Well, as of writing this, I’ve played Santorini no fewer than 50 times, so I figure I might as well write up both of them before too long. What a game. Anyways, the fun never stops in Santorini, and more people have shown up in the Golden Fleece expansion! Now, Muses, Titans, and even more Gods have come to play! Adding to the crowd are Heroes, who, while not as mighty as the Gods, still have limited powers of their own, and the Golden Fleece, which can grant anyone the power of a God! Will these new characters bring you fortune on the tiny isle of Santorini?
Setup remains identical to that of Santorini, for the major variant, so I won’t cover that and I’ll cover the Golden Fleece variant instead. First, assemble the island from its components:
Now, set aside the pieces that compose each level:
Now, you’ll also find some Hero Cards and God Cards:
I’ll talk a bit more about them later, but you should choose one and flip it over, checking to see if it has the Golden Fleece icon, which looks like this:
I’ll cover the specifics in Gameplay. Now, you’ll want to place workers:
- Choose a player to go first.
- The other player places their workers.
- Player 1 places their workers.
- The other player places the Golden Fleece on any unoccupied space on the board.
Once you’ve done all of that, you should be ready to start:
Gameplay is the same as Santorini, mostly, honestly. There is the Golden Fleece variant, so I’ll cover it in parts.
Normal Gameplay + Expansion (Gods & Heroes)
So, as previously stated, there are a bunch of God and Hero cards:
You can choose to play with either, a la previous instances of Santorini, by giving each player a God or a Hero. Gods, like the base game, give you an ability that is persistent for the entire game, but the new Heroes give you an ability that can only be used once. This is great for balancing skill gaps (such as playing with a kid), or for upping the strategic stakes by giving each player a single-use ability.
As should be expected from Santorini, the new artwork is incredible:
And as you might be able to notice, you can tell the difference between Gods and Heroes fairly easily. The Gods have white-rimmed cards with no bleed:
And the Hero cards have full-bleed art on the sides and a helmet icon:
Which is all pretty great. Anyways, once you’ve assigned players a God Power or a Hero Power, gameplay begins. Some of these Gods are absolutely crazy, though. One lets you pick a 2×2 spot on the board where, if a player would win, you win instead; another hides your Workers from the board and blocks players who would move or build on that spot; and a third effectively forces you into 2048-mode (much like Apotheca‘s Tidemaster) in that your opponent’s worker slides as far as possible whenever they move in a direction. These Gods even come with extra-special pieces:
Please note that some Gods are banned against other Gods. This is likely because those matchups are unwinnable for one player or heinously uninteresting to play or require both players to use a single piece.
The Heroes, on the other hand, have extraordinary abilities, but they can only be used once, so use them carefully.
As with the base game, moving up from Level 2 to Level 3 is a win. There are a few extra win cases (or lose cases, like falling into The Abyss), but other than that it plays fairly similarly.
Let’s talk about the Golden Fleece, next.
Golden Fleece Variant
So, in the Golden Fleece, you’ve placed this guy somewhere on the board:
And drawn a singular God Card. This God Power is the only one available to any player, and will be granted to them if and only if, at the start of their turn, one of their Workers is adjacent (orthogonally or diagonally) to the Golden Fleece. Gameplay is won or lost normally, but you have to weigh against the strategy of potentially having the same God Power as your opponent (or worse, no God Power at all). Can you beat them at their own game?
Player Count Differences
Still best at two. Not going to dispute that. It might be a bit more interesting at three with a Golden Fleece game, but honestly, some of the new Gods are going to get straight-up confusing with three or more people. Probably in a hilarious way, but at least in a confusing way. I heard about one game where a player controlling Dionysus (when you complete a tower you can take a turn as an opponent’s Worker) moved the third player’s worker into Tartarus’s Abyss space, causing that player to lose instantly. Your mileage may vary with this at three.
Whew. There’s a lot going on with this one.
- (Heroes) Pressure your opponent into using their power first. If you can force your opponent to spend their Hero, you have the option of using yours later when they can’t stop you. Note that you have to, y’know, not lose when they use their Hero Power, but if you can push them to it, you’ll gain a pretty significant advantage.
- Clio is dangerous. The ability to place Coin Tokens (essentially domes for everyone but her) is really useful, even more so if you can use it to get enough adjacent Coin Tokens. Thankfully, it’s essentially impossible to get an adjacent 1-2-3 with Coin Tokens on each level, so you don’t have to worry about an instant win. She can just make your life much harder.
- Beware Tartarus as well. Tartarus can place the Abyss on one space on the board. If you move into the Abyss, you instantly lose, and cannot win by moving into the Abyss. You can still build on it and all that, you just can’t move into it. The key insight here is to try and figure out what space Tartarus is avoiding. You know any space he moves to (or has moved to previously) is “safe”, so it might not be a bad idea to follow him.
- Gaea needs domes. If Gaea can complete a tower, she can add another worker, which, once you have four Workers on the board, you’re kind of tough to beat. I suppose it’d be fun to see her face off against Chronus from the base game, since he wins once five towers are completed.
- Usually I place the Golden Fleece along an edge or in the corner. That cuts off a lot of spaces that it can be used from, and generally costs both myself and my opponent a worker to stand near it so we can use the God Power. It also leaves a large section of the board far from the Golden Fleece, which is also potentially far from a player with a God Power.
- With the Golden Fleece, it’s useful to try and block your opponents from it, obviously, but it’s not always worth it. If you spend too much of your time surrounding the Golden Fleece so that other players can’t use it, then you’ll have a lot of trouble actually, y’know, winning. You should assess how valuable the God Power is to you at this point in the game (some God Powers are late-game, some are early-game, some are always useful) and potentially give up the Fleece if you don’t need or want the God Power. Your opponent leaving a worker there to “keep” the Power then means that you have two workers to their single worker, which is a pretty significant advantage.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the new Gods, for the most part. Hecate is probably my favorite God of all – your Workers are hidden from the board, and if someone moves into one of their spaces or tries to build there, they lose the rest of their turn. It’s the “What if we were also playing Scotland Yard” version of Santorini. It’s great. I think I hate the Harpies, but that’s because I always end up playing against them.
- More great art. If you’re playing Santorini for the art, you won’t be disappointed.
- Offers some variants for extra strategic depth. Part of my enjoyment of the base game is the sort of tactical battle that each matchup offers, since you’re fighting with an unfamiliar ability against a different, unfamiliar ability. With the Golden Fleece, there’s a more strategic than tactical element, in my opinion, as you both share the same God Power and figuring out when and how to use it (if at all) is much less matchup-dependent and more about charting out an overarching strategy for the game.
- I like the Heroes. I think it’s a good idea to try and balance the skill gap, and I really appreciate that this was a consideration they designed for, as well as an alternate gameplay variant that allows for really powerful single-use abilities. If nothing else, Santorini feels like a product that has been meticulously planned out and designed. There are clear progressions in gameplay complexity and difficulty, and the whole thing is polished. Even this is a clear “next step” from the base game.
- Banned God matchups are unfortunate. There’s not much you can do about it if a God completely wrecks another God, and I think this is the best compromise. It means you can add in many more new God Powers without worrying about balancing them all against each other (or going the Betrayal at House on the Hill route and playtesting as much as possible and hoping for the best).
- I don’t see myself playing with Heroes outside of teaching a new player the game. I just find that I prefer both players having persistent abilities, and Heroes being a one-use move seems to invite additional analysis paralysis into a very thinky game. I’m glad they exist (hence why this is a “Meh”), but I don’t think they’re for me. Plus, my major gripe with Heroes v. Gods is that you’re essentially relying on the God-Powered player to make a mistake, as normally the matchup is incredibly imbalanced in the God’s favor. Or, at least, that’s the sense I’ve gotten from the games I’ve played.
- These gods are advanced. I would strongly recommend trying a few dozen games of the base game before you play with the Golden Fleece Gods. They’re not nearly as simple as the base game, even the ones that would appear to be. (Hades, for instance, prevents players from moving down. Simple enough ability, until you’re playing against it.)
- Adds a bit of setup / tear-down time to a game that’s already kind of difficult to put away. Yes, this is the best con I could come up with. But the tiny pieces and the extra cards and such all need to be taken out of the expansion box (which could stand to be a tiny bit larger) and I find the setup / tear-down time for the base game is already long enough. It’s not a huge deal; just something that occasionally irks me.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, Santorini: Golden Fleece is a great expansion that adds something for everyone. While the Golden Fleece variant and Heroes aren’t my personal cup of tea, the new advanced Gods they add alone will keep me busy for a long time. For people who have to teach the game a lot, Heroes will keep the game interesting for them against new players, and the Golden Fleece is a totally new way to play the game that’s pretty interesting (if you’re into the more strategic side). As I’ve come to expect from Santorini, this expansion maintains the high standard of quality set by the base game, and adds in a ton more great art and cool tweaks to the base game. All in all, I’d highly recommend the expansion if you’re looking for new ways to expand your copy of Santorini, as it adds great things to an already incredible game.