Grab your floaties, we are going swimming!
Welcome to the world of Flotilla! It is just like our world today except wetter. The polar ice caps have melted, flooding the world and forcing mankind to adapt or drown. All that is left of society is the cobbled-together flotilla. It is here that we meet you, intrepid captain. Would you care to join the flotilla work from here or do you prefer the open sea and the treasures it holds? We are expecting big things from you, in fact, we are depending on it!
Flotilla is a deck/engine builder for 3-5 players that puts you in the Captain’s chair of a fleet of vessels in a setting straight out of Waterworld. You will be competing with rival captains to gain the most victory points by collecting various artifacts of the lost age as well as completing quests to garner the favor of the flotilla’s guilds. Now just because the world is in dire straits does not mean you don’t have some choices to make.
From the very start of the game you can choose to stay a free agent, scavenging for supplies in the depths of the ocean, or you can choose to abandon sea life and link up to the flotilla. You can join the flotilla at any time in the game, but once you do, you can never return to the sea. This choice, and whether you take it early, late, or never will determine how you experience Flotilla and if you emerge victorious. So let’s dive and explore how to play Flotilla.
Just Keep Swimming
Flotilla revolves around your choices. At its heart, it is a deck and engine builder where you seek to optimize your actions by having the best crew (cards) at your disposal but the way you play can vary dramatically depending on if you wish to scavenge the sea (stay Sinkside) or join the flotilla and work on expanding it (go Skyside). Everyone starts Sinkside but can go Skyside at any time. Sinkside players and actions revolve around exploring the depths for resources you can sell for cash or keep for Skyside actions as well as finding and collecting artifacts that score you points and power up Skyside actions.
Skyside playstyle revolves around using resources to build onto the flotilla as you work to score points by building in groups. Skysiders also increase the power of various guilds and can increase the Sonar track which brings points to you and makes diving safer and more rewarding for remaining Sinkside players. Regardless of your side, you are working to build outposts, which can cost a lot of cash, to complete objectives that have diminishing point values the later you achieve them. This race to be the first to complete quests puts you under the gun in a lot of ways as there are many viable routes to success.
Flotilla has a lot to explain since there are two very different playstyles intermingled in any game. For the purpose of this review, I believe the easiest way to teach the main aspects of Flotilla is to talk about the cards and how they impact play.
The Right Crew Counts
Players will take turns playing cards or crew from their hands to perform actions. Each player starts with 6 crew but can work to gain additional members from the various guilds in the flotilla. Each card is double-sided with a Sink and Skyside option. While they function differently, I will cover the main theme of each card and what each guild focuses on. Cards always grant either skiff movement points or straight cash income depending on its Sink or Sky side respectively. After a card is played, it goes into the discard until a certain card is played to allow a player to reclaim their discard pile. Card functions are unique but can be grouped into styles based on the guild they hail from. Let’s review the guilds and their main focuses here.
Founders are all about gaining more sea tiles for you to collect or place. As a Sinksider, you will be able to collect a lot of tiles and place some of them in the effort to collect valuable resources and even work to find artifacts. Sea tiles have three depths, possess outpost locations and some may have a third of a circle that, if completed, will grant you that valuable artifact. On the Skyside, Founders are still all about placing tiles to help you build out your flotilla.
Flotilla tiles are on the opposite side of the sea tiles but now have groups of flotilla craft based on one of the four colors of the guilds. When placed, you will score points for these units based on the number of connected craft of the same color multiplied by the number of that guild. So, if I had 3 red connected tiles and the red guild had a score of 2, I would gain 6 points. Tiles also now grant sonar upgrades instead of artifacts which will improve diving for Sinksiders and give you a nice chunk of points.
Delvers are interested in scavenging great treasures wherever they are. On the Sinkside, Delvers will be diving into the depths looking for resources or perhaps discovering survivors. These are represented by the dive dice in Flotilla. Sea tiles come in three colors representing the three depths of the tiles. These dice are similar to each other in the rewards they offer, but greater depths allow greater rewards and dangers. On the dice, you may get resources, survivors or even become irradiated and gain toxicity.
Resources come in one of four colors and can be stored on your skiffs until you move to store or sell them. Survivors will allow you to move the Survivor track shown below to gain bonuses based on where you move it. Finally toxicity moves you up your Toxin tracker which can give you negative points at the end of the game as well as cause you to lose ties in the game. On the Skyside, Delvers abandon the depths to instead do research. When you delve now, you will roll research dice to attempt to get three of the same guild symbol. Accomplishing this will allow you to move that guild’s point track up one. This will score you more points when you place additional flotilla tiles.
Traders will allow you to buy or sell the resources you have been collecting. Flotilla has a very enjoyable market system where sales or purchases will adjust item prices as well as reward you for some extreme market manipulation. Each resource begins with a set value but will be influenced by each purchase or sale the players make. If an item ever becomes extremely scarce or very prevalent, you can earn some victory points in those sales. Each Trader card only allows you to either sell or buy, not both, so plan your shopping carefully. On the Sinkside, you will be using this to gain money to help pay for outposts or more skiffs whereas on the Skyside, you will most likely be needing to buy resources to pay to place your flotilla tiles as they cost 2-4 resources per tile.
Speakers will allow you to gain influence in any of the four guilds. As this happens, you will move your colored token around that guild track, gaining resources or crew from that guild. Once your token makes one full lap around, you can place a guild seal on that guild for end game scoring. At game end, the player with the most seals per guild will gain 10 victory points, with the second place player gaining 5. This is one of the places where, if you were very nonchalant with your toxicity track, you may find yourself losing ties and being out of some points. Speaker cards will have other effects in the game, but these end game points can be a huge shift in your final score.
The oddball cards remaining are the Captain and the Scholar. The Scholar counts as all guilds and will allow you to copy any card on top of any other player’s discard pile. This allows for some interesting timing with this card but can be very powerful. The Captain card allows you to gain coinage for each card in your discard pile and then reclaim all of your discarded cards back to your hand. This creates the rhythm of Flotilla, where players balance which cards they need to play and when to reclaim their cards to maximize their cash flow and actions.
Cards make up the backbone of Flotilla and weave all of these various mechanics together into a brain-burning consortium of thought. Good thing there is a lot of water around to help put out that fire.
Flotilla has a lot packed into it. The complex economic and action management you find yourself in is quite complex and interconnected with your opponents’ actions. This added twist of finding players in various stages of being either Sinkside or Skyside gives the feeling of playing on various sides of the same coin. I loved being one of the first to go Skyside and have the flotilla to myself. Sinksiders brought me lots of goods so I could buy them cheap and expand well. Things began to get messy once others started to join the flotilla too. Resources became scarce and things slowed down for me. I realized how important it is to time your transition from Sink to Sky perfectly to pull off a win. You need to scavenge the depths to get all of the resources you will need to help carry you to success as you build up your flotilla.
I really enjoyed the interconnectedness of Flotilla. There are so many moving parts. Each choice and action feel significant and as though it is moving you forward. I also appreciated how positive actions for you also benefited others around the table. From artifacts to sonar, it is nice to see a title where helping yourself helps others in some pretty noticeable ways. This gives you some interesting choices of how to optimize your plays.
The deckbuilding choices were enjoyable. The variety of playstyles, optimizations, and strategies that emerged was a blast. There is a lot of depth to be found in Flotilla and the way each player looked by the end of a game was very different than how similarly we began. This transformation was a sight to behold and gets high marks for me.
With all of this praise, there was some sea kelp stinking up my beautiful haul from the sea. As you may have noted, Flotilla is complicated. It is not for the faint of heart because not only do you need to understand the game and how Sinksideing works, you need to understand there is a similar but decidedly different Skyside option available to you at any time. On top of that you need to know it so well you can plan and implement a strategy around when it is best for YOU to personally transition to Skyside or if you want to even do it at all. This very optional, deeply personal choice has a MASSIVE impact on your game and if you do not understand it or plan accordingly you may find yourself very far from the winner’s circle.
To that end, Flotilla is not a game you are going to optimize on your first playthrough, or even your third. There is so much going on it can be quite taxing to master let alone teach a new player. If you are a gamer who likes to experience a game multiple times, Flotilla will be a blast with a lot of depth (pun intended) to explore. If the concept of needing to play a game multiple times and the first play being a “test run” sounds dreary, you may want to let this ship set sail without you.
Two more things of note: one, Flotilla is quite long. You are looking at over 2 hours easily with a more likely time of 3-4 hours. This was not a negative for me as I enjoy long games, but it is worth noting. The only other point to make is that Flotilla plays 3-5 players which is a very limited mark in the gaming community. While I completely agree that any more or less would ruin the balance and interplay of Flotilla, it is worth noting that you will need to “plan a day” around this title.
So in the sink or swim world of the ocean apocalypse, how does Flotilla hold up? Saving the last of humanity is a tall task and not one that can be accomplished quickly, with a few friends (but no more than 4) Flotilla sets you up with the proper tools to succeed and have a good time doing it. Everything from the art to the detailed balance of actions and economies in Flotilla is masterfully crafted. You may start forgetting about survival and start thinking about thriving here on your floating paradise. If you are willing to commit the time and mental energy necessary, Flotilla is sure to help you set sail for a good time. For a mid-heavyweight Euro, Flotilla brings a great mix of mechanics and twists to the genre that is sure to be a hit with your group.
Genre: Deck/engine building, Economy
Pros: Great depth of strategies, Unique Sinkside-Skyside system, Beautiful art
Cons: High learning curve, Limited player count
Rating: 7.5/10 A very well done Euro with a great blend of mechanics.