There are few things I dislike more than the beach. Thankfully, the board game Santa Monica comes with 0 grains of sand. Because this game was designed by Josh Wood (Cat Lady) and published by AEG, we took a chance on this pastel California inspired game.
In Santa Monica, 2 to 4 players draft cards to build the best beach front community. Players will draft from a display of 8 beach themed cards. These cards depict everything from bustling tourist spots to serene water front property. When drafting, players can only choose from the front row of the display of cards. Drafting a card from the front row allows a card from the second row to move to the front. This can give your opponents access to valuable cards that may have been unattainable previously.
During the setup of Santa Monica, two rules will be chosen that allow players to spend sand dollars to modify drafting rules. These sand dollars can be so valuable to draft just the right card. Along with these two rules, an end game rule is chosen that players will work toward.
As you add these drafted cards, your beach front community will fill out with shops, beach activities and meeple visitors. When a player reaches 14 drafted cards, the players finish the round and the game comes to a close.
Santa Monica is very deceptive. The style and speed of this game is so chill and relaxing…until it’s not. Some tiles that you draft will come with tourists or locals attached to them. Controlling the meeples that are added to your community is such a huge part of this game.
These cute meeples are looking for places to hang out and not every tile will give space for that. At the end of the game, these unplaced loitering meeples can become negative points that count against you.
At the bottom of the card display, there is a food truck and foodie token giving bonuses when players draft from the column they appear in. The food truck will award you with another sand dollar. The foodie will give you the ability to move a single meeple 1 tile in your community. When these two token meet in the same column, you can gain a double bonus which can be a big gain.
As your ocean front community fills out, the game becomes a puzzle as you look for tiles that allow movement of your meeple population. Most of the tiles in Santa Monica give you a perk when it’s drafted such as new meeples, sand dollars and movement. You’re also looking for scoring opportunities such as linking together like locations and scoring adjacent tiles. It’s rare that the perfect tile is available when it’s your turn to draft. Adapting is a must.
Building a Beach Community
With around a dozen games of Santa Monica, we’ve had a wide range of experiences. The two action rule tiles that are chosen in the beginning of the game along with the randomness of the tiles that show up make each game unique. Both Erin and I have really enjoyed the tension of finding the right combinations to build out our communities. It seems nearly impossible to hold onto a single strategy time after time with Santa Monica.
As the game comes to a close, players are allowed to move their VIP and tourist meeples a single space and their locals meeples can move 3 spaces. These final movements can be a lifesaver as the game ends.
With so many games in our review que and on our game shelf, it’s rare that we play a game more than a couple times in a week. Santa Monica hit the table no less than 5 times the week we bought it. We really enjoy how our experience with the game shifts slightly with the rule tiles and end game scoring.
Santa Monica has a beautiful and fun illustration style that immediately draws players in. It’s always a surprise to find another fun element on a card no matter how many times you’ve seen it. The illustrations depicting beach weddings, skate parks, shopping centers and ice cream shops are so thematic. The color choices reinforce that laid back beach life that Santa Monica is known for.
It’s easy to say that Santa Monica is one of my favorite releases of 2020. I never thought that I’d connect so much with a game about a place that I dislike so much, the beach. If you’ve seen this game on the shelf at your local game store, I’m here to tell you that it’s worth diving into.
You can purchase Santa Monica at your local game store or online on Amazon today.
- Lots of replay-ability because of rule and scoring cards
- Easy to teach, tough to master
- Fun and thematic illustrations
- Plays well at every player count
- Players prone to AP (analysis paralysis) could struggle
- Must be willing to adapt during the game