Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: Survive!

surviveboxBy the early 1980s, I had a shelf full of games from Parker Brothers. Like millions of other kids, I was brought up on Parker Brothers classics like Monopoly, Clue, Risk and Sorry! Most of these games were already a couple generations old by the time I first played them, and, despite their updates, they were showing their age a bit. But then in 1982 Parker Brothers introduced Survive! which has gone on to be a new modern classic for gamers of all ages.

The story of the game involved each player trying to get their tribespeople off an island which is quickly sinking into the sea. At the beginning of the game, the hex land tiles – beach, forest and mountains – were shuffled and then placed randomly on the board to create the island. Then, in turn, each player placed their ten tribespeople tokens with up to three per hex except for beach spaces which held only one. Each player piece had a number value etched into the bottom, and saving the higher-valued tribespeople was key to scoring and winning the game. Cardboard lifeboats were then placed floating at the edges of the island and a sea monster figure went in the lagoon at the center of the island.

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Each turn, players moved their tribespeople and then removed a tile, beginning with beach hexes and then forests and mountains. Player’s pieces which fell into the water drowned, but you could also move your a piece to a water space as a swimming would-be survivor. Boats carried up to three survivors at once and could carry tokens from multiple tribes at once. Removed tiles had special events on the back and might indicate the appearance of a whale, dolphin or shark in that hex. Finally, a die was rolled to move a sea creature dipicted on the special die.

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Strategy for the game involved getting as many of your tribespeople to the coral islands at the corners of the board before a mountain hex piece was turned over to reveal a volcanic eruption killing all survivors not safely away. Moving a whale to a space with a boat capsized the boat, tossing any passengers into the water. A dophin could carry one tribesperson swiftly through the water. Sharks ate swimming survivors and the sea monster destroyed a boat and all its passengers. Other tiles revelaed different special actions, including whirlpools which destroyed anything in that and immediately adjoining spaces. The combination of all the possible outcomes and actions of the other players made for a mix of competitive and collaborative play, always balancing what was best for your tribespeople against what the other player’s actions were.

At the time, there were a number of things that set Survive! apart from most other conventional board games. The board featured hex-shaped spaces like many of the fantasy and RPG games I was playing then. The board was also different each time you played, adding a randomness factor not found in most board games featuring a traditional static set up every time you played. The game components were a bit less abstract and more like the “meeples” now a common part of just about any Eurogame.

A European version of the game appeared a few years after the original with a few variations. In 2010, Survive: Escape from Atlantis! was released by Stronghold Games with an updated game using elements of both versions in one. Since then, Strongehold Games has also released a number of expansions including a 5-6 player variant and others containing extra sea creatures. The game remains widely available, and the 30th anniversary base game released in 2012 can now be picked up for $40 with expansions running for $10 (all cheaper online).

More than three decades on, Survive: Escape From Atlantis! has entered the modern canon of board games. Whether your tribe includes kids or a group of friends looking to pick-up a quick new game, heading back to the island of Survive! is well worth the ride.

Collector’s Note: While Survive: Escape From Atlantis is now widely available, original copies of the 1982 first edition of Survive! can be found on eBay for $25-50. Individual game components are also available for a few bucks apiece, just in case any of yours were swallowed-up by a sea monster over the years.

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