Sometimes, you want to play something simple. Sometimes, that simple something winds up feeling surprisingly more intense than you expected or remembered. Today, we’re looking at a game I had that experience with: You Must Build a Boat.
You Must Build a Boat is a match-3 game by EightyEightGames, which is a sequel to 10,000,000. I felt no need to look into the previous game, on account of the fact that the core gameplay is about the same, and well, what do you want in terms of plot from a match-3 game?
Anyway, after escaping the dungeon from the previous game, the player character has teamed up with two goons from the dungeon to, uh, go explore on a boat, I guess. However, the boat isn’t much. You Must Build the Boat some more. And so, you take the boat on an ocean path to gather materials to make it a truly seaworthy vessel, while allying with monsters and collecting new people that will make you stronger on the way.
The main difference between You Must Build a Boat and its predecessor is its structure. In 10,000,000, you repeatedly do runs to upgrade yourself until you’re capable of fighting your way to, well, a score of 10,000,000 points. Here, there’s a linear set of stages with progressively stronger enemies, where you undertake quests that give you rewards. When all the quests in an area are done, you move on to the next area.
So, what’s this about enemies? Well, while you’re playing your match-3 game, your dinky little cowboy fella is going on an adventure at the top of the screen, and you must match things to help ‘em out. Matching swords and staff tiles does physical and magical damage to an enemy. Matching shields creates and reinforces a barrier, which keeps your character from getting pushed back too much when an enemy hits – getting pushed all the way to the left ends the run, so better keep those shields up. Occasionally, your fellow will instead come across chests, so you have to match the key tiles. Matching 4-in-a-row or creating multiple matches in one move or better will make the resulting effect of a match better.
Besides those, there’s the tiles for crates, brain and brawn. Matching crates has a chance of dropping a random item that will sit around the play field. Meanwhile, matching the other two adds to brain and brawn currencies that are important for the metagame.
So, doing the missions is a bit of a mixed experience. There’s plenty of missions that you’d expect from something like this, like performing a certain number of 4-in-a-rows and matching a certain number of tiles. Then there’s some of the more specific stuff, like using a certain item on a certain enemy and defeating an enemy before they get off an attack. The latter sounds like it might be the hardest kind of challenge, but it’s pretty manageable if you stay stocked up on damaging items and spam them. No, the hardest stuff are the pure puzzle stuff of doing multi-matches or 5-in-a-rows. These specific tasks feel like you have to get lucky with whatever playfield the game gives you. Given the advancing screen and enemies on top of this, you don’t exactly have the time to think several steps in advance. I usually passed most of these missions by crossing my fingers and fucking around.
And honestly? Fucking around in You Must Build a Boat is fun because making matches just feels satisfying. Going through this game on this go-around, I paid more attention to the game’s presentation. The actual art style of the game is simple, but the game puts a lot of some simple flair to make the game feel more engaging. Matched tiles crack open with a simple satisfying noise, with long lucky chains providing a chorus of crunching. Simple shakes accentuate action while flashy words pop out when you do a satisfying match. If you’re playing the game quickly, it allows you a split second wiggle room to grab a column before it comes down, letting you create a match that would have been ruined otherwise. The game is already pretty fun, but these bits of game feel makes simple match-3 gameplay feel really engaging. And honestly, it helps that the game’s music actually kinda slaps.
The only bit of it that I hate though is that whenever you upgrade something, you have to click on it repeatedly as if you were a smith hammering the thing. It’s just kinda annoying and would have probably been served better with an animation. This absolutely just feels like a thing made for the game’s mobile players, but would those players love the unnecessary tapping?
Speaking of upgrades, a lot of mission rewards give you a new person hanging out on your boat, who will upgrade services in the game. You use the money you get from chests and missions to upgrade your attacks and defensive abilities and use that brain and brawn to formally recruit monsters you capture for minor upgrades. One NPC lets you offer your various resources to gods in hopes of improving your next run, while another lets you take potions that changes runs to give an advantage in one area in return for some pain. Stuff like that. One criticism I have is the NPC that lets you gamble money into an investment scheme that advances as you run dungeons, in that they come into the game so late that it won’t have a lot of impact. Ideally, I would have wanted this NPC to come in earlier, when the gimmick matters more.
Engaging with this metagame is fine. It’s mostly “numbers go up,” but since it’s attached to an already pretty satisfying experience, I simply love to see those numbers go up.
I will say though, coming to You Must Build a Boat to relax was a fool’s goal because it isn’t actually relaxing, at least in the normal sense. Playing through it is surprisingly hard and the last levels can be intense. However, this being framed around simple gameplay does help your brain turn off. The experience is like how some people can find playing bullet hell games meditative, I suppose. Instead of catching up on Final Fantasy XIV yesterday like I wanted to, I was sucked into playing this for another two hours for the good brain vibes.
If you want a simple yet engaging puzzle game to just vibe out with, I really recommend You Must Build a Boat. Well, probably 10,000,000 too, since their core experience is the same.