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Santorini New York: As Good As the Original?

Matt takes over the blog with his review of Santorini New York, published by Roxley Games, 2020.

In 2016, the abstract game Santorini would reach the gaming industry, and become a smash hit. While both Jenn and I wouldn’t get the game until 2017, we could tell just by the playthroughs on youtube, that this was going to be a game for us. In fact, it was in 2017 that we were already calling things the “year of the abstract.” Other games being released that year were Sagrada, Photosynthesis, Century Spice Road/Golem Edition, Azul and Dragon Castle. I had believed the industry was moving away from the more complex games and towards the more mid-weight options. But I was wrong. Looking back on BGG’s year of 2017, I noticed that many of the abstract games were somewhere in the middle of the rankings, and the juggernaut of that year was Gloomhaven.

But, Jenn and I enjoyed Santorini, even without the roles, or the Golden Fleece expansion. Every once in a while, we take it out and have a good time with the strategy in place and how all the gears click together mechanically. As each year pressed on, I was surprised to see that not much was happening on the front for Santorini in the way of an expansion. It just seemed to be promos at conventions. The game was popular enough. It’s a bestseller at our FLGS. But there was still nothing.

And then, we heard the news that Santorini: New York was coming. It was poised to have some different mechanics, and employ a more oblong board instead of the traditional four by four grid. For a while, it was a exclusive, and for some reason, that turned me off from the idea. Both Jenn and I forgot about the game for some time until I came across it at Barnes and Noble. The game box wasn’t handled well, but that’s not a problem with the game, but with the packaging it was delivered in.

The game is centered around, rather obviously, a New York City shaped board. During setup, you choose four roles that you’ll use, with the engineer always being available to you. Each role has a specific color and set of cards, along with their special ability. You create the deck with those role cards and pass five of them out to the players. You then place your figures on the indicated spots on the board where your player number is located. The game plays generally the same as Santorini with a few exceptions. Your basic action during your turn is to move and build. You move your pawn to an adjacent space and build a level of a building in any space next to you. When you move, you may move up one level at a time if possible, not jumping any other levels in between. But in Santorini: New York, you play cards at the beginning of each round, blindly, and then whoever has the highest value printed on that card, takes the statue of liberty token. Then, the player with the lowest value card goes first. Depending on the roles in the game, you may do a special action before you move, or before you build, or even after either of those actions.

You win by the standard way through Santorini, by being on top of the third level of a building during your turn, but with the Statue of Liberty in hand. Or you have to build the top of a building with the statue of liberty in hand, and have the role of engineer in that round. If you fulfill one of those objectives, then you win the game, or be the last worker standing. Sounds simple enough, right? Well…it is!

No matter what, this product is going to be compared to the earlier rendition of Santorini. Just like the Azulseries of games, this one proves that there’s some problems with the making of a sequel when you want to give the people what they want. Now, as someone who hasn’t designed a game, take this with a grain of salt. Reviewers are often criticized for panning a game for the pure fact that it didn’t work for them, instead of looking at what works for the gaming populous as a whole.

So what didn’t work for me?

1. The prescribed player positions – This one makes me feel as though the game is scripted to only take ten minutes to play depending on whether you have analysis paralysis or not. Each game of Santorini: New York that Jenn and I played ranged between 13 minutes to 8 minutes. And for what it’s worth, our games of Santorini have ranged between 15 to 20 minutes. It’s not much off for the concern here, but it definitely plays faster. I do think this has something to do with the prescribed starting player spaces. Due to these spaces, it’s a little easier to win and create a strategy. If players were allowed to start whichever places they wanted, it would be more interesting for the opponents to move quickly to stop you. It’s what happens in Santorini more often than this iteration of the title.

2. The Roles – When I first heard of the roles that were shared between the players, along with the way the card play worked, it was intriguing. But the last time Jenn and I played it, she mentioned that there might be too many roles between the players. In Santorini, the only role you had was the one dealt to you, and you had to make it work in your favor. Here, you have to share those roles, and it seems too streamlined from what worked before.

3. The Skyscrapers – Skyscrapers enter the board through the engineer, and I feel that while it was meant to be a deterrent, it was more of an annoyance. They clog up the board, but they never truly got in the way. Whenever a skyscraper came into play next to me, there were always paths around it.

Keep in mind, Jenn and I mainly play these types of games in the two player sense, and this one goes up to five. It is highly possible that this game plays out more engagingly with more people, yet we didn’t have that experience. Instead, what we got, was a two player game that was meant for three or more players.

So, out of all that, was there something I liked?

1. The Statue of Liberty – This mechanism is one of the more interesting ones in the fact that it might slow down someone who’s about to win. While you might not purposely play a card that gets you the statue, you have to have that piece in hand when you want to win the game. Therefore, you’ll eventually have to play the high cards. And by doing so, it gives others a chance to see what you’re doing and they can try and stop it since they’ll be going before you.

2. The Representation – I think that Roxley and Spinmaster Games did a great job with the artwork by means of representation. Not only were there an even amount of men and women on the cards and diverse races, there was body type representation. And for someone like me who’s overweight, it was nice seeing someone on a card that shared my dimensions. It was a small thing, but I appreciated it.

Does this mean that I think Santorini: New York is a bad game? No. I think it’s not for me. While I appreciate that there were some advancements in the mechanics from the original, it was possibly a bit too much in some places and not enough in others. I’m glad I got to play it, but for now, it won’t be in our collection in the future.

Rating: Good, but not a keeper.

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