Thursday, February 27, 2014

Survive Escape From Atlantis! by Stronghold Games

Survive Escape From Atlantis! is a game of luck, planning, and misfortune where each round provides ample opportunity to benefit from or be the victim of whales, sharks, sea monsters, and whirlpools.  Explorers must swim or boat to safety before the volcano erupts and sinks the island of Atlantis once and for all!

Survive is the best “gateway” game I’ve been introduced to this year, and the game I’d point to if I was asked for a reasonably “deep” board game (pun fully intended) that a person could play with children, friends, family, and strangers of any skill level. Though it’s over 30 years old, it remains a fantastic game of light tactics and fun interactions for people of all ages.

The game begins with a simple setup. Desert, forest, and mountain tiles are randomly placed around the center hex (which contains a landlocked Sea Monster) until Atlantis is complete. Then, in turn order, players place their swimmers one to a hex until all swimmers are on the island. In a four-player game each hex is occupied, and in smaller games there are some openings.
nom nom nom

Players take turns moving swimmers towards the shore, resolving effects, and wrecking each other’s chances with strategic movement of Scary Things (this is my phrase) until the Volcano tile is flipped, signaling the end of the game. The Volcano tile is one of the 8 mountain tiles, which are flipped only after the desert and forest tiles have been flipped (thematically, they’re submerged as Atlantis sinks).

Each swimmer is worth a certain number of points, hidden from all opponents. When the game ends, the player with the most points on the shore is the winner, and has “survived” the… best? Strongest? Hardest? In my imagination, the player with the most points has adapted to the environment most ably and is now able to flourish in this new world of water, volcanoes, and freaking scary monsters swimming everywhere.

Turns contains four phases, taken in order, in which players:
  1. MAY play a tile from their hand (Often good for you, never bad for you, and occasionally bad for your victims… er… friends)
  2. Take up to three spaces of movement, one hex per swimmer, or up to three hexes for a boat, which can hold up to three swimmers.
  3. Flip over a tile on the board (Atlantis is sinking!)
  4. Roll the die and move the appropriate scary thing (Sea Monster, Shark, or Whale), often resulting in gobbling up opponent’s swimmers.

That’s likely the shortest summary of a turn I’ve ever written, and it’s intended to be so. Survive is nothing if not elegant – from setup, it’s easy to see what has to happen for you to win, and what awful things can happen to keep you from winning.

The Scary Things
Atlantis, old tongue for "Don't Swim Here"
  • Whale: moves 3 spaces, crushes boats (but not people)
  • Shark: moves 2 spaces, eats people (but not boats, Jaws, so play it cool)
  • Sea Monster: moves 1 space, eats boats AND people (and boots and cats)
The scary things provide the great drama of Survive: Escape From Atlantis. Without them, this would be a simple game of “who can do math the best” in a race to the finish line. With them, the board quickly becomes a morass of idled boats, stranded swimmers, and monsters circling hungrily while players nervously roll dice to see who will be consumed first.

Additionally, the per-turn flipping of tiles creates a neat tension, as players have to flip the desert, forest, and mountain tiles in order as the game progresses with no idea what’s under them. If I flip a tile with my own swimmer on it, she could end up safely in a boat, halfway home and thinking about island bbq and hammock naps. It’s also entirely possible that she could become a meal for a shark, strangely hiding underneath a seemingly-innocuous forested region.

Swim, you fools!
Sometimes the tiles have an immediate effect (like a shark!), these tiles have a red border. Tiles with a green border are taken for later play, and usually let you do mean things to other swimmers, like move whales to crush boats, or sea monsters to eat, well, everything. These tiles are the coolest part of the game, as there’s no greater feeling than seeing your opponent’s boat laden with snacks (Sea Monster-talk for “people.”)

Survive is a luck-driven, light, family game for 2-4 people that plays in about 30 minutes and is appropriate for every single person who likes board games. I’d take this to any family gathering with the complete intention of getting it to the table. If you’ve got kids, this is a must-have (I don’t have kids, so maybe I’m wrong) because there’s absolutely no reading involved, everything is iconographic (using pictures to convey actions) and the theme is fantastic (I mean “of fantasy” not “awesome”, although it’s also awesome).

Short review is short, but don’t blame me for it - I’m rushing to go play another game of Survive: Escape From Atlantis, and you should too!

Father Geek's review of Survive: Escape From Atlantis! on

Video Review of Survive: Escape From Atlantis! from Starlit Citadel

Tom Vasel reviews Survive: Escape From Atlantis! on The Dice Tower

JR Honeycutt is a full-time husband and game-player, and co-host of The Nerd Nighters. You can find him on Twitter at @JayAhre or at a Friendly Local Game Store in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. 

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