Retro Review - Abandon Ship By Ideal (1976)
Antony Brown is a games analyst and inventor who writes regularly on board games. His Retro Reviews take a nostalgic look at games of the past. This article looks at Abandon Ship, a highly original 1970s game from Ideal which was titled The Sinking Of The Titanic in the US.
This game has a split identity. In the US it was called The Sinking of The Titanic taking its name from the fateful voyage of RMS Titanic in 1912. The UK version is more fictional and generic. Simply called Abandon Ship, it is set in the Pacific Ocean, where an unnamed liner hits a submerged coral reef. Although the game is undoubtedly inspired by the loss of the Titanic, the UK version eschewed the more marketing-savvy title of its US cousin in favour of plausibility, because the second half of the game is set in an archipelago of islands, something not found in the northern Atlantic where the Titanic floundered.
The game's objective is to be the first player to board the rescue ship with at least two passengers, two water tokens and two food tokens. The game has two distinct phases, On Ship and At Sea. During the first phase players must rescue passengers and provisions as the ship sinks, while in the second players must survive in the lifeboats until the rescue ship appears above the horizon.
The game's best feature is its ingenious and unique playing board. A board depicting the ship swivels between a sky board and a sea board, which are attached together. The perimeter of sky board is graduated with small marks and hull of the ship board is moved along these marks during the game, forcing the bow under the water board and raising the stern into the sky board (see picture). Eventually the ship board will rotate 180° and disappear completely under the sea board while a small rescue ship pops up on the horizon by the green squares. In fact, the rescue ship is cleverly attached beneath the bow of the liner and is hidden from view under the sea board until the final moves of the stricken liner.
During the first phase, players roll both dice and move around the decks of the doomed vessel, visiting staterooms to pick up passengers, including Dr Vapors, Mr Razor Sharp and Sigfried Fraud, and to collect provisions. With every roll of one or six (or both) the hull is moved along its graduated line, gradually sinking the ship and making more of the decks impassable. Play is squeezed into a smaller area and players need to judge when to rush for a lifeboat. Six of them are positioned at the top of the vessel and as more of the ship is swallowed by the sea, they hit the water line (the dark blue squares, see picture) one at a time and are transferred to the sea board. If a lifeboat does not contain a player, it is placed to the nearest available island. If players fail to get to a lifeboat they have to abandon their passengers and provisions and swim for it.
The second phase of the game begins as each player abandons ship, either in a lifeboat or by swimming. A swimmer must use one die and swim to the nearest island that has a washed up lifeboat. Without a lifeboat a player cannot acquire passengers and provisions and hence cannot win the game. A player in a lifeboat throws two dice on each turn, one die is chosen for vertical movement, the other for horizontal.
The ship is sinking fast and the first lifeboat has hit the water(blue squares).
In the second phase much game play is determined by the adventure cards, which are drawn each time a player throws a one on the dice. The cards direct players to lose or gain a passenger, food or water. A hungry seagull may take some food, rainfall may provide extra your water or cannibals may put one of your passengers on their menu! Piracy is allowed - if your lifeboat is manoeuvred next to another you can steal a passenger or provisions. A good game variation "Hero of the Titanic" (posted on Board Game Geek by Tim Schultz) introduces a standard deck of cards that are used as special resources during the game. During the second phase these resources can be spent for ignoring disadvantageous adventure cards, substituting dice rolls for more controlled movement (similar to Experience Cards in Careers) and resolving piracy conflicts. Overall, the changes provide greater scope for decision making.
There are two types of adventure card, sea and island. If a player in a lifeboat lands on an island he draws an island card. This is when you are likely to pick up a passenger that as been washed ashore or lose a passenger. The sea adventure cards are drawn in lieu of throwing the dice or each time a player rolls a one, except for swimmers who cannot draw any cards until they find a lifeboat. Players still move the ship along its markers (by each one or six thrown) and only when the rescue ship is completely above water can players board it by an exact throw.
The winner is the first player to the rescue ship with at least two passengers, two waters and two food. In the Heroes variation, the winner is the player with most points based on the number of passengers and provisions brought back. In this version, being first to the rescue ship may not be sufficient to win the game, although there is a time-limit imposed.
Abandon Ship is loosely based on the Titanic disaster. The game could have been developed to more accurately reflect the historical event (icebergs instead of islands on the sea board, for example) and change the premise to rescuing the greatest number of passengers. Perhaps the second phase would focus on keeping as many passengers alive with players having to decide whether to rescue more from the icy sea without jeopardizing the lifeboat and its provisions and so on. It would have meant a re-work but the fundamental and best feature of the game, the moving board, would have been preserved.
Nevertheless, Abandon Ship is a fun and original family game. It is now a highly sought-after retro game and commands high prices on the second-hand market with few dealers pricing a complete game below £75. I would place it in the Top Ten most expensive retro games since 1960.
Verdict: Abandon Ship is a classic retro game with an ingenious moving board and engaging theme.