Atlantis Rising is a Deeper and More Inviting Pandemic

Modern boards games have seen a massive boom in the last few years even moreso in 2020 when everyone was stuck at home. Everyone has to start their gaming journey somewhere and for many, it was Catan or Pandemic. Both games certainly have their merits and I’m grateful for how many people they’ve introduce to the hobby, but the more I learned the variety of games on the market, the less I wanted to play them. There’s just so many games that offer deeper experiences of the same concepts, especially Pandemic. I also count myself among the many people who lost interest in Pandemic‘s theme given the state of our current affairs. 

I don’t have any real complaints about Pandemic other than it’s simplicity and theme. There simply aren’t enough mechanics driving the game to make it interesting to me anymore. I don’t even mind how random it can be. Between how real the fight against a global virus now is and the lack of depth, I can’t will myself to play it anymore, not even the Eldritch version, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. Yet, I find myself missing the player experience, despite my distaste for the theme.

Enter Atlantis Rising. The original version designed by Galen Ciscell released in 2012 in partnership with publisher Z-Man Games. Seven years later, Elf Creek Games published the much more aesthetically pleasing second edition with the added support of designer Brent Dickman. 

Atlantis Rising is a cooperative worker placement game for one to seven players taking on the role of Atlantean leaders as they try to rescue citizens from the sinking city of Atlantis. Players will work together to construct the components of a cosmic gate the Atlanteans can escape through. Players will use their worker and Leader meeples to acquire resources by placing them on spaces contained on one of six peninsulas. Each peninsula provides players with the opportunity to gain a different type of resource needed to build one of the components. Once all the pieces are built, they can be assembled into the massive cosmic gate, allowing the citizens of Atlantis to escape to safety.

Before a game, each player will choose a colored set of Atlantean meeples that will represent their workers. The large meeple of each set represents the player’s Leader. Leaders are Atlanteans with special talents that each player will have the chance to choose one of at the start of the game. Using these powers may grant additional resources, reduce the risk of failure whole gathering resources, or reduce the cost of constructing vital gate components. Players who coordinate their abilities well will find a much greater chance of success. 

At the start of each round, players simultaneously place their Atlantean or Leader meeples on one of the peninsulas in hopes of gaining the natural resources found there. The Mountains, Hills, and Forests peninsulas are referred to as Wild Peninsulas and award players with the games natural resources: ore, gold, and crystals. Meanwhile, the Cities, Libraries, and Forges peninsulas provide players with resources with deeper strategic value. Cities can grant players with additional Atlantean workers for future use. Libraries award players with Library cards, powerful one-time use abilities that can turn the tides. On the rare occasion, players may also find Artifiacts in the Library. Artifacts instead grant ongoing permanent abilities to the player that drew them. Lastly, Forges can smelt down ore into the more valuable Atlantium, a crucial component in many components.

After all players have finished placing their workers, we enter the Suffer Misfortune phase. At this time, the group will draw one Misfortune card per player. Each of these cards name one of the six of the board’s peninsulas and require players to flip over the outer most tile of that type to represent that part of the island sunk.

Atlantis Rising has a large element of push-your-luck. The farther onto the peninsula workers are placed, the higher the odds they’ll succeed in obtaining resources, as the costs there are lower. However, the farther out on the peninsula they go, the more likely it is the tile will flood while Atlanteans are on it. If this happens, the Atlanteans are returned to the player’s board, losing the opportunity to use their action during the next phase. If Atlanteans stay too close to the city at the center of the island, it’s less likely they’ll uncover the necessary resources. 

After tiles are flipped over from the Misfortune cards, the group can take their actions in any order based on where workers were placed. Each peninsula displays the requirements that players need to meet in order to acquire them. For example, players will need to roll a five or six on a d6 in order to obtain a crystal, depending on what space the worker was placed on. If the player fails the die roll, the worker is returned to their pool and they’ll have to try again on a separate round. If successful, they return the worker to their pool to be used and gain one crystal. 

Atlantis Rising provides players with a mitigation tool in the form of a resources called Mystic Energy. Players can use Mystic Energy as a way to alter the game state depending on how many they want to spend. If someone fails a die roll, they can spend a mystic energy to increase the result of the die by one, potentially earning them the needed resources  and saving valuable time. 

Mystic energy has a number of other ways it can be applied to mitigate the obstacles Atlantis Rising will throw at players. If a player spends four Mystic Energy, they can place a Barrier at the end of a peninsula. This Barrier will negate the next time a tile on the assigned peninsula needs to be flipped over. The final and most useful application of Mystic Energy is the ability to return a flooded tile to its face-up side putting it back into play. However, unflooding a tile comes at the high price of five Mystic Energy. In order to obtain this priceless resource, players will need to a worker to the center of the island and gain one Mystic Energy per worker in the center of the board. 

Once players have all taken their action to gain resources, the game moves onto the final phase of the round, Wrath of the Gods. During this phase, players flood a number of tiles to flood equal to the current value on the Wrath of the Gods track. At the start of the game, this track starts at a forgiving zero but special Misfortune cards will increase this up to as high as high as three. This means that it’s possible that up to ten of the map’s thirty-six tiles can be flooded in a single round (with seven players). Thankfully, players can choose which tiles they want to flood during this phase and can take advantage of any placed Barriers as a way to negate one of floods. The round ends after players have flooded the required number of peninsula tiles, the round comes to an end and players return to the start of the next round, simultaneously placing their Leader and Atlanteans into worker spaces on the remaining face-up tiles.
The game ends in failure if the center tile, the Heart of Atlantis, is ever flipped. The only way to win a game of Atlantis Rising is to assemble all nine components for the Cosmic Gate and activate it.
As the game progresses and players build the Cosmic Gate components, they’ll receive bonuses for the component completed. Leveraging these additional awards make it easier to obtain resources by granting new abilities, resources, or worker spaces to players. The Mystic Syphon, for example, rewards the group with two new worker spaces that can be use to acquire two Mystic Energy with the same worker, rather than the default one. Strategizing the order these components are built in is the best way improve the otherwise tight action economy.
One of Atlantis Rising‘s strongest aspects is how effectively it scales to accommodate the range of supported player counts. The more players at the table, the more worker meeples the group can place on the board therefore increasing the chances of successfully gaining their desired resources during the Action Phase. The trade-off is that with more players, the group will have to draw a higher number of Misfortune Cards, flooding the peninsulas of Atlantis far faster than in a game with fewer players. At five to seven players, the majority of spaces on the board will be occupied with workers each round, improving the likelihood of earning precious resources. The rate at which tiles flood will force the group to make regular use of Mystic Energy and Mystic Barriers to negate and undo the flooding of tiles or meet certain doom.
The opposite is true of two to three player games. The group won’t have nearly as many workers at their disposal as a large group, but as a smaller group won’t have to draw as many Misfortune cards, giving them more time to collect the necessary resource before Atlantis floods. However, fewer workers means resource acquisition happens at a slower rate, leaving less room for error. At two players, the total number of workers available is so low that the rules as written require a group of two players add a special worker referred to as The Hologram. The Hologram acts as a different random Leader each round, gaining the skills of a random Leader that wasn’t selected by players, almost acting as a third “ghost player.” The Hologram can be placed in spaces as any other worker can. At lower player counts, there’s a greater focus on utilizing Mystic Energy and Library cards to improve bad die rolls. 
Atlantis Rising offers a different experience depending on the number of players, but all player counts over a great experience. With less players Atlantis Rising requires players to accept a greater number of failures during resource acquisition. The more that small groups can alter die rolls and gain passive abilities (i.e Library cards and use of Mystic Energy), the more likely it is they’ll succeed. Their struggle will be the quantity and rate at which they acquire resources, but as they’ll need to draw fewer Misfortune cards per round, smaller groups won’t lose tiles at the same rate and will have more rounds before Atlantis meets its inevitable fate.
Larger groups won’t have as many rounds available to them but have far more worker Atlanteans, allowing the group more chances to acquire their so desperately needed resources. But the more players, the more tiles are flooded each round, leading to fewer rounds overall. Higher player counts will feel the pressure of passing time as they watch the peninsulas quickly fall victim to the rising tides. With more workers, bad die rolls aren’t as punitive, but big groups have no hope to succeed unless they make use of cosmic Barriers to negate flooding tiles and Mystic Energy to unclip tiles that have already been lost. 
In either case Atlantis Rising has a fairly consistent play time regardless of player count. I’ve found that a game with experienced players takes just over one hour while a game with new players who need to get comfortable with the rules will take closer to ninety minutes. I’ve found that player count has very little impact on game duration as the Misfortune Cards scale so well and are the primary factor in game length. 
I’ve enjoyed every game of Atlantis Rising regardless of player count. As the number of players impacts strategy so significantly, I’ve found there are different aspects of the experience to enjoy in each of its forms. That said, I feel Atlantis Rising shines best at five or more players. With more players comes more opinions on the best approach, creating more dynamic conversations and player interactions. Even moreso, there’s a greater sense of tension among players as they helplessly watch their precious resource tiles get flooded and disappear beneath the ocean. Winning a game with more players often comes down to the wire and depends heavily on the very last Misfortune Card reveal. Between the excited group dynamics and tension of every card flip, Atlantis Rising provides an exciting experience that’s hard to find in a game at such a low learning complexity.
There will always be a random element that keeps players on their toes, but with time, players will be able to devise an optimal strategy to maximize their chance of victory. Once a game has been solved, it’s really not as enjoyable as it can become quite the scripted experience. 
Thankfully, Gaelen Ciscell and Brent Dickman considered this and built in a difficulty system that makes solving Atlantis Rising less likely beyond the easier difficulties. During setup, players have the option to select from a variety of difficulty levels as found toward the back of rulebook. The difficulty chart will guide players through the setup changes for easy alterations.
The biggest aspect that difficulty settings impact are which Cosmic Gate Components are selected for that session. Each game uses only nine of the total twenty Components provided in the game. The more challenging components to assemble, like the C and D tiers require more resources to build, effectively moving the finish line farther out of reach. At even higher difficulties, additional Misfortune Cards will be drawn on top of the number determined by player count. While it seems a simple adjustment, the difficulty options are a great way to improve the mileage on Atlantis Rising
This is my first Elf Creek Game so I can’t rightly speak to their overall history, but Atlantis Rising has some excellent production value. Even the retail edition includes unique plastic components for each of the resources, delivering quality components that many other publishers only reserve for their deluxe Kickstarter editions. The ore, gold, crystals, and Atlanteum are immediately distinguishable from one another thanks to their design. I’m a sucker for aesthetic upgrades and will invest in them whenever they’re available, despite the additional cost. Even though Elf Creek makes a set of deluxe components for Atlantis Rising this is the first game I’ve encountered where the base components are so good, that even I deem the upgrades unnecessary.
I will play Atlantis Rising any time someone suggests it. It’s an enjoyable cooperative experience that both excites and challenges. Atlantis Rising is a family friendly game that’s easy to teach, making it a welcome experience to all, regardless of their skill level. At the same time, it offers a more complex game than others (like Pandemic) in its category. Best yet, the rules as written scale excellently to support a wide variety of player counts.
But it’s not perfect. As with most cooperative games, the final experience with Atlantis Rising depends heavily on group dynamics. Very much like Pandemic, Atlantis Rising is susceptible to players who tend to quarterback. There’s little any one can do to prevent this, but it’s worth mentioning as it should be a consideration when deciding whether or not Atlantis Rising is a good fit for your group.
I would also add that as much as I like the Misfortune Cards, they add a degree of randomness to the experience. While I don’t personally mind, I know many a player who would be turned off by the notion of random card draws dictating the flow of the game. As Atlantis Rising has many tools that can be used to mitigate unwanted effects, I don’t find it to be unpleasant in its random nature. 
I strongly recommend Atlantis Rising for anyone looking for a good cooperative game or anyone who enjoys _Pandemic_. I for one have enjoyed my time with Atlantis Rising as a deeper and more engaging experience version of Pandemic, even moreso as a step away from the theme of grim current events. I was thrilled to discover such an enjoyable experience with a game whose premise was so simple and am looking forward to the Atlantis Rising: Monstrosities expansion coming out this year.

Number of Times Played: 


Reviewed Player Counts:

One, two, five, and seven.

Supported Player Count: 

1 – 7 Players

Play Time:

60 – 120 minutes

Core Mechanics: 

Worker Placement
Variable Player Powers
Push Your Luck


Atlantis Rising is easy enough to teach, but it’s significantly easier to teach to new players when they already understand the concept of worker placement. 


Elf Creek Game knocked the component quality out of the park on this one. The retail components are as good as many other publishers’ “deluxe components” and the vibrantly colorful artwork helps the whole package really pop off the table.

Replay Value: 

The different goals associated with the variety difficulties combined with necessary strategy adjustments at various player counts give Atlantis Rising more longevity than most games without needing to add any expansions.