Here There Be Dragons — Survive: Escape From Atlantis!

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Survive: sea monsterSurvive: sea monster

Beware the Sea Monster! Photo: Jonathan Liu

Survive boxSurvive boxOverview: Atlantis (as usual) is sinking, and it’s your goal to get off the island before your people drown. They can take a boat or swim, but watch out for sea serpents, whales and sharks. Survive: Escape From Atlantis! is a reprint of a game called Survive! from 1982, with additional pieces and rules to emulate the similar 1986 game Escape from Atlantis.

Players: 2 to 4

Ages: 8 and up

Playing Time: 45-60 minutes

Retail: $49.95

Rating: A superb remake of a classic danger-filled game.

Who Will Like It? If you like the thrill of sinking islands but felt like Forbidden Island was just a little too … nice, then Survive just might float your boat. But if you (or your gaming group) tend to take games personally, then you might want to use caution in these waters.

Survive starting setupSurvive starting setup

The island is populated—time to flee! Photo: Jonathan Liu

Theme:

With the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, this theme may hit too close to home for some folks; on the other hand, you might be able to use it to introduce some awareness of current events to your kids. The way the island sinks, the beaches go first, and then the forests and mountains, so it really does feel like the water is creeping up onto the land. Plus, with the whales, sharks and sea serpents roaming about in the open waters, it can be quite terrifying when you’re floating about in a tiny little boat.

As my wife pointed out, in the case of a real sinking island, hopefully people would be more cooperative in getting everyone off the island rather than trying to just save themselves. Of course, that doesn’t make for a very interesting game — I actually played with my highly-sensitive 7-year-old today and she was very reluctant to send any of the sea creatures after me, and was definitely against getting any of her own people eaten. She enjoyed it, but it makes for a very peaceful, lazy affair.

Components:

  • 1 game board
  • 40 cardboard Land tiles (16 Beach, 16 Forest, 8 Mountain)
  • 40 wooden people tokens (10 each in four colors)
  • 5 wooden sea monster tokens
  • 6 wooden shark tokens
  • 5 wooden whale tokens
  • 4 wooden dolphin tokens
  • 12 wooden boat tokens
  • 1 Creature die
  • 2 Dive dice
  • 1 drawstring bag

One of the first things I noticed about the components is that they’re very sturdy cardboard. The board itself is quite large, almost glossy, with a lovely ocean scene overlaid with hex outlines. The land tiles (which you’ll have to punch out) are printed with beaches, forests and mountains on one side and simple, easy-to-read icons on the other. Also of note: the land tiles are differentiated by thickness. Beaches are thinnest, about the thickness of Carcassonne tiles, and the mountains are extra-thick and quite sturdy.

The dice are excellent, with custom images etched and painted into them. All of the wooden tokens are nice, too — about what you’d expect from your typical wooden-bit Eurogame. As you can see below, the meeples have different numbers printed on the bottom. In the basic game, this is how many points each one is worth, but you only get to peek at the numbers at the time you place them onto the board.

Survive meeplesSurvive meeples

The meeples aren't all worth the same amount. Photo: Jonathan Liu

Gameplay:

There are a few variants, but I’ll explain the basic game first and then briefly touch on how the variant rules work.

To set up the game, the land tiles are shuffled and randomly placed within the thick black border, leaving a lake in the center. There are five sea monsters at the beginning, one in the lake in the center and one next to each island goal in the corners of the board. Then the players take turn placing their people onto the island, one to a hex, until all the people have been placed. (In a four player game, every land token will be occupied.) After that, each player gets to place a boat somewhere next to the island, until everyone has placed two boats.

Now that the island is populated, the game begins. On each turn, there are four moves:

1. Play a single tile from your hand. On your first turn, you won’t have any but once you’ve collected some you’ll be able to play one if you choose. More on that below.

2. Move people and boats. You have three moves to spend between boats and people. People can travel across the land, jump into boats or move from boat to boat if they’re adjacent. Swimmers (people in the water) can only move one space per turn, and it takes an additional move to get into a boat in the same space. You can move any empty boat, but you can only move occupied boats if your people are in it — furthermore, you cannot move a boat if somebody has more people than you in it. Also, once people have left the central island, whether in a boat or by swimming, they can’t get back on the land and must get to a boat or the safe islands.

3. Sink a land tile. You must sink beaches first, then forests, then mountains. Also, you must sink a tile that is already touching water. (Depending on the layout, you could end up with beach that is entirely surrounded by forests and mountains, in which case those are the last beach tiles to sink.) If you sink a tile that is currently occupied, the people on it end up in the water as swimmers.

Each tile has some sort of icon printed on the underside, which you can see in the picture below. Tiles with a downward-pointing arrow take effect immediately, and those with a hand icon are taken into the player’s hand. Some tiles cause sharks, whales and boats to appear — people on that tile can end up eaten by sharks or sitting in a boat. The whirlpool sucks in any people who were on the tile, as well as anything in the ocean spaces adjacent to it. Other tiles can be used to move the various sea creatures to any unoccupied space on the board, or to move a boat or swimmer three spaces (which doesn’t count toward the player’s regular three moves). There are two tiles which can protect a player from a whale or shark attack, though none that protect against the sea serpent. Finally, the volcano — one of the mountain tiles — signals the end of the game, and anyone who has not made it to the safe islands yet is doomed.

Survive tilesSurvive tiles

The tiles have different effects; some have immediate effects and some are kept in the hand for later use.

4. Roll the die and move a creature. The red die will allow you to move a sea serpent, shark or whale. (Sea serpents move one space, sharks move up to two spaces and whales move up to three spaces.) Moving the creature is optional, though it’s usually in your best interest to get creatures away from you and closer to other players. Whales will destroy occupied boats, dumping people into the sea. Sharks eat swimmers. Sea serpents will eat both people and occupied boats.

The game ends when the volcano tile is revealed.

In the basic game, you get as many points for each person as the number printed underneath, which you’re not allowed to look at except when you first placed the person onto the island.

Challenge rules: The various challenge rules tweak the game a little bit. For instance, “Densely Populated” allows you to place up to two people per land tile on the outer rim of the island at the game start. “Leave No One Behind” changes the volcano to a whirlpool and extends the game until all the people are either on safe islands or have been eaten by creatures. “Everyone is Equal” makes all the people worth the same, so you’re just trying to save the most people regardless of the number printed underneath. “Atlantis is Gone” ends the game immediately when the last land tile is removed (again using the volcano as a whirlpool).

The last variant, “Dolphins and Diving Creatures,” apparently follows the rules for the original Escape from Atlantis game. It adds the four dolphin tokens and substitutes the red creature die with the two blue dive dice. When the dolphin tile is revealed, instead of taking it in hand and using it to move swimmers, instead a dolphin is placed on the board. Dolphins can be used to protect a single swimmer from sea serpents and sharks, and can be moved along with the protected swimmer.

One of the blue dive dice has numbers on it (1, 1, 2, 2, 3) and a D. The other has one of each creature (including the dolphin), a boat and a starfish. The player rolls these instead of the red die, and can move a creature or an unoccupied boat as many spaces as the other die shows. The D stands for “dive” or “drift” and allows them to move the token to any unoccupied space. The starfish is wild and the player can choose to move any item. Dolphins will stay with a swimmer until a player uses the dive dice to move a dolphin away or to another swimmer.

Survive sinkingSurvive sinking

The island is sinking—watch out for sharks and whales! Photo: Jonathan Liu

Conclusion:

Survive: Escape from Atlantis! has a lot to offer, especially with the two main sets of rules. The oversized game board and colorful wooden tokens make it a delight to look at while you’re playing. (My photos were taken during a two-player game, but there are also red and blue meeples.) The rules are fairly easy to grasp and it’s easy to get started playing without too much explanation.

The pacing of the game is very nice, particularly in a four-player game where three tiles will sink between your turns. The two-player version is a little slower and it’s possible to get everyone off the island well before the volcano erupts. It has something of the feel of Forbidden Island, except that it’s every man for himself here — don’t expect that boat to be sitting there at the dock by the time it’s your turn!

Of course, that element of spite means that the game might not be ideal for you, depending on the temperament of your game players. Despite appearances, this is not a Euro-game where everyone is working toward their own goals with only occasional conflict. In Survive, you’ll be capsizing boats with whales and eating up swimmers with sharks, not to mention dumping people into the ocean when you sink land tiles. If you or your fellow gamers are squeamish about that sort of thing, this probably won’t be quite as much fun for you.

However, for players who don’t mind a bit of aggression and competition, Survive is a lot of fun. From the initial placement of the people, there is room for a lot of strategy: do you get near the water so you can get in a boat quickly, or do you seek the high ground so you won’t be forced to swim right away? It’s also important to remember where you’ve put your high-valued people because you’ll probably have to make a difficult decision at some point about which people or boats to move. Chances are you won’t be able to get all of your people to safety before the volcano erupts, so choose wisely!

Look for Survive: Escape from Atlantis! from your favorite neighborhood games store or order online from Stronghold Games, Amazon or other retailers.

Wired: Attractive, sturdy board and game pieces; fast-paced gameplay and easy-to-learn rules.

Tired: Definitely not a game for pacifists.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a discount on this game for review purposes.

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