Rebuild Civilization in ‘Flotilla’

1954. An atomic test by the United States goes disastrously wrong, plunging most of the earth’s surface under water. Now our last hope is to build a massive flotilla to house the rest of humanity.

What Is Flotilla?

Flotilla is an exploration and economic game from WizKids for 3-5 players that combines several mechanics such as deck building, dice rolling, and pick up and deliver. It plays in 90-150 minutes. The game retails for $79.99, and is available to purchase from Amazon or at your friendly local games store. It is recommended for ages 14+, and while the theme is acceptable for younger children, the relative complexity of the game will likely be too much for anyone younger.

‘Flotilla’ components. Image by Paul Benson.

Flotilla Components

Here’s what’s inside the box:

  • 100x wooden Resource barrels
  • 92x double-sided ocean tiles
  • 70x double-sided crew cards with 92 unique pieces of art.
  • 67x VP tokens
  • 65x currency tokens
  • 40x guild seal tokens
  • 33x double-sided Objective tiles
  • 30x depletion tokens
  • 30x wooden outposts in 5 player colors
  • 20x wooden Influence disks in 5 player colors
  • 20x wooden boats with 5 unique shapes, one for each player color
  • 16x double-sided artifact tokens
  • 16x Resource tokens
  • 16x custom translucent dive dice in 3 different colors
  • 10x toxicity tracker tokens
  • 7x custom multicolor research dice
  • 5x double-sided Player boards
  • 5x double-sided starting tiles
  • 4x guild dial pointers
  • 4x guild dial sprockets
  • 3x Dock Tiles
  • 2x wooden tracker disks
  • 2x survivor track tiles
  • 2x cloth bags
  • Flotilla Hub board
  • Guild board
  • Sonar track board
  • Rulebook

WizKids fits a surprisingly large amount of stuff into the box! When you open the game up, you’ll be greeted by a ton of nice wooden components, dice, and punchboards.

Punchboards. Image by Paul Benson.

How to Play Flotilla

You can read the rules on the website here.

The Goal

In Flotilla, you are trying to earn the most Victory Point Tokens, which can be accrued in multiple ways throughout the game.

Setup for a 4-player game. Image by Paul Benson.

Setup

Place the Hub Board in the center of the table, with all guild dials set to “1.” Place the Dock tile appropriate to the player counts at the top of the Hub Board, and place the Survivor Track tile appropriate to your player count into the center of the Hub Board, with the Survivor Tracker disc on the top space.

Put the Guild Board off to the side, with one resource barrel of each color placed on the corresponding space at the top of the board. Place the Sonar Board below the Guild Board, with the Sonar Tracker disc on the leftmost space.

Randomly determine first player, and give them the “First Player” Starting Tile. Pass out the remaining Starting Tiles clockwise in descending order. Starting Tiles are placed around the hub board, equidistant from each other.

Hub board set up for a 4-player game. Image by Paul Benson.

Take 100 points worth of Victory Point Tokens per player, and that is your Supply. All extra Victory Point Tokens form the Reserve. Place out the Dive Dice, Research Dice, resource barrels, Depletion Tokens, and currency within easy reach.

Choose (randomly or deliberately) a stack of both Sinkside and Skyside Objective Tiles per player and place the Sinkside tiles to the left of the Guild board, and the Skyside ones to the right.

Randomly remove one Artifact tile from the game, and place the rest into the smaller bag, shuffling them. Place all the Ocean tiles into the larger bag and shuffle those as well.

Separate out the non-Starter Crew Cards by both their Guild and Tier, removing between 0-2 per Guild depending on player count from the game. Shuffle these sets of Crew Cards and place them on their indicated Guild spot on the Guild Board, with the Tier 2 cards on the bottom and the Tier 1 cards on the top.

Everyone collects the currency shown on their Starting tile. Each player also takes one of the Player Boards, placing it with the Sinkside side up, as well as a set of Starter Crew Cards and Reference Cards. Choose a color, and place three of the four wooden Skiffs of that color in the reserve spaces to the right of the Player Board, with the fourth Skiff placed on your Starting Tile. Place each of the Outposts in your color on the spaces indicated on the left of your Player Board. Place the Toxicity Trackers on the far left sides of the matching spaces on the Player Board. Finally, place one of the Guild Influence Discs in your color at the top space of each guild ring track on the Guild Board, and you’re ready to begin play.

Player setup. Image by Paul Benson.

Gameplay

On your turn, you will play one Crew Card from your hand, first resolving either the Sail value or Income value at the bottom right of the Crew Card, and then resolving the main ability of the card. Fairly simple, right? However, the complexity comes from the different abilities of those cards, as well as one big, irrevocable decision you must make in the game: when (and if) to go from “Sinkside” to “Skyside.”

Sinkside and Skyside

Everyone starts the game with their Player Board and double-sided Crew Cards Sinkside. Some crew will have different abilities depending on whether you are Sinkside or Skyside. While on the Sinkside, it’s easier to gather resources and explore. Your main source of economy there is selling resources in the marketplace. If you go Skyside, you won’t be diving for resources anymore, and will have to acquire them through the market. However, currency is much easier to acquire, and you will be building onto the flotilla, generating victory points.

If you are Sinkside, after resolving the ability of your Captain Card, you can choose to go Skyside. Once you do this, there’s no going back.

Starter Crew Cards, on Skyside. Image by Paul Benson.

Crew Cards

You start the game with 6 Crew Cards, with two unique crew members and the four others taken from the four different Guilds. You can acquire additional Crew Cards throughout the game by gaining influence with the different guilds, or by rescuing survivors (more on that later). For now, here are the types of actions that you’ll take with each guild and those two unique Crew members:

The Speakers

Cards from the Speakers Guild allow you to advance your Guild Tracker around one or more of the Guild Ring Tracks, earning various rewards on the track(s) like: victory points, advanceing along the Survivor Track, gaining resources, drawing and placing ocean tiles, and taking the top Crew Card from the respective Guild’s stack. Making a complete circuit of your Guild Tracker around one of the Guild Ring Tracks will allow you to place one of your Guild Seals on that Guild. The players with the most and second-most Guild Seals on a Guild will earn bonus victory points at the end of the game.

Guild Board for a 4-player game. Image by Paul Benson.
The Traders

For each allowable transaction listed on a Trader Crew Card, you can do one of the following actions: Buy an additional Skiff (Sinkside only), Buy and place an Outpost, or Buy or Sell a resource from the Market.

After buying and placing an Outpost, you can then choose the topmost tile from any of the Objective Tile stacks on the Sinkside side if you are on Sinkside, or the Skyside side if you are Skyside. Immediately score the number of victory points as noted on the Objective Tile.

When you buy or sell resources, the market fluctuates. For every number of a particular resource you purchase, the tracker on the Market moves up that many spaces, and inversely, for every number of a resource you sell, the tracker moves down. You can only sell resources from your reserves; they must be delivered from your Skiff on your home tile before they are tradeable.

The Founders

Founders cards allow you to draw and place Ocean Tiles. If any Toxicity symbols are on the tiles you draw, you advance the Toxicity Tracker on your Player Board. Toxicity can result in you losing Victory Points at the end of the game.

Sinkside and Skyside Ocean Tiles. Image by Paul Benson.

As a Sinksider, you will place tiles ocean-side up. The tiles can be placed in any orientation connecting to your own tiles. The only placement rules are that 1) you can never place a tile of the shallowest depth next to one of the deepest, and 2) you can’t cross your opponents’ boundaries or place a tile touching one of theirs.

If you are able to connect three matching colors of “Artifact Wedges” to form a circle when placing the tiles, you will also get to draw an Artifact Tile from the bag, which gives you a reward. After artifacts are scored, they are place in a slot on the Hub Board near the Guild they belong to.

When a Founder card allows a Skysider to build Ocean Tiles, you place them Skyside-up. You then score victory points based on the formula (A x B), where A is the value of the district’s matching Guild dial (the colors match to indicate which guild it belongs to) plus one per building of that district’s type on the entire watercraft, and B is the total number of tiles of that district color contiguously connected to the new tile. Whenever you place tiles such that you connect three “Sonar Stations,” you can advance the Sonar Tracker and claim the indicated reward.

Sonar Track. Image by Paul Benson.
The Delvers

If you are Sinkside, you will roll Dive Dice for your Skiffs, gaining resources. If you are playing on Skyside, you will be rolling Research Dice, trying to discover new technologies.

Dive and Research Dice. Image by Paul Benson.

To Dive, you will gather the dice indicated on your Delver Crew Card as well as one die of the appropriate value for each Skiff on an undepleted Ocean Tile, matching the depth value indicated by the tile. The results you can get from the dice are:

  • A resource barrel of the color on the ocean tile. These are placed directly on your Skiff (at a maximum of 4 barrels) and must be delivered back to your home tile to gain the resource.
  • A toxicity symbol, which advances your Toxicity Tracker one space.
  • A Depletion symbol. You get one for free, but ever one after that depletes an ocean tile and you can no longer dive for resources there.
  • A survivor, allowing you to advance the disc on the Survivor Track and gain the appropriate reward(s).
  • A sonar symbol, making you take whichever penalty or reward the Sonar Tracker is currently on.

To Research, you roll the indicated number of orange Research dice. Results you can get are as follows:

  • Circled numbers indicate currency. Gain that amount.
  • If you roll three cog symbols, you make a technological breakthrough and may increase any of the guilds’ Guild Dials by one, potentially increasing your scoring when building Skyside Ocean Tiles.
  • If you roll three matching Guild symbols, you gain the bonuses indicated on the Hub Board for that Guild.
  • An asterisk symbol allows you to play that die as any guild color.

Finally, there are the two non-guild affiliated cards:

The Scholar

The Scholar belongs to all the guilds. When you play the Scholar, you exactly copy an opponent’s “Topside” card (the top card in their discard pile). A Sinkside Scholar can only copy a Sinkside card, and a Skyside Scholar only a Skyside.

The Captain

The Captain allows you to “Rally” the crew, returning all of the cards from your discard pile back into your hand. You will also receive currency for each card that returns to your hand, including the Captain.

If you are Sinkside, it is only after playing The Captain that you can choose to go Skyside.

Going Skyside

Dock Tile for a 3-player game. Image by Paul Benson.

When you make the decision to join the Flotilla and go Skyside, you’ll do the following:

  1. Sell all of your purchased Skiffs. Each one is sold at the value indicated on the Dock Tile, depending on when you go Skyside in relation to other players. For example, in a 3-player game, if you went Skyside first, you’d sell each of your Skiffs for 16 currency.
  2. Your non-starter Ocean Tiles with Outpost markers are returned to the bag, and any Outposts on them are removed from the game.
  3. Remaining Ocean Tiles are flipped to Skyside and put into your reserve.
  4. Flip all your Crew Cards to Skyside. Flip your Player Board to Skyside.
  5. Flip your Starting Tile to Skyside. If it had an Outpost, it will go back onto the tile.
  6. You may immediately build as many of your Ocean Tiles from your reserve as indicated by the Dock Tile, and that you can afford. The later you join the Flotilla, the less money you’ll make selling your Skiffs, but the more Ocean Tiles you can immediately build.

Ending the Game

Once all of the Victory Point Tokens have been taken from the supply, players finish the current round and take one last round of play. Victory Point Tokens can still be earned, but now come from the reserve.

Once the last turn has been taken, players will add up their Victory Point Tokens. Additionally, players will earn:

  • 1 Victory Point Token for every 5 currency remaining
  • 1 Victory Point Token for every 2 resources remaining
  • Plus or Minus Victory Point Tokens depending on the location of the Toxicity Tracker on the Player Board.
  • 10 Victory Point Tokens for having the most Seals on a Guild
  • 5 Victory Point Tokens for having the second-most Seals on a Guild

The most Victory Points wins!

End of the first round. Image by Paul Benson.

The Verdict

As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts in this game.  With so much going on, it can be easy to miss some of the finer points of the rules, even when they’re written out in front of you. For example, during my first playthrough we neglected to return the Ocean Tiles that showed Outposts back to the bag..something that you’re instructed to do both in the rulebook and on the reference cards.

Despite so much going on in the game, the individual actions are easy to understand. While there is a fair amount of iconography, you pick up on what each symbol means very quickly. It was wise of the designers to lean heavily into color coordination: Each guild has an associated color, which also matches a resource that will go towards building a Skyside Ocean Tile of that color.

The only bit of actual confusion in the rules arose during the scoring of the Skyside Ocean Tiles. All the other actions proceeded clearly and effortlessly, but it did take a hot minute to figure out how exactly to properly score those tiles.

It is also important to note that there are a couple of omissions and misprints in the rulebook and on some of the cards and Artifact Tokens. While there is a FAQ available on the WizKids website, it is frustrating when you have to print out additional material to fix the game. Hopefully this will be rectified in future printings of Flotilla.

There is not a lot of player interaction in the game, something which may or may not matter to you depending on your individual tastes and your gaming group. The primary ways that you affect the other players is through buying and selling resources, as well as competing for different Guild Crew Cards on the Guild Board. But that’s largely the extent of the interaction: the rules specifically keep you from encroaching on your opponents’ territories. Rather, you are racing against the other players to try to get as many Victory Point Tokens as possible before the supply runs out.

Midway through a game. Image by Paul Benson.

Expect the first time that you play the game for the session to run long, as there are quite a few rules to cover. As I said before, a lot of moving parts. If you bring Flotilla to a game store or convention, warn any first time players that there will be a learning curve. But as you familiarize yourself with all the moving gears of the game, you’ll find that gameplay will accelerate. You’ll start to know which of the actions taken by the previous player don’t affect you, allowing you to skip ahead with your turn while they’re still finishing up theirs. And the fact that each player only gets to play one card per turn keeps the game from lagging. Even with a 5-player game, there’s not a lot of downtime between turns.

This is not a difficult game to play, but there’s plenty of strategic depth in Flotilla. How much exploring should you do? How much diving for resources? When should you pull those discarded Crew Cards back into your hand? And perhaps most importantly of all, when should you switch to Skyside? These are all questions with no easy answers, and will change from game to game.

There is a degree of randomness in the pulling of tiles from bags and rolling of the dice that will certainly impact on those decisions. The first player to go Skyside in one of our games chose to do so quite simply because he had run out of currency, and knew that he could get a financial bump by doing so before anyone else. In my first game I was the only person to stay Sinkside the entire game. While I didn’t win (I came in third out of four), I could see that with slightly better luck earlier in the game, I would have had a legitimate shot at winning. There are multiple paths to gaining Victory Point Tokens, and it’s up to each player to decide which are the best strategies to employ.

The gameplay is engaging, and many who tried Flotilla found themselves enjoying it more than they first thought they would. There are a lot of fun mechanics, combined with beautiful components and artwork, to make Flotilla a captivating mid-weight board game that you can center your game night around.

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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