Once upon a time, in the magical 1980s, a much younger me was riffling through drawers in the storage room in my house when I stumbled upon a board game that I had no idea we owned. The cover had cartoon people rowing boats and swimming in a creature filled ocean while a volcano erupted in the background. The title of the game took up most of the box and simply read “SURVIVE!”.
Being very young at the time the game served mostly as a toy, having a large number of colourful, and not to mention highly swallowable, pieces. The rules were in a small book and not on one sheet or printed inside the box lid. I remember attempting to read them on occasion, but I didn’t get very far. The rules book, all the components, even the smell of the box had this distinctly ‘adult’ nature to them. The idea that grown-ups had their own board games struck me as a revelation. It seems silly now, but the memories have stayed with me to this very day. When Stronghold Games announced plans not only to remake the original Survive but also to release a separate version with a space theme and updated rules I was excited to see what I missed as a child. Does Survive: Space Attack live up to the hype I built up all those years ago?
In the Survive games, you lead your group of tourists to safety from a slowly disintegrating vacation hot spot. Each tourist has a number printed on the bottom indicating the score they provide when they are saved. You can’t check the numbers after the game has started, so you’ll have to remember where you placed your valuable pawns.
For the Space Attack version, instead of the island from the original game, players are faced with an imminently exploding vacation space station, represented by hexagonal tiles arranged in the centre of the board with different images and thicknesses. After each player’s turn, one tile will be removed, creating less safe spaces while also setting any pawns on that tile adrift in space. These tiles will have bonuses on the underside that the player who removed it can use, indicating with colour when you can play them and icons to show the effect. Once the lowest layer of tiles is gone tiles are removed from the next highest layer. One of the final tiles removed will have a symbol on the back that triggers the end game, and the player who has the most points from their rescued pawns wins.
To get their tourists to safety, players can either have them drift through space or have them board escape pods that fit three pawns. There the tourists will face many horrific alien creatures: Spawns that are out to eat them, Warriors who will destroy their ships, or Queens which will to both. Players control these monsters, rolling a die at the end of their turn indicating which type of creature they must move.
Space Attack! is more than just a reskin of the original game. It adds some much-needed agency to the player’s abilities. Along with the escape pods, pawns can board fighter ships which can not only move much faster than the escape pods but can defeat creatures in the tiles they enter. The station also has four laser turrets with which can zap aliens that fall in their line of fire. Both these options require a pawn to activate them, so the player will need to choose the priority of saving their tourist or having them fight the aliens. The creatures you capture are placed in your ‘hand’ and can be played into a blank space at the beginning of your turn.
Like other Stronghold Games, Survive: Space Attack has great but simple components. The plastic pawns are designed well, resembling small space suits, and are quite colourful, although I found them a little top heavy, meaning a slight jar of a table might knock them over, revealing the hidden numbers underneath. Groups with colour blind players will want to consider grabbing the 6 player expansion which adds orange and white pawns to alleviate the red/green mix up issues.
All the other tokens are made of wood and are sturdy. The pawns fit perfectly into the slots on the escape pods and fighters, just loose enough so that there are no worries with them getting stuck. The aliens are also easy to identify by their shape and colour although they have basic outlines and seem kind of out of place. Stickers of the alien creatures would have gone a long way to tying everything together. The laser turrets suffer most from this simplicity, having a look that doesn’t fit with the rest of the aesthetic at all and might have used a plastic prop instead of the bulbous shape provided. This is especially noticeable compared to the components of the island based “Escape From Atlantis” addition, whose wooden sea monsters and cardboard boats mesh a lot better.
The tiles are made of solid cardboard of different thicknesses and have different coloured shapes to differentiate them. They are sturdy and mostly easy to manipulate, though sometimes you will need to shift tiles around to remove the smaller ones properly. My only gripe about the tiles is that the thinnest have an indistinct grey colour, and it is sometimes difficult to tell if there is one of them left at a glance before removing a larger one, especially if pawns are covering it.
While most of the images on the reverse of the tiles are distinct and the iconography can help as a reminder to what their effect is there is a handful that will either need to be looked up on the back of the manual frequently or may take a few plays before players get a handle what they do.
Survive: Space Attack has simple mechanics making it family and new player friendly, for older kids, while still managing to have a decent amount of strategic depth. Players can take 3 actions per turn which all revolve around moving their tourists or the ship they are in, limiting choices to only the most vital to survival. The game also showcases something I’ve heard called the “Enemy Paradox” (I’m sure this has a real name, but I’ve never found it) where the success of your enemy can result in your success. The most obvious that any number of different coloured tourist pawns can board an escape pod, and any player with a pawn on board can control its movement. So you could sneak your 6 point pawn onto a lifeboat with two pawns belonging to another player and have them save it for you. There’s also a subtle bluffing mechanic in play that can combine with the enemy mechanics. You can make it seem like you are protecting a 1 point pawn while drifting a 6 point pawn slowly to safety. So even though a straightforward strategy will still work for beginners, there is a lot of room to develop more elaborate tactics.
Timely usage of tiles effects and enemy placement can also contribute to your strategies but is balanced by the random distribution of tiles, and the use of the monster die to prevent unfair abuse. Yes, you can use your monster placement tile power and put a Queen next to an escape pod filled with your opponents, but unless you also have a tile that can allow you to move it, then you are at the whim of the die roll. A few of the powers can seem unfair if you are behind though, and some amount of catharsis is needed as you will inevitably lose some tourists over the course of the game. Players who can’t take losses in competitive play may have a hard time with this one.
Survive: Space Attack served to not only satisfy my three decades old curiosity about a game that helped to develop my love for board games but it, or the standard edition, is also is a great addition to any collection. It will often hit the table in those “we don’t know what to play” situations and has a little bit for everyone. Hopefully one day we’ll see a version with some updated components to match the visual style but from a strictly gameplay perspective Survive lives on to be played again.
- Classic gameplay with updated rules and new features
- Mostly good quality, colourful components
- Simple rules that lead to lots of strategic depth
- Creative use of different mechanics (bluffing, co-operation)
- Wooden shapes clash with the aesthetics
- Some graphics are confusing
- Not for the non-competitive types.