Santorini – Review

Type: Area Control

Time to play: < 20 minutes (Teaching: 5 minutes)

Best played with: 2 players

San Torini is for me already a classic two player game – very simple to teach, very fast to play, and with an ever changing strategy as your opponent evolves their strategy. It will get your brain thinking just like chess, but with many less rules and a really neat looking board and pieces.

This two player game works on a basic principle that if you can move your piece to the third level of a building you win. Sounds simple, and it is. Movement is simple: you can move up one floor at a time, and you can fall any number of floors in one go. Your turn is simple: move one of your two pieces one square and then build at any level in an adjacent square (including diagonals). So where’s the puzzle? Well, with all this simplicity is open to your opponent too! So most of the time your next move is obvious and their ability to counter is pretty clear.

Perhaps then this is more like fencing than chess – one person moves and the other parries. So on and so forth for a while until one person finds their back is against the proverbial wall or the opponent just has two ways to win. This is the trick, creating the trap where you can go left or right, or where your opponent simply can’t move on this small board. The fact that you can only go up one level at a time is often key to this!

As with many modern board games, the components here are great! There is no drop in quality despite the simple plastic pieces they are elegantly designed and if you play with an experienced opponent you may well have a San Torini style city on the table by the time one of you has played that key move.

Whilst it won’t take a computer as much time as “GO” to optimise, this feels a very balanced game for both opening players and with the ability to vary your start position there are great opportunities for changes in tactics and subtle tricks that you can play in the early rounds.

Now, all that said, there are two things I think don’t work well. One – playing with more than 2 players. In my collection this game firmly sits in the 2 player section. Yes, it says you can play it with 3 or 4 players, but the 3rd player options leaves one player almost always making the key decision between who they stop (and therefore who they let win). The 4 player option is actually just a team game of the two player version. The second failing (in my eyes), is the expansion cards provided in the box – the “God” cards. These are an interesting rule breaker option which gives the players asymmetric powers and alternate win conditions. It’s not that these are bad, but inherently this is a very different game when asymmetric and it’s clear from the manual that you cannot just draw these randomly (they make the point about various powers being better against other particular powers). I am not sure why to include this to be honest because with 50+ plays of the original I just don’t think it’s necessary. That said, if you enjoy a more random experience with a potential big balancing issue, then go for it – the cards are an optional extra after all.

The base game is hard to flaw – it really is simple, straight forward and hours of fun. If you are also looking for games which your other half might have a go at, I can highly recommend this. My fiancee tried this and really enjoyed it despite not being into board games.

Last notes:

  • If you like two player games, then I cannot think of a reason you would not pick this up (it’s my highest rated 2 player game on BGG)
  • If you never play two players… that’s literally the only reason I can think not to buy this game!
  • If you win at this game then your opponent will start to learn your tactic – keep playing because this game has some serious evolution!

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