Full disclosure: A preview copy of Floating Floors was provided by Guf Studios. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
It’s always fun to try Kickstarter games, though I may have to shift my whole schtick to calling them “crowdfunded” games since Kickstarter has tried to spin up all this blockchain clownery. Really harshing my flow, Kickstarter. Unfortunately, a lot of games are still wrapped up in Kickstarter for the time being, so I’m trying not to be too hard on studios who are unable to fully extricate themselves as quickly as they’d like. But that’s neither here nor there. The fine folks at Meeple University are getting into the publishing game, and one of their first titles is Floating Floors! Let’s learn all about it.
In Floating Floors, you take on the role of a ninja looking to gain your scattered bansen seals, scattered across a maze of terrain and floorboards. One ninja sticks to the light, the other to the shadows. It’s like that really good fight scene from Samurai Jack. Honestly, that could be my review of the game, just with more balancing? But that seems like a letdown; y’all come here for words. So will you be able to retrieve your lost seals?
First, shuffle the Terrain Cards, and make a grid (lake-side down), based on your player count:
- Two players: 2 rows, 3 columns
- Three+ players: 3 rows, 3 columns
Next, give each player a ninja:
That will also come with a set of Bansen Seals and a Chakra:
They should also take a Jutsu of each shape in their color (cube, triangle, hexagon):
Place the rest in the supply. For your first game, have each player place their Chakra in a random alcove along the outer edge of the board (the middle white space of any Terrain Card). Shuffle all players’ Bansen Seals and place them in the remaining alcoves:
- Two players: Each player should have four Bansen seals in alcoves.
- Three players: Each player should have three Bansen seals in alcoves.
- Four players: Each player should have two Bansen seals in alcoves.
In subsequent games, to make the game more difficult:
- Use one Lake Terrain per player (the single land space, surrounded by water).
- The player to your right places your Bansen Seals; all seals are placed in reverse turn order, number-side up.
Shuffle the Floorboards and place them nearby. Whichever side is up doesn’t matter.
Place the Jutsu dice nearby:
You should be ready to start!
Your goal is simple, collect all your Bansen Seals to win! But that, like many games, is easier than it sounds. A turn of Floating Floors has two main phases. Let’s go through both!
This one’s pretty easy. Roll the three Jutsu dice and collect Jutsu of the corresponding types. You can collect it from the supply (if available), from any Terrain or Floorboard card (provided a Ninja isn’t on top of it), or from under any Floorboard, if any are placed. If you do that, you must replace the Floorboard the same way it was originally placed. If you knock anything over, you are assessed a Penalty.
At the end of your turn, you may keep up to three Jutsu of the same type (light or shadow) as your Ninja.
This is the more complicated part of the turn. There are five actions, and you may take any of them as often as you’d like. You can also take multiple actions simultaneously, if you’re feeling bold, like moving a Ninja and placing Jutsu or something.
To place Jutsu, just take any Jutsu from your personal stash (either stuff you got this turn or stuff you held from a previous turn) and put it onto any land space on a Terrain card (no water spaces!) or any space on a Floorboard card. You can nudge anything in that space, but all placed pieces must fit within the boundaries of the space they’re in. You also can’t stack Jutsu.
If your opponents get suspicious, they can challenge you. If any Jutsu are outside the line, you have to fix it before taking another action.
Once there’s a Jutsu on a Terrain card, you may draw the top card of the Floorboard deck and place it on that space. You may choose which side is face-up, but it must be placed so that it’s within the boundaries set by the Terrain card. No weird rotations or shifts or anything like that. You cannot stack Floorboard cards, either.
If the Floorboard card falls while you’re placing it, you take a penalty.
You may move your ninja token by picking it up and placing it on an adjacent space, provided it is the same type (light or shadow) as your ninja. If not, you must place a Jutsu of the matching type on that space and then place your ninja token on top of it.
The ninja must balance on the space (or Jutsu), so you must remove your hand after moving it to complete the Move action. You can take multiple Move actions per turn, however, and you can stand your ninja token in a space however you want.
If anything falls while moving, however, you take a penalty.
Claim Bansen Seal
To claim a Bansen Seal, your ninja token must be placed adjacent to the Seal’s alcove. Once that happens, you must pick up and rotate the Floorboard card 90 degrees in the direction indicated by the seal. If you do so successfully, you take the seal. If anything falls over, penalty.
Use Bansen Seal
On a subsequent turn after taking a Bansen Seal, you may use it to rotate your current Floorboard card 90 degrees in the direction indicated by the seal. This might be useful, just don’t knock anything over, or else, you guessed it, penalty.
So, if you take a penalty, you stop touching the board. The player to your left (in turn order) gets to reset all affected spaces, including flipping the Floorboard card, moving any ninjas on the Floorboard card wherever they want, and changing the position of any Jutsu on (or below) the Floorboard card. Their rearranging can’t cause them to get penalized (in the basic game).
End of Game
The game ends as soon as a player collects all their Bansen Seals. That player wins!
Beyond the variant to make the game more difficult, you can further add challenge by forcing players to collect their Bansen Seals in numerical order. You can also assess a penalty against a player if they tip over the floorboard while rearranging, but I recommend not … doing that.
You can also adjust for player skill by naming one player the Master and giving them a restriction of some kind:
- Master of Balance: The Master may only roll one or two Jutsu dice at the start of their turn.
- Master of Contemplation: The Master’s ninja may only move four steps each turn.
- Master vs. Apprentice(s): Only the Master must collect their Bansen Seals in numerical order.
Player Count Differences
I think that Floating Floors works best as a head-to-head game, personally. It’s not directly competitive, but routes can be formed if players are keeping an eye on things, usually to the detriment of the third player (since routes are either light routes or shadow routes). At four, this isn’t as much of a problem, since it’s evenly balanced, but without some benefit to the odd player out in a three-player game, they can get trapped (or, worse, ganged up on). It’s not a problem to the point that it’s no longer fun, but it is, I think, more challenging to be the player who isn’t the same color ninja as the other two. If you’re looking for a challenge, that’s the way to go about it. At two, the game is tight and pretty evenly matched, which makes it interesting and fun. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the nerve-wracking placement of the center card in a 3×3 grid at two players, which I also prefer. All this is to say, yeah, I think Floating Floors is best with two. I’d recommend that over three players, as well.
- Plan out a route as best as you can. This plan will have to remain flexible, since you don’t know which Floorboard cards are going to be placed where, but you should have some overarching idea of where you want to go next and how you plan to get there. This will help you figure out where you want to move, what you need to place, and what Jutsu you need to have in play.
- Getting to place cards first means that you get to choose which side is up, which might be beneficial to you. It’s not always beneficial (there are some truly unhelpful Floorboard cards which are, at best, situationally useful), but you can choose the side and orientation, which may open up some paths to you and block your opponent, if you’re lucky. It may be worth considering how you want to place the card relative to how a Bansen Seal will affect it, if you’re also in possession of a few of those.
- Keeping Bansen Seals for a rainy day may be super helpful. You can essentially use them for a free spin around the perimeter of a card (or you can use them to place your opponent in a really nasty spot, if need be). Sometimes it’s faster and safer than moving, directly.
- Don’t forget that you can play two-handed, which can often be a great way to counterbalance risky moves. About to move onto an unsafe space? About to move away from an unsafe space? Keep a Jutsu in your other hand and place it on the spot to counterbalance like you’re Indiana Jones. It should work, keeping in mind that a ninja token weighs about as much as two Jutsu, so, be mindful of your weight ratios.
- If your opponent messes up and knocks their card over, you should do your best to hinder their movement. Pull a Jerry Orbach and put them in a corner, for instance, or block their way with Jutsu tokens. My personal favorite flourish is to strand them in the center of the card with only one Jutsu below them and the possible exit paths in a color where they’ll have to play Jutsu to move. It can really mess up another player, if you do it correctly.
- Don’t just take Jutsu from the supply; take it from cards to mess with your opponents’ movement and make their platforms less steady. If you leave Jutsu on cards, you’re preserving your opponent’s paths. Why bother doing that? If they’re charging up for a super turn, you owe it to yourself to make that difficult. New players might not necessarily want to play this aggressively, but once you’ve gotten a sense for the game, you can usually cause a ruckus by removing some Jutsu and making formerly-stable platforms significantly less so. Just, as always, make sure you don’t accidentally tip anything over.
- If you really believe in yourself and stockpile appropriately, you can win in one turn. It’s a flex, and it requires a lot of moving parts to all align perfectly, but it’s possible. Not the first turn, of course, but in a single turn, for sure. It requires your opponent to not totally be paying attention to your possible routes (and also actively removing Jutsu), but you could theoretically wait for them to lay Floorboards, place a few Jutsu tokens, and successfully grab all your Bansen Seals in one turn. It’s an awful way to lose, but it’s quite impressive.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- You know, the first thing I noticed about the game was the box, and it’s particularly striking. It’s really good box art? It just pops, really well. I think it’s the pink / blue contrast, and it makes the game look really good. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by Gong Studios.
- I like how much of a subtle catch-up mechanism exists as players build somewhat-safe balanced paths. For new players playing their first time (especially if they don’t think to pull jutsu from “safe” paths), it offers them a late-game path to victory that I think is excellent. This, as mentioned, hinges on players not making other players’ paths less stable, but once the floorboards are placed, the Jutsu is mostly reallocated for increasing stability or providing more paths, rather than making foundations. It’s a subtle catch-up mechanism in a genre that’s not really known for having too many of them beyond “if you knock things over it’s easier to place new things” or something equivalent.
- You don’t get a lot of weight-balance games. Just not something I see that often! I really like how the weight balance is only one aspect of the game, though. Making the movement a factor in how players balance the weight of the cards and the Jutsu makes each turn fairly exciting.
- The variety of the Jutsu pieces is great, even more so since the ninja balances so precariously (yet perfectly) on them. The shapes were well-chosen and they’re quirky, which makes the game fun. It would definitely work if everything were cubes, but I think that would make the game a bit less … fun? At the very least, less dynamic, especially because the dice would be less useful for the overall gameplay experience. The different shapes was definitely a smart choice.
- I like the art style more generally, as well; looking forward to the final production. Like I said, Gong Studios and Jovial Graphics did quite well, here. I think the final version will have a bit more color to the Terrain itself, so I’m looking forward to that, as well.
- I like the variability of the Terrain Cards, even if they make some spots a lot more difficult than others. There are a lot of different configurations that can be made between the Terrain and the Floorboards, and I like that they sometimes intersect in the worst possible way to make spots incredibly difficult to navigate. There should be a bit of an element of danger to this game, and I think those occasional surprises really do a good job, there. Generally, I like games that allow players to build things up, and going from the blank Terrain Cards to a maze of Floorboard Cards is a lot of fun.
- Overall, the challenge of the game is the interesting part, and it creates a lot of very good player tension. It’s stressful in a great way. It has a lot of the same stress as Hiktorune, in that you’re occasionally stuck making an uncomfortable balance until you find the exact spot where everything fits perfectly and nothing’s going to tip over. That stress is good, especially since the consequences of failure are nontrivial (but not like, earth-shattering).
- The game is fairly precarious by nature, so make sure you move your possibly-vibrating phone, don’t hit the table by mistake, and the other usual “things that can easily ruin a balancing / stacking game”. It would ruin the game a bit if you bumped the table and knocked everything over, which would be sad. The precariousness of these kinds of games is probably my least favorite thing about them, but it’s also so core to the game’s experience that there’s not really a way to fix it without fundamentally undermining what makes the game fun.
- It’s a bit hard to see the direction on the Bansen Seals; making that clearer would be helpful. Making the arrows a bit larger or not completely filled-in triangles might give players a better sense of whether the rotation needs to be clockwise or counterclockwise quickly. It’s not impossible to see, but it is a bit prone to player error, in my experience.
- If a player struggles with the weight balances, they might be in a situation where they have little to no fun on their turn, which is a bummer. Honestly, if players aren’t used to this kind of weight-balancing game, I’d just teach the first game without the penalty for the card falling over. Just have them move their ninja back to the last safe position and immediately end their turn. If you’re playing adversarially against a player who’s struggling, you really can just flip the floor and box them in in a way that’s very difficult for them to escape. Wouldn’t recommend that! It’s no fun for them. So … don’t? There’s a certain line you can hit as a player which is the difference between winning a game and getting to play subsequent games with your opponent. Wouldn’t recommend “making your opponent unable to play” as a strategy if you’d like to play this game again.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I think Floating Floors is great! I think it’s actually got a bit in common with Rhino Hero: Super Battle, a wonderful dexterity game I played a while back. Where that one has a possibly wider appeal (since it’s a pure family game), this is definitely a tilt towards the more strategic sector of the gaming population. And that’s fine. It has its own merits. I’m particularly taken with the cover of the game, but that’s largely because I’m dealing with prototype components and I’m … rarely as excited about those, since they’re not final. It happens. But I also like that this game has a nice strategic bit of weight-balancing and stress for players. You have to sometimes figure out exactly where you can move without tipping the card and prematurely ending your turn, and you have to weave your way through a maze that you and your opponent are building collectively but most certainly not collaboratively. There’s a tension to that that I really enjoy. That said, if you’re not getting the whole weight-balancing thing (which happens!), this is exactly the kind of game that will likely make you furious. You might just tip a card every turn and sit on your hands until someone else mercifully ends it. One of the big problems with a lot of dexterity games, honestly. Not much to do for that, but it’s always worth mentioning. If you are looking for a game whose strategy depends on being light, heavy, or anything in between, though, I’d recommend trying Floating Floors! I enjoyed my time with it.
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