Dale Yu: First Impressions of Fortitude


I was contacted by the designer of Fortitude over email with this elevator pitch: “Fortitude is a solo-only trick-taking and write that is set during the sixteen months before D-Day. As with the real life Operation Fortitude, you are running a deception campaign against the German military intelligence (represented in-game by a bot). Your mission is to keep them (incorrectly) guessing about the location of the upcoming Allied invasion but at all costs never let them realize that the Normandy coastline is the real landing site.”

I was intrigued by the idea of the solo trick taking game, and coupled with my resurgent interest in the XXX and write genre, I decided to give it a go.  The game is not yet published, with the designer planning to take the game to KS when it is ready – (and I am not sure where on that timeline he is at this moment).

This game is played on a laminated sheet which has a calendar in the upper left – where you track your progress through the 16 hands of the game.  There are 3 main areas for “tricks”: Trondheim and Calais (4 each) and the last trick of each hand is played in Normandy.  The rest of the board is filled with areas to track your attributes and special abilities.  There is a deck of Setback cards, and I was tasked to provide my own standard deck of cards and a dry erase pen.

In short, you win by surviving through the 16 hands in the game, each hand representing a month of wartime.  You lose if you are unable to fill in spaces on the suspicion gauge as directed (in the Normandy area of the sheet).  The rules right now are about 20 pages long, and as you might expect, this does portend a fair amount of complexity in the game itself.

To set the game up, you make a small deck of 36 cards from the standard deck, throwing out 10, J, Q, K.  This deck is shuffled, and you get a hand of 4 cards dealt to yourself.  The German bot does not require a hand.   A setback card is drawn, and using the numbers found on the bottom of that card, you modify the calendar and the suspicion gauge based on your chosen level of difficulty.

In each round, there is a clumped alternating turn order for the 18 cards to be played: A – BB – AA – BB… AA – B.    Confusingly, a hand (game month) is not the same as a round.  Each time that your hand needs to be replenished, a month goes by – whether or not the round is complete.  Your starting hand size is 4, but can move between 3 and 9, so the timing of replenishment changes over the course of the game.  In each round, you’re trying to win tricks in Trondheim and Calais while you’re trying to avoid winning the final trick in Normandy.  Thematically, this is because you’re trying to downplay the importance of Normandy to the Allied plans, and by showing strength in the other two areas, you’re convincing the Germans that you card more about those other areas.

When you play a card, you discard it from your hand, and you write the number down in an appropriate Allied space in any suit EXCEPT for the one on the card.  If you do not have a legal play, you still discard a card and simply write an X in any of your spaces.  The spaces in Trondheim and Calais must be filled in first, and the final trick will be in the single line in Normandy.  

When the bot plays its first card, it flips a card from the top of the deck. The suit shown determines the initial regional focus.  In following rounds, the first card drawn by the bot always has its suit changed to whatever suit the regional focus marker is on.  Record the number of the card drawn in an appropriate German space based on the bot rules.

Cards are played in this fashion according to the play order chart (which can be altered by Setback cards) – until the first 16 cards have filled in all the spaces in Trondheim and Calais.  The final card from each side goes into the Normandy trick.  As the numbers are filled in, you should pay attention to when a trick is complete – if you have the higher number, you can make a mark in the advanced tactics area that matches the icon associated with that trick.  If there are two icons, you must choose one or the other to mark.

Again remember that you may need to deal a new hand in the midst of a round, and whenever this happens, you will mark the empty spaces of unfinished tricks – causing the bot to prioritize finished tricks and giving the player Suspicion Gauge penalties if his unfinished spaces are not complete before the next hand is dealt.

The game starts with one setback card in play, though others can enter the game on certain calendar months or when the German regional focus changes.  These cards have differing rules as well as differing durations.  As with most games with special cards, any rules on the cards supercede the rulebook. The effects of the cards I have are varied, and definitely can change the way the game is played – and I’m glad to report that I didn’t have any rules questions with them (which is especially good as there is no further explanation in the current rulebook!

Once the round is complete, you first score the Normandy trick.  If you happen to win it, you must cross off circles in the suspicion gauge area equal to the difference in the two cards in that trick.  If you cannot legally do this, you lose.  If there is a tie, no circles are crossed, but your lingering suspicion count increases by one – this is merely a delayed circle crossing, the next time that you win the Normandy trick, you’ll add any lingering suspicion to the count of circles that you must cross out.

Next you alter the German alert level by counting the number of ticks lost this round, dividing in half and then moving left on the alert track that number of spaces.  If you pass thru spaces with triangles underneath them, draw setback cards or make lines in the Suspicion gauge.

Now look at Trondheim and Calais to see if you scored a major victory there this round (winning more tricks than the Germans in that area), and get a bonus:

  • Trondheim – increase your hand size by 1
  • Calais – sum any one trick in Calais and cross of that number in the Codebreak area. If you completely cross off the numbers here, you will no longer have to draw Setback cards in the game.

Then consider the Advanced Tactics area, where you have been making marks with each trick that you have won… You will gain a bonus for whichever area has the most marks (though it must have at least 2 marks); if there is a tie for most, you can choose.  Make a note of this in the appropriate area on the sheet.  Then, make sure you mark a double agent for each tied tric this round.  Each double agent can be used to replace a number on a card you played with an unused one from the double agent chart.

Finally, move the regional focus marker clockwise unless you won or tied both tricks in the current focus suit.  Remember if the marker moves, it should trigger a setback card to be drawn.

Now you start a new round; erasing all the trick values and continuing onward.  Do this until either you survive to the end of the 16th hand or you have lost due to an inability to cross off spaces in the Suspicion Gauge.

Fortitude is an interesting solo game, and while it is complex, it has proven to be a challenging game thus far.  In four games, I have only won once (and it required a pretty lucky draw near the end when the Germans managed to lose a Normandy trick to me when I had no choice but to play a 3 in that space).  Sure, some of that may just be due to the learning curve, but I do like games that give you something to strive for.

You try to manage the cards in your hand and play cards where they will have the best effect.  It’s easy to play the high cards, as they will likely win wherever you put them.  The bot ends up playing cards per its rules, and it’s good to wait for the German bot to flip up a low number which then allows you to possibly still win or tie with a low card from your hand.

Of course, as with many card games, luck of the draw has a big effect on the final outcome – early in the game, there’s not a lot you can do with a hand full of 1s, 2s, and 3s.  Later on, you might have enough decoys or double agents to salvage things; but at the start of the game, you simply don’t have any tools.  Also, the Normandy trick is much more luck based than the rest because you don’t have much time to plan for things – you actually have no time to plan at all if you’re the first player to play into the trick (as you simply have to cross your fingers and hope that the bot doesn’t top deck a better card!).  Sometimes you can split the low cards across two rounds and hope that you can win enough tricks to offset those losses; other times, you just take your lumps all at once.  Once, this happened to me, but I was able to make sure that I won the advanced tactic of increasing the German Alert level, so while I had to move a few spaces to the left because of all the tricks I lost, I was able to push it back to the right with two well timed tricks.

It’ll take most of your first game to figure out what is going on as there are a lot of concepts to figure out.  This is not helped by the rules. While verbose, they can be confusing.  It took me three reads to get the rules down as they were not in an order that suited my learning process. 

Everything is in the rules, but I would have preferred things in a different order – with all the introductory/definitions at the front and then the gameplay next without interruptions.   I also would have preferred to know what my goal was in a round before the description of said round was started.  Rules for advanced tactics (which should be applied whenever a trick is completed) are found only in the rules for the scoring phase of the round.  So, in my first play, I totally missed that bit – even after two rules reads – because nothing was said about making marks there as tricks were completed… 

That being said, once you get through the first couple of rounds, the game mechanisms mesh together well and it’s pretty easy to see what is going on.  You just have to slog through a few rounds to get to that point.  

The layout of the board is also somewhat confusing at first glance. I’d like the advanced tactics areas on the sheet to give me an iconographic reminder of their ability.  I was constantly referring to the rules to try to remember what I could do with them; and because I didn’t have them on my sheet to be easily seen, I still don’t use them as well as I could.  There is also space on the back sheet of the rules, which I left out on the table as a nice player aid (as it has the bot rules on that page) – that might not be a bad place for that reminder as well.  FWIW, the game entry on BGG shows a number of different layouts, so it looks like this is something that is being constantly updated/refined.

Thus far, I’ve had a decent time playing it, though it took awhile to be able to play it correctly. For those who like solo games, this would be something worth looking into as it goes through the KS campaign and development.  As these things usually go, suggestions will be made and things will change/improve based on those comments. The form of the game that I’ve played is not yet the finished project, and I’d be interested to see the final Setback deck as well as an improved rulebook and playsheet.  Fortitude is a solo game that combines good card play, strategic maneuvering around the Setback cards and a bit of good old fashioned card luck – and I think that it will turn out to be an interesting game once it is finished; it’s a little rough around the edges right now.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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