Review: Survive: Escape from Atlantis! 30th Anniversary Edition

Players:  2-4
Ages:  8+
Time to play:  30-45 minutes

Survive: Escape from Atlantis! was designed by Julian Courtland-Smith and was released way back in 1982.  The game was titled "Escape from Atlantis" in some countries and "Survive!" in others.  The game has had many publishers over the years and some rule modifications, but the 30th Anniversary Edition currently in circulation is published by stronghold games. 

In Survive: Escape from Atlantis! you play as an intrepid group of explorers on the island of Atlantis which is sinking into the ocean.  Your aim is to evacuate your explorers from the island onto one of the safe islands located in each corner of the map.  Each of the explorers has a number printed on the bottom representing their value which players are only able to see at the placement phase at the beginning of the game.  At the end of the game the numbers on the bottom are revealed and the player with the highest total (and not necessarily the most explorers saved) wins.

This new 30th Anniversary Edition of the game features revised artwork which has a real tongue in cheek feel (which I think is there to remind you not to take this game too seriously!) and improved components.  These include boats and explorers made from plastic (which I think have been designed this way to enable the printing of values on the bottom), and whales, sharks and sea serpents made of wood.  Each of the monster pieces have a simple but iconic look and are instantly recognisable during game play.  The artwork of the gaming board is beautiful and the colours really pop out, especially just after the initial setup phase when the board is fully populated.

To play Survive: Escape from Atlantis!, you first need to set up the board.  All of the tiles are randomly mixed up then placed in the central area of the board to create a random island.  Then, each player in turn places an explorer on an unoccupied space until the island is full.  Then each player takes it in turns to place a couple of boats.  Finally the Sea serpents are placed on their spaces and the game begins!

So after the starting player is decided, play begins and each turn is broken down into four actions.

As your first action, you can play any tile that you might have collected from a previous turn, this is because it might have a special ability like "move a boat 3 spaces" for example, or move a creature somewhere on the board.

As your second action you can use up to 3 movements points to move one or more of your explorers towards safety.  This could be across land, by boat or swimming in the sea.  Whenever you move on dry land or if using a boat there is no movement restriction on your explorers.  However whenever water is involved, explorers can only be moved a maximum of one space per explorer.  This could be when the explorer is swimming, or climbing from a ship into water or vice versa, or moving from land into water.

In your third action you can pick up one of the terrain tiles that are on the board.  When you pick up a tile, it will either have an action on the underside which you have to perform now, or a special ability that you can keep and use later.  Removing tiles is also a great opportunity to dunk your opponents in the water, hampering their progress!

Also, When you pick up a tile, it must be connected to the sea and initially must be a Beach tile as this represents the lowest lying land.  Once all of the Beach tiles are gone, each player must pick a forest tile, until these are gone, then finally players take mountain tiles.  Underneath one of the mountain tiles is a volcano and when this tile is revealed as the game ends immediately.  Only those explorers who have made it to the safety of one of the corners have survived!  Each of the surviving explorers is turned over to reveal their value and the player with the highest score wins!

So, that explains the first three actions, and as your fourth action you get to roll the creature die.  Which is relevant because this is your opportunity to make the other players lives very difficult indeed...  Each face of the die represents any one of the creature types on the board and you get to use that creature to attack one of your competitors.  Each of the creature has a special ability, so the whale capsizes boats but doesn't eat explorers.  The shark eats any explorers that are swimming in the water (but can't capsize boats), and the Sea serpents, will capsize boats and eat all of the explorers!

And that's effectively explains the game, each turn sees players desperately trying to save their explorers from an ever shrinking island.  All the while dodging attacks from the various monsters which are lurking in the murky depths.  As everyone gets to control these monsters, you have to strike a balance between using them to attack other players simply move them away from your own explorers in an effort to keep them safe.

A random board setup coupled with the random drawing of tiles each turn plus a monster die in which you get to move a random monster keeps the game fresh and interesting, but some might think that it's a bit too.... random.

But it's not as random as you think.  Each group of tiles (Beach, Forest and Mountain) have different effects underneath so each game will follow a similar arc.  The more savvy players will get a feel for what effects haven't been played and what bonuses or hazards should be coming up. This isn't enough for a cast iron strategy but it is enough to take more calculated risks and increase your chances of winning.

But that's what leads me to one of the games major strengths, and that is it's mechanics.  There are so many games out there that are simply and obviously computational with a theme pasted on, and that's fine.  But survive is different in that sense.  The rules seem vary much tailored for the theme.  In fact they seem so logical and intuitive that you don't really have to recall them, you find yourself checking the odd edge case scenario from time to time, but once it's learnt you never have to look it up again.

Because they're so intuitive you almost forget you're playing a game.  It's very easy to become engrossed and invested in saving your team.  You feel a real sense of dread when they are in danger and genuine relief when they are once again safe.  You’ll also feel genuinely gutted when you lose a few to the deep blue sea.

However, I've got to say that although your main focus is saving your explorers, (and this may take some co-operation), To win the game you really need to stab the other players in the back at every opportunity you can get, even if you've just shared a boat with them.  I know some players are going to struggle with this concept but life isn't fair, and there's no better place to learn about the real world than at a gaming table right?

The high randomness and complete duplicity of the players on the table makes this game great fun to play.  In fact I’ve not yet met a person who has played it and not liked it.  Whilst playing you'll go through a range of emotions and plenty of laughs, although sometimes through gritted teeth.  

It’s also worth noting that the game works really well as a two player and is played with no rule alterations.  Each player simply controls two colours instead of one.  The game is also very quick, lasting around 30 minutes per game regardless of the player count, so the sore-losers won't be sulking for long.

I’ve played this many times and it’s still one of my favourites so all I can do is recommend this one.

You can pick up a copy of Survive: Escape from Atlantis! here.


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