Dale Yu: Review of Atlantis Rising (Z-man)

Atlantis Rising

Designer: Galen Ciscell
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Players: 2-6
Age: 13+
Time: 30-90 mins

Times played: 4 with advance copy provided by Z-Man Games

Atlantis Rising is a soon-to-be-released cooperative game (coming out later this week at GenCon!) where the players are citizens of Atlantis – trying to save themselves as their island home is being swallowed up by the seas.  Over the past few years, there has definitely been an increase in the number of cooperative games, and on the whole, the quality of those games has improved as well.

I’ll admit that as recent as three or four years ago, I did really like any cooperative games, and I was pretty much against the genre as a whole.  I did have the 2000 Lord of the Rings co-op game in the collection, but mostly so that I had at least one in case *everyone* else wanted to play it. I would never choose to play it on my own, but at least I could be a good host, set up the game and then let everyone else make my decisions for me.

My previous impression of co-ops was dominated by a number of negative experiences where a single player (sometimes myself) ended up making all the decisions in a game while the rest of the players got to sit around the same table and watch the game unfold.  However, there has been a lot of growth in the co-op field in the past few years, and starting with games such as Ghost Stories and Pandemic – I’ve at least found that there are some co-op designs that I enjoy.  (Though there are still plenty that I don’t care for!)

Some of the change is possibly due to my local group – when we play cooperative games, none of us tends to quarterback the group.  There are definitely heated arguments at times over what we should do, but we are able to talk it out as a group, and everyone gets a chance to participate.  Some of the change is also due to better game design.  I think many cooperative games are now setup to give the players enough latitude in their choices and strategy choices that make the game feel less like a unidirectional narrative.

I was given an advance copy of Atlantis Rising to try out with my group, and after 4 plays, it’s turned out to be a good game, very much enjoyed with my family as well as with guys from my usual group.   As I mentioned earlier, the backstory of the game is that the island of Atlantis is being drowned by the sea, and the players of the game are the last remaining Atlanteans.  They are trying to “work together to construct a cosmic gate capable of transporting what is left of the island to safety, before their civilization is lost forever to the sea.”   For those who don’t care about theme, the players work together to collect enough wooden cubes to build the things on the 10 cards before all the Atlantis island tiles are covered in water.

The gameboard in Atlantis Rising

So, the island of Atlantis in this game is a 6-legged starfish.  From a central hexagonal tile (which holds the Mystic Power Source of Atlantis), there are 6 distinct regions of Atlantis made up of 6 tiles and each region has a single action or product.  For instance, one arm of the starfish is where you collect gold (yellow cubes) while another is the only place where you can get knowledge cards.  The pattern of each of these arms is the same – there are greater rewards on the tiles that are further away from the center of the island.  Of course, there is also greater risk that those tiles are swept away by the sea.  It is this risk/reward calculation that is the crux of Atlantis Rising.

But before I talk more about that, let me continue describing the game.  The board is constructed as above, and each player chooses a Councilor – there are 6 available to choose from.  The choice of Councilor determines which player color you have, and it also gives you a special unique ability that will help you save Atlantis.  You start with 3 citizens in your color, and you also get one Mystic Energy (a blue glass bead).

Two of the six Councilors in the game

Next, you have to set up the Blueprint for the Cosmic Gate.  This is essentially a row of 10 cards place on the table which show the players what they need to build to save themselves.  Each card has a number of cubes depicted on it which need to be discarded by a single player in order for that card to be “built”. The bottom of the card describes a special one-time action which can be taken when that card is built.  The difficulty of the game is directly influenced by these blueprint cards.  There are 4 separate decks of blueprint cards (in increasing difficulty from A thru D). When you set up the game, you always use the Power Core card, and then you take 3 cards from 3 different decks.  For an easier game, you would use the Power Core, and then 3 cards from the A, B, and C decks.  For the most difficult game, you would take the Power Core, and 3 from B, C and D.

There are two decks of cards which also need to be shuffled and placed next to the board.  The first deck is the Knowledge cards. These cards can be collected from the Libraries region of Atlantis during the course of the game.  Each card has a positive benefit which can be played at almost any time in the game once it’s been collected.  The other deck of cards is the Misfortune deck.  As the name suggests, this deck is filled with bad things.  Each player has to draw one of these cards each round – more will be discussed about these soon.

Examples of the knowledge cards

Finally, you place the Athenian ship on the Navy board.  This board will be used each round to represent the constant threat of the arch-rival city state of Athens.  Every round, there will be a larger and larger attack from the Athenians which will have to be defended against.

So, at this point, the game is setup.  The game will be played over a number of turns until either the 10 cards of the Blueprint are completed (and the players win) OR the entire island of Atlantis is drowned (and the players lose).  Each round follows the same pattern in clockwise order from the start player:

  • Place workers
  • Draw Misfortune cards
  • Produce stuff
  • Athens Attacks!
  • Build Blueprint Cards

In the Place Workers phase, each player gets to put their worker pieces on the board. There are 6 different regions and the central hex that can take workers.  Workers can also be placed on the Navy board to help fight off the Athenians.  The central hex and the Navy board have no limit to the number of workers that can be placed on them.  The spaces on the six arms have a limited number of circular spaces for workers.  Not only are these spaces limited, they also have slightly different actions.  As you move further towards the end of the island, the effects of the tile are better – either more things can be done OR there is a higher chance of getting something done.  However, there is a higher risk placing your people on these spaces because as Atlantis sinks into the sea, these distal spaces are drowned first.

You can see how it’s better to roll at the end of the island (left side). The central hex where the Mystic Energy is collected is seen at the very right.

Once all players have placed their pieces, the game moves into the Misfortune phase.  Each player, again in clockwise order from the start player, draws a Misfortune card from the deck.  The majority of these cards are simple flood cards – a region is named on the card – and the furthest tile from that region is flooded.  It is flipped over to show this. If there were any Atlanteans on that tile, they are returned to the appropriate player.  In general, this means that particular worker loses the chance to take an action this turn (though an exception to this rule is made if that worker was placed with a Courage token underneath it – if this happens, the Courage token is discarded and the worker immediately takes his action immediately as the tile is flooded).  If a section had been completely flooded and it comes up on a Misfortune card, then the players have to choose any TWO tiles to flood instead.

Basic Misfortune cards

There are also some non-basic cards which cause other bad things to happen such as:

  • Flood 2 tiles
  • Each player loses a resource
  • The Athenian Navy gets stronger by one step
  • No Mystic Power is collected this turn

And, very infrequently, you could draw a “Calm Seas” card where nothing happens at all!

Some of the “special” misfortune cards

Once all the misfortune has been wrought upon the island, the Atlanteans which still remain in play take their actions.  What sort of action happens depends on where the worker was placed.  If you placed your worker in the center of the island, you collect one Mystic Energy token for each worker placed there.  Workers placed on the Navy board take no specific action now, but they will be counted in the next phase.

If your workers were placed on the Library arm, you can draw Knowledge cards.  Based on the icons on the particular space you chose, you draw 1 or 2 cards and then keep 1 or 2 of them.  In the cities arm, you make new workers – the further towards the tip you are, the fewer workers you have to place there in order to pop out the new worker.

The Mountains, Hills and Forests all work the same way – on these spaces, you get to roll a d6 for each worker to attempt to gain a cube (yellow gold in Hills, black ore in Mountains and white Crystal in the Forests).  You must equal or excced the number printed on your space in order to successfully make a good.  Again, the numbers on the spaces are lower as you are further away from the center.  Additionally, after you roll, you can use your Mystic Energy tokens to improve your roll by 1 for each token spent this way.

I’m repeating this picture to illustrate how the rolls get better towards the end

The last arm of the island are the Forges.  In this section, you convert the black Ore cubes into the grey “Atlantium” cubes.  Unfortunately, there is no function for the black cubes in the game other than converting them into the grey cubes.  All of the Blueprint cards need some combination of yellow, white and grey cubes to be completed.  Like the other areas, you get a better conversion rate as the end of this arm.

Once all the production has been done, it’s time for the Athenians to attack Atlantis.  On the Navy board is a chart with ever increasing numbers on it – at the start of the game, the Athenian Ship starts on a zero space.  The total value of the Athenian attack is the number on the space where the ship is PLUS a roll from an averaging d6 (2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5).  The Atlantis defensive strength is added up: two points for each worker placed with a Courage Marker under it and one for each other worker placed here.  If the defense value is at least as much as the attack value, nothing happens. However, if there isn’t enough defense, one area of Atlantis is flooded for each unmatched attack point.  Finally, when the attack is resolved, a Courage token is distributed – it is given to the player who played the most workers to the Navy board and played at least two.

The final phase is building Blueprint Cards.  Each player (again in clockwise order from the start player) has the chance to build one and only one card each turn.  To do so, they turn in the appropriate cubes to the supply and take the Blueprint card and place it in front of them.  If there is a special ability on the Blueprint card, it is executed at this time as well.  It’s important to remember here that resources cannot be traded amongst the players unless someone has played a specific Knowledge card which would allow such a trade.

Examples of the Blueprint cards

After everyone has had their chance to build a card, the round ends.  If the final Blueprint card had been constructed, the players win.  Otherwise, the start player marker rotates one one position clockwise and the next round starts with more worker placement.

So, that’s pretty much how the game works.  It’s pretty straightforward, and after one or two rounds, it becomes second nature.  There are still a few other mystic rules to explain.  First, there are Mystic Barrier tokens which can be awarded thru some of the knowledge cards.  The Barriers are chits that can be placed on island tiles.  If this tile were to be flooded (from a Misfortune card), you remove the Barrier tile instead of flooding the tile.  Essentially, it protects the tile from one flooding.  The other mystic component of the game are the Mystic Energy tokens – the ones collected by standing your guys in the center of the island.  These energy tokens have many different uses:

  • Add 1 to a production die roll when you are gathering cubes
  • Transform one resource into another (costs 2 Mystic Energy)
  • Cancel a basic Misfortune card (costs 3 Energy – can be pooled from all players)
  • Unflip a flooded tile (costs 5 Energy – can be pooled from all players)

So, as you can see, there are definitely many reasons why you want to keep some of these on hand throughout the game.

Well, I’ve played the game 4 times now, and I think I have a pretty good feel for it.  As far as co-operative games go, this is better than average for me.  I think that there is a good balance here – it’s an easy game to learn, and the basic difficulty is just right.   I also like the fact that there is a way to jigger the difficulty so that more experienced players can still have a challenging game.

OK, so as you probably know, I’m not a theme guy.  The story is usually not what makes me play a game or want to buy it.  I want the mechanics of the game to be interesting and compelling.  In Atlantis Rising, the story itself is OK, and it is well integrated into the game.  There are certainly some who believe that the civilization of Atlantis was an alien civilization which used advanced technologies.  And, the myth of Atlantis definitely includes that constant battle between Athens and Atlantis, and that is included nicely with the naval battles.  You’ll have to ask someone else whether or not the theme was done well, because a lot of that is simply lost on me.

The rules were pretty clear and well written.  I easily grasped the game from my initial read of the rules, and when I had questions, it was easy to find the appropriate section of the rules to refer to.  After our first game, there was one thing that we ended up doing differently than what is written in the rules.  First, we played all the player turns together – it didn’t make sense to go clockwise and do it “in order”.  To best maximize our abilities, we would talk it out as a group and decide who should go where.  It was also much easier for our group to visualize all the potential choices and options with the people on the board.

The downside of this approach is that if our group were prone to it, there would be some serious quarterbacking issues.  I think the rules come up with a workaround here by making sure that players go in order, so that if there is a conflict, the active person can override everyone else and put their guys where they want them to go.  Of course, this sort of behavior would be totally against the cooperative nature of the game!

I am of two minds when it comes to the special abilities of the six Councilors.  In one way, I think it is a nice mechanic to give each non-6p game a different feel – you would have to approach the game differently based on which special abilities were in that particular game.  The downside of the asymmetrical start conditions is that some players might end up being pigeonholed in their role during the game, which could turn out to be less interesting.  For example, if you draw the Scholar, when drawing Knowledge cards, you get to either draw one extra card or keep one more card.  So, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense for that person to not be the one drawing cards.  Yes, I know that there might be times when it’s better for someone else to have the cards or maybe the Scholar has already hit the hand limit of four – but the majority of that person’s actions will be likely drawing cards.

The game itself it pretty tense.  There is definitely the sense of impending doom with the constant flooding of the island.  The tension scales well because essentially there is one Misfortune card drawn for each player’s worth of actions – and this ratio stays the same regardless of the number of players.   My four plays have shown the end-game goals to be fairly well balanced – in all of the games, even when it didn’t look good at the start, most of the games have come down to the last 1 or 2 Blueprint cards.  And, as I mentioned earlier, I really like the ability to change difficulty – it’s good that beginners can get into the game and not be overwhelmed while more veteran players can still challenge themselves.

I have definitely found that my kids have wanted to immediately play this again after we’re done with it – probably because most of the games are down to the wire.  The game has also worked well in the family setting because we have a chance to work together, and this is one of the first coop’s that I have played with the boys.  I also think it has more replay value because production is based on a die roll – thus, the planned action is never 100% certain.  You really have to play the odds and figure out how to give yourself the best chance to get the cubes you need.  If you don’t roll well, maybe you also want to try to get a lot of Mystic Energy tokens to change the cubes into the types that you need!

Also, there is a fair amount of interactivity with the special actions on the Blueprint cards.  I would definitely recommend that players take a little bit of time reading all of the potential actions.  We have definitely found that there are some pretty good combinations that can be chained together to help you build the components of the Gate.  There are a few special actions that seem wonky including one which lets you use the ability of any other Blueprint card costing 3 or fewer resources (including those not in this particular game) – that seemed more fiddly and time consuming than it was worth.

Overall, I think this is a good effort from Mr. Ciscell, and I would definitely be interested in other designs from him.  Like many cooperative games, Atlantis Rising has the potential for quarterbacking, but hopefully your group will not be prone to that.  (And if it is, I’m guessing that your group isn’t the sort to play a lot of cooperative games!)  Atlantis Rising will provide you with a tense 60 minutes of cooperative gaming, and I definitely think it’s worth a try!

Atlantis Rising will debut at GenCon 2012 from Z-Man Games.

Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Atlantis Rising (Z-man)

  1. DLE says:

    Thanks for the review, Dale.

    It’s hard not to think that Atlantis Rising is simply Forbidden Island pumped up, with a smidgen of Survive! added. While I may be accused of promoting a popular meme, I wonder if Atlantis Rising does a “Jones Theory” on Forbidden Island. What would be the point of owning both?

    Also, I noted that the text on the cards in the game Seasons looked small and potentially hard to read. The cards in Atlantic Rising seem highly legible. Kudos to the producers of the game.

  2. Dale Yu says:

    Well, I don’t know about the whole Jones Theory thing. Taken to its extreme, you would only need about 10 games in your collection – and clearly, most of us have more than that.

    I think this is a bit more linear than Forbidden Island. Since you lose tiles from the end towards the center, you know what order the tiles will disappear and this makes the risk/reward calculation different. In our games, the largest part of discussion is figuring out which tiles we want to place people on – and whether or not we have cards or enough mystic energy to protect those tiles if they get flooded.

    Is it similar to Forbidden Island? Of course. But, it’s also similar to most other co-ops per the Jones Theory. I don’t know if anyone could choose just one.

    For those unaware of the Jones Theory: http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/65414/to-jones-theory-or-not-to-jones-theory

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