fun too. When playing with a new combination, the trick is working out how best to use what you've got against what your opponent has. Adding a new, additional win condition gives you more chances to snatch victory and your opponent more to watch out for, but would you know it, almost everything they have will make that goal equally difficult to achieve. They may be able to build more. They may be able to move your workers out of the way. They may be able to build underneath themselves. The list goes on, including over 40 different gods with unique powers. Just when you think you've got the win in reach, they'll do something surprising and pull that rug out from under your feet (that is not a power available in game by the way, it is just a great metaphor).
It all makes for a very impressive piece of entertainment. The look of it is gorgeous and it certainly feels like it is part of the modern age of board gaming, with its colourful and well created characters and the 3D printed style of its pieces, and it feels more inviting to play with its raised board and colourful motif. It's sadly not available very easily right now, but I would bet any amount of money that they'll be releasing it again someday soon.
There is an expansion available too, called the Golden Fleece, which adds Heroes into the mix. They have incredible powers, but can only be used once per game and generally are played against other heroes or in very specific match ups to balance out the game. In fact, that's about my only issue with the game. With so many combinations of available, there are some that you simply cannot pair up, due to their completely unbalanced or impossible to win powers. These are clearly stated in the rule book and so are easy to avoid, but when you're given so much freedom and have a little bit of it taken away, despite the wealth of options you can't help but focus on that minor blip. Still, as far as flaws go it's pretty damn minor.
I don't need to tell you any more other than this is one we highly recommend. It's as my friend said, 'the abstract strategy game to add to your collection'. Just keep your eyes open for it.
Review by Russell Chapman