Sharkey the Friendly Shark, But Not Too Friendly! - Survive: Escape From Atlantis Review

Ahhhh, feels good to be all nostalgic. I've been into board games since a young age but for a long period of childhood the majority of games I played were by Ravensburger as there were the ones my parents had bought and stuck with. Occasionally there were some other gems though like Hero Quest, Key to the Kingdom and Battle Masters that I could play with my brother if necessary. One particular gem that made the cut even for family play however was Escape from Atlantis which was a great 80's game for me so when I noticed there was a 30th Anniversary Reprint out with all new components, I jumped at the chance to acquire it along with all the mini expansions (especially after my parents sold the original.......THANKS!)

Do I now regret my decision or has my childhood been preserved for my adult years? Let's find out! A quick note though, I'm going to cover the main game as well as the mini-expansions in this review as they are cheap and easy to find, yet make small and significant changes to how it plays.



"Cool looking cover, but SURVIVE is maybe not the easiest thing to do in this game"
Designer: Julian Courtland-Smith (1982 / 2012)
Publisher: Stronghold Games
# of Players: 2-4 (5-6)
Ages: 8+
Play Time: 60 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #154/7.36
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: 55
Category: Cutthroat Adventure Game

Women and Children First..........Screw That!
 
Survive is a light game in which you are trying to evacuate as many stranded sailors of your colour as possible whilst trying to get everyone else's sailors eaten up by various sea monsters or whirlpools that quickly populate the board.
 
The board itself is simply a hexagonal board of water, but in the middle you create an island made up of 40 hex-tiles of varying colours/heights (shoreline, forest and mountain). Each player controls 10 Meeples and take it in turns to place them on the island to start the game. Once they are placed, you take it in turns using an action point allowance mechanic to move your men off the island, onto nearby boats and sail them to the surrounding islands where they will be safe.

"Colourful board just with the tiles alone - and already the island looks much more interesting than the 80's"

The reason you're doing this is because every turn the island is slowly sinking one hex at a time by each player, starting with the shorelines, then the forests and then the mountains, effectively going up in height. As the hexes are removed, they have icons underneath that show what monsters or boats pop up to ruin your day. If a sailor was on that tile, he becomes a swimmer and at that point his life expectancy takes a massive drop. At the end of your turn you'll roll a dice to choose which sea monsters you can move that turn, each of which has a set movement value illustrated on the board. This is subject to change but I'll get on to that later.
 
Each sea creature has a specific diet:
 
  • Sharks will only eat swimmers (I don't remember Jaws having an issue with wooden boats)
  • Whales will only smash boats (I thought whales were meant to be gentle creatures?)
  • Sea Monsters will eat anyone and anything (they're not fussy with their diet)


"Look how chunky these pieces are!"

So each turn you are moving your sailors and then destroying the island and eating up the other players. Occasionally when lifting the tiles you can find wandering dolphins that can carry your swimmers multiple spaces or whirlpools that suck in everything around them. Other tiles can allow creatures to dive across the board or protect yourself from a creature attack in future turns.
 
The game ends either when there are no more sailors not on a safe island or when the volcano tile is lifted from the mountain hexes so you're never sure how many turns are left before it's all over. Each Meeple has a points value below it which you total up to find the overall winner, however I have a big point to make on this later.

How Times Have Changed Since The 80's
 
First up, I'm going to talk about the components. The 80's version of this game for its time was pretty good in this regard even though it used mostly moulded plastics and basic wooden figures for the monsters. It looked good when set up and everything was functional, except maybe for the Meeple "pawns" they were incredibly fiddly.
 
Here, all the plastics have been replaced with quality wooden chunky pieces for both the island tiles and the sea monsters/boats. It's been scaled up in size to be easier on the eye and credit where it's due, it's great to look at any stage be it with just a large island in the centre or with a bucketful of monsters rampaging around.
 
Even the pawns have been replaced with mini-Meeples, which are far less fiddly than before. The tile artwork is functional, but colourful and still have the height differences between the colours to illustrate the topographical terrain of the island. But there are no dolphin creatures to move around in the base game (rectified later) which is a shame.
 
In terms of the rules, they are very similar to the 80's version but with some key differences. Firstly the movement of each monster is fixed (unless you expand the game, more on that later), which makes life a bit more predictable for determining how safe your Meeples are. I preferred the randomness to be honest though so this wasn't a welcome change. Not many games should have randomness, but this is one of them. The rulebook itself could have been written better but I've seen worse, just be prepared for a lot of flicking back and forth between different books if you get the expansions when you're double checking information.
 
Secondly, the sea monsters are placed on the board at the start and don't appear under the tiles. So already you have several key threats to deal with and potentially some monster movement on the first few turns. They are placed right next to the safe islands so you're pushing your luck if you try to sail alongside them.
 
Thirdly the tiles themselves. Most of the time they spawn a new monster or boat but occasionally you can dive monsters or move swimmers/boats multiple spaces and even sometimes retain the tiles as a defence in future turns. This is completely new from the 80's version and adds a nice addition to a player's arsenal. The advantage of using flat tiles as opposed to moulded plastic obviously.

"Game is just getting started. . . . the base game in action (only using 2 players, but imagine more Meeples!)"
 
Finally and in my opinion the best change from the old version is the island setup itself. In the 80's game you created 3 rings of tiles, effectively creating a mound with a perfectly symmetrical layout rather than an island. Not the most realistic island ever. Here however the island is modular. You can take it in turns to place a tile or frankly it's easier just to jumble up the tiles and place them without a though process. As a result the island dips and rises all over the place and eventually you start getting an archipelago layout when the shoreline sinks, creating snaking rivers where monsters and boats can travel up and cutting off Meeples. It looks and plays so much better for it.
 
Not For The Faint Hearted. . . Or Easily Aggravated
 
One thing you can clearly see about this game is that it's about as cutthroat as you can get. Every turn you are 'om nom nomming' (I love that phrase so yes it's getting used a lot lately) the other players sailors and usually with glee on your face as you do so. Children might not like it when that happens so be prepared for that and do not gang up on an adult for no reason as that doesn't go down well either! You can't be nice in this game, you have to be as mean as you can get.
 
"Add in all the expansions and OH GOD!"

It is however with the right people an hilarious experience to play this game with each player making death cry jokes or adding voices to the monsters every time they get a turn. The game is meant to be light and as such it shouldn't be taken seriously - it's not a skill fest that rewards strategic play, you can be eaten up just as easily as other people, but feel free to try and negotiate your way out of the next meal. If you're in the lead, then no chance, everyone is going to hunt you down.
 
So Many Ways to Die
 
The game has a lot of variants in the rulebook for changing up the game however there is one variant you should always use. I mentioned the points value for each Meeple. Well in the main rules you have to memorise what these values are AFTER you put the Meeples down and you're not allowed to check! Some may disagree but I find that to be a silly rule and the 80's game never had points values anyway. I don't mind having the points but you have to be allowed to check them.
 
However one variant in the book makes all the point values redundant and that way everyone has 10 Meeples so therefore a maximum of 10 points available. I always without exception play with this variant, it's that much easier to play and teach and gets rid of the horrible memory aspect.
 
I Shall Call Him. . . Mini-Expansion
 
To date, 3 tiny expansions have been released for this game. They could have been collated into one small expansion to be honest but I digress.
 
5-6 Player
 
"Just ignore the points values......seriously just ignore the points"
 
Literally that was the title of the first one. Score one for imagination there. Put simply it allows you to have 5 or 6 players in the game and provides the Meeple colours to do so. Most games start to degrade I feel with too many players, but Survive plays so quickly (we're talking an hour a game max) that it's an exception to the rule. And having more Meeples on the island means a lot more carnage which is the whole point of the game.
 
A note on essential variants as well, with this expansion you should always play "Overcrowded". Normally the rules ask you to reduce the number of Meeples you start with in large games, but this variant lets you keep all 10 so some tiles will have multiple Meeples on each tile. It doesn't extend the game length as you won't save a lot of them but it does make it more fun with the sheer amount of Meeple deaths that occur.
 
Dolphin and Dice

 
"More chunky, but cute tokens! - Who doesn't like dolphins, come on!"
 
As stated there are no dolphin creatures in the base game and the movement for the monsters is fixed with the only randomness determined by a red creature dice. This expansion adds in the Dolphins that can be moved around like a monster, but they are used as a defence for swimmers in the water blocking one monster attack per dolphin. They can only protect one swimmer and any player can make the dolphin swim away on their turn which I find hilarious as the dolphin seems like it has ADD or something.
 
To allow for dolphin movement and a bit more randomness in general the red dice is now replaced by two blue creature dice, one of which shows each monster/dolphin and one has a numerical value from 1 to 3 as well as a "D" for Dive. Players now roll both of these dice which determine which monster you move and how far it moves. A dive allows you to place the monster on any unoccupied space.
 
The 80's version had this mechanic in the base game so I'm glad to see it back, however it's transition is a bit iffy. The movement aids on the board are now completely redundant and an island tile which previously moved a swimmer 3 spaces (it had a dolphin on it) is now errated to read "Spawn a Dolphin" which is fiddly to explain to new players. They couldn't do much about the board aids, but it would have been better to have replaced the physical tiles with revised versions to justify the cost of the expansion.
 
Giant Squid

 
"Are these meant to be squids or ghosts, they're pretty similar?"
 
This expansion I find to be the most controversial one in the set. It brings in a new monster which spawns and acts at the same time as whales but you choose which to move. Previously your Meeples were safe on the island and "relatively" safe on boats - now that's completely gone. When a squid pops up it can eat a Meeple off an adjacent ship or island piece. That's a recipe for a bloodbath and sure enough when the game gets going, the kill count racks up considerably to the point of utter chaos.

This one is a hit and miss for me. Sometimes it's fun to have the complete carnage happening but sometimes I find it clutters the game up and is a bit "too far" in that you feel you really have no hope in surviving. The rules are also a little clunky in that you choose whether to use the squid or whale and they can both kill each other, yet to be honest I rarely see anyone do that, not least because the Squid pieces are great!

Verdict

The 30th Anniversary Edition lives up to it's 80's predecessor and adds some new elements that make it even better, mainly it's modular setup and component quality upgrade. These two changes really make a difference to how it looks and plays. Not all changes were welcome though. I personally didn't like the "fixed" movement rates, but the Dolphin/Dice expansion sorts that out and I really didn't like the "points" system with each Meeple so I adamantly only use the variant to make them all equal.

As for the mini expansions, you should try to acquire them in this order that I've reviewed them above. If you have the facility to play with 5-6 players you will want this expansion now as the Overcrowded variant is great fun and it doesn't bog the game down length wise, you can still wrap this up in an hour, 90 minutes tops. The Dolphins and Blue Dice are also recommended to add more randomness and bring back the dolphin pieces, but I do wish the Errata didn't have to be necessary. As for the Squid, meh, you can take it or leave it depending on your preference. I've used it a few times but for new players I might be inclined to leave it out and just use it on occasions. Price wise they could have been cheaper (or had additional parts to them), but again I've seen worse.

It is suitable for family play however be warned that this is a cutthroat game so if your group is the sort that gets agitated/angry easily (in which case why do you play with them?) then you might want to be careful, but otherwise, take the game lightly and enjoy the carnage that awaits, it's a great game from the past and well deserving of a reprint.

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