Tabletop Review: Survive: Escape From Atlantis

We're going to need a bigger island.

by Brandon on

Survive: Escape From Atlantis is the reprint of a Parker Brothers board game originally released in 1982. Why it’s taken this long for the game to resurface and catch on is beyond me, because it’s certainly a game worth reprinting and checking out. The concept is simple: you and the other players are trying to escape a sinking island located at the center of the board. After each player’s turn, a piece of the island disappears into the ocean, so it’s a mad dash to move your survivors towards the safe islands at the four corners of the board. Survivors who make it to those four islands are scored at the end of the game. Piece of cake, so long as you avoid the sharks, whales, sea serpents, whirlpools, volcano, and wrath of the other players.

During the game’s setup phase, the island is randomly built using the 40 hex tiles representing beach, forest, and mountains. With the island in place, players then take turns placing each of their 10 survivors onto unoccupied spots. Beach tiles are the first to disappear, followed by forest, followed by mountains. Therefore, survivors onSetup mountains will be more “safe” than pieces on the beach at the start of the game, but if that mountain tile is far inland you have to weigh the pros and cons of being further away from the shore and closer to those safe islands. As a bit of extra strategy, each of your pieces has a point value from 1 to 6 stamped on the bottom. Once the game begins, no one can look at these numbers. These are your points at the end of the game, counted from the pieces that have successfully made it to the safe islands. Only you know which piece is worth what (should you care to keep track), and knowing this info could factor into how you initially place your pieces on the island and play the game.

Each player’s turn is comprised of the following phases:

  1. Play a tile (if any) — Phase 3 below may give you some tiles to keep in your hand to use on a later turn. Unless it’s a defensive tile to prevent attacks, these actions must be played before anything else happens.
  2. Move 3 spaces — You have three movement points to use on any combination of your player pieces and boats (that you control). Swimmers may only be moved 1 space in the water and can hop back on boats (if there’s room), but may never hop back onto the land tiles.
  3. Destroy a piece of the island — Starting with the beach tiles, choose one tile (that must be touching water) and flip it into your hand.Atlantis image This will do two things:
  • Remove it from the board — The island gets smaller. Any player’s pieces that were on this tile have now fallen into the ocean to become swimmers.
  • Perform an action, or be added to your hand — The tiles used to build the island have various effects on their underside. Some have the immediate effect of adding a shark, whale, or boat to the water in that spot. Some you get to keep in your hand to use during the first phase of future turns for the additional movement of certain pieces. And finally, some can be used to prevent whale and shark attacks.
  1. Roll for creature movement — A red, six-sided die has 2 icons each for whales (destroys boats), sharks (eats swimmers), and sea serpents (destroys both boats AND swimmers). Roll the die to determine which type of creature you’ll move on the board.

Atlantis imageThe rules are very easy to grasp. Even when it comes to how the different creatures move there’s a handy table on the board itself to remind everyone. There may be some confusion when it comes to the movement restriction on swimmers, or what the different icons mean on the underside of each hex tile, but overall new players will have a good idea of how things work by their 2nd turn. What they do with that info is where Escape From Atlantis becomes fun and interesting, because in theory this could be a full co-op game–everyone working together, helping each other get on boats, moving creatures away from other players to get all their pieces to the safe islands before the game ends. But not everyone plays nice…

Whether intentional or unavoidable, a tile with a player’s piece on it could be flipped, turning that piece into a swimmer. If the underside of that tile places a shark in the water at that spot, that means that swimmer just got eaten and is now out of the game. Oops! Even the nicest, most co-operative player might slyly move a sea serpent toward that other player’s boat as a little bit of payback for that shark attack. The game’s theme does an excellent job playing into this desire for survival at any cost. When you have a boat full of survivors, chances areAtlantis review image you’re going to do what it takes to get that boat to safety. If someone destroys your boat with a whale then oh, it’s ON. It’s that fine line between “The island is sinking, let’s get out of here!” and “Screw you, the island is sinking, I’m getting out of here” where most of the game’s memorable moments occur.

Because in the end, it’s who survived the most that declares victory. The game can end in two ways: everyone playing can no longer move (they’re all dead or safely made it to the other islands), or the volcano erupts. The underside of one of the mountain tiles has a volcano, and once that’s revealed it’s game over. 9 times out of 10 the volcano will end your game. Everything in the water is destroyed, and the survivors who made it to the safe islands are counted up. If you’re lucky and/or paid attention, you rescued your “6” and “5” survivors for mucho points. Highest points wins!

Break it down now! (ratings out of 5)

Quality: 4

The hex tiles that make up the island are nice and sturdy cardboard pieces of varying thickness depending on the land type. The actions on the underside are easy to understand as well, though they look a bit boring. All the playing pieces and various creatures are top-notch and easy to distinguish from each other, though some of the stamped-on numbers can be difficult to see on the underside of the player pieces–especially if they rub off.

Theme: 4

It’s pretty easy to get the feel of an island sinking into the sea and the waters swarming with creatures waiting to wreck havoc right off the bat. It’s also nice how things get progressively worse as the game goes on–more and more creatures get added to the waters, not to mention forest tiles introduce devastating whirlpools that destroy everything in the water surrounding them. Before you know it, what started as a semi-peaceful escape turns to chaos.

Learning Curve: 4

Rules are easy to follow and just as easy to learn. It may take a few turns to learn the icons for the underside of each tile, or the mechanics of swimming, but overall it’s pretty basic stuff.

Replayability: 4

The randomly-generated island each time you play helps with the replayability, but even if that wasn’t there the game is fun enough (and short enough–an hour, if that) that when you finish a game you’ll want to play again…either to see if you can do better, or to get back at your friend who sent a sea serpent after you. There’s also a variant included in the box that introduces dolphins to the water to help your swimmers, and two blue “dive dice” that change how the creatures move around, so you could always switch it up and play that way too.

Mechanics: 3

Again, pretty simple stuff. You play an action if you have one, you move pieces, you remove an island tile, you move sea creatures. Done. It might be too simple for some people? Additional actions under the tiles might spice things up a bit, but I’m not a game designer so I don’t know what those would be (maybe mutiny a boat to take control of it?). Still, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

There’s a slight luck factor in the roll of the creature die, but at the same time as the game goes on and the waters are full of sharks, whales and serpents pretty much anything you roll could cause someone a serious headache. I personally think the dolphins and “dive dice” mentioned above slow the game down and make it a little more confusing to new players, so I would suggest keeping with the “basic” game.

Gameplay: 4

This may depend on the crowd you play with, but the beauty of the game is whether you prefer playing nice or playing naughty, Survive has something for you. Do you feel good letting your fellow player hitch a ride to safety on your boat? You’ll enjoy this game. Do you feel good saying you’ll return to pick up a swimmer in your boat if they move a whale out of the way, and then instead move a shark to kill that swimmer? You’ll enjoy this game.

Overall: 4

Survive: Escape From Atlantis is an incredibly easy-to-pick-up game, which leaves it in a pretty heavy rotation around my friends. It’s simple to set up, simple to learn, simple to play, and on the surface is a fun, lighthearted game. Yet much like those peaceful beach tiles waiting to be flipped with a shark on its underside, this game has a sinister side beneath the surface should you brave to explore it (and accept the consequences for doing so).

Mr. Face say this game **good**.<br/> Mr. Face never wrong! face
Mr. Face say this game **good**.
Mr. Face never wrong!

Expansions: At this time, two expansions exist for Survive: one that expands the max number of players from 4 to 6, and another that introduces giant squids to the waters.

It should also be noted that a recently released 30th Anniversary edition is now on store shelves. It’s more aesthetically pleasing (the underside of the tiles in particular), but it removes the dolphins and “dive dice”. That’s not a huge crime in my book, and it’s 10 bucks less, so be aware which version you’re getting if that matters to you. This review and photos are from the older (2011) version of the game.

Photos by [Garret Evans](