You Must Build a Boat Review
Paid apps are a tough sell. There are enough good free games being released every day to keep any gamer entertained, so how does a game like You Must Build a Boat beat the odds?
It helps to have a track record. Publisher EightyEight games earned a lot of attention with 10000000 back in 2012, which seems like a lifetime ago when we’re talking about the evolution of the app market. That game got enough critical raves that the sequel was sure to get some attention. You Must Build a Boat built on 10000000‘s success, drawing in new customers like me when the previous customers talked about how much they enjoyed the previous game.
It helps that the game is very, very good. You Must Build a Boat and 10000000 take the match-3 RPG gameplay of Puzzle Quest and simplifies it by combining it with infinite runner design. The core loop is condensed down to the essentials: collect loot by running the dungeon for as long as you can, then buy upgrades with the loot so you can run longer against harder opposition for more loot.
The plot has the same stark minimalism. You have a boat. You want to sail the sea, but your boat is too small. So you sail up the river collecting loot and friends and the parts for a bigger boat, because you must build a boat. The title really does say it all.
Despite the simplicity, there’s always plenty to do. The dungeon run pace is frantic. The game forces you to find more and more combinations to defeat enemies, unlock chests, and keep from getting pushed off the left side of the screen. Infinite runners live or die by how well-tuned the challenge level is, and You Must Build a Boat hits that sweet spot. After a couple of hours, my kids were teasing Daddy about how he kept stabbing the screen and muttering “Just one more.”
The ship scene provides a nice contrast to this frantic action, giving you a chance to collect your thoughts and upgrade your character. One of the many clever touches in the game is that it forces you to go back to the ship after beating a quest goal and collecting a major reward. Taking away the “keep running” option here breaks up the action at regular intervals and helps you keep from burning out.
You Must Build a Boat is not perfect. The tutorial level covers most of the basics, but it wasn’t clear to me why the dungeon levels were ending so fast early on. It’s hard to split attention between the match-3 board and the dungeon run at the top of the screen (a typical problem with match-3 dungeon crawlers), and the character graphics are just a little too blocky on an iPad-sized screen. None of these flaws come anywhere close to killing the game, though, and they are more than balanced out by stylish extras such as furiously tapping boxes to open them.
You Must Build A Boat with Style! Or Not.
It’s hard to see how You Must Build a Boat could be improved as a free-to-play app. Looking at the Three Cs of Monetization, there’s no multiplayer to build competitive play around, and the balance of challenge and reward is nearly perfect. Distorting balance so players could buy through challenges (convenience) would be almost criminal.
You could add decorative elements to encourage creativity, but the art style isn’t THAT good. Decorative purchases would also destroy the game’s simplicity, which is one of its major virtues. The bottom line is that You Must Build a Boat works perfectly as a paid app, and the only way to further monetize it might be to sell more content through updates and in-app purchases.
Looking at App Annie, the paid app gamble seems to have paid off. You Must Build a Boat spent its first week near the top of the download rankings, with a respectable showing in the grossing rankings. It’s slipping away now as newer content replaces it, but well-timed updates might earn a rebound or two. It’s also gotten plenty of positive attention on Android and Steam. Only time and tell-all post-mortem articles will reveal whether EightyEight Games has gotten all they want out of the game, but the combination of good previous reputation and game play gave You Must Build a Boat a real shot at success.