Before the 1990s there weren’t a whole lot of quality board games out there. But hidden in the back room closet of your brother’s friend’s uncle was a gem ahead of its time. Survive is a game about trying to get off a sinking island where bad things happen. It’s also about seeing who you can destroy to better your chances of doing so. It is a game about…wait for it…survival.
The first thing you’ll be doing is assigning your meeples to different areas of the island. (That’s right, they existed before Carcassonne.) Some of your crew are more important than others so some careful planning needs to be made as to who’ll watch over what area and when they’ll actually be leaving the island. Basically, on the underside of each Meeple is a number ranged from 1 to 6. These numbers represent the number of treasures each meeple is carrying. You’re only allowed to look at these during initial placement so there is a memory aspect to the game as well as some slight deduction. Though, in my experience no one really spends a lot of time trying to figure out their opponent’s Meeple values. They’re more concerned with sinking your ships.
Some people have a real problem with this part of the game. However, these people generally don’t like memory games at all. Personally, I think it adds a little anxiety to the game which fits right in thematically. I’m not sure if this was added to boost theme but it does for me and any game that can merge mechanisms with theme is always better in my book.
Pick up and Deliver/Racing
Normally I wouldn’t consider this a pick up and deliver game. Those typically consist of a market where you pick up one good on one side of the board to trade in for something else on the other side of the board. While we’re not trading specifically here, we are trying to get our meeples to safety by transporting them across treacherous waters in exchange for points. In that sense, I would consider Survive a pick up and deliver game.
There’s also a racing aspect to this as you try to get your guys to safety faster than anyone else and before the volcano explodes.
Action Point Allowance
Survive wasn’t the first game to give a certain number of actions to a player but it did exist in a time where many game designers were exploring this mechanic in different ways. Limiting a player to three overall movement doesn’t sound monumental but at the time, there were few games that let you decide how to split that movement up. This is where Survive shines for me. Having the choice to move a single meeple three spaces, or three meeples one space, or one boat with three meeples three spaces was (and is) a great use of strategy. It provides so many options to do on your turn. You can risk it all or play it safe. Few games gave me this feeling back then and even now with the immense saturation of euro games I still enjoy this flexibility.
Probably the most evil, yet satisfying, part of Survive is rolling the monster die and using the sea creatures to destroy your opponents. I don’t know what it is about sinking a ship or having a shark eat meeples alive but it’s just fun. Sure, you may have to put your morality aside but this is just a game. No one’s asking you to seriously consider unleashing sharks onto a group of people struggling to stay afloat. No, this is more like taking out your opponent’s rook or queen in chess.
That said, this aspect of the game can push some people away. There are just those out there that do not like confrontation. The problem is: that’s half the game. Look at it this way, the reason we enjoy movies is because there’s always a rise and fall towards the climax/resolution. Without conflict, the movie becomes stale and predictable. The same goes for board games, without some kind of conflict it’s just boring and we don’t want boring.
Another way to look at is the fear of the unknown. Who knows which creature will come up on the die next? Where will my opponent move it? It’s exciting to see it all play out. As if the script to the next Sharknado is playing out in front of your eyes.
Everything plays into the theme of this game, as mentioned above. From the sinking island to the treacherous waters of the deep blue to your traitorous comrades. It all points to the name of the game: Survive!
I think the feeling of the unknown is what ties it all together for me. What disastrous event will be under the island tile I flip over? Which sea monster is moving next? Will my boat make it to safety? If you don’t feel the panic of survival then maybe you need to play something like Ghost Stories or Arkham Horror instead because this must be too easy for you. But you’ll be missing out on a great game. Plus, you can’t “get even” in other games like you can in Survive.
COMPONENTS AND ART
The individual hexes making up the island make a lot of sense for this game. Removing each one really gives the feeling of a sinking island while also providing an inherent timer for the game. The inclusion of events on the back of each tile was a smart use of the components without adding a superfluous deck of cards. Modular boards are also great at randomizing gameplay. I really like how each hex has a different type of terrain, too. Each type of terrain is easy to distinguish from the other. It really gives a lively look to the island.
So before Carcassonne made meeples popular, Survive had miniature plastic versions that more closely resembled the game pieces from Sorry! than what we’re familiar with now. You can’t deny the pre-meeple vibe to them, though. Stronghold games has since updated them to a more familiar look in the newer version. Either version comes with good quality bits so you won’t be disappointed. Let’s also not forget the sea monster meeples! Each one is easy to identify on the board either by color or shape. The shapes make sense and I like how the pieces look as if they’re submerged in the water.
OLD VS NEW
Since this game has been reprinted over the years, you may pick up a copy that doesn’t look like your uncle’s vintage version. But the rules have stayed intact since the early printings and the obvious changes come in the form of component upgrades. The old card stock hexes have been replaced with multi-leveled chipboard tiles, the artwork is more vibrant and colorful, the pawn pieces are larger and meeple-like, paper boats are now wooden 3-seaters, and the sea serpents spit fire (no they don’t).
If you are one of the few that jumped in with Stronghold’s 3rd edition, then you ended up with a few extra goodies that only come with the current 4th edition as buyable expansions.
Try this game if you like:
- Castle Panic
- King of Tokyo
- Mission Red Planet
- Relic Expedition
I consider this game to be a timeless classic. It has proven itself as a solid contender among old and modern board games alike. I tend to gravitate towards games that have just a handful of actions to do on your turn but multiple options I can do with those actions. These types of games are easy to teach and don’t get bogged down with exceptions and clarifications. Survive! is that type of game which means I can bring it to any group. It’s not difficult to learn and the interaction between players has everyone laughing the whole night.
Now, like I said before, there may be people out there that are put off by this game. It is heavy on the Take-That! mechanism. It’s rare, though, that I see this type of player. More than likely these people are the type that don’t take losing well and you know to avoid them anyway.
Overall, this is a great game for families and I think everyone should have it in their collection. Use it to teach your children how to be a good sport. Use it to teach your spouse for that matter. I keed. Seriously though, this is such a unique game that should be owned. Even if it’s the only game in your collection. Buy it, you won’t regret it
WHAT I LIKED
- A non-zombie apocalypse theme
- Simple, quick turns
- Take-That! gameplay
- Efficient use of game components
- Short rulebook
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- 5-6 player expansion, best with 4
- Lengthy setup
- Movement caveats
ADDITIONAL PUB THOUGHTS
This game is a great litmus test for your marriage. I don’t know why but we keep introducing this game to couples (many of them outside the gaming hobby) but despite the evil looks during gameplay, we end those sessions with them asking where they can get a copy. That alone speaks volumes to how highly I regard Survive. But I do feel the need to warn every participant the harshness this game requires to enjoy it properly, and so warned I try to be a bit sensitive to unknown players. It’s that kind of game.
The only negative aspect that I have found in the game concerns the rules for movement. While they are typically straightforward, there are several caveats to how pieces are allowed to move and they always come up in games. In general, I am not a fan of rule exceptions unless they are intuitive. In this case, the movement caveats are not hard to understand, only difficult for people to remember and especially among inexperienced gamers. An example would be that players can move from a boat to another boat in an adjacent hex but cannot move from a boat to a water space in an adjacent hex; instead, they must first move into the water on the same hex and end that piece’s movement. Also, multiple boats cannot occupy the same space, but that restriction does not apply to any other game piece. There are some others, but none are deal breakers.
The Dolphin and Dive Dice expansion adds a lot more tension and unpredictability to an already chaotic game and we rarely play without them. This expansion convolutes the movement rules a bit more and changes some of the tile interactions, but at this point I feel it is the only expansion that adds a thematic dimension to the game without redundancy.
I highly recommend having your own copy as you will probably not want to wait for your friend to break this one out. And if you have a vintage copy and love it, I think you should consider buying a current edition for the components alone as they really help the theme pop and make a great impression on the game.