Nov 29

Survive: Description and Review

Survive, by Julian Courtland-Smith, was quite an anomaly for a Parker Brothers game from the early 80’s as it possessed a solid amount of strategy and a rather dark theme!  In Survive, each player controls ten people who are trying to escape a volcanic island that is sinking and on the verge of an eruption.  A player’s people are numbered from 1-6 points in value and the goal is have the highest total value of people reach one of the four safe islands before the volcano explodes.  They will have to brave treacherous waters infested with sharks, whales, and sea serpents in their desperate flight from the doomed island!  In addition to a sinking island and dangerous waters, players must also overcome their greatest challenge as the other players constantly try to undermine their efforts to guide their people to safety.  Survive is a cutthroat game and there can only be one winner.  Do you have what it takes to lead your people to safety in the face of such grave peril?  Only the cunning, ruthless, and lucky have even the slightest chance to survive.

Survive takes place on a blue board covered in hexes representing the ocean with a safe island in each corner and a modular hex island in the board’s center from which the players are trying to evacuate their people.  The sinking island is divided into three types of terrain:  The outer 16 are beaches, the middle 16 are jungle, and the inner 8 are mountain.  These pieces are then shuffled and placed terrain side up in the appropriate island area in the center of the board at the beginning of the game.

Once the island has been assembled, players take turns drafting a starting location for each of their pieces, placing them scoring side down on a vacant space.  Each player has people of the following quantities and values:  Three 1’s, Two 2’s, Two 3’s, and one of each 4, 5,and 6.  Players must do their best to remember where they have placed their more valuable pieces as they may not look at them again until the game’s end.  After placing their people, each player places two boats on any vacant ocean hexes.  These boats are not that player’s per se, but they will obviously be placed in the spaces that are most advantageous to that player.  At this point the game begins.

On a player’s turn he must perform these three actions in the following order:

#1  Movement:  Move any combination of your pieces, vacant boats, and boats that you control up to a total of three spaces on the board.  The only real limitation is that swimmers, pieces in the water with no boat, may only have one point assigned to them.

#2 Sink a Piece of the Island:  During this phase a player chooses a piece of the island from the outermost type of terrain available to remove from the board.  He then looks at any instructions on the bottom of the piece and reveals it if a sea creature must be placed or keeps it hidden if it has an ability that may be played later.  If the piece of the island that was removed had a person on it, that person now drops into the water and is at the mercy of any sharks or whirlpools that may have been revealed.  If a boat is shown on the bottom of the removed piece than the person is very fortunate as he is placed directly in the new boat.

#3 Roll the Die:  At this point, the player rolls the die and moves any one of the appropriate type of sea creature up to its allotted number of spaces.  Sharks eat any swimmers, whales sink any occupied boats, and sea serpents devour any swimmers and occupied boats as well as those in the boat.

Once a player has resolved the movement of the a sea creature his turn ends and the next player’s begins.  This process continues until the island piece with the explosion is revealed ending the game.  All pieces that have not reached the safe islands, including those in boats adjacent to them, are killed in the blast.  Players then turn over their people who made it to the islands and add up their point total.  The player with the most points wins!

My Review

Good Ole Survive, I played this game countless times in the eighties with my dear friend, Jathan Newton, who owned it  and always had a great time.  As a kid (and adult) I thought that the shark, whale, and serpent figures were pretty much the coolest game pieces I had ever seen!  Add in the modular island, feeding opponents’ pieces to sea monsters, and the excitement of fleeing a volcanic explosion created a one of a kind gaming experience!  If I had been writing a review of Survive back then I would have most assuredly rated it an 11, but having become a much older and wiser (see jaded) gamer, I would currently rate it a solid 7.5! Survive is among the most fun games I have ever played, as a child or an adult.  There is just something that makes one smile as your adversary begs for mercy for his person right before you gobble it up with a shark under your control!  The sadistic glee that one feels when deliberately removing an island piece under another player’s person is both genuine and satisfying.  I also think that the end game has built-in excitement.  Everyone knows the island is going to blow, but they are not sure exactly when it will happen.  It may be manufactured tension, but it is tension none the less, and is such a thrill to sneak one last survivor on to the shores right before volcano blows!  Survive creates a cutthroat, but enjoyable board game that is fun as filler for serious gamers, and a wonderful as a family game for those who don’t mind a little blood in the water.

When it was released Survive was way ahead of its time.  How many other Parker Brothers games employed such innovative mechanics back in the early 80’s?  However, while the fun factor of Survive has not diminished in the slightest over the last 30 years the ability of the rules to effectively control its players has.  What seemed like clear and simple rules to a smiling 8-12 year old now show themselves to be far too ambiguous for many situations that frequently crop up in a normal game.  While there is a fair amount of strategy, Survive is heavily influenced by luck.  Turn order alone, confers certain advantages and disadvantages.  Going first is just better.  If the eruption is the very last tile chosen all players will have received 10 turns in a four player game, but the odds of that happening are highly unlikely.  As a result, the player who goes first is very likely to get one more turn than some or all of the other players.  Obviously, the island tiles are chosen for strategic reasons, but what is on the bottom is completely luck.  This can translate to rather unequal distribution of powerful abilities like moving sea serpents or gaining an extra three movement for a swimmer or boat.  Needless to say, this amount of luck in a game can turn off many players, but Survive has sufficient interesting decisions, thematic goodness, just plain old fun to mostly overlook these issues.

In conclusion, if your family is anything like mine, and enjoys a little vicious competition where someone may or may not wind up being fed to sharks, then they will love Survive!  In addition to providing an opportunity for a little good-natured sadistic fun, Survive actually feels like an adventure.  It manages to grow the tension every round as the impending eruption grows ever closer and you begin to realize that not everyone is going to make it to safety!  You rush in a panic, trying desperately to save one more survivor in spite of the ruthless machinations of your foes, the vagaries of fate, and a ticking time bomb of a volcano!  When the island finally explodes everyone leans back in their chair smiling and laughing as the tension is released and the scores are totaled to determine the winner.  Players lament their people who nearly escaped, gloat about sabotaging other players, and rejoice in telling stories of exciting moments that occurred during the game all the while looking forward to their next adventurous game of Survive!


*On a brief side note I would like to say that the original Survive that I own is no-longer in print, but the game has been reprinted as Survive:  Escape From Atlantis.  This reprint contains the original game as well as the pieces and rules to play a similar, but different game called Escape From Atlantis.  While I have not played Escape from Atlantis, I have heard that it is a fine game in its own right and would look at this situation as getting two games for the price of one!  If you are truly interested in Survive I would recommend that you not let this situation prevent you from acquiring a copy of this classic family board game!


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    • adam on November 30, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    This sounds like fun. Who doesn’t want to control a sea monster army?

    • on November 30, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    Classic game with awesome pieces! Nothing more satisfying than humming the Jaws theme as your sharks move in for the kill!

    • Nate on December 8, 2012 at 6:14 PM

    Awesome review. Gosh, I loved this game when I was a kid. Survive!, Scotland Yard, and chess. They were my childhood gaming. Didn’t even know they had reprinted Survive! until I read this.

    • on December 9, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    I am glad you enjoyed it! It is funny that you mentioned Scotland Yard as that is one of my all time favorites and I have been thinking about reviewing it next. My wife got me a copy for Christmas last year and I think that it still really holds up well. The kids also enjoy it, although their skills as Mr. X are somewhat lacking! 🙂 Stay tuned for more modern classics as well blasts from the past!

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