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City-building games have been making a steady comeback. 2019 marked an increase in their number, with prominent indies like Foundation, Dawn of Man, and a few others making it big. Old favourites like Tropico and Anno got another successor to the formula, with both Tropico 6 and Anno 1800 being well-received on release. Flotsam is yet another neat indie that seeks to add to the greatness of the genre and does a pretty good job at it. What’s Flotsam? Well it’s a survival simulation video game developed by Pajama Llama Games and published by Kongregate, and released in early access on Steam, Kartridge, GoG and Humble Bundle on September 26th, 2019.

Gameplay & Mechanics

Game Modes

The game is playable only in singleplayer, like most other city-building games. Multiplayer has been a bad option and seldom adds to the many things players want to explore inside the game. With the exception of Tropico 6 and Anno 1800, hardly any city-building games released this year had multiplayer, and it seems that Flotsam will be following in the footsteps of Dawn of Man and Foundation by focusing on singleplayer mechanics instead.


The game is set in a fantasy universe where a greater portion of the world is underwater, and people have to make do by building water cities to stay afloat. It’s difficult to state whether this is a post-apocalyptic state or simply a ‘trope’ of a fantasy world in which the game is set. At least even if it’s post-apocalyptic, the tone and vibrancy never make it feel like it is, which is a welcome addition.

Flotsam is a standard city building game with certain strategic features to make it more interesting. You are placed in command of a “water town” – basically a floating paradise having everything to satisfy the needs of the people living on it. The town starts with only a tower with some rations and drinkable water, enough to last you for some time. Drifters are the residents of this town – they collect resources and construct buildings and other stuff. The goal is to expand the town while satisfying the needs of your people.

One interesting thing I noted was that Flotsam is a pretty barebones game in terms of game modes. When you boot up the game, all you could do is “Play”, which fires up the game at once. In a way, this keeps things simple and easy and keeps players from worrying about unusual game modes they may or may not want to play.

Construction and buildings

Construction of buildings requires resources, most of which are gathered rather than produced. Some buildings can turn gathered scrap, wood, and fish into some other resources, which are mostly used for the construction of other buildings. Other buildings satisfy the needs of the divers (the Distiller kind of does both – it produces water from firewood which can be consumed by the divers). Once you acquire a Sail for the town, it can move into neighboring areas for harvesting more resources. The gradual increase in resource costs of buildings with progression is pretty cool, but the starting costs still seem pretty high considering the fact that you need to branch out to the construction of fishing and salvage boats pretty soon before you exhaust your existing rations and water.

More buildings can be unlocked using Research Points, which improve the efficiency of production. The tower has space for hoarding some resources, but eventually, Storage Yards will become the go-to solution for the storage of all resources, produced or collected. Construction can only be done in a limited area around the tower, so you’re certainly going to need to optimize for space. Some buildings like the Drying Rack and Distiller produce resources on their own, while buildings like the Woodworking Shed require drifters to tend to them.


Resource variety is a thing in Flotsam. You collect scrap, wood, and fish from the water using your drifters – which are used for basic construction activities. Wood can be dried and turned into dry wood, which in turn can be converted into firewood. Firewood can be converted into water in the Distiller. Dry wood can also be used to make rope, which is necessary for boats. Some resources are particularly rare, only being found on wrecks or islands. This includes metal salvage, which is needed for the construction of advanced buildings (most of which have to be researched first). Boats are useful in moving to distant areas for resource collection where drifters cannot reach. Needless yo say, the most important resource of the town is the drifters themselves. They construct buildings and gather resources. In return, they need shelter, food and water for their services. In my playthroughs, food and water got exhausted extremely fast even when the population of the town is low, which made resource management slightly more difficult.


The game has a pretty unique “moving” map where you move from one location to another gathering resources, salvaging wrecks and rescuing people. Every location on the map is different in terms of the distribution of raw resources (perhaps resource distribution is controlled by a random seed?). Little changes like this add variety and increase player engagement in a genre of monotonous games.


If you feel bored with the small roster of buildings available for construction, it is worth noticing that research increases the number of buildings that can be built. Most researched buildings provide an edge over existing buildings. For example, the Solar Still automatically desalinates and purifies water for consumption, while the Fish Kabob produces grilled fish which has a higher nutritional value than the dried fish from the Drying Rack. Researched buildings cost a hefty amount of resources often, including a large amount of metal salvage – forcing players to strategically place them for maximum efficiency.

Visuals & Performance

Quite some decent work has been put into the art for the game. Most sprites, especially the diagrams used in the UI, are hand-drawn. The art style is a bit cartoonish, and it adds to the beauty of the game. For a supposed post-apocalyptic day at sea, the game’s bright art certainly lifts the mood. There’s also an appreciable view distance allowing you to zoom into and observe your drifters at work and the buildings from close.

The game was tested on the following specifications:-

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 2600

GPU : GTX 1080


The game seems to have some minor framerate issues. While scrolling through the map, the game would often freeze or move with hiccups. There are also a  few bugs. Save issues have been quite common until they were addressed partly with a few patches. Graphical glitches and other small bugs (especially one where construction of buildings or boats never finishes) exist. However, the developers are aware of the issues, and patches/hotfixes to address them have been frequent.

Sounds & Music

The game is in Early Access, and one of the prime indicators was the lack of ambient music during gameplay. There seems to be a consideration for adding it to the game in a future update, but as of now, players need to play in an otherwise silent ocean, managing their resources and expanding their floating town. Certain sounds, especially the splashes of water, have been encoded into the game, but it feels real ‘primitive’ by nature. Again, this is an Early Access title, and players can definitely expect these to be added in a later update.

Final Impressions

Flotsam is a decent Early Access title that is sure to be a must-buy for die-hard fans of the genre. For others (especially people who like getting value for their money), it is worth waiting until the major content updates are made available and bugs are squashed.

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