Picture yourself on a tropical island: lush jungles, sandy beaches, indigo waters. A small wooden boat is moored a little way offshore. Peaceful, isn’t it? But then, you notice people running past you – they climb into the boat and start paddling away from the island. You look around yourself and notice that pieces of the beach are disappearing, consumed by the ocean. You soon find yourself stranded on a sand bar, surrounded by shark fins which are slowly circling you…
Well, the key to playing “Survive: Escape from Atlantis” is to know from the very beginning that the island is sinking. The game board features a large island in the centre, which you construct with a number of moveable hexagons. This central island is the Atlantis of the title, although it is no lost civilisation – merely a tropical island made up of mountains, jungles and beaches. There are four more islands in each of the corners of the board, and these are the safe havens that you aim to reach as a player.
All Explorers Are Created Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others
When setting up the game, shuffle the hexagons with their beach, jungle or mountain sides face up. Then place the hexagons within the bold lines on the board – try to mix up the geography of the island to keep things interesting. I once played this game with the mountains in the centre, the beaches on the coastline and the jungles in the middle, and it was not nearly as interesting. Once this is done, choose a colour (blue, green, red or yellow) and you will receive your corresponding Explorer tokens.
You have 10 Explorers, and there are numbers printed on the bases of the tokens. You have one worth 6 points, one worth 5, a few worth only 1 point each, etc. To start the game, each player takes turns placing their Explorers on each of the hexagons on the central island. Once put down, you may not look at the number value of your tokens again until the end of the game, so try and remember where you put your high value tokens. You will also be given 2 boat tokens to place along the coastline.
In total, there will be 8 boats (in a 4-player game) available for use around the island. During the game, you will slowly move your tokens into boats (each boat takes a maximum of 3 Explorers) and try and get the boats to the safe havens in the corners of the board. The goal is to rescue as many of your Explorers as possible, although the winner will be the person with the most points. So, you may only rescue 2 Explorers, but you might still win the game if you rescued your tokens worth 5- and 6-points.
You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat
Roll the die to decide who plays first. The die has 3 symbols on it: shark fin, whale or sea monster. A sea monster is worth 1, a shark is worth 2 and a whale is worth 3 (why this is will be explained soon). The player with the highest value roll plays first. Play then moves to the left. When taking a turn, you need to do 3 (sometimes 4) things:
- Play a terrain tile (this only happens if you have a tile and decide to use it);
- Make 3 moves. You can choose to move 1 Explorer three times, or it can be a combination, i.e. move 3 different Explorers one move each. However, Explorers in the water (swimmers) only move 1.
- Flip a terrain tile (hexagon). You have to start with the beach tiles adjacent to water. Once all beach tiles are flipped, then flip the jungle ones, then the mountains. When you flip the tile, there is an image underneath – follow the instructions related to the image.
- Roll the die. Depending on what sea creature you roll, you may move that creature. A whale can be moved up to 3 spaces, and can destroy boats but not eat people. Sharks can move 2 spaces, eat swimmers but cannot attack boats. Sea Monsters can move 1 space only but can destroy boats and eat Explorers.
So, there are many obstacles preventing you from rescuing Explorers. You may have to share a boat with Explorers belonging to another player. In that case, only the player with the majority in the boat can move the boat. If you each have 1 Explorer, then either of you can move the boat. Empty boats can be moved by anyone. If your Explorer is standing on a terrain tile that gets flipped, that Explorer could end up being eaten by a shark, or sucked in to a whirlpool. It could also be rewarded with a boat.
Flipping a terrain tile with someone else’s Explorer standing on it is a very obvious way to declare war on another player. Be careful, because that player may be in a position later in the game to take revenge, and you will be surprised at how well everyone remembers who screwed them over earlier. Likewise, you could be nice to other players by offering them protection, and hopefully you build up an unspoken alliance. But if you want to be ruthless, you can kill people with sharks and sea monsters.
The green edged terrain tiles have an immediate effect on the game. When you flip a tile with a red edge, keep that one secret from other players and put it in your hand. This is the type of terrain tile you could potentially play at the start of your next turn. They enable you to either protect yourself from attacks or move more spaces than usual. Under one of the mountain tiles is a volcano symbol which, once revealed, signals the end of the game. Only Explorers on the corner islands are saved.
Calvin’s Verdict: Survive: Escape From Atlantis
I fell in love with this game at first sight. I loved the beautifully designed board which resembles a map, and the well-crafted pieces that look like little toys: the wooden boats, the shark fins, whales and sea monsters. The whole concept of this game is extremely appealing: it plays on my nostalgia, childhood memories of reading “Treasure Island” and Tintin adventures. Once I had played “Survive” once with my brother, I felt compelled to tell everyone about it and to play it with a larger group.
Besides all that, it is a really easy game to pick up for beginners, and continues to be enjoyable after months of playing it. There is also a relatively inexpensive Expansion pack, which allows you to increase the number of players to 5 or 6 people. The expansion also includes dolphin and sea squid pieces. The dolphin pieces provide protection to swimmers, while the sea squid add a whole other level of ruthlessness and mayhem to the game, as players can direct the squid to attack Explorers on land.
This game is a ton of fun. The mechanics work beautifully and Survive really shines with the full 4 people. It’s great in that you can dial back the aggression according to who you’re playing with, no need to be mean if you don’t want to be. The colourful tiles are sturdy and the components feel really good. Survive is easy to explain and fun to play and really, that’s all you need sometimes!
Game Publisher: Stronghold Games
Game Designer: Julian Courtland-Smith
Players: 2-4 players
Play time: 45 minutes – 1 hour
Survive: Escape From Atlantis
- Well-designed, great to look at and has that certain X-factor about it that makes it special. You can win if you play with skill, but you can also be nasty towards other players, if being super-competitive is your thing.
- Did you see me give this game 10/10? I have nothing negative to say about it.