Let’s begin with a little history. Originally released in the USA under the name Survive! way back in 1982, I first came across this game when it was remade by Waddingtons here in the UK a few years later under the name Escape From Atlantis. Essentially the same game with a few minor remixes, it had one major difference that really pleased the young Michael: three-dimensional plastic pieces. For me (and thousands of kids across the country, no doubt) there was nothing better than setting up that island and slowly watching it sink into the water, surrounded by sea monsters and other vicious creatures.
Fast forward to now. I’m grown up and still love to play with plenty of plastic bits, but also now realise that you don’t always need them to have a good game. I recently had the opportunity to try out the Stronghold Games remake of this classic (now combining both heritages and rebranded as Survive: Escape from Atlantis!) and am pleased to say that it’s actually possible to have that glorious feeling of newness all over again, even though it’s very much the same game.
So, what’s it all about? Put simply, between two and four players are tasked with getting as many of their colour’s meeples to safety from a rapidly collapsing Atlantis. The board is made up of an ocean of hexes, in the centre of which is the slowly sinking island. Before the game begins, three different types of tiles (beach, forest and mountain) are placed to make up Atlantis upon which the meeples are put, one by one. However, on the base of each of your little guys is a printed number from 1 to 6 (which then become your score at the end of the game) so you need to remember where you’ve dropped off the more valuable ones when the game commences.
Once each player has finished placing their pieces, it’s time to start escaping. You have three actions per turn which allows you to do a selection of things, like move a piece to an adjacent hex. There are also boats which you can leap into (and move if they’re either empty or you have the majority of meeples on board) and potentially sail to safety. After your three actions, it’s time for things to start going south. You choose a tile that is swallowed by the sea (beaches first, then forests and mountains) and take it from the board – any survivors on that tile plop into the sea and must now swim for safety, be it a boat or a distant beach, one hex at a time.
Underneath each tile is an icon that affects the game. Some are bad, summoning and moving the wooden sharks, whales and serpents around the board as they look for boats to trash and people to eat. Some, thankfully, are better as they help you boost a boat a few spaces or fend off attacks (though my favourite is the whirlpool which wipes out everything in its six surrounding hexes). Either way, every turn will see a tile slip beneath the waves meaning that games pass pretty quickly. The game immediately ends when the mountain tile showing Atlantis’ volcano is flipped over – players then add the points for each of their survivors and the highest total wins, so even if you have the most off the island there could still be someone with more points that you. Victory is by no means guaranteed!
A special mention really must be made about the incredible quality of the components. From the well-crafted wooden playing pieces to the thick-cut tiles that make up the island (the mountain tiles are easily a half-centimetre high), this new version of Survive! has had an awful lot of love and attention paid to it. Stronghold Games should be commended for going back to an older game and treating it with a great deal of respect. Some have said that starting a new company by launching two remakes (this is out alongside the deduction game Code 777) is a cop-out, but if their own releases come with bits of this quality, players are in for a treat. It even comes with rules and pieces to play the different variants, showing that Stronghold have really paid attention to their source material.
This is a game where there are plenty of opportunities to screw over your opponents, so if you’re the kind of player who doesn’t enjoy too much confrontation in a game, Survive: Escape from Atlantis may not be for you. Inevitably, there’ll be one or two players in a game who will feel like a kicked dog by the time you’ve finished, so you’ve got to go into it with a good attitude. Take it in good humour (I mean, it’s all about setting beasties from the sea on each other as you flee from a legendary island) and you’ll have a ball. Don’t underestimate it – this is a strategic title, way more than just another kids game and well deserves your time.
Survive: Escape from Atlantis was originally released in 1982 and designed by the legendary Julian Courtland-Smith (who also created the brilliant Lost Valley Of The Dinosaurs). This updated version is available from Stronghold Games and will set you back around £35-40 here in the UK. Why not give it a shot? There’s a reason Stronghold have chosen to reprint it – it’s bloody good fun!