Sunday November 23, 2014

Canadian game brings lots of challenges


I discovered Santorini on the Board Game Geek (BGG) website many months ago, and was immediately taken with it.

To start, being designed by Canadian Gordon Hamilton was a plus.

I love the idea of supporting a fellow-Canuck in his efforts.

Santorini is also an abstract strategy game and regular readers know that puts them a bit higher on my list than many board game genres.

The game was released in a very limited run by Hamilton in 2004, a short-run I missed.

Rumours swilled on BGG that Santorini would be getting a larger release from a bigger name in games, but every time it seemed close, it was soon followed by information the release was delayed.

I finally gave up, although Family Games Inc., appeared close to publishing, although that too fell through.

“Publishing Santorini has been very painful,” said Hamilton. “I designed it in 1986, so for more than half my life I have been trying to publish it. The last irritation was when I finally sold the rights in 2009 for five years to Family Games America. For some reason they never published it. I’ve now got a new team together; so fingers crossed.”

I decided not to wait, and made my own.

Well to be fair I had someone cut me the wooden squares needed. The board, which is not exactly needed, but is a handy ‘guide’ to piece placement, was easy and the tower toppers were simply pieces of wood I re-purposed for Santorini.

Santorini includes 75 wooden tiles; 10 wooden domes; and four wooden men.

In Hamilton’s release everything is in beautiful white. I initially contemplated painting my set, but I know white can be hard to get to fully cover wood, so opted to leave them the natural tan.

“I like the purity of the all-white game (I’m going to get vetoed on this however - the final version will have the correct Santorini colouring of blue half-domes),” said Hamilton.

In terms of theme, hardly essential in an abstract strategy game, such as chess or checkers, there is one here.

“You are a god out of Greek mythology. Compete against fellow gods to get a loyal follower on top of a temple on the beautiful island of Santorini. Each turn you move and then build a part of the temple. Be careful where you build lest the opposing god get the advantage. Strategic thinking and your unique godly power will win the day,” related the BGG description of the game.

Interesting the Greek mythology theme is a far-cry for the game’s inspiration which Hamilton said came in 1986 from “a poster of skyscrapers and business people climbing on ladders between the skyscrapers.”

“It took an hour to develop the basic rules (originally for a 4x4 board).

“The theme came a couple of years later. I called it ‘Red Square’ with an envisaged theme of Lenin’s Mausoleum. The Santorini theme of around 1994 was less oppressive and suited the happy little abstract much more. More importantly, the Santorini theme allowed me to start developing gods.”

Some of the best abstract strategy games have the simplest rules (checkers has stood the test of time but is very simple in terms of rules), and Santorini is that as well.

The rule set is;

“To setup the game, make a five by five platform of white squares. One player takes the two men shaped as cubes – the other player takes the two men shaped as cylinders. The cube player begins by placing his two men on different squares. The cylinder player then does the same. Men can never occupy the same square.

“Starting with the cube player, the players alternate turns. A turn has two parts: moving and building.  

“Each turn a player moves one of their men, to an unoccupied neighbouring square.

“That man then builds a tile on an unoccupied neighbouring square. The highest level is three tiles above the platform.  A tile built on this third level is immediately replaced by a dome. A man cannot climb on top of a dome and a tile cannot be placed on top of a dome.

“When moving, a man can jump down any number of levels, but can climb up at most, one level. A man who climbs to the third level has won the game.”

There is a lot of depth in the dance of Santorini, but the rules are very straight forward.

Hamilton likes the game a lot.

“I have always thought Santorini as one of my top three strategy games along with ‘Calculus’ and ‘Tiananmen’, and if I died tomorrow I hope these three plus would be my professional legacy,” he said.

I would go a bit farther and suggest Santorini is the best Canadian-designed abstract strategy game I have encountered, and a definite top-10 contender for the genre this millennium.

Santorini is a game worth the effort to fashion one’s own set, and to play lots.



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