Construct and scale buildings to prove you are the most power god in Santorini
Android & iOS
# of Players
Santorini is a two player, grid movement, duel game from Roxley Games. Players use the powers of their god to move their pawns and build multi-level buildings. The first player to move one of their pawns up to the third layer of one of the buildings wins the game, this typically takes less than five minutes.
A game of Santorini begins by selecting which god to use. The gods each have their own special power. One god allows an extra move, another allows you to bump an opponent and take their space, and so on. Players then place their two pawns on an empty five-by-five board.
Each turn has two quick phases. First, you must move one of your pawns to any adjacent space, including diagonals. Next, the pawn which moved must build. Buildings can be up to four levels tall. If you build on an empty space, the first level gets built, build on a space with a first level and you get a second level, and so on. The goal of the game is to maneuver one of your pawns onto a building which is three levels tall. Should a fourth level be built, that building is complete and nobody may move onto it. You can also win the game if you leave your opponent with no valid moves on their turn. Note that you must move onto the three level building on your own turn and you must move up to that level, not from one level three to another. These cases may come into play with certain god powers.
Movement in Santorini is limited by two simple rules. First, you can only move up one level. If you are standing on the ground next to a two-story building, you cannot move onto it, you must first be on an adjacent one-story building to do so. Second, you may move down any number of stories.
As you may have picked up on, the game is a clever take on chess. Since you move then build, you have to be very careful not to build a third story than an opponent can move onto. And since you can build onto any adjacent structure, regardless of relative height, even if you build a third story your opponent can’t climb, they will usually be able to move to an adjacent spot and build that pesky fourth story to prevent your win.
Playing the game with mortals, that is without any special powers, is quite fun on its own, but the game really opens up with the gods’ powers. Something as simple as giving one extra movement becomes insanely powerful in this game. Knowing you and your opponent’s powers becomes the crux of Santorini.
Note that the physical game allows three and four player games as well, while the app limits it to two player games only. Depending on who you ask, the physical game is fun at all player counts or only really shines at two players.
Santorini is a lot of fun. It’s a really clever duel game that seems very simple when you start, but there is a ton of strategic depth. The game gives the same head-to-head battle of wits as others where all information is open and you know every possible move your opponent can make, ala chess, checkers, Onitama. If you are looking for another take on the genre, with a third dimension added, Santorini is a great choice.
Barrier to Entry
Santorini is taught through video tutorials. There is a short, basic tutorial on the basic game rules and each god gets their own video tutorial on how their special rules work. Santorini is a very simple game in terms of basic rules, so a simple video to explain the rules is enough to get you started while the individual god videos are key as some of their abilities can get a bit complex.
Look and Feel
Santorini is full of bright, vibrant colors and graphics throughout. The app looks great. The 3D game board is translated well into digital form. Everything from the first menu through to the game really looks great.
The controls are mostly well done. To move or build you simply select your pawn, click where you want to move, then click where to build. The game gives you a short time after an action to undo it, otherwise the next phase begins. I’ve found this short timeout to be a nice feature as it avoids the need for click-and-confirm and keeps the game moving. The special god power actions are mostly straightforward to follow, but if there is any confusion, the tutorial videos will help. The only real negative point here is that manipulating the board (or view) can be a bit touchy at times. The game defaults to a typical 3rd person angle, but you can pan/tilt as you’d please. Sometimes this is necessary in order to make your move, especially as the buildings get taller and more numerous. The problem is sometimes the panning doesn't work all that well. This isn’t a big deal as you can just try again, but it can be mildly frustrating at times.
Online games can be played as private matches or by finding a random match. Private matches work off of match codes that you must relay to a friend and have them type in to join. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it does work. Random matches will have you wait until an opponent is found and then the game will start. Games are real-time only with random matches providing a 45 second per-turn timer. Private matches do not have a timer, but you can’t play them asynchronously.
For random matches, whoever is deemed the first player will select two gods from a random assortment of choices. Gods from expansion packs are available even if you haven’t purchased them, which is a nice touch. After the first player selects two, the second player gets to choose which of the two they want to use, which is a nice twist on god selection that brings some fun strategy into play before the match even begins.
The app uses the standard ELO chess style ranking system. All players start at 1500 and move up and down based on wins/losses and the rating of their opponent. There is an online leaderboard to track your status. You can play local pass-and-play, and this game is well suited for that as there is no hidden information between players.
Single player can be played against one of five different AI levels or through the Odyssey mode. When playing a normal single player game you select your god, then select the AI’s god and difficulty level. Even the easiest AIs provide a respectable challenge, the tougher AIs are quite brutal. In a fun twist, you can actually watch AI vs AI games which can provide some really fun glimpses of advanced strategy. Be warned that the higher level AIs do take a while to make their decisions.
Odyssey is a campaign mode where you face off in a series of battles between preselected gods. In Odyssey mode, you traverse a map of gods, unlocking the next steps in the journey along the way. The matches have different play options which offer different outcomes for victory, including unlocking new god battles or trophies. The biggest reward for the mode is unlocking new gods to play with as you progress further. Overall, it's a fun addition for those who want something more than random AI matches, and adding unlockable gods gives it some important weight.
The game has a host of achievements to unlock, 123 to be exact. This, in addition to the god trophies, will be a completionist's delight.
The god battle
In the base game of Santorini you get 34 gods. As in-app purchases, there are five God Packs, each with five new gods. You can also buy all of the God Packs together at a discounted price (roughly a 20% discount). The expansions will run you $1.99 each.
This app actually started out as a companion app to the physical game and evolved, over a couple of years, into a full fledged game. The companion app portion remains in this app and it includes a play logger, tutorials, and a god selection tool which can choose gods for your game. The companion app is also available for free as a standalone if you aren't interested in playing the digital version.
The Wrap Up
Santorini is a fun take on chess. Knowing what moves are available to your opponent on each turn and still finding a way to out wit them to a victory is an incredibly satisfying gaming experience that Santorini delivers quite well. The god powers elevate the great basic concept to a new level by making each combination a different experience.
The downsides of the app are the occasionally touchy controls, lack of asynchronous online play, and lack of a friend system for private games. The controls are an annoyance at most, but do come into play during any given game more often than not. The first requested feature I hear about for any game that doesn't have it is asynchronous online play, it's surprising so many games ship without it at this point. Having to send your friend a game code is a fairly archaic way to handle private online matches.
Santorini delivers a fun head-to-head strategy game that plays quickly and will leave you agonizing over every move. The app is loaded with features, strong AI, good online play, achievements to chase, and a wealth of expansion content to keep the game fresh for a long time.