I attended WhosyerCon this last weekend in Indianapolis, IN. While at the convention, I got a chance to play Survive! Escape from Atlantis with John Richard of Game On! with Cody and John, as well as my wife and Cody’s wife Kalen. Since I’ve talked about the game on this blog, that means it’s time for another Buzzworthiness review. This is only the second ACTUAL review that I’ve done, after Lords of Vegas. So, let’s see if this one lives up to the hype.
A disclaimer: I’ve never played the original Survive or Escape From Atlantis. I therefore can’t make comparisons, all I can do is give my own impressions of the Stronghold edition.
COMPONENTS: First, the components. Let me get this out of the way right out of the gate – I hate the art. There, I said it. The cover looks like it was pieced together from a few bits of clip art found on the internet. It looks like the dolphin is in one style, the boat in another, the people in another, the sea serpent in another, the volcano in another. The water in the foreground is blurry, but the oar is perfectly in focus. Inside the box, the board is very pretty to look at but makes me kind of disconnect from the theme. I mean, clear blue tropical waters don’t put me in the mindset of wanting to escape. Instead, it makes me want to relax. I think I would have preferred to see some dark or at least rougher waters. The symbols on the back of the tiles are OK, I guess, but they add to the computer generated vibe I get from the cover.
I know there are people who like the art. It didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the game, I just would have made different aesthetic choices. Component quality in the game is pretty good. The board is well laid out, with a clear outline of where the island is supposed to be. The tiles come in three different thicknesses to highlight the differences between different terrains. It was certainly not necessary to the game, but it adds a little bit of extra elegance to the game. The wooden bits are pretty well designed, but I might have done the meeples differently. As they are, they’re flat people shaped bits with numbers printed on the bottom. They’re kind of easy to knock over, which makes it difficult to hide the numbers. But if you’re playing blue, it doesn’t matter because no one can read the printed black numbers anyway. It probably would have been better to use round pawns (like the ones in Pandemic). It also would have been better to print in a more readable font color. The sea creature pieces are very nice. They are also flat, but it works better, especially since they have no hidden information.
Overall, the components are very high quality. All of the wooden bits very easily could have been tokens with stickers on them, but Stronghold went the extra mile, and I’ll applaud that, even if my choices might have been different.
THEME: The theme of the game is very simple: Atlantis is sinking. Get off the island by any means possible and make it to the mainland before the volcano erupts. Meanwhile, direct various monsters towards your opponents. I’m not exactly sure what you have against those people, and why you wouldn’t want everyone to survive. It’s never really explained. Did they do something to you? Are you just a sociopath? In all honesty, this game is kind of like a Hollywood blockbuster – you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. If you start thinking about trivial matters like motivation, your head will start to hurt. It doesn’t really matter in the end, I suppose – you won’t win if they all survive, so kill ‘em all!
MECHANICS: So, what’s going on mechanically? On your turn, you move, you remove an island tile, you roll the monster die. Couldn’t be simpler. And yet, there’s a lot of strategic choices going on. Which people do you move, and where? You have three points – do you move one piece three spaces, or do you move three separate spaces? Is your opponent going to sic a sea serpent on you next chance they get, so should you go the other way? Most importantly, which meeples do you move – your more valuable ones to try for more points, or your least valuable ones to throw your opponents off?
When you take an island tile, you’ll get a special ability you must play immediately, or that you can keep. The ones you must play immediately mostly involve moving monsters around. The ones you save usually involve moving your pieces or monsters. You’ll need to play smart to figure out when to use them. What you get is random, so you’re kind of at the mercy of fate. Once you’ve gotten to the forest and mountain levels, whirlpools start appearing, which destroys everything in the water that is immediately adjacent – monsters, boats, and swimmers. This is kind of frustrating, but I guess you just should try to avoid being around forest or mountain tiles at that point in the game.
When you roll the monster die, you’ll be moving one of the monsters. You can send them towards your opponents, or you can send them away from yourself. This makes things very interesting.
The mechanics are pretty simple, and I imagine that just about anyone could pick them up. There aren’t a lot of rules, which makes this game pretty accessible to new players. I might go so far as to say this would make a pretty good gateway game.
STRATEGY vs. LUCK: It seems like there’s a lot of luck in this game, but really, there’s not too much. When you choose a tile, you don’t know what the benefit will be, or even if there will be a benefit (it might be a whirlpool that will kill you if you’re too close). You don’t know what monster you’re going to be moving. You don’t know the values of your opponent’s meeples, and if you have a bad memory, you don’t know the value of your own meeples. But really, all of that is balanced by the amount of strategy and the number of risks you’re willing to take. Are you going to steer your boat into the range of that sea serpent? Is it time to jump in the water and swim furiously for shore? Which opponent are you going to sic a shark on? Should you send the whale after the boat full of your opponent’s meeples that are nearly to shore, or should you move one away from your own boat so you can hopefully make it? Where will you place your meeples at the very start to give you the best chance to survive?
A lot of the decisions will be made on how much you want to push your own luck. And there’s a couple of strategies you can use – focus on destroying other meeples no matter the cost, or focus on saving as many of your meeples as possible.
THE WIFE FACTOR: I often base my thoughts on games on how my wife would like them. It was easy to gauge this one since she was sitting right there. She typically doesn’t like confrontational games, but she loves push-your-luck games. This has plenty of both. In our game, she focused on getting as many of her meeples as possible to shore, even going so far as to not attack when she had an opportunity. She also ended up winning since the rest of us were going after each other (it’s so easy to keep a grudge in this game). She enjoyed the game, especially the fairly easy rules and quick play time.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Absolutely. My complaints about the art aside, this is an extremely fun game. I really like my Hollywood blockbuster analogy – you can view this as a disaster film, and can just enjoy the game for what it is. It’s not the deepest game in the world, and that’s OK. I think this would be a great game to use when introducing non-gamers to the wider world of board games, and even good for gamers just wanting to inflict some pain on a game night. Luck and strategy are well mixed, and the game is an extremely enjoyable experience. Stronghold has been doing some great work in bringing old games back into the limelight so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s coming from them next (from what I’ve seen, I like the art for Confusion a LOT more).
There’s my review. I’m not giving it a number rating since I find it so difficult to adequately quantify enjoyment. I will say the game gets a solid thumbs up from me, and I look forward to playing it again. Thanks for reading!