Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty Santorini

I have played only a handful of games of Santorini, and while I have enjoyed it, I don’t feel any great desire to play it anymore. Having said that, I have only played in the ‘base mode’ without any of the ‘god powers’ included in the game. That is probably equivalent to only playing the tutorial mode in a video game, so I will withhold judgement until I have played with the stabilisers off.

Abstract games have never really been my cup of tea anyway. If I were to list my three most important elements in any game, it would look a little like:

  1. Theme
  2. Mechanics
  3. Theme

So obviously abstract games don’t exactly roll my dice, so to speak. If I had to play an abstract, my preference would be for a less complex game, like Santorini. A simple set of mechanics that provide a nice puzzle or challenge for the player.

If you start to complicate that equation and add more layers and mechanics, I can’t help but question why I am taking actions and moving pieces; not finding any satisfactory answers on the board means that I don’t have a compelling reason to continue to play. If I am just pushing cardboard around a vacuum in order to score more points, you have lost me. Hence, Santorini, and my absolute favourite abstract: Hive.

However good Santorini may turn out to be once the God Powers come into play, I very much doubt it will tower high enough to topple Hive from the top spot. Hive is a boardless, chess-like two-player game. Each player has a set of wonderfully chunky, tactile, hexagonal tiles, which they place to form the ‘hive’. Each hex represents a different insect: beetle, grasshopper, etc., each with a different movement rule, à la chess. You place pieces and slide them around the ever-expanding hive in order to trap your opponent’s queen.

It’s simpler than chess (considerably so), but still has enough depth of play to warrant more than one strategy guide available to purchase. While I have long since given up on chess (like any sane person would), Hive is a game that I feel I am capable of learning and improving with all the time, without ever feeling utterly and completely out of my depth.

But all of the depth of Hive comes from strategy, not mechanics. The rules form a very simple framework, and games only take 10-15 minutes (depending on how quickly I lose).

My initial feeling on Santorini was that the rules framework did not allow for much gameplay depth, and it was simply move and counter-move. But the god powers introduce different win conditions and player abilities, so these should hopefully shake things up enough spike my interest in the game again.

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…And Then We Held Hands

Writer_smaller…and then we held hands

“…and then we held hands is a non-verbal cooperative game about two people and their failing relationship. The two players must cooperative in order to achieve emotional balance within and between them. The players’ perspectives change as they dance around each other, trying to fix what is broken”

“They must cooperate by “reading” each other’s intentions and by trying to help each other avoid being stuck, which would cause the game to be lost.”

Intimidating, right? I mean, I’m not kidding. This sat unplayed on our shelf for months, not because of the usual reasons games go unplayed, but because we were afraid of the damned thing. What if it judged us and found our relationship lacking? What would we do? Would we have to break up?

The game comes in such an unassuming little blue box, I don’t know how they managed to make it feel so disquieting. It’s like an emotional TARDIS.

As it turns out, it is not at all weighty to play. Although it’s wrapped in a heavy theme, playing it feels more like a light, refreshing breeze. You basically have to move around a board by discarding ‘emotion’ cards to move to their matching nodes. You have to reach a series of goals, and then meet in the centre. The cards you use to move can belong to you, or your fellow player, but if you don’t carefully assess their own board position as well as your own, the cards you take could result in your partner being unable to move, thus losing the game (for both players).

It is ‘non-verbal’ in that you are not allowed to discuss the game while playing it. No hints, no tips, no strategizing. Instead, it is up to you to look out for your fellow player at all times, and think ahead with them in mind.

While the game allows, and even encourages discussion of other topics while playing, I find I love the silent consideration and peaceful play that it can bring to the table. Topping this is the satisfaction it brings when you are playing in sync with someone else. When you know they have seen the move you have seen, and have avoided the traps you so badly wanted to point out to them. When you know you are working in the same way, towards the same goal, without the need to communicate, it’s a unique experience.

The game is not complex, but does have varying degrees of difficulty. While we have yet to explore the higher difficulties, the calming, bonding play experience that it delivers in the standard mode is enough to make me very glad we conquered our fear of its Sauron-like Eye of Judgement, and discovered the strength it can make us feel.

The game is a flagship for the diversity, brilliance, innovation, and beauty of modern board games. While we have yet to explore its longevity and replayability, I do still recommend tracking this down.




It’s also very pretty. Check it out on BGG:

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