I have a certain fondness for city builders. I'm not the best at them, mind, but I do enjoy them. Flotsam is one such game with a rather interesting twist — the city is made of junk and it floats on the water. As I am a resident of New Jersey, I consider myself an expert on garbage and decided that I would leverage my experience in that field to check this out.
Some hiccups had halted my progress at first. Troublesome bugs made it essentially impossible to progress, but these were soon resolved to a degree and I was able to explore the full depth of what's available in this brand-new city-builder from Pajama Llama Games and Kongregate. What I found was a game with a boatload of charm.
Home Is Where the Town Heart Is
Your game begins with three "drifters" (people), a Town Heart, and a handful of starting supplies. You have just enough canned food and water to get your actual production going, and it's not so easy to figure out what you need to do at first.
I typically have a few false starts before I really get the mechanics down. The first thing I'll do in a new game is send out all three drifters to collect up plastic and wood in the water. Then, I would build one long walkway to serve as the starting framework for my town. It is then that I build my first proper building: the drying rack.
The drying rack is exactly what it says on the tin; it can store three pieces of wet wood or three fish and convert them into usable material. It takes time for this process to happen, so a town that's been around for a bit will probably have a half-dozen or so of these devices to keep up with wood and fish production. By the time you shift away from drying fish, you'll still make use of the racks for processing wood.
Everything you collect will be stored in the Town Heart, the central pillar of your settlement. The starting storage has capacity for a hundred items, but you'll soon need to expand as you gather up more drifters and various different kinds of crafted goods. The process of expansion begins when you build your first boat.
I'm on a Boat
At first, your drifters will only be able to swim a limited distance to pick up the detritus floating in the ocean. Much of it is out of your reach until you get a dock and your first boat. This will allow you to extend your reach and carry ten items instead of five.
There are two types of boats in Flotsam. The fishing boat is a boat for fishing. The salvaging boat, however, is going to be your workhorse for short distance expeditions. It can gather up wood and plastic, salvage points of interest, and rescue stranded drifters to add to your population. I always build two salvaging boats to start and create a fishing boat as the third.
The early game is going to severely limit how you specialize your drifters, but I found it wise to have a small fleet ready to go at a moment's notice. It takes at least ten or so drifters to have a full crew with dedicated jobs, and anything smaller than that means that some people are going to be pulling double duty.
Come Fry With Me, Come Fry Away
Unsurprisingly, food and water are essential to a bunch of people floating on a pile of garbage on the ocean. You'll begin the game with a small compliment of canned food and twenty-something units of water in your tank, but you'll have to get production going fast or people are going to starve and/or die of thirst.
Getting food is easy enough in the early game; simply build a fishing boat, send it out, and stuff the fish on a drying rack. The sun does most of the work, so this isn't a very labor-intensive process. Water is another matter entirely.
First, you're going to need a workshop which can produce firewood. Then, you'll need to make the actual building that will desalinate the water. After that, you'll have to keep feeding firewood into this thing to make potable water, hoping that you don't run out of firewood before someone dies of thirst.
Further up the tech tree is a passive solar option which can supplement your drinking water with much less labor. It takes up a lot of space, but the savings in labor and materials makes 2–4 of these things a wise investment. Once you gain access to the upgraded desalination device, you'll be sitting pretty with more water than you know what to do with.
Food has a similarly-involved (but also varied) process. While dried fish will be your bread and butter in the early game, the drying process will be a painful bottleneck. You can later cook them (using firewood, of course) to double their nutritional value from 0.5 to 1. You'll eventually be able to make sushi — it has the same nutrition value as cooked fish, but you'll get three pieces of sushi out of one fish, one piece of firewood, and one piece of seaweed.
Flotsam's Rough Edges
Unfortunately, I had a fair few issues with Flotsam at the beginning of my preview. A bug cropped up where buildings would stop working entirely with no rhyme or reason. By the time I noticed the slowdown in production, the damage was done.
I checked back in every day or so until I was told that the bug should have been resolved. Afterward, I was able to sit down for a solid 4–5 hours and play through the vast majority of the content available in this current build. I still encountered a couple of problems — namely one building that mysteriously stopped working and some buildings that would not be salvaged for no discernible reason — but it was an otherwise smooth experience.
As it stands right now, I think you'll get a solid 4–8 hours out of Flotsam easily enough. The true measure of a game like this, however, is in how the developers are going to expand upon the solid foundation that they've built so far. I'm excited to see what they come up with.
TechRaptor conducted our Flotsam preview on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.