Game Review – Survive: Escape from Atlantis! by Stronghold Games

Last year I received an email from Amazon for Cyber Monday, the next “holiday” after Black Friday. It listed a number of board games and one of them was Survive: Escape from Atlantis!  with a note on the cover saying it was the 30th Anniversary Edition.

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This intrigued me because I’d never heard of the game before. So I snagged it on sale along with others and waited to see what the game was all about. If it’s been around for thirty years, I figured, it had to have some staying power.

Good news: It does. And you definitely want this game for your collection along with all the expansions you can gather!

Let’s start with the premise. You, an intrepid explorer, has found the fabled Atlantis and have been merrily exploring the island! However the island has started to sink and you need to evacuate yourself and your team before you perish – don’t worry, there’s small islands off to the sides you can escape to and survive… if you can get past the sharks and sea serpents, the whales and your competitor who wants to be the only one alive to report the find!

That’s the story. Now let’s set up the board! You start with a lovely board with the aforementioned islands in each corner. The base game goes from two – four players so there’s plenty of room to stake out your home base. Next you build the island.

Yes – I said build the island. That’s one of the big draws of this game – every time you play it’ll be different. Each player now takes a turn to place one hexagon tile on the board within the defined lines. There’s three types of terrain – beach, forest and mountain. And the tiles vary in thickness from the thin beaches to the thicker forest to the Very Tall mountains. So after you run out of tiles you’ve built a three-dimensional board to play on.

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After this you choose a color and collect your meeples/valiant explorers. Players rotate placing one meeple on any tile until you’ve placed them all – and each player gets two boats that they can put next to any tile (not only the beaches) to collect and sail your meeples to safety. Each boat holds three meeples… but anyone can use any boat!

Each turn you must play a tile (more on that in a second) take a tile off the map and move some meeples – or the boat they’re in. When you remove a tile you check the information on the back and see if it can help you or hinder your opponents because there’s more danger here than just the island sinking! Sharks roam the waters eager to snap up meeples swimming to safety, whales can destroy boats trying to make it to shore and sea serpents not only wipe out boats but also eat the swimming meeples. The tiles allow you to place these creatures and move them around the board to attack your opponent. The opposite is also true however and you can find yourself quickly trying to get your people to shore while chased by a series of sharks.

Some tiles do help out however – some allow you to move sharks away from your position, for example, or bring in dolphins to help your meeples to make to shore. Meanwhile the island is being chipped away and in danger of being destroyed by a volcanic explosion!

There’s another level of strategy being added here – obviously if you have X number of meeples and your opponent have the same number it’s not hard to figure out when you’re falling behind in the count and can’t possibly win the game. A few well-placed sharks or whales and you can lose meeples faster than you can munch potato chips… but there’s a trick here!

It’s not the number of meeples you save that determine the winner – each figure has a small number written on the underside showing how many points that meeple is worth – from one to five points. So you could in theory save only two or three of them and score higher than your opponent who brings home a lot of low-pointed meeples. This final bit makes this a much more fun game and adds more strategy to you and your opponent’s gameplay as you try to put on your poker face and not show where your high-point meeples are while trying to get them to land.

After playing this a few times it’s easy to see why it’s been around for thirty years and why it’s not only spawned expansions but also another upcoming version taking place in Space – it’s a fun game that changes every time you play it and has a level of strategy that makes it great for family play. Add in the three-dimensional game surface and I’m wondering why I didn’t find this game before!

If you’re looking for a fast fun game for your family shelf I highly recommend Survive – it can be played with just two players but runs best with four – and the expansions allow you to go up to six players, making this a great game for your buddies!

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