on Oct 15, 2015
Youâll find out what kind of people youâre sharing a table with very quickly in a game of Survive!. Youâll even find out what kind of person you are, and it might be horrifying. The design is sound, especially for a game that originally came out in 1981, and thereâs a lot to admire about it objectively speaking. But what really takes the game to a whole other level of greatness is the way that it draws out each playerâs personality in such a tangible way.
The gameâs structure is pretty interesting and fairly unique for its time. Thereâs an island thatâs sinking, on which youâll place your meeples of various point values. Youâll then take turns moving your meeples, sinking a portion of the island, and activating the various predators that surround the waters of this paradise gone awry. At the word âgo,â each player will start figuring out how best to utilize the tools the game gives them to gain victory.
Some players will focus on the most efficient way to get their meeples to safety. Theyâll group their high-value VIP followers near one boat right on the edge of the water and make a mad dash for higher ground. For this kind of player, thereâs a lot to love in Survive!. In a time when most games had players roll dice for movement or activation points, the game introduced the concept of a fixed number of action points. Itâs a fun, light puzzle, trying to figure out where your points are best spent and where itâs a lost cause and a waste of resources.
Other players are team players. Theyâll shove one meeple onto each of the other playersâ boats and beg everyone to make the journey as bloodless as possible. Theyâll point out good ways to get the deadly sea creatures to areas where they canât do any harm, and theyâll even spend action points helping others, as long as it helps them a little bit too. Itâs hard to believe a game that looks as cutthroat as Survive! does at first blush can feel even remotely cooperative, but itâs true.
Thereâs even room at the table for negotiators, players who love making a sweet deal. Whether youâre the type that likes to make big promises only to back out and save your own skin, or you prefer a good, honorable agreement, the gameâs playspace is big enough to support your preferred brand of off-the-board interaction. Youâre not exchanging tangible resources as in Catan, but simple agreements to help one another in order to secure the safety of your precious followers.
So if your table is filled with efficiency engine manipulators, negotiators, and cooperative spirits, itâs going to be a solid time. Thereâs enough here for these players to enjoy. But what really makes Survive! sing is the player whoâs out for blood, the guy with an axe to grind. This guy doesnât use his creature phase to get sea monsters out of the way or move a shark out of reach of one of his followers--he uses it to capsize boats and snack on helpless swimmers. Heâll even summon a sea monster to obliterate a boat with one of his own followers, as long as it hurts the other guy even more. The interesting thing about this last kind of player is heâs infectious. Itâs a disease. When one player wrecks your escape boat full of VIPs, thereâs just no way you can let it go. Youâll turn on him the first chance you get. Then, the seas that surround the doomed isle begin to turn red with the blood of meeples, and then, youâre really playing Survive! as it was meant to be played.
Thereâs but one mechanical failure in this game, and itâs that the tension tends to decrease near the endgame, especially with aggressive players. Since most meeples are dead or rescued, the last few rounds tend to consist of gamers just going through the motions. Youâll even often run into the situation wherein one or two of the players wonât have any meeples left to move, but theyâre forced to hang around to activate sea monsters and sink one of the few remaining tiles to push the game to its conclusion. Itâs not a dealbreaker, but I do wish there were more to do when most of your meeples have escaped or drowned.
There may not be a ârightâ way to play Survive!, but there sure is a fun way. Sure, itâll take some negotiation, some strategic planning, and even some cooperation to win the day. Still, the very best part of this game is that evil smile you flash as you slowly reach over and slide the sea monster onto a boat that no one thought you would attack, since your own follower is hitching a ride on it. Itâs sinking a tile with your enemy on it and laughing as heâs lost to a mighty whirlpool. But most of all, itâs when it gets to your opponentâs turn, and he flashes you the same smile, because thereâs no way heâs going to forgive and forget. When Survive! turns into a bitter bloodbath, itâs one of the purest joys in gaming.