Let’s be honest, a lot of games use deckbuilding. There seems to be almost no game mechanic that can’t be expressed through cards, whether that’s melee combat in Fights in Tight Spaces, citybuilding in Stacklands or summoning monsters in Black Book. There’s a deckbuilder for everyone. Floppy Knights, by Rose City Games, dedicates itself to a combination of my two favourite gaming genres, turn-based tactics and deckbuilding, with the cards both expanding and constraining your options with each turn.
You play as Phoebe, a young inventor who is taking her Floppy Knights out and about – these are digital creatures, saved on floppy disks, which do the fighting for her. Unlike in turn-based strategy games such as Fire Emblem or Into the Breach, a round doesn’t necessarily consist of movement and attack. Instead you can use cards for as long as you have energy, simple as that. But movement plays an unusually large part in Floppy Knights, not because you cover large maps, but because each map has points from which enemies constantly respawn. If you don’t keep moving to stay out of their reach until you’ve positioned yourself right and have the right attack in your deck, things can end really fast.
That’s also because losing your commander, your strongest unit on the board, immediately means game over. With this rule, Floppy Knights is even closer to chess than most tactics games. Carefully weighing risk and reward between going all-in with your best unit or potentially losing them is one of the big draws of Floppy Knights for me.
Not that it wouldn’t be prudent to play it safe. There aren’t many turn-based strategy games where I’ve played it quite as safe as in Floppy Knights, where I’ve easily spent 20 rounds and more on a boss encounter. After all that effort, starting over can be frustrating. Winning, on the other hand, comes with immediate rewards – a shiny new card and/or money to buy a new card. New cards are of course always great to have, but in Floppy Knights this is especially true – your deck isn’t large, so the game tends to get better the longer you play, and thus gain more cards and interesting card combinations. Replaying a level with a different commander can make it feel completely different, and it gives you an incentive to go back and try for optional goals you might have missed before.
For all that I enjoy Floppy Knights' brand of tactics, I’m also a big fan of its adorable looks. Tactics games are often focused on war, which makes sense with the chess-like nature of the game. In contrast, Floppy Knights tells a small story about Phoebe and her AI-powered robot arm Carlton really just travelling around to help out where they can – even if the motive for doing so are “fat stacks of cash”. In this game, you stop lava monsters from hugging volcanoes and play Catch the Flag instead of waging war, and I think that’s beautiful.
The Floppy Knights themselves are absolute standouts, too – little plant people and monsters, each with their own special skill that the game adds to your deck as soon as the unit is on the board. Once in play, skill cards can be used by any unit, which sounds like it would make the game too easy, but it actually helps matters immensely. Floppy Knights is a challenging game, perhaps due to the number of foes you face or their large movement and attack ranges. Yet I never felt like I didn’t have enough options at my disposal to make it through a level, I just had to be patient.
Floppy Knights combines a sense of discovery, both in following its cute story and unlocking new cards, with game mechanics that are simple enough to immediately pick up. Everything about it feels light and approachable, which was just what I needed at this moment in time – something that oozes fun, plain and simple.