You have to go back to 1982 to when the original Escape From Atlantis board game was first released. For context, hot songs of the era were ‘Physical’ by Olivia Newton-John and ‘Don’t You Want Me’ by The Human League… Woah, wa-wa-woah – wait, come back! Unlike some questionable tastes of the ’80s, this game was way ahead of its time and absolutely deserves to sit alongside modern titles of today.
Survive: Escape From Atlantis is a 30th year anniversary reprint of that ’80s classic. On the whole it’s the same game, but this has received both some TLC on component quality, and some rules tweaks. Each player places 10 stranded people on the island of Atlantis (made up of terrain hexes in a modular fashion), and they have to try to get them off to the safety of neighbouring isles before Atlantis sinks.
Gameplay works on an action point allowance system, where you can have three movement actions available to you, so you may opt to move one person three times, or a variety of people once. People will be scrambling to get their people into the limited number of boats that sit on the island’s edge, and then, if they ‘control’ the boat (have the most people in one), they can move the boat towards one of the safe isles, too.
At the end of your turn, you’ll pick a tile to remove from the island’s perimeter. Any occupants on that tile don’t drown, they just ‘tread water’ for now… But that’s trouble, because now you have to obey the action stated on the tile’s reverse. This is the fun bit: the tiles might introduce extra boats on the shoreline, or maybe sea monsters – a whale that capsizes boats, a shark that eats swimmers, or a serpent that eats multiple people! You’ll quickly realise just how cutthroat Survive: Escape From Atlantis is – this is a survival game, personified.
Your turn ends with you rolling the sea monster die, and you then move the appropriate creature (away from your stranded swimmers, presumably, and towards your opponents)!
The wonderful thing about Survive: Escape From Atlantis is that at the start of the game you (and only you) know the value of each person you place (worth 1-6 points each), which is printed on their base. Once placed, you cannot then re-check their value, so you’d best remember which ones are worth more than others! You’ll only score points off any lucky people you successfully get to the other islands.
Like we said, this is a reprint by Stronghold Games, and it’s credited to the designer of the original title, Julian Courtland-Smith. We love the wooden sea creatures here: the light blue destructive whale, the ominous black shark fin, and the greedy serpents. There are other monsters in expansions available too, such as Survive: The Giant Squid that add even more fun (or terror, depending on where you’re floating in the water)…
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 45-60 minutes
Survive: Escape from Atlantis pits you as a group of explorers attempting to escape from the sinking remains of Atlantis. You and up to three more players take it in turns moving your meeples to safety on one of the other adjacent islands. Sounds simple right? WRONG!
There are a limited number of boats, the island shrinks each turn, there are sharks, whales and sea monsters lurking in the depths and all the while you have got to try and remember who in your team is worth saving and who is best left to drown.
The first thing to note is that the artwork on the box is lovely, always a good start. Inside, everything is neatly organised and can be kept neat even once you’ve got everything out of the little bags. The components are great: from the board all the way to the meeples.
The plastic meeples, with the allocated points on the bottom, are lovely and weighty. The giant-sized board is vivid and bold. The hex-tiles are genius, with three different height levels depending on the terrain (a thin hex-tile for sand, medium for forests and thick tiles for mountains). Every component of this game has been crafted with thought and consideration and I really can’t fault the design.
The rule book is concise and clear, with great visuals to support your understanding. Also, on the side of the board, there are some nice images to help you remember some of the movement rules. After a quick read of the finer details, you are pretty much ready to dive straight in (pardon the pun).
Playing the Game
The first thing you do is build the island of Atlantis by randomly placing the 40 hex-tiles together. Each of the hex-tiles is a different thickness depending on the terrain (beach, forest and mountain). Next you place the five sea monsters into their starting positions.
To start the game you get 10 meeples, all with an allocated value from 1-6. The key to success is to remember that the winner is not the person who saves the MOST meeples, but the person who saves the highest combined value of meeples. I’ve won a game by saving only two of my 10 meeples; however, these two meeples happened to be my ‘five’ and ‘six’ value meeple. RESULT!
You then take it in turns to covertly place your different value meeples onto an unoccupied terrain tile around the island. Once your meeples are in place you may place two boats into the surrounding waters of Atlantis. Think hard about where the boats go, because you don’t want your highest value meeple hanging around waiting for a lift.
The simplicity of Survive: Escape from Atlantis is that you only ever have three moves to perform per turn, each with the overarching aim to get your meeples off the island and to safety. You could move one of your land-based meeples, you could move a boat, you could even move one of your less fortunate meeples stranded in the sea.
After your moves have been used, you get to remove a terrain tile (starting from the lowest beach tiles, until you eventually remove the thickest mountains). The fun with removing the terrain tiles is that you get to scupper your opponents’ plans by landing their meeples in the water by removing a tile they were standing on. Once in the water, the meeples have a survival rate lower than a swimmer in a Jaws movie.
On the reverse of the terrain tiles are different actions which result in spawning sharks, whales or boats; alternatively they provide you with an additional action to be played later in the game (like bonus moves, or the ability to relocate a shark, whale or sea monster).
Once the meeples have been moved and the tiles removed, the cutthroat action begins and you roll the sea creature dice. Depending on what it lands on, you can direct the allocated creature to do your bidding against your opponents. Be warned however, if you use a whale to crush an opponent boat one turn, they may well eat you with a shark later in the game.
Play proceeds with the cycle of: move three times, remove a tile and move a creature. Each player takes their turns until either all of the remaining meeples have escaped to safety, or a volcano is revealed on the reverse of one of the mountain terrain tiles. The player with the highest value meeples saved wins the game.
Sink or Swim?
Survive: Escape from Atlantis is great fun. It is so simple and yet so rewarding to play. The true enjoyment lies in trying to remember who is worth saving and trying to deduce where your opponent’s high value meeples are. Sometimes you are simply trying to eat an opponent with a shark, or crush their boats with a whale. Other times however, you and another opponent may be trying to work together by boarding the same vessel and getting it to safety as quickly as you can.
Turns are quick and everyone is engaged with what each other are doing during their turn. Are they going to help you or hinder your plans? The game creates interaction in that your choices directly affect your opponents and boy will they remember every time you’ve screwed them over. This game certainly swims and I have yet to experience a sinking feeling when playing.
Final Thoughts on Survive: Escape from Atlantis
This game has recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and yet it still feels fresh and is entertaining new hobbyists today (myself included). The reprinted version of the original looks stunning and plays fantastically well for any combination of 2-4 players. Game play lasts for around 40 minutes and it truly is 40 minutes well spent.
Overall, Survive: Escape from Atlantis is highly entertaining and features everything from direct conflict to light co-operation; also, who doesn’t love controlling a sea monster? The game is beautifully crafted, plays brilliantly and is outstanding value for money. I will certainly be adding it to my ‘keep forever’ shelf.