Review: Santa Maria

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Santa Maria - Cover

Colonizing America is no easy easy task, but with the help of dice and titles you just might succeed. Santa Maria is a game all about drafting dice to trigger rows and columns of buildings in your ever growing colony. Every turn is a puzzle to solve and every game features different scoring goals and special powers. Will you end up having the most prosperous colony? Or will you be outwitted by the dice and the other players?

What is Santa Maria like?

Santa Maria puts you in charge of building and expanding your colony. Set in the colonization of America era, players play 3 rounds to achieve the most happiness (victory points). You do this by drafting dice that you use to trigger rows and columns of buildings in your colony. Triggering these rows will give you more resources that have various uses. You can use them to expand your colony,  get coins, fulfill “orders,” and advance on the religion or conquistador tracks. 

In each round players take turns taking 1 of the following 4 actions:

  1.  Expand your colony
  2.  Activate a row or column (by using a die)
  3.  Activate a single building (by using coins)
  4.  Retire (withdraw from the round) 

When you expand your colony you “buy” either a small 1 x 2 tile or a bigger L-shaped tile that you put somewhere in your own colony made out of a 6 x 6 grid. These tiles will have various buildings and symbols that you can trigger with your 2nd and 3rd action. 

Speaking of the 2nd and 3rd actions let’s talk about them now. As your 2nd action choice you can draft one of the available white dice (that are rolled at the start of each of the 3 rounds of the game). The number you pick will be the column you trigger on your own board, going from top to bottom and activating all buildings and symbols in that column in order. The dice will be placed on the final symbol you trigger in the column, blocking that off for the rest of the round. Similarly, you will unlock blue dice, through the religion track, that you can use to trigger rows instead of columns. The 3rd action you can take on your turn is placing coins on a symbol to trigger just that symbol. This does however cover it up and means it cannot be triggered again this round (either by dice or coins), and the cost increases each time you do it that round.

The last thing you can do on your turn is retire, meaning you get a bonus and then you’re out for the rest of the round.

Santa Maria - Components

All about the happiness

So now you know about the main drive of the game, but what about the points you need to win (called happiness in the game), how do you get them? I’m glad you asked. There are several ways actually. The most straightforward way to score points is via the shipping actions. 4 shipping orders are always on display and you can pay the resources listed to get the points and bonuses the order offers.  Shipping can only be done when you trigger the shipping symbol on your colony (through action 2 and 3). Another way to score points is being ahead of other players on the conquistador track. This track is evaluated at the end of every round.

You can also unlock certain end game scoring goals through advancing on the religion track. These change from game to game. Advancing on this track also awards extra blue dice and special powers.

At the end of the 3rd and final round of the game players are also awarded points for rows and columns they filled out in their colony. The exact number depends on the number of colonists depicted on the tiles.

Rating

Rating 4 / 6

There can be no doubt that Santa Maria is a very good dice drafting game. The way you draft the dice and trigger your buildings is something I’ve never seen in a game before. So not only is it a good game it’s also unique. The turn structure and rules of the game are simple and it’s not hard to teach new players. Money is super powerful but also very hard to come by and I love that. It’s a great puzzle to try and get the most out of your turn to trigger the right buildings in the right order and expanding your colony.

Setting up rows and columns to trigger in the right order feels great and I love the puzzle of building the best colony you can and getting the very most out of your turn and your precious coins.

The biggest let down for me is the art of the game. It’s very simplistic and cartooney. Also, while each game feels very different and has a nice progression the game does get to feel a little too much like a repeat of the same thing to me. Another thing to note is the controversial setting of the colonization of America. Dark things happened in that part of history and are taken very lightly in this game. I understand how this can offend some people and tracking victory points through “happiness” is not ideal.

But, all in all, I really do like the game. It’s an interesting puzzle that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s easy enough to teach to new players and interesting enough to keep even the more experienced gamers happy. I definitely recommend you give it a closer look and try it out if you have the chance.

The Good

  • Great combination of dice drafting and title placement
  • A very satisfying puzzle experience
  • Multiple paths to victory
  • Games feel very differently thanks to the different end game scoring tiles

The Bad

  • The art is a bit simplistic
  • Component quality could be better
  • The happiness tokens (victory points) are small and weirdly numbered

Facts

  • Players: 2 – 4
  • Playing time: 45 – 90 minutes
  • Suggested age: 12+
Follow Peter H. Møller:

Tabletop Together and dachshund owner, sci-fi geek, trekkie and whovian. Lover of medium length, thematic, silly (in the good way), worker placement style games. A sucker for beautiful art. Generally just a big lovable teddy bear.

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