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Yehuda Berlinger
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Jerusalem
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Santorini is a neat, very quick abstract game by Gordon Hamilton. Gordon was kind enough to send me a copy of the game on condition that I review it. I am happy to say that I liked it well enough.

The game comes in a drawstring bag, and consists of numerous white wooden blocks, five character cards, and rules.

The blocks come in three types:

- Flat square tiles, which are used to form the initial board, as well as the buildings.
- Domes, which are used to cap buildings.
- Player pieces, two each in three different shapes.

To start the game you arrange a five by five grid of square tiles to use as the board. Each player takes turns placing their player pieces on the board.

On your turn, you must move one of your pieces one step in any direction (including diagonal) and then place a single square tile one step away from your just moved piece in any direction (including diagonal). When moving your piece, you may move to the same level, up one level, or down any number of levels.

When you want to place the fourth square tile on a location, you instead place a dome. Domes represent impassable locations.

The first person to move his piece to a third level pace wins. If on your turn you can't move, you lose. That's all there is to it.

Actually, there's a little more. In the advanced version of the game, each player gets a random or selected character card representing a Greek god or goddess. Like Cosmic Encounter, each character card lets you break a rule of the game: move two steps, jump two levels, and so on.

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On the good side, the basic game, and even the advanced game, are both balanced and enjoyable, assuming that you like abstract games. This game isn't likely to change your mind if you don't.

The game play is built around the idea of trying to set up steps for yourself that your opponent either has no access to or cannot block in time, and conversely, blocking your opponent from doing the same. Clever play can cordon off your opponent's pieces so that their available moves are limited.

The game is, or can be, really quick. I played 5 games in half an hour.

The components are nicely created, with hefty solid wood pieces and laminated cards. The all-white color is a little reminscient of Greek statues and columns. On the other hand, it makes for a bit of a bland landscape on the board. I wouldn't have minded for at least the player pieces to be in different colors, such as pastels.

I'm quite impressed that the character cards balance so nicely. The character cards contain pictures of classical Greek sculptures, so if that type of nudity bothers you, you should be aware of it.

On the bad side, the game is designed for two to three players, but it only works with two. Even Gordon pretty much acknowledges this. With three players, you always have a kingmaking situation near the end game, which is a bit of disaster.

Gordon sent along some possible rule fixes to remedy this situation, but I didn't like any of them. He also asked me to help him come up with a better one, but I haven't been able to. So if you're thinking of trying this three players, wait for a solution for the three player problem to arrive, first.

But for two players, it is a playable abstract. I have played it more than thirty times and I'm still interested. Especially as there are six additional character cards available in an expansion.

Like all abstracts, it remains to be seen if the game can be solved, of course. If it could be solved, my interest would go down, unless the solution is non-trivial.

Yehuda
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Dr. Gordon Hamilton
Canada
Calgary
Alberta
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Thanks Yehuda.

Santorini can be solved on a 1xN board with ease (the first player loses for all N>3) and the 5-tile board below is solvable with a little work (the first player loses again):

XXX
XX

I am sure the 2x3 board is solvable by someone with too much time on their hands, but I suspect that the 3x3 board is of at least the same degree of difficulty as checkers. I'll bet on it - Canadian $100 for a solution for the 3x3 board.

Anyway, as soon as you introduce the god cards to a 5x5 board you are guaranteed to be in unsolved territory because nobody is going to be employed to see which god wins in all combinations ;)

Gord!
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