Sometimes player count can be a tricky thing to get right. Games often have an ideal number but there is usually fun to be had at any level. I have never seen a game shift so much in enjoyability depending on its player count as Santorini. My first exposure was with three players and the game felt borderline unplayable. However, I’m glad to say that I gave the game another chance at two players and it has quickly become one of my favorite games.
The premise of Santorini is simple; each player has two workers on a grid and must always move one of those workers and then build with that worker. Buildings can have three levels with a final option of capping off a three level building so that no one can score with it. The goal is to have one of your workers eventually move to the top of a three level building. The game plays out as a duel somewhere between checkers and chess in terms of complexity.
The interesting twist that keeps the game fresh is the addition of god powers for each player that make every game feel like its own unique occurrence. Powers can drastically alter your own capabilities, hamper your opponents or even provide alternate win conditions.
Balancing issued may exist but the games quick nature allows lop sided duels to be quickly moved on from. There are numerous ways that this can be combated rather than randomly dealing individual god cards.
My current favorite way to play is with a best of three round where two players draft from a pool of 6 cards in the player order of 1-2-2-1-2-1. This allows an even distribution of player powers and some choice as to which god to put forward first.
With equally skilled individuals, the game becomes amazingly tense. Plays are scrutinized and planned with a chess-like focus. It poses a set of decisions that feel interesting and within the control of the player. Every combination of powers presents a unique environment for new challenges.
In the end, there isn’t that much to say on Santorini but that’s part of its charm. Its allure is in the elegance of its rules. Pulling out Santorini to play feels like the modern board gaming equivalent to pulling out a checkers or chess board. A relaxing, cathartic and personal experience that can be shared between two friends.