Sometimes the appearance of a game can put you on the wrong track. That behind a dark design lies a smooth family game, for example. Or the opposite, a spicy game for enthusiasts with a cartoon-like appearance, such as Santa Maria. The fact that dice play an important role does not sound any alarm bells either.
But don’t be fooled, Santa Maria is not a cheerful game for a wide audience. It fits seamlessly into the trend that board games for enthusiasts have been becoming more complex for more than ten years, where arithmetic often forces interaction into a supporting role and theme is usually just a secondary issue. An early step in that direction is High Voltage, a more recent favourite is Great Western Trail.
For this genre the term ‘spreadsheet games’ is sometimes used, which is very appropriate for Santa Maria. All players have their own board, divided into rows and columns. By alternately choosing a die you activate all buildings in a row or column. You can also pay money to use individual cells, I mean buildings. The buildings allow monks and conquistadors to do their beneficial work in the New World or provide resources. With them you can make new buildings or buy ships, which in turn generate income.
Ultimately, of course, the aim is to earn points with all these things. The game lasts three rounds, in which you can do more and more. The third round therefore quickly lasts as long as the first two together. The player with the most points after the final score wins.
Santa Maria Review Summary
I’ll be honest right away, Santa Maria won’t be for most people. It’s all about making your own calculations, hardly any interaction and a far-fetched theme. In a game lasting half an hour, that can be quite fun, but with a playing time of 1,5 hours plus, I can come up with 100 more enjoyable games.
Some might like it but I can imagine that a lot of players have trouble with the theme. What exactly do those conquistadors do and how do they get all that gold? In an abstract game like this, choosing a less controversial theme would have been a better option.