TABLETOP REVIEW: Survive: Escape from Atlantis

Full Disclosure: This review is unpaid and 100% unbiased, and I played this game at the lovely tabletop gaming cafe Draughts in London.

 

I guess my review type is just gunna be classic games. With the exception of the first one, so not really my review type at all. Right, good start.

Regardless, moving on with the classic theme, today I’m reviewing a game that has again (along with Sherlock: Consulting Detective), been around since the 80s. This game really brings out the evil in people, but in like a cool, fun, ‘I’m gunna just make this shark eat your poor stranded and drowning survivor, sorry mate,’ kinda way. Nice! I love light-hearted shark based violence. That dead survivor probably wasn’t even worth any points ANYWAY. Way to value people’s lives guys.

What I’m really trying to say is that the game I’m reviewing today is ‘Survivor: Escape from Atlantis.’ It’s a board game where you try and escape a sinking island, escape it better than the other players, and end up with minimal shark, whale and seamonster related casualties along the way. The box looks like this! Click on it for the BGG page if you want.

The points today are going to be  monsters from the DEEP, because this game has seamonsters obviously, so for starters this gets +20 monsters from the DEEP for the absolutely incredibly executed theme. The artwork is great here, the production quality is decent  (+20 monsters for wooden pieces in the shape of monstahs), and the theme absolutely suits the mechanics and gameplay.

So without further ado…

Final Thoughts Up Front

This Game is Good for:

If you want a great game for either the start or end of the night, that isn’t too heavy, plays in under an hour, and looks incredible on the tablet. Also, anyone who likes competitive games and tends to get a bit… carried away with playing aggressively. The type of gameplay here lends itself very well to non-confrontational forms of competitiveness. Even the harshest move against another player isn’t ever THAT harsh, simply because of the amount of survivors everyone has (and their different values). This game is also good for new gamers, people who love games that feature a bit board with lots of moving pieces, and players who are fans of visual strategy  rather than abstract or tactical strategy.

This Game is not Good for:

People who prefer more complex or solitary games with less randomness and deep tactical strategy. Anyone who obsessively plans their turn or anyone who is ESPECIALLY touchy when it comes to competitive gaming. Or anybody who prefers games with a large amount of replay value (there is an expansion however).

Things of Note:

One of the best things about this game is that EVERYONE has survivors that survive, get eaten, have to swim, or end up in unfortunate situations, and EVERYONE gets the chance to control the negative aspects of the game (+10 monsters for allowing people to control the actual monsters). It is also gives a lot of visual feedback and is very satisfying when something works out. It also (due to the fact that more than one person’s survivors can be on one boat) allows for a small amount of social tactics when it comes to teaming up with other players for the greater good. That or even sinking a ship with one of your own survivors on because you think the survivors of other players on the boat are worth more points than yours. It’s a lot of fun.

The Bit where I Talk about the Actual Game

So the game itself when in the middle of play looks a bit like this…

Players take it in turns to first set up the island, place their survivors on the island of Atlantis, and then place 2 boats each around the edge of the island. Each player then takes it in turns to first move their survivors or a boat, then remove a piece of the island (starting with beach, then forest, then mountains), then move a sea creature (potentially eating a survivor in the sea, or capsizing a boat – or both depending on which creature). The premise and the gameplay is simple (+10 for low barrier to entry), and that is really why the game works so well. It’s quick, easy to get into, very satisfying to play, and incredibly well designed and presented.

Plus, this game has one of the best mechanics I know of when it comes to entry level strategy. Each of each players meeples has a number on the bottom, and that number corresponds to how many points that meeple scores when (if) they are rescued. Basically some meeples are the Justin Beiber of the meeple world (although I’d question whether or not you leave him for the sharks), and some are just lowly peasants like you and I (+10 monsters for meeple peasants! Rise up peasants! Rise up!). I hate to see different values put on human life but in this instance I’ll make an exception. You’d be surprised how quickly a few drunken tabletop gamers can forget where they’ve put their most valuable meeple, and subsequently spend the whole game trying desperately to save the live of a meeple only worth 1 point.

Mechanics and Gameplay

The game itself flows quickly, everyone is constantly involved, and is a great way to blow off some steam after a marathon 3 or 4 hour strategy game, or even as an intro game for the tabletop session you’re about to dive into! (+20 monsters for easy access monstah fun).

Now, there’s no denying this game does not have a huge amount of depth or replayability (-30 monsters), but the fact is that it doesn’t really need to. Survive thrives on it’s simplicity, and the ease that you can really play it with any type of group is testament to the enduring quality of this game. There is a REASON this game has been reprinted so many times (+50 monsters for reprintability).

Some Other Stuff

That’s not to say this game isn’t without it’s flaws however, and they aren’t many, but it does have them…

Firstly, owing to some combination of tiles you might pick up from Atlantis, occasionally one person will get very lucky and be able to move a lot of the sea creatures out of their way over the course of a few early turns. This is particularly beneficial if they have been very clumped up in their placement of meeple, and can thus lead to a relatively easy path to victory (-10 monsters for luck making the game occasionally imbalanced).

Also, despite individual actions feeling fairly impartial even if you eat an opponents meeple, if one person is rescuing more meeples than everyone else, they may start to feel ganged up on. I mean really in this case, just don’t play with a group of douchey people who would do this, but it can happen (-20 monsters for potential ganging up situations).

The game board could also be a bit MORE 3 dimensional when it comes to the beaches, forest and mountains (like some of the older reprints of this game). However in the grand scheme of things, the board is still amazing to look at when playing, and really I’m just being nitpicky for the sake of it. Shame on you Christopher!

Verdict

I absolutely love this game, it’s just got the perfect mix of humour, strategy and competitiveness. It’s on the lighter side without being entirely devoid of strategy, and it works perfectly at the beginning AND end of a games night. The theme also means that it’s INCREDIBLY easy to get people interested in playing as well. Who wouldn’t want to escape from a sinking island whilst simultaneously eating other players survivors with sharks, capsizing boats with whales and just generally creating a good old mess. Love a mess me.

Score: 80 Monsters from the DEEP

But Chris. What does that rating MEAN.

Well, it means you should buy it, because this game is just really really good.

Yours survivingly,

Chris

TABLETOP REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective – The Thames Murders and Other Cases

Full Disclosure: This review is unpaid and 100% unbiased, and I bought this game with my own hard earned dolla. Also, the version I am reviewing is the updated 2017 ‘The Thames Murders and Other Cases’ version, with more readable text and all that lovely stuff.

 

Oh my! A second review, well isn’t this a real treat. And a review of such a classic game at that. Well, it’s a new version of a classic, but I’ll go ahead and say it’s a classic just right out of the gate here…

No! Don’t stop reading, there is so much MORE to talk about, like how solving a gruesome murder until 1am in the morning with some drunken friends, shivering under blankets in a cabin in the garden can be just what you were looking for in life. Or how that Sunday evening when you both had some wine and decided to go investigating a terrible homocide in London in the 1800s was immeasurably more fun than watching some celebrity dribble on the television. These are the times that I’m talking about.

Now, as per that other review that I did, I’m gunna award thematically relevant  points based on what I did and didn’t like, so  +50 murders most foul for the scenarios depicted above, because y’know, they were quite fun.

Firstly, right off the bat, this game has some  depth to it (+10 murders for depth). And by that I mean like  proper depth (+20 murders for proper depth).

Honestly, the scope of these murders is ridiculous, and you get completely and utterly absorbed in each and every case.  If you havn’t worked it out already, the aim of the game is to figure out murders.

Well actually, scrap that, the aim of the game  isn’t actually to figure out murders as such, as it is to BEAT Sherlock at solving these murders, which really is odd because to beat him you have to follow the lowest amount of leads possible, which really ruins the fun of the game…ACTUALLY exploring all of those cool and amazing leads  (-50 murders for the point of the game actually not being the most fun thing about the game).

The thing is though, that kind of doesn’t matter, and the game is actually WAY good without even worrying about beating Sherlock.

Final Thoughts Up Front

This Game is Good for:

People who love solving murders most foul, OR people who love the theme of Sherlock, OR people who love open ended co-op games that are like, SUPER easy to learn…

OR people who love getting a bit tipsy and solving out a mystery with some friends, OR… well really, anybody who just loves really amazingly, timelessly designed co-op tabletop games. This one is an ABSOLUTE corker  (+20 murders for being a corker).

This Game is not Good for:

If you are looking for something that is very easy to play without paying much attention, or something that is relatively short. The open endedness of the cases included are really such that if you fully explore the depth of each case ( and I would HIGHLY recommend it, you’ll honestly never beat sherlock), you could happily spend up to 2 or  even 3 hours playing. The time absolutely flew though, so no complaints from me.

Things of Note:

One thing that I absolutely love about Sherlock: Consulting Detective is that it takes so little time to learn. Honestly the rules are basically: read the case story, then choose who you want to go and talk to using the map and directory, and then figure out the case already you absolute amateur investigator!  (+30 murders for being RIDICULOUSLY easy to learn). If you are looking for a game to get other people interested and involved in tabletop gaming (especially if they enjoy solving mysteries, or games like Mysterium or even Cluedo to be honest), and they don’t mind playing something longer then this is  absolutely the one to break out. I honestly get goosebumps every time we read a new case, no joke  (+10 murders for goosebumps).

The Bit where I Talk about the Actual Game

Now you know me, I love a well presented and well crafted game, and Sherlock does not disappoint in any way. The map is incredible, the newspapers for each case are not only amazing to look at and read, but also feature sly jokes, and canny little witticisms that poke fun at itself in a way only something this founded in traditional British storytelling can (+10 murders for having a great sense of humour). Each of the case books is immaculately presented, and fully engages you in the story of each case, AND *tada!* is FAR easier to read compared to the old production of this game (+10 murders for being able to read things well).

Mechanics and Gameplay

Now, this is where we get to the proper depth  I was talking about earlier. Because of the open ended nature of this game, this means you get full control over who you speak to, what leads you follow, and where you go on the map to speak to these people.  Not only that, but each case has fun little red herrings thrown in for good measure (+10 murders for red herrings), just to screw with your head when you think you’ve solved a case. It’s like when that bully at school would ask you what you’d got down your shirt and then when you looked, proceeded to flick you in the nose, and then laugh and walk away, leaving you there to ponder your very existence and question your choices in life that had led up to that point.

Sherlock doesn’t do this unnecessarily so though, every single nugget of storytelling goodness is compelling and fits perfectly within each case, leading to the exploration of myriad webs of lies, deciept, but also truthful alibis, and shifty and trustworthy characters.

Some Other Things

Now, once you actually get to the point of being able to solve the murder (or you think you do), then there are several questions to answer on the back of each case book, and a solution for you to read from big boss man Sherlock himself (significantly I think ‘Big Boss Man Sherlock’ would have been a way better name for the game (-5 murders for title)). Thing is, often you get to the questions, and when you read them the first thought that crosses your mind is; ‘WHAT? wait a minute, I’ve never even heard that guys name before…’ Which invariably leads to more self analysis of your already entirely planned out murder explanation, and somehow managing to stumble across a lead you totally missed.

That or, in one particular case, stumbling across someone absolutely not relevant to anything at all (+5 murders for a secret cross-dresser… no spoilers, promise!).

It’s all part of the fun though really, and that’s what makes this game SO great. You genuinely feel like part of the Baker Street Irregulars, super sleuthing your way around 1800s London, solving a case that Sherlock clearly just doesn’t have the time or inclination to investigate himself.

Verdict

That’s it, review over guys! Don’t leave yet though because the best bit is just about to happen! Sherlock himself to explain to you just how he came to the conclusion and finally solved the Mystery of the Consulting Detective Review…

Sherlock: Why thank you kind Sir, your introduction is most appreciated and welcome in this time of great need and peril, being the grubby 1870s as it is! We have today a curious case on our hand and it gets even curiouser so by note of the fact that the person reviewing has indeed started channeling some sort of… ‘character voice’.

Watson: *gasp* You don’t say Sherlock, as if someone would actually impersonate a fictitious character for the sake of a few laughs! And in the light of this many murders most foul!

Chris: Seriously Watson, I didn’t ask for your input here… nobody cares what you have to gasp about.

Sherlock: Indeed Christopher, for the solving of this crime requires only the skills of an advanced and studious detective such as myself.

Chris: So, what is the solution? Who commited the murder? And how many murders have even been commited!?

Sherlock: Well my dear Christopher, you’ll be surprised to find that I simply traced the game back to the 1980s! There, in it’s infancy, it grew and developed, and lo and beyond when we got to the year 2017 a new and fresh publisher was there to pick up the pieces! The newly published version was wonderful and many people loved it, however, we still have the question of the murders most foul to answer… the simple fact is, the murders, were commited, by me! Well, metaphorically speaking, I’ve murdered your ability to play any other murder mystery game, and that amounts to a grand total of…

Score: 120 Murders Most Foul

Just buy this game, trust me.

Yours murderously,

Chris

TABLETOP PREVIEW: A Dog’s Life – Walk a Mile in their Paws

Full Disclosure: This review is unpaid and 100% unbiased though we were sent a preview copy of this game in advance of the kickstarter for the purposes of this review.

 

Some blogs don’t bother stepping into the wonderful world of reviewing but through the means of Kickstarter and also being aware that it might be ideal if I contribute back to the community, I’ve taken my first foray into the world of Tabletop reviewing. So what crazily complex euro game did you decide to review first Chris? Is it a strategy heavy, abstract and randomless tactically minded behemoth that will shatter our preconceptions about the meaning of tabletop gaming and all that it stands for!?

Well, no is the blunt answer to that.  It’s a game about dogs, where you get to be a dog (+10 woofs), ‘piddle’ on things (+10 woofs) and fight other dogs (+ another 10 woofs). And as the rest of my reviews will continue to be scored after this first review, I’m awarding thematically relevant points (woofs, obviously) based on an incoherent and abstract system where things I like get awarded points, and things that aren’t so great get minus points. SO with that in mind, review ho!

 

(it’s a link so you can click on it if you’d really like)

 

The game itself as you can see is a fairly family orientated affair, the friendly dog on the cover makes that fairly clear. If you take a quick look to his right you can see a lovely street ruffian ignoring the rules and laws of our advanced western society by taking a leak on a nearby source of light for pedestrians  (+20 woofs for canine disregard of the law).  From the box you can also see that this takes around 40 minutes and caters for between 2-6 players of 6 years plus.

Now, because I’m super nice and also have a fairly short attention span, I’m gunna give you my final thoughts up front. So if you really want to know if this is worth you buying or not, you can just read the next paragraph, close the tab and be done with it. For those who want a bit more of a detailed rundown I’ll go into a bit more detail afterwards.

Final Thoughts up Front…

This game is good for:

This game is good for families who are all about that dog life. If you live the dog life and love all things canine, and want a game for you and your kids to whittle away the hours to on a rainy Sunday afternoon, this is the game for you. The theme is great, the artwork is lovely and the production values are spot on  (+50 woofs for coloured dog miniatures).

This game is not good for:

If you are looking for a simple game for younger kids to explore themselves (-20 woofs for the rules being confusing enough to potentially give 6 year olds issue on their own), or you are looking for a strategically heavy dog themed game. Also if you are a super heavy euro-gamer or meta gamer, not the game for you. But then that is not the target demographic here anyway, so that’s kind of ok.

Things of note:

Overall we had a fun time playing this game, though it is not without it’s flaws. My main takeaway from this game was that though there is a lot of potential here (+10 woofs), and the illustrations and production is impeccable, the game falls down somewhat because of the large number of options and actions that each player gets to take on any given turn (-10 woofs). Plus some of the key mechanics are not all immediately obvious up front (-40 woofs).  It also felt like the game board was potentially too big, and that there was too many actions per player turn to either feel like you had a good chance of trying to slow down the player in the lead, or be affected much by what other players on the board were doing. We played with 4 players and felt almost like playing 4 seperate games with limited player interaction (-10 woofs).

That said, if you are after something that is fairly random, is quite straightforward and has a great theme (and you are fully up to the task of guiding younger players through their first 1 or 2 play throughs), then this is not a problem. It’s a light game, but with a little added strategic depth based on the individual dogs abilities (something I will go into more detail about in the next sections). I just wish that extra depth had been more obvious and up front than it is.

The Bit Where I Talk About the Actual Game

Board

The game board represents a little town (+10 woofs for beautiful illustration) that the dogs (players) will be roaming around. The aim of the game is to be the first dog to successfully bury 3 bones in their yard, because as everyone knows, dogs love bones. Bones are like currency for street dogs. Street dogs live that bone life 24/7 yo (+10 woofs for bone life).

Bones can be found through begging at restaurants, searching trash cans, delivering newspapers or fighting other dogs.

Everyone starts the game by choosing a dog and then choosing a yard card at random, and placing their dog outside the corresponding yard. Now, the difference between the individual dogs is where the strategy comes in. Some dogs are better at searching trash cans, and some dogs are better at fighting, delivering newspapers, begging, etc.

As you make your way round the board you spend your action points on the above actions, and though the concept is solid, this is where some cracks start to show in the design…

Mechanics and Gameplay

Firstly, I love the fact that the dogs are all individually better at certain things (+50 woofs), but this is not obvious up front (-40 woofs), and you have to read the ‘game tips’ section before realising which dog is better at what task. What would have been better would be to have those strengths and weaknesses up front on the player cards. Key mechanics like this should not be hidden.

Dog

Secondly, though the variety of actions is interesting because you can cater your moves depending on what dog you are playing, the dogs potentially have too many action points to use up (-30 woofs), and the amount of actions available for those action points was at times overwhelming for us (slightly tipsy adults).

I’ll be honest, we even forgot which number action we were on as we counted through our own action points on more than one occasion (any action which needs a card to be drawn takes you away from playing through your turn). This breaks up the flow of the game unnecessarily (-10 woofs), and I don’t see that there would be any negative impact of lowering the amount of action points per dog to keep the game moving at a faster pace.

As you make your way around the board trying to find bones there is also a dog catcher that drives around, attempting to catch dogs and send them to the shelter. The shelter behaves somewhat like the jail in monopoly (-20 woofs) although you are always guaranteed to get out of it in max 3 turns (+10 woofs for incompetent dog shelter staff), although if you are playing with 6 players and get unlucky I can imagine getting quite bored quite quickly (-10 woofs).

The dog catcher also moves in a fairly random way, which actually adds to the excitement a little, as you are never sure if the dog catcher is actually going to catch you. Players who dislike randomness will find this annoying, but for a family it’s most likely a positive. The fact that everyone gets to move it after their turn also means that any negative effects of the dog catcher don’t feel particularly malicious or aggressive (+20 woofs), because it is almost entirely down to chance.

Hungry Dogs…

Another part of the game that is a great concept but doesn’t translate overly well into the gameplay, is the hunger mechanic. Before you take your turn you move your hunger track down 1 point. If you reach 0 hunger you then collapse (fall asleep if you are less dramatic than me) and get sent to the shelter. This falls down on 2 accounts, 1. being the fact that the more ‘hunger’ you have, the less you need to eat, which seems illogical (-10 woofs), and 2. being the fact that the mechanic felt almost entirely redundant throughout the game as only 1 player ever got down to 0 hunger, and that was through extremely bad luck (-20 woofs). We felt this could definitely be reworked so that the hunger track is potentially shorter, and it feels like something you have to always balance or manage against other aspects of the game.

Also, we absolutely had fun ‘piddling’ on various lampposts (who wouldn’t…) scattered across the board (+20 woofs for public indecency of the canine variety), but felt that the mechanic was let down slightly, as each dog had more than enough action points to often move through any piddle almost unhindered (-20 woofs, although you could house rules this so that ‘sniffing the piss’ so to speak, negated your whole turn).

Some Other Things

One of the really nice things about this game is the fact that they have included variations of rules in the back of the book to cater for different groups and different family play styles (+10 woofs for being nice and inclusive). You can easily adapt this game to suit different ability levels and add different elements of strategy, although as mentioned before there may be instances where you need to introduce house rules to counteract some of the more unbalanced elements.

Verdict

For the most part we found the game to be enjoyable, as a light, frequently random board game designed primarily for families and children.

The theme and production values really are where the game shines, and if you have a family dog or kids that love animals then this will be a win from the get go (+50 woofs). The mechanics and gameplay plays very well into the theme, just make sure you thoroughly read the rules up front as they aren’t as clear about a lot of the key information as they could be (-10 woofs).

Really all this game needs to go from decent to great is that extra bit of mechanical polish, some consolidation of a few gameplay elements, and making the rules and flow more concise, clear and snappy.

That said, although I wouldn’t play this game with our regular gaming group (alcoholic adults), and I do think there are a few better tabletop games for children out there, as a well themed and more traditionally playing board game with some added strategic depth you could definitely do a lot worse than this (+20 woofs).

So, for the bit you’ve all been waiting for! The score! We’ve tallied the points and (drum roll please)…

Score: 60 Woofs

And I’m really certain that will help you with your purchasing decision…

Yours doggily,

Chris

 

You can back this game on Kickstarter from August 8th 2017