First airing in the summer of 2000, the television show Survivor has to be considered one of if not the most influential reality television show of all time. With Survivor becoming a huge hit in its’ first season, Mattel decided to try and cash in on its’ success by creating a board game based on the show. They ended up creating a board game within a couple months which turned out to be today’s game Survivor. Seeing as I have been a fan of Survivor since the first season I have always thought that Survivor could be used to make a good board game. With how quickly the game was made though I had doubts that the Survivor board game was going to be any good. After playing the game I have to say that my initial thoughts were correct as the Survivor board game shows that it was quick cash grab that didn’t spend enough time actually trying to create a good board game.
How to Play Survivor
- Place the island tray in the center of the table and place the gameboard around it so the stairs line up with the “go to tribal council” space.
- Place one category card cover over each wide slot in the tray. Then place the corresponding deck of cards underneath each category card cover.
- Place the immunity idol into the slot at the top of the steps.
- Place the voting cards in the slot at the top of the tray.
- The players divide into two teams with one team being Pagong and the other being Tagi. At this time each player also chooses a colored player mover which are set to the side of the board to start the game.
- Each team takes a scoring/reference card.
- Shuffle all of the survival item cards and deal three cards to each team. The rest of the survival item cards are placed in the slots around the tray.
- One player from each team rolls the die with the team rolling the higher number getting to go first.
The Survivor board game starts as a team game. A team begins their turn by rolling the die. The team then moves their playing piece the corresponding number of spaces clockwise around the outer ring of the gameboard. The team will then take a card corresponding to the space that their playing piece landed on. For team play the players will use the blue side of the cards. Based on what card is drawn players will perform different actions.
Riddle: One of the players from the current team will read the riddle to the other team. If the other team correctly solves the riddle they will get to take 3 survival items. If they can’t solve it the current team gets 3 survival items.
Walk the Plank: One player from the current team will read one hint at a time to the other team. The other team can make one guess for each hint. If the other team guesses the answer they will receive survival items dependent on how many clues they needed to guess the correct answer (1 clue-3 items, 2 clues-2 items, 3 clues-3 items). If the other team is unable to guess it after three clues, the current team gets three survival items.
Know Thy Neighbor: One player from the current team will read out the question on the card and will write down which option they personally would choose. The rest of the players on the current team then have to agree on what choice they think the player picked. If the other team members guess the correct response the team will get 3 survival items. If they choose incorrectly, the current team gets nothing.
S.O.S.: One player from the current team rolls the die. Then that player and one player from the other team will have to draw the word corresponding to the number rolled. Both players draw at the same time and the team that guesses the correct answer first wins and receives three survival items.
One player reads the card and follows the directions. If the card requires you to use a survival item you return that card to the tray before you draw new items.
End of Team Play
The team play portion of the game ends when one of the team’s raft reaches the merge space (does not have to be by exact count). Each player from the team that reached the merge space will get to randomly take one survival item from the other team. Each team then randomly distributes their survival items evenly to all of the members of the team. If there is an odd number of items for a team, all extra items are returned to the tray. The team playing pieces are then removed from the board and the individual playing pieces are added to the gameboard.
For individual play each player plays for themselves. All of the players roll the die with the highest roller getting to go first. Players will roll the die on their turn and move their piece clockwise around the inner circle of the gameboard. After moving their piece the player will take a card corresponding to the space that their piece landed on. During individual play the players will use the beige side of the cards. If two or more players advance forward due to the card, the current player moves their piece first.
Riddle: The current player reads the riddle out to the rest of the players. Whichever player is first to solve the riddle will get to move forward three spaces. Each player can only make one guess though. If none of the player solve the riddle, the current player moves forward three spaces.
Walk the Plank: The current player reads one hint at a time. Each player can make one guess for each hint. If one of the players guesses correctly after the first hint they get to move forward three spaces. If someone gets it right after two hints they move forward two spaces. If someone gets it right after three hints they move forward one space. If after three hints no one gets it right, the current player gets to move forward three spaces.
Know Thy Neighbor: The current player reads the card and writes down which option they would choose. All of the other players write down what they think the current player will guess. The current player will move forward one space for each player that matches them. Each player that matches the current player moves forward one space.
S.O.S.: The current player rolls the die and then draws the corresponding item. Whichever player guess the item first gets to move forward three spaces. The current player also gets to move forward three spaces.
Read the card and follow the instructions. These cards usually involve the use of a survival item. If the player has the survival item or a treasure chest (acts as a wild) they get to move forward the number of spaces written on the card.
When a player reaches the immunity idol the current round ends. The player who reached the immunity idol is immune from the vote. All of the players will then vote for the player they want to eliminate from the game using the marker and the vote cards. When voting players can vote for anyone except for the player with immunity or themselves.
Once everyone has voted the votes are read. The player with the most votes is eliminated from the game. If there is a tie, the player who earned immunity gets to break the tie.
If there are still more than two players remaining in the game the players will play another round with everyone’s pieces moving back to the start space. When there are only two players remaining the game moves to the final vote.
Winning the Game
When there are only two players remaining, all of the players who have been voted out of the game will get to vote for the winner. The player who receives the most votes wins the game.
My Thoughts on Survivor
As I already mentioned I have always thought that Survivor could be be used to make a good board game. From the challenges to the scheming and eventual voting out of other players; the show already has a great base for a board game. The question with any potential Survivor board game though is if a designer could find a way to do a good job implementing the theme into a board game. The problem with the Survivor board game is that it takes small pieces from the show and just turns them into another generic party game.
Trying to simulate the television show the Survivor board game is divided into two sections. The board game begins with two tribes competing against one another. The goal of the team portion of the game is to acquire survival items and be the first team to reach the merge space. Players acquire survival items by performing various challenges. These survival items that players acquire are used in the individual portion of the game in order to move additional spaces which increases a players’ odds of winning immunity. Basically the team portion of the game involves moving around the board collecting survival items with the first team that gets to the merge space getting to steal some survival items from the other team. Unlike the show no one gets voted off the show until after the merge.
Now lets move onto the individual game. The individual game plays a lot like the team portion of the game. You roll the die, move your playing piece and complete various challenges. Unlike the team portion of the game, the goal of the individual game is to move around the gameboard as quickly as possible. Other than completing challenges this can be accomplished by having the right survival items that were acquired in the team portion of the game. While the survival item mechanic had some potential, it gets wasted on the fact that you don’t even land on outlast spaces that often. With how little impact the mechanic has I don’t know why the game wastes a significant portion of the game acquiring cards that you don’t even use that often.
In both the team and individual games you will be competing in various “challenges” in order to earn survival items or additional spaces. Both the individual and team games use the same challenges with the only difference being how rewards are given out. I was actually intrigued by the challenge aspect of the Survivor board game since I thought this was going to be the meat of the game. After playing through them I was left disappointed. The challenges basically boil down to mechanics taken from other party games. There are four different challenges in Survivor:
- Riddle: Basically the players try to solve a riddle. This is not a terrible mechanic but the riddle difficulty varies so much. Some riddles are really easy while others are so hard that you basically have to be a riddle master to solve them. I would also like to ask what riddles have to do with Survivor.
- Walk the Plank: In Walk the Plank the players have to figure out what is the secret object based on three clues. This type of mechanic has been used by a lot of different party games. Just like the riddles this mechanic is decent but it doesn’t really fit with the theme of Survivor.
- Know Thy Neighbor: This challenge is the typical how well do you know the other players mechanic that is used in so many different party games. Thematically this mechanic makes a little sense since you can’t really do well on the show if you know nothing about the other players. I wouldn’t really consider it to be a challenge though and it has been used in so many other games that it is far from original.
- S.O.S.: Since this challenge is basically Pictionary there is not much to say about it. I really wonder how the designers ever expected people to be able to guess some of the words though.
So you have made it through all of the tedious “challenges”. It is finally time for what makes Survivor what it is, the voting. While this aspect of the game does a decent job representing the show (how hard is it to represent voting someone off the show/game), it also doesn’t work as well as I was expecting. Now if you were to play the game where all the players had maybe five minutes to strategize before each vote, allowing players to go into other rooms to talk, it might have worked. This would have allowed players to create alliances and then the game actually would have played quite a bit like the show. Without implementing your own house rules the game doesn’t really let players form alliances a key element of the television show.
Unless you are willing to invest the time so players are able to create alliances, the voting mechanic is not very fun. I see only four different reasons to vote for someone in the game. First you can vote for the person you like the least or the person that has recently messed with you in other games. Since you will likely be playing this game with friends and family this can lead to some awkward situations. Your second option is to vote off the player who has the most survival items remaining. This is an option since having more survival items makes it more likely that a player will win an immunity in the future. The third option is to vote someone off because they have gotten the most questions/riddles right. Just like the second option this is a valid strategy because they have a better chance at winning immunity. The final option is the pity option where you vote off the player that wants to quit the game most. Unfortunately I think a lot of players would want to be voted off so it would be hard to choose which one gets to quit playing first.
So you have now voted someone off, what now? Well you are going to just repeat the same thing over and then vote off another player. While you are doing this the player(s) voted off will either have to just sit there watching you or do something else. I am never a huge fan of elimination mechanics since it is never fun to force another player to sit and watch the rest of the players play the game. The times I don’t mind elimination mechanics are in games that either eliminate players near the end of the game or games where players can get back into the game. Unfortunately neither apply to Survivor as the players have to just sit around watching until the final vote so they can vote for the ultimate winner. The game takes way too long which makes this waiting even more unbearable.
You will eventually get down to two players remaining and then all of the eliminated players will get to decide who ultimately wins the game. Just like voting players off this can create issues. How exactly do you decide who to vote for? Do you vote for the player who did the best by getting the most questions right and/or winning immunity the most? Do you just vote for whoever you like the most? I can see this final vote creating an awkward situation. Basically to avoid hurting someone’s feelings you need a group whose feelings won’t get hurt easily.
If it wasn’t already clear, I did not like the Survivor board game. The problem with the game is it just feels extremely rushed. With it being released the same year that the show premiered that isn’t that surprising. The problem is that the game just feels like a bunch of random party mechanics were thrown together with a little theme added in to try to appeal to fans of the show. This doesn’t work as none of the mechanics are particularly fun. Even the most entertaining portion of the show isn’t very fun as it just isn’t that entertaining voting off your friends and family.
The biggest disappointment about the Survivor board game is that I actually think the television show could actually be used for a good board game. If you were going to add a lot of house rules to this game you could actually make a decent game. The game would have been much better if it actually used real challenges unlike the riddle and Pictionary mechanics that the game chose to use. I actually think the game could have worked if it used little micro games for the challenges. I could see dexterity games working really well for the challenges. I think the voting would have worked better in this situation since you could then vote out the player who has done the best in the challenges that didn’t win immunity.
As far as the components you basically get what you would expect out of a Mattel game. The game mostly uses cardboard components. The artwork is actually better than I was expecting. The game has a decent amount of game cards. The problem is that most of them will be pointless after you play them once. Once a player has solved one of the Walk the Plank or Riddle cards players will likely remember it the next time it comes up. I question how much replay value the Survivor board game actually has.
So I think a decent amount of the problems with the Survivor board game come from the fact that the game was rushed out in order to cash in on the success of the television show. I am left wondering if the designers were given more time if the game could have been better. I don’t know if time would have helped the game though since Mattel also made a version of the game for the second season of Survivor called Survivor: The Australian Outback. With more time I am hoping that this game is better but based on the description it sounds like it is basically the exact same game.
Should You Buy Survivor?
While I didn’t have high expectations for the Survivor board game I still held out hope because I think Survivor is a good idea for a board game. Unfortunately Survivor is another board game that is a classic example of a game being designed as a quick cash grab. The game was likely put together and produced within months and it shows. Basically the board game borrows pretty much all of its mechanics from other party games with most of the mechanics having little to nothing to do with the television show. The challenges themselves are not terrible but they don’t fit the game’s theme and I wouldn’t really even consider them to be challenges. The one thing that does follow the show pretty closely are the voting mechanics. The problem with the voting mechanics is that unless you have a really understanding group it is kind of awkward having to vote a family or friend out of the game. Unless you add your own house rules there really are no opportunities for alliances in the game which is what makes the voting in Survivor interesting in the first place. What is a real shame about the game is that if more time was put into it, it could have been a decent game. Basically to make the game somewhat enjoyable though you are going to have to implement a lot of house rules.
If you don’t love the television show Survivor I would recommend staying far away from the Survivor board game. If you really like the television show you need to decide whether you want to figure out house rules that can fix the problems with the game. If you don’t want to waste time coming up with house rules I would recommend avoiding the game. If you don’t mind coming up with ways to tweak the game it may be worth picking up the Survivor board game if you can find it for really cheap.