Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Until recently, I have never played Diplomacy. It just was never on my radar as a game to play, and I was only vaguely aware of it existing. It wasn't until I started reading through the book 100 Best Hobby Games that I really had any real opinion of the game.

Image stolen from Mental Floss
In Diplomacy, players take on the role of different European countries fighting for control of supply depots throughout starting in the spring of 1901. Each player has 3-4 starting army units (depending on the country) and is given one action for each unit in their control. For each new supply depot you control at the end of the fall, you gain one additional unit. During this turn, there are two phases - negotiations and executing orders.  During negotiations, you talk to your fellow players as to who is doing what, both in the open and in secret. You will work to gain their trust to support you in your efforts to achieve victory and vice versa. During the execution phase, you follow out your orders that you wrote down on paper in between the two phases. These orders may be to move units from one area to another, hold your position, go to war with other countries, or give support to those that are. And that's it.

But its not.

Somewhere, something happens where you share your plans for victory with your neighboring countries to gain their support, be it right at the table or behind closed doors. Then, when its time to act, you find out if all your hard work was worth it. Those other countries may help you, or they may meet with your enemies and stab you in the back. Friends one minute, enemies the next, and then...it repeats.

You really don't know what this game will bring out in people because in the end there is some strategic play going on the board, but really this game is played out of eyesight and earshot of the board. How well can you read your opponents? Can you factor where they are going next? Can you do this from two sides? What about three?

The game is brilliant, but I don't know if I like it. It is a game that can really turn a person ruthless, and for some they love it. For me, it really takes 3/4ths of the first game for me to really understand how to play the game, and the last quarter to see how I should have been playing the game.

My first play of the game I played as Turkey, who is in the corner of the board and has to fight its way out either through Austria-Hungary or Russia in order to expand. I proceeded to make an alliance with Austria on my first move, only to do something slightly different than what we talked about but with the same end results. Unfortunately this was seen as an aggressive move with them and severed that alliance.

Turning to Russia during the second turn to now attack Austria, that failed as well due to a misunderstanding on their part regarding the rules (also a new player) which resulted in my hand being shown too early and exposing my plans. This left me with no other choice but to invade Russia, thus beginning the next four hours or so of me defending my borders and the black sea from two different directions and gaining little to no ground throughout.

Unfortunately for me, I had no chance of winning and felt the twisted knot of stress in my belly the entire time. And yet, here I am trying to sort out how to win the next time.

Gaming is an intimate experience best shared with friends. Playing Diplomacy with friends can be both a great idea and a terrible one at the same time, as in order to properly play, you need to be able to read your opponents and work their will. Knowing them well will certainly add quite a bit to this experience, but at the same time, it may leave you out for blood.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Survive: Escape from Atlantis

Survive: Escape from Atlantis is a cut-throat, take no prisoners board game full of boat smashing, island sinking, your friend just got eaten by a shark fun. Originally published in 1982 as Survive by Parker Brothers, it has recently been republished by Stronghold Games, and includes the pieces needed in order to play Escape from Atlantis (1986). This is a game that has people divided on either never having heard of it when it was originally published in 1982, or this being the coolest game they ever played growing up.

In a nutshell, you and your fellow players are residents of Atlantis and its starting to sink. You must do everything in your power to get your people off the main island to safety while avoiding sharks, whales, sea monsters, and your friends backstabbing scheming ways. Get more of your people to safety, you win.

In the box you will find a beautiful 4-part board covered in hexes, island tiles (beach, forest, and mountains), wooden Atlanteans, wooden boats for the wooden Atlanteans to ride, wooden whales to destroy your wooden boats, wooden sharks to eat your wooden Atlanteans, wooden sea serpents to destroy your wooden boats and eat your wooden Atlanteans, wooden dolphins to help your wooden Atlanteans swim, and some dice (these are not wood).

To begin, players will randomly draw island tiles and place them on the board to form the island of Atlantis, followed by populating the island one person at a time, alternating players as they go. The placement of a players Atlantians can be strategic, as each one has a value ranging from 1-6, which will score the player points if they can get them safely off the island. Some boats are placed out on the board, and the sea serpents take their places. Then, Atlantis falls.

The board, right before it starts to sink

During a players turn, they will get up to three actions that can be used to either move their pieces across the island, onto boats, move boats (empty ones or ones they control), or swim. In a perfect world, a player will move their pieces with the end goal of getting them to one of the four surrounding islands. Unfortunately, evacuating a sinking island is not as easy as you would think.

After they have moved their people, the island will start to sink, and the player will remove one of the island tiles from the board. In order, beach tiles are removed first, followed by forest tiles, then mountains. On the flip side of these tiles, players will trigger events that will either immediately take place or may be saved for them to use later in the game. Some of these immediate effects may be adding sharks or whales to the game board (thats bad), or maybe some extra boats to get people to safety (thats good), or maybe a whirlpool that will suck any Atlanteans, boats, or sea creatures to the bottom of the ocean (thats bad too).

Once a player has sunk a part of the island, they then roll the sea creature dice and will move them accordingly. By rolling the dice, the player will have to move either a whale, a shark, or a sea serpent on the board, most likely into the same hex where another player has a piece, eating their Atlantean or destroying the boat they were on or even both.

Oh Noes, He's swimming!
When the sea creatures actions are resolved, play moves on to the next player, and the cycle repeats. The game will go on until the volcano is revealed once the players get down to removing the mountain tiles from play. Players will add up the points scored from their surviving Atlanteans who made it to safety, the one with the highest score wins.

The game is fast paced and fun, and is best played with friends who don't mind screwing you over, and vice versa. Having never played the game when if originally came out, I was hesitant to play it now 30 years later since games of the era of being a kid don't always hold up/in no way hold your interest. But this game is just fun. Very easy to pick up and learn, and within a turn all of us had a solid grasp on how to play, and were strategizing and plotting each others demise (3 of the 4 had never played).

Everything adjacent to the whirlpool will be removed from the game
Out of the box, it plays up to 4 players, but there are plans to release an expansion that will allow for up to 6 to play all at once. While dolphins are not used in the basic game, they are in the advanced game, which adds some additional rules allowing for a different gameplay. An expansion ot the game is available now, adding giant squids to the mix (ie, more ways to kill your friends).

The game allows for some strategy, as well as making alliances (if you like) but those do not last forever because in the end, its all about you surviving more than anyone else.


More Pictures