15 April 2022
If you like your chances low, we've got the best survival themed games for your tabletop
For solo and cooperative games, there’s nothing more motivating than survival. It’s a simple desire that helps you make choices on the board and around the table. It encourages thematic and dramatic choices, and when your group is defeated, it’ll only make you stronger next time. With all that going for it, here are our favourite survival games…
Words by Christopher John Eggett
1. This War Of Mine
The reason survival games are so endearing to us is because they pose us tough questions about the extent of our humanity. It’s very easy to be kind in a world of plenty, but when a choice to help or hinder someone in a war torn city might result in bad news for you – how far does your will to help your fellow man extend? This tabletop outing for the hit videogame introduces us to a bit of classic base-building and defending, while also giving us interesting characters to interact with. A good one to take to the bunker with you.
Come for the weird wooden ball counters with little fish on them, stay for the sense of backstabbing joy of being stranded on a desert island. The tagline of this game explains everything you need to know “a cooperative game… until the food is gone!” Players spend their turns deciding whether to explore the sunken ship for bonus items, go fishing for food, collect water, or help build the raft that will allow them to escape the island. If there’s not enough food or water for everyone, it all goes a bit lord of the flies.
3. Maximum Apocalypse
The tile-exploring end-of-the-world game that is, as the designer Mike Gnade says, “the most apocalypse you can have at once.” Not only is it the end of the world then, it’s all of them. Players explore face down tiles, one at a time, balancing the threat of pushing too far ahead with the danger of staying still. The core of the game is not having your deck discarded away (as if that happens, you’re done) by the aliens and monsters you’ll run into on your adventures. Excellent solo and cooperative, it’s got that classic ‘we’ll only make it if we work together’ feel to it.
While not every survival game needs zombies, nearly every zombie game is about survival. In this CMON classic (in any of its flavours, including the upcoming Marvel and recently released Night of the Living Dead) you’ll be playing as a group survivors (so far anyway) with a handful of powers and a chance of making it out of the scenario alive if you work together. The general rule is there will always be more zombies than there are bullets, and you’ll need to move around the modular-tiled city in the most efficient way to end up out-thinking the brainless corpses shuffling after you. A classic brains-splattering experience.
5. Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on a Cursed Island
More shipwrecked adventure, this time in the Ignacy Trzewiczek classic, Robinson Crusoe. You’ll need to build shelter, find food, and keep wild beasts from mucking up your shipwreck-chic feng-shui. A crunchy Eurogame heart sits at the centre of this adventure played out over several weeks, which will encourage you to take risks to find the pirate treasure – or what can be found in a cursed temple. For those looking for a big, satisfying game of balancing your character’s needs against your desire to explore, there’s worse places to wash up.
6. Dead of Winter
So not only are there zombies in a post-apocalyptic world in this survival game, but also, it’s really cold. Dead of Winter has the powerful ‘lets sort of work together’ mechanic seen in many of these games. While players have one single goal between them, they also hold a personal goal they need to achieve to win the game. The overwhelming number of zombies building up throughout the game creates a real motivation to work together despite the potential for betrayal. The game’s aesthetic of snow-storm static goes a long way to set the tone of tough choices where you’ll have to consider what’s good for you and what’s good for the colony.
Survival is the only way to have a chance of winning the game in this much loved ‘alien but not alien’ game. Keep yourself alive until the end, and, assuming you don’t have something living inside you, and someone hasn’t put the ship on a different course, and nothing explodes, then you’re a winner. As with many in this list, this offers semi-cooperative play, with a touch of backstabbing here and there. The risk reward comes not in exerting yourself too much and starving, but instead, pushing too far and getting your head bitten off. Still, it ends in much a similar way.
8. Posthuman Saga
It’s still the post-apocalypse, as it tends to be in these games, and this time we’ve got genetic mutations instead. In Posthuman Saga you’ve already found a kind of safety in the generically named Fortress of the game world, and now spend your days adventuring out to explore and hopefully expand into forgotten outposts. The game expands on the classic sandbox style of the first Posthuman game, and instead offers hundreds of small stories to play through as you explore and help to tame the wasteland. There’s always a chance of failure however, so make your moves cautiously.
9. The 7th Continent
Look, we have to face facts. Most people cheat when they play this game and give their characters a certain number of lives to explore the furthest reaches of the island. However, if you play it with the survival spirit in mind, you’ll only have one shot – just like in real life – to find everything you want to during the game. While there’s plenty of ways to not survive in The 7th Continent the joys of perfectly navigating your way through the strange and unreasonable world cannot be underrated.
10. Rocky Mountain Man
A magazine game from Emperors of Eternal Evil (Sea Evil) sees players exploring the rocky mountains and attempting to survive the wilds and, most importantly, the weather. And as you’re using only the gear available to your expedition in the 1800s, you’ve got a lower chance of survival than you’d think. The game offers a sandbox feel with a core of exploration and interaction with whatever the hills will offer you. A raw, solo experience, not for the faint of heart.
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