Survive: Escape from Atlantis! Originally published in 1982 has been around for literally decades. I don’t know how it escaped me the first time it came around, but it certainly didn’t the next time it was produced by Stronghold Games. The 30th Anniversary Edition sees some great components and a new expansion or three, which makes it a great gateway game, and is the one I refer to throughout this review.
You will also find out in short order that no one is your friend on the island for long. At least there is no smoke monster… or is there?
Game play and set up are relatively simple. Set up the island using the tiles, being sure not to peek at the bottom. Place the five serpents around the island on their predetermined spots.
Next each player takes their survivors of one color and places them around the island on tiles in turn order. You will want to note the number on the bottom as you will place them and not be able to look at them again for the rest of the game. These values range from 1 – 5 and are the points you will score at the end of the game. That is if you are able to get them off the sinking island.
Play then commences in turn order. The player has three action points to spend. This is moving people, boats and swimmers around the island and its surrounding waters. The player then reveals a land tile, starting with the sand and moving on to the thicker jungle once they are all depleted, and again with the mountains. You execute the move on the tile if the border is red. This is usually placing a monster around the island.
The last phase in the player’s turn is the creature movement. You roll to see which creature moves and move it according to the chart along the bottom of the board. This part is by far the most fun and where a lot of the expansions come to bear. Boats will be capsized and people will be eaten, I mean removed from the game. Generally speaking the creatures have a variety of effects. Whales capsize boats, Sharks will eat remove swimmers and Sea Serpents do both, taking out the boat and eating removing all the swimmers in that space.
In the later part of the game the board gets crowded and the creatures are everywhere. Whirlpools pop into existence and suck down people and creatures alike. Play continues until someone flips the volcano tile under one of the mountain tiles, in which case anything in the water will perish, leaving only the survivors on the fringe islands to score.
There is not a single huge expansion for Survive: Escape from Atlantis! like there are in other games. Instead this is handled with three mini-expansions which each bring their own flavor to the game.
This is the one must-have expansion. It takes away the element of fixed movement for each monster and instead gives you randomization to both the monster and the distance they move. The pack comes with two dice and one is used to determine which creature is moving, the other tells you how far. The number die also has a D printed on it, in which case you may dive the creature and move it great distances.
The other introduction in this expansion is the Dolphin. The dolphin takes the place of the Dolphin tiles when they are revealed and will protect tasty swimmers from the circling sea creatures. Dolphins make the game a little more, shall we say, survivable.
5 & 6 Player Expansion
Survive is pretty tight with four players. Add in the fifth and sixth player to the game, and you will have a game that is very cutthroat and usually hysterical. The amount of creatures in the sea and the sheer number of people trying to get off the island makes this go from a little bit nasty to full on friendship killer. In the Anniversary edition this expansion merely adds the other victims to the game, so whether it is a must have depends on your player group size you typically will be playing with.
The title of this expansion brings to mind the phrase ”jumbo shrimp.” In essence this expansion adds another creature to game, the Squid. The squid is especially nasty since it will actually pluck a survivor out of a boat or off of dry land. They appear in place of whales, but can also be taken out when a whale occupies the same space. It is a little convoluted to use, to be sure, but once you use it a few times, you find it easier to remember to use them.
Teaching Survive: Escape from Atlantis!
Survive is a game which works well with many groups. I find teaching it to be very simple, and the gameplay will depend on the group playing. Groups tend to want to help each other in the beginning, and worry about themselves. But after a play or two, you will find the more viscous tendencies start to emerge. Playing a cutthroat game is where this game shines.
Begin by teaching the basic game. If you have the Dolphins extension that is a very quick add in, as well as the dive dice. I can’t imagine playing with the dive dice at this point. They really make it much more random, although the gamers out there may not appreciate that since there is more strategy in the game when the monsters move at predetermined lengths.
I usually will save the squid until later on. The brutal nature of the attack can really turn some people off. If you find your group is a nasty, take-that kind of thing, then it’s easy to slip in mid-game even. I have had success teaching this to younger people as well, down to 8. It makes for a fun family game and might also serve as an ipso-facto therapy session to boot.
Customization and Components
There really is no customization needed here. The quality of the components in the Anniversary edition is wonderful. From the teeth in the sea monster to the standing squid, you really get a quality product. The plastic Meeples are something I am less thrilled about, being that I prefer wood bits, but I haven’t gotten around to replacing them yet either. Carcassonne size Meeples would probably work just fine if you put numbers on their feet. The orange and red can be tough to tell apart in the right light too, I have found.
Painting the creatures is on my to-do list. I just haven’t sorted exactly what I want to do. Part of me wants to turn a squid into Cthulu and another wants me to paint the Serpents green. But again, it doesn’t scream to be done, so it is on my mind, but not a priority by any means.
This is the rare instance where I think foam core will not bring any improvement over the original insert in the anniversary edition. I find that refreshing, to say the least. The bits all have slots, and aside from adding some baggies I have yet to touch this one. The manufacturer’s solution is pretty spot on and deserves props for being functional and solid at the same time.
Survive: Escape From Atlantis is one of the few games I will actually buy as a gift for a non-gamer. I have purchased two of them as gifts and both times I saw pictures online shortly after of raucous, multi-generational games being happily played. If you find the element of take-that utterly offensive, this may not be the game for you. On the other hand, it is a great time in a very reasonable amount of time. Fair warning to people playing with their spouses; it may not matter that they beat you in points, but it certainly matters if they rescues more people than you.