I had heard about Santorini when it was on kickstarter a few years ago, but never played it until I brought a copy home from PAX Unplugged. This has to be one of the most fun and balanced abstract strategy games out there. Inside the box is the game board, an assortment of tower pieces which fit together nicely to build towers, a deck of cards and 3 sets of worker pawns. Everything is wrapped in a beautiful Greek island theme. These are quality components which will stand up to years and years of play.
In Santorini you are trying to get your workers to the top of a tower. Each turn consists of moving and then building with one of your pawns on a five by five grid. It is a very simple premise and that is the beauty of this game. Of course once you start playing, it becomes clear that Santorini demands you to think a few turns ahead and to plan your strategy as you try to build towers and block your opponent to make sure you are the first one to the top. Each game is a little different, but since a round can be played in five minutes or so, you can quickly learn form your mistakes and try to implement new strategies.
Once you have a firm handle on the basic strategy, there is a deck of cards that give each player a unique ability. Modeled after the greek pantheon, these god power cards dole out extra powers or define additional victory conditions. For instance, one card prevents your opponent from winning on any of the perimeter squares. While they can build and move on the perimeter, there are only nine squares on the map where victory is possible, so having that power lets you focus on blocking those squares to secure your own victory.
This is a great example of a game that relies on skill alone, with out any sort of luck involved. While the cards do introduce a small advantage to some degree, it is not enough to where victory is ever assured. All that is required is that you out think your opponent. Additionally the rules are so simple that it is easy to pick up and play with anyone for the first time, with out much of a learning curve. I’m glad I picked this up, and it will be in my board game rotation for quite some time.