Designer: Grant Rodiek
Artist: Kyle Ferrin
Publisher: Leder Games
Players: 2-4 players
Time: 20-40 Minutes
Times Played: 6
Deck-building games have come a long way since the days where the only choice was Dominion. Most of the time though, even today among those myriad of choices, I’ll still take Dominion over any other deck-building game. Nowadays it seems that you need to integrate your deck-building into games with other mechanisms. I honestly don’t think that a pure deck-building game will ever come along again like Dominion and even if it did, it wouldn’t be nearly as successful. So many challengers try to step up and knock the king from its throne, and one by one, they all fail to get that top spot. Enter a new challenger, Fort, from Leder Games, who are better known for their asymmetric lineup of games with cute and cuddly art from Kyle Ferrin, and designer Grant Rodiek, better known for his corgi, Peaches and his ability to just keep talking, along with game designs like Cry Havoc and Hocus.
Childhood is competitive, we all remember that, right? We all wanted to have all our friends hang out with us, doing fun and exciting things. Well, Fort tries to recreate all of that childish competitiveness in a unique way, a deck building game that nearly ends up as much about deconstructing your deck, as it is building it.
There are a couple different ways to trigger the end of a game of Fort, well three actually. One is to build your Fort level to five. Kids love forts, and building a fort is sure to attract the best friends a child could ever hope for. Second way a game of Fort can have the end triggered, is by scoring twenty five points, that seems to be the magic threshold of popularity. Thirdly, you could completely empty the deck of friends. In six plays, this final way has triggered the end game once, and the magic point threshold has been the trigger once as well. So two thirds of the time, the game end has been triggered by someone building their Fort to level five. Add up any points you receive from your Made Up Rule card that you have earned by building your Fort level to two, any points that you scored during the game and your points awarded for your Fort level and the highest score wins.
Everyone playing Fort is going to start the game with ten cards, eight randomly dealt from the deck, and two that are your Best Friends. You see, Best Friends will never leave your side, more about that later. Each pair of Best Friends have the same actions on their card, but each have different suits. So there is a little bit of variety in startup, maybe pushing you in the beginning in one specific direction. Each card that you have in your hand will have suits on them, there are six in the game, plus a wild suit. Having like suited cards can be a real benefit on your turn.
On a player’s turn they will have five cards in their hand, from that hand you will play one card to take actions with, and any cards that you may be able to use to “boost” the actions with. Normally on your turn you’ll be collecting resources, in Fort those resources are Pizzas and Toys, because that’s what brings all the kids to the fort. When gathering these resources they will either go in your stuff, which is limited to four of each, or into your pack, which is limited by your fort level. You can store one plus your fort level worth of toys and pizzas in your pack, just try to keep the pizza from turning upright, that’d be a mess. Resources are used to raise your fort level. Between each fort level there is a notation of what is needed to increase to the next level. First bump only costs two things, any combination of Pizza or Toys, but after that they get more specific, needing a set number of each item, plus a wild. So you can see, storage is in high demand. Pizza and Toys can also be used to score points in a variety of ways, but mostly from triggering an action on a card that gives points for items in your pack.
As I said previously, some actions can be played and have the action value increased. On the action spot you will see a multiplier, usually followed by one of the suits in the game. These “multipliers” will increase the value of what action you take based on the number of suit icons in play. This all brings us to the Lookout. The Lookout is an area where you can tuck cards to permanently have a suit of that kind. The size of your Lookout is limited by your Fort level, just like your Stuff is limited, one plus your Fort level.
After you play a card and take one or both actions, every other player can then follow and use your public action that is on your card. Opponents can follow by discarding a card of the same suit as the card you played, or using a wild. They can only take the action once though, even if the action has a multiplier, you can still only discard one card.
After everyone at the table has had the option to follow and the player has taken their various actions, the active player is going to discard the cards that they played to their discard pile and recruit another friend into their hand. Cards available can be from a face up offering of three cards, from the top of the draw deck, or from your opponent’s Yards. You see, each card that wasn’t played, or used with a multiplier, is put into the Yard, not into your discard, so if you aren’t playing with your friends, others can swoop in and attract them to their fort. Your Best Friend cards are the exception here, even if they are not played on a turn, they are discarded, not put in the yard. After you have chosen a card to recruit, you put it into your discard pile, and then draw back up to five cards, shuffling your discards if necessary, and then play moves on to the next player.
In description it’s all really easy, in action, it’s a little tougher. Why is it tougher? Well, it’s tougher because of the myriad of actions and icons that are all over the cards. When teaching, I just hand players the thankfully giant player aid and tell them how to play the game, allowing them to reference the aid as we go. It’s very important that the players understand just what all of these symbols mean. Thankfully, each card you play isn’t going to use all of these icons, so you can kind of learn them as you play, but you do want to have that basic understanding of what those ten cards in your hand could possibly do.
A game that clearly shows its roots in Race for the Galaxy and Glory to Rome is going to have icons, that’s just a given. This is how designers of card games have done this for years. It’s a good thing for the most part, but it is hindrance to the simplicity of the game. I think the icons are done well, and after six plays I don’t have much difficulty knowing what everything does without ever consulting the player aid, but man does it slow the game down at first, which is a shame as Fort has all the makings of a quick playing power filler type of game. My group plays Race for the Galaxy in about 20 minutes at four players, it’s an uncomfortable speed for me, but Fort could be played that quickly, fairly comfortably, but that requires everyone to want to play it more than one time.
Fort is a wonderful looking production, Kyle Ferrin’s illustrations are playful and help invoke the theme. Some are a bit odd. I mean is Ghost a dead friend? He is blue after all. For the most part though the art works. Components are fantastic. I am a sucker for recessed game boards, I mean seriously, everyone should be doing these if you have to track stuff on your board. The Pizza and Toys are a bit small, but they work for what they are, plus, those tiny cubes are even silkscreened. The cards could have benefitted from a heavier stock. This is a game that clearly wants to be played over and over, and the cards in the copy that I have used for six plays are starting to show some wear. I supposed you can go ahead and sleeve them, but who likes to play card games with card condoms, blech.
Six plays, normally this would be a good thing, any game that warrants six plays in such a short time is a positive, but I just don’t feel as positive about it now as I did at the beginning. I really like the game, and Grant has taken his previously self-published SPQF and let Leder Games make a more accessible theme for it and clean up the iconography and gameplay a bit so it is more playable by a wider audience. But after six plays, it really feels like I am just doing the same thing each play, and in this day and age where “replayability” is everything, Fort has started to fall short of its mark for one reason. It just feels repetitive already.
I know, all games are repetitive, there is a flow that is normally repeated and starts to seem familiar, but in Fort, there are only sixty cards, and among those cards, there are multiple copies of several of them, I forget how many, I think it varies per suit. In a game where you are changing your deck and recruiting quite a few cards, it all starts to seem familiar and thus, repetitive. Among my groups that have played, there are clearly preferred suits as well. All the suits have a use, but get a Squirtgun suit clogging up the three cards in the offering late in the game, and they’ll stay there and folks will just take their luck drawing or recruiting from other player’s Yards.
There is a lot to like here, I mean that’s why I have played it six times in about three weeks — as of when I wrote this. It’s a fun theme, and I love deck-building games that reinforce the need to change your deck as you play. You cannot keep your deck stagnant. You have to change, and your opponents will definitely help you do that by recruiting from your Yard if you have a card not played that they are interested in. Sometimes you will happily let that happen, other times, you just hope that they don’t notice you putting a juicy card that scores Victory Points in there. Fort has some fun interaction and a lot of opportunity to really hinder your opponents, but in turn, they’ll do the same to you. You want to keep that deck thin, which is why the Squirtgun suit is good early on, but not so much later in the game when you really don’t have a lot you want to discard. Suits are catered to certain actions.
All that adds up to me being finished with Fort at the moment. I honestly feel like with the limited card set and limited variability of Made up Rules and Perk cards, I’ve seen and explored all of it, and either I’ve done it all before, or watched an opponent do so. Does that mean that I am done with Fort forever? Probably not. I don’t know if Leder Games has anything in mind to expand Fort, but if they do, I’ll happily jump back in and play it. As it is though, this is kind of what modern board game design feels like to me. Make something that is really interesting for a couple plays, and then hope that there is enough in the box to keep folks interested until the new expansion or deck of cards comes out to rekindle the excitment. Yes, I do realize that I am saying this as a die hard Dominion fan with no sense of irony, but I think there is more to discover in that first box of Dominion, than there is in most deck-building games that have come since. It’s a problem I have with most deck-building games. Most other designs lean to the side of too many cards, rather than here, where they went to the side of a leaner deck of cards to build from, and I really wish it were somewhere in the middle.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it.
I like it. Brandon
Not for me…
I’ve been playing games for a while but had not encountered the term “card condoms” before. Thank you for making my day!