Game Design Project: The Survivor, part 1

I’ve been working on an rpg off and on for a couple of months.  Well, several for a lot longer than that but this one in particular for about 3 months.  It’s a solo game called The Survivor.  In it you are the lone survivor of a crashed survey mission on an uncharted, unexplored planet.  You must cross the unknown to the beacon placed on the planet several years ago.  You will encounter many hardships.  Your will will be tested.  Will you survive to be rescued or will you die, alone on a strange world?

Yeah, I know it sounds like Robinson Crusoe On Mars.  Basically it is.  I like that movie and it inspired the game.  As did Jason Morningstar’s The Plant.  Very cool little game that is.

Paul Mantee as Commander Christopher Draper in Robinson Crusoe On Mars

And inspired by GamerChris and Daniel Solis, I’ve decided to post it as it is being refined.  Granted I’ve gotten a fair amount done on the game so far.  But I’m going to go back and look at how it got to this point and as it grows toward completion.

If I follow Chris’ example I need some design goals.  The biggest here is that I wanted to design a solo game.  I think this is an underappreciated market and want to do something to remedy that.  I know that I do not get to play a lot of games because I don’t have anyone around most of the time with whom to play.  Those in my family who like to play games are not experienced enough with strategy games yet.  So a solo game that can deliver fun and challenge is a gem in my eyes.  I looked around some and found a few.  I’m very excited about The Lord of The Rings: The Living Card Game because it is supposed to play well solo.  I believe Chris has posted about this.  Smokejumpers is another game that is purely solo.  And it is really hard. But there are not a lot of solo games out there.  So I decided to make one.

That was goal one.  Goal two – what kind of game?  For whatever reason this one answered itself.  The theme for the game came first once I decided that I wanted a solo game.  What kind of setting is suggested by the word ‘solo’?  Robinson Crusoe immediately came to mind.  And that was quickly followed by the ‘on Mars’ part.  Now how could I do this?  RPG was the first answer to that.  So as of now, it’s an rpg.  That isn’t to say that it will stay an rpg.  But it is being developed as one.  If it evolves that’s fine.

So goals one and two are covered.  Goal three was the game must use a standard deck of cards.  I like using things that everybody has around the house.  Coins, dice, pen & paper, playing cards – everyone has these.  Cards are cool because that have a lot of information on them.  There is color – red or black.  There are four suits.  There are 13 denominations.  There is a front and a back.   There are even numbers and odd numbers.   There are face cards and numbered cards.  And there may even be jokers.  Counting up that’s 25 potentials not counting the jokers.  That’s a lot to work with.

So those were my three goals.  I’ll get into what happened next in a little while.  Come back for that please.


Under The Microscope – If I’m Going Down…

Under the microscope today, If I’m Going Down…a Dying Card Game from VanRyder Games.

This review is based on a prototype of the game. I received the copy as a play tester. The final version of the game may be different from the prototype.

IIGD Introduction

The newest game from VanRyder Games, If I’m Going Down… is a zombie themed game with a twist. While most zombie games are about surviving the shambling hordes, If I’m Going Down…(IIGD for short) accepts that you will never escape. There are just too many of them. You are going to die or join their hungry ranks. It’s just a matter of how many you take out before you go.

Materials – Components

One of the included characters

IIGD is a card game. It comes with 55 Zombie Deck made up of Zombie and Occurance cards, 42 Fate Deck cards divided into Resources and No Luck cards, and 2 double sided Character cards. One side is for when the character is health and the other for when he becomes a zombie. It also comes with tracker cards for keeping track of your health, in-hand items and their uses, items on your character’s body, and items on the ground. There are a lot of icons on the cards. The final version of the game will have a reference card explaining the icons.


Zombie cards – there are several kinds of zombies in the game. There is a generic zombie guy and some specialty zombies. Each zombie has icons indicating its abilities. There are a variety of abilities such as ‘long stride’, enabling that zombie to move twice as fast as the rest, and ‘loved one’, in which the zombie is someone the character loved so it can’t be attacked until held back or it bites the character. Each zombie also has a ‘Z-number’ or a strength.

Occurance cards are also part of the zombie deck. These cards are events that come into play when drawn. Occurance cards are placed beside the play area and a card from the Fate deck is drawn. The type of Fate card determines which of the listed Occurances happens.

Resource cards are the items that the character can use to battle the zombies such as a baseball bat. Each card has several icons on it. The icons tell how many hands are needed to hold the item, how many uses it has, its range, and its attacks per use. Each card has some flavor text about the item also.

The rules are fairly well written and illustrated. They read in a straight forward manner. The rules also contain two scenarios for the game.

Lastly is the art. The artwork is fantastic and very evocative. The card backgrounds, fonts, and colors are in theme. I mentioned the iconography and it is clear and easy to read. The zombies are well done, gruesome and spooky.

Methods – Game Play

For simplicity of explanation, I will describe setup for the base scenario of the game called The Shack. Scenarios describe the layout of the cards, how many of each card to use, and has a Kill-O-Meter. In The Shack, players are trapped in a small one room building. Zombies are outside and will be coming in. Setup for the game is relatively quick and illustrated in the rules. The cards are divided into their respective types. A ‘grid’ of spaces is set up in the play area representing the shack. Its size depends on the number of players – three by three for solo play, five by four for two players. The grid spaces represent different areas or zones of the shack. At the top and two sides of the grid decks of zombie cards are placed. These spots are where the zombies will enter the game. Characters are placed at the bottom of this grid along with their health and item trackers. Players can have items on their body and one to two items in their hands depending on whether an item is two handed (like a shotgun) or not (like a pistol). Any items on the ground are place on the Ground trackers.

Game play is divided into phases – the Zombie Entrance phase, the Player Phase, the Zombie Attack phase, and the Zombie Movement phase.

The Zombie Entrance phase starts a turn by loading the zombies into the grid. Zombies enter the game on the top row of the grid. They will move closer to the characters each turn unless destroyed.

In the Player Action phase players have two actions. Players can choose to manage their resources, search for a resource, or use a resource. Managing resources involves either moving, trading, trashing, or swapping a resource. Searching for a resource involves drawing a card from the resource deck and adding that resource to your hand. Using a resource is just that, using a resource per the text on the card.

Next is the Zombie Attack phase. Zombies that are adjacent to the character (the Danger Zone) will attack that character. Characters can hold back one zombie per turn. Any zombie not held back will attack the character and bite or scratch them. Bitten or scratched characters will become zombies in five turns or less. If the character is bitten or scratched again he is dead and being eaten by the zombies.

The last phase is the Zombie Movement phase. In this phase the zombies move toward the characters.

The game ends when the characters die or are turned into zombies. Players count up the number of zombies they ‘killed’ and any bonus or negative points earned. The player with the highest kill number wins the game.


The first thing that impressed me about the game is that it plays solo. This is becoming a huge selling point for me as I am often unable to make it to game night. If a game has solo play ability that is a selling point to me. The next thing that impressed me was how well my 9 year old son took to the game. He picked it up on the first play and is able to play by himself and have fun.

IIGD is fun, very themey, and a relatively light game. I would categorize it as a mega-filler. By this I mean that it is not rules heavy, analysis paralysis inducing, or playable in 15 minutes. But it is light, requires very little strategy, and actually can end quickly if you draw hard to kill zombies on the first few turns. It is competitive in that you are competing for the highest score. Yet it is cooperative in that killing zombies helps everyone.

As a play tester I was able to have some input into the final version of the game. I was very impressed with how responsive AJ was to questions about unclear rules or suggestions. In fact, my son suggested that the game needs a board or mat to keep the cards organized. AJ thought that was a great idea and has designed a play mat that is a Kickstarter supporter reward. Very cool. AJ stayed in touch with the play testers on an almost daily schedule, soliciting feedback so that he could make IIGD the best it could be. And I think he has accomplished that

One of the cool things about the game is the Scenarios. Players can play through your favorite zombie movie or story in a sense with them. They add a storyline to the game that is a big plus I think. And there is no reason that players can’t write their own scenarios. I expect this to be a big area of expansion once the game is out.

Another thing about the game is that it is completely hackable. I immediately thought the mechanics would lend themselves to a game about The Alamo. Any battle where on side is out numbered or in a desperate situation could be done with this system. I can see hacks appearing on BGG along side fan made scenarios soon.

IIGD is currently on Kickstarter in the funding phase. As of this writing it is % funded. AJ has some nice supporter rewards (like ) and is running some polls for supporters to influence the promo cards that will be offered. He is also posting progress on these cards as it is available so supporters can follow the progress. I would encourage you to lend your support to this game.

If I’m Going Down… is a fun, unique zombie themed card game that a ton of fun.

Junior Ludologist’s Review: My nine year old’s thoughts on IIGD: “You get to kill zombies! I like the zombie cards. The other cards are good too. The game is hard. Zombies are coming at you from a bunch of different ways. IIGD is fun.”

Final evaluation:  4 MICROSCOPES out of 5

You can find out more about If I’m Going Down… at VanRyder Games.

Please consider supporting it on Kickstarter.

Thanks for joining me for this review.  Please let me know what you thought of it or this game by leaving a comment.

Under The Microscope – Survive: Escape From Atlantis

This time Under The Microscope – Survive: Escape From Atlantis Designed by David Ausloos, published by Stronghold Games


In Survive: Escape From Atlantis players are inhabitants that must escape from a sinking island. They must brave the dangers of the seas to reach safe islands at the edge of the board. It is a great family game with a high competition value. The components are fantastic. It is easy to learn and has high replayability.


Games has brought back classic game in Survive: Escape From Atlantis. The game combines to previously published games – Survive and Escape From Atlantis by Parker Brothers. The idea of the game is to move your meeples from the central island, which is ‘sinking’, to the four outer islands.  Meeples escape either by swimming or by boat. The island will get smaller and smaller until finally the volcano erupts and destroys everything, ending the game.

A game in progress

Materials And Methods

This game has fantastic components. It has a nice quad-fold board with good graphics. The rules manual is well written, clear and precise. The game pieces are the stars though. The meeples, boats, and creatures are well done wooden pieces. Meeples are in the standard red, blue, green, yellow and have numbers on the bottoms. These numbers are the number of points the player gets if that meeple makes it to one of the safe islands.

Lastly, the tiles. There are three types of tile representing the three terrain types: beach, jungle, mountain.   Now Stronghold could have just made them

Awesome Tiles!

in three different colors. But no, they went above and beyond. The three terrains are represented graphically AND physically. The beach tiles have a nice beach/sand graphic. The jungle tiles have green jungle canopy plus they are thicker than the beach tiles. The mountain tiles look like mountains and are thicker than the jungle tiles. Not only are the graphics appropriate but the increasing thickness of the tiles mimics the increasing elevation that you would see with these types of terrain. Brilliant!

Game play is very straight forward. On a turn, a player has three moves. These can be either move a meeple around the island, onto a boat, or move a boat across the water. But there are restrictions to the movement. Swimming meeples can only move one space per turn or this can be used to climb into a boat. Boats are moved by player with the majority of meeples on board. It takes one move to jump out of the boat onto a safe island. Once a player uses his three moves, he flips a tile. The tiles are one of the coolest parts and mechanics of the game. The beach tiles are flipped first. Then the jungle tiles and then the mountain tiles. Great theme and mechanics blend to simulate what would actually happen with a sinking island. Each tile has iconography on the back depicting actions that may be immediate or possibly held for later use. Immediate actions are place a shark, whale, or empty boat where the tile was.  Held actions include canceling a shark, whale, or serpent attack.   The tile might also have a whirlpool or the volcano. A whirlpool destroys everything in a one hex perimeter. Revealing the volcano ends the game. The last thing done on a turn is roll the dice. Players must roll the Creature die and move the indicated creature – one space for the sea serpent, two for the shark, and three spaces for the whale. Play then moves to the next player.

There are two modes of play – Basic and Advanced. For the basic game, players roll the red Creature die. The advanced game you roll the 2 blue dice then move one of the pieces the number of spaces on the dice. There is a ‘D’ on one of the blue dice that means the

The dice

appropriate creature (indicated by the other blue die) to any unoccupied space on the board.

Discussion and Conclusion

Both of the previous game are fondly remembered and sought after. Stronghold has done an excellent job bringing then back in Survive: Escape From Atlantis. It has combined the best of each game. The game is physically beautiful. The game play is smooth and fun. It plays in under an hour on average. The game definitely has a ‘take that’ aspect but it adds to the game. Survive is a perfect family game that has just enough strategy for the gamer.  This game is a big hit in our lab.  You can find out more at Stronghold Games and BGG.

Microscope Rating:  5 of 5 microscopes

images sourced from Boardgame Geek