Fort Review

Ah, I see you are here for your Nostalgia Injection. Well, let’s get that sleeve rolled up and this won’t hurt a bit. You should feel it taking effect now …. *harp scale*. You’re a kid again. You’ve got but one care in the world – to build the best Fort. How will you do it? You and your best friends will work together, recruiting kids from neighbouring yards and the park. Your toy and pizza fuelled kid-mafia will make the most of their subjects, hoarding resources, copying other kid’s ideas, and posting lookouts to ward off potential attacking kid-clans. Who will build the biggest and best Fort of this summer? Would be, that life could be this simple.

2-4 Players| 1 Hour | Designed by Grant Rodiek

Published by Leder Games, Fort was notably not a Kickstarter, but a retail release small box game. The game is based (mechanic wise) on a previous Grant Rodiek design ‘SPQF’ (which I’ve not played). The world of Fort is brought to life by Kyle Ferrin (Leder Games in-house artist) who’s artwork you would recognise from the Vast and Root series of games that Leder also publishes. The style is very evocative of the time period the game is set in, one of idyllic summers playing with friends, back in the days when your parents just wanted you home by sun-down and weren’t tracking your every move with a GPS in your pocket.

Some kids in the yard ready to make new friends

How does it work?

Fort is a deck-building game that has follow the leader action mechanics and a lot of opportunities for player interaction. To begin the game, each player grabs 2 best friend cards and a 8 random kid cards to make their starter deck. Play proceeds in turns around the table and continues until one of the 3 end-game conditions are met – the park deck runs out of cards, someone reaches 25 points on the score track, or a player completes their Fort. When this happens, bonus points are tallied on and the Fortiest Fort wins!

As a deck-builder, Fort‘s game-play revolves around cards. Each card in the game depicts two actions, one that you can use alone, and another that you can use, and other players can also use by following. Card actions range among things like gaining resources (pizza and toys, of course), building your Fort up, and getting points based on some condition. Each card also has a suit, which is relevant when you ‘boost’ card actions (I’ll get to this in a moment).

A player’s turn is pretty simple. You will enter your turn with 5 (or less) cards in your hand. You select a single card to play this turn. If the card has a ‘multiply’ ability, you can add cards of the matching suit to your play to boost this ability. You must then carry out at least one of the two actions on the card, and then all the other players may discard from their hand a card of a suit matching the one you played, to follow the ‘all players’ action on the card.

After carrying out your action(s), you must ‘recruit’ a new kid (card) to your crew, which can come from the park or from other player’s yards! Finally, any cards you didn’t use this turn are added to your yard (so now other players might take them) and you draw a new hand. As you can see, in a 4 player game it’s possible you could have up to 3 ‘turns’/actions between each of your turns, and may come into your turn with 2-3 cards in hand. If you have a lot of coveted kids in your deck, you will want to avoid disappointing them by not playing with them, otherwise they might run away and help your enemies!

Players use their actions to gather resources, and then spend those resources to build up their Fort or gain points. There is lots of scope for developing points generating engines as the wide variety of card abilities offers many combo options.

Once one of the three end game conditions are met, players continue until each has had the same number of turns and then check scoring bonuses to reveal the final score. Loser buys the pizza!

The neighbourhood in motion

What do I think?

I’ve played Fort several times at an all player counts. Typical playtime was around an hour for us, and I found while most people generally enjoyed the game, it didn’t have quite a universal appeal among players.

The Good Stuff

  • Fort has an original and novel theme among boardgames, and best of all it meshes really well with the deck-building mechanics of the game. Your deck is your collection of friends from the neighbourhood. As you make new friends with new skills your deck becomes bigger and more powerful. If you don’t play with your friends they might go off and join other gangs! And not all of your friends are available to play every day, you just gotta work with who turns up that afternoon.
  • Kyle Ferrin’s art works so well for this game. Like Root, the artwork evokes thoughts of a friendly, playful setting, and is intentionally put together to look like something a group of kids would come up with. This combined with the light hearted naming conventions (e.g. resources are ‘stuff’) makes for a great production.
  • The rulebook is concise and well laid out. Combined with the especially good reference cards the game is very easy to teach and learn.
  • The ‘kid/card stealing’ mechanic brings a fresh twist on deck-building that I’ve not seen before. To me it really felt this makes the deck-building genre truly interactive, when players are constantly trading cards between their decks. I was worried that this would be a sore point or ‘mean’ part of the game, but it really didn’t feel like that in practice. I would be interested to see further deck-building games with this kind of mechanic included.
  • The game-play is simple, and well explained on the player mat. Despite this, there can be good depth and breadth of potential strategy, with lots of potential card combos and different ways to earn points available.
  • Fort has a lot of challenging trade-offs that can come up nearly every turn. You might be faced with playing a suboptimal turn so you can guard your cards (playing a card means it can’t be stolen). If you specialise your deck heavily you stand to gain lots of points on your own turns, but but forgo copy-cat turns because you won’t have a variety of suits to follow with..
  • There is SO much player interaction. Most deck-builders are pretty solitary, but being able to follow actions and being able to steal other players cards makes this game so interactive and keeps you engaged through other player’s turns. This opens up new avenues of strategy in considering how you can control other player’s decks and make the most of their turns.

The Bad Stuff

  • Despite broad strategy options available to players, you pretty much have to build your Fort. I suppose it is in the name of the game, but I’ve yet to see a ‘points generated during the game’ strategy pay off. Most often the winner is determined by whomever builds their Fort to the maximum level triggering the end-game (this is worth 23 points + 5 bonus for being the first).
  • The starting set-up can be extremely variable because it’s 80% random. I don’t really like this because it can make a pretty big difference in the game. If you happen to get clumps of a couple of suits you can start doing quite big actions early on in the game without having to tailor your deck much. Another player might have few duplicate suits or start with a bunch of cards that aren’t very useful in the early game and have to spend a lot of turns tailoring their deck before they can compete.
  • When playing your first game, it can take a little while to get into things, and for the game to click. I think this is a symptom of starting with a hand of mostly random cards from the main deck. Other deck-builders combat this by having you start with a fixed ‘simple’ deck of cards.
  • Based on the cards you draw some turns can just be really blah. It can feel pretty deflating to sit through everyone else’s turns not being able to follow because you have no matching suits and then on your turn, playing a low-value action and sticking most of your cards in your yard. I think this sort of luck can be good in a game but when combined with the above two points (you have little control over your early game deck unlike other deck-builders) this can be a drag.
  • You are REQUIRED to recruit a card each turn. Often, especially nearing the end of the game this feels really annoying and unwanted.
  • Games of Fort felt longer than I expected them to be based on the complexity of the game. The box says 20-40 mins, but most of our games went for an hour. I would say we are average speed players. If you played the game daily you might see 20-40 min play times when everyone was quite experienced but I don’t think it’s a realistic playtime, especially in an age where people play a wider variety of games less often each.
Maintaining a solid strategic reserve of pizza and toys is key to the game.

There was a LOT of hype for Fort when it was coming up to release and immediately after. Because so many people online were so visibly raving about how fantastic it was, I did have pretty high expectations for what it would be. I think that in terms of the unique and innovative theme and setting it certainly stacks up in that regard and is super fun and quirky. Regarding the game-play itself, well while a very solid game, falling for the hype in this case left it feeling a slight bit lower than my expectations. Fort is a light game sitting on the fence between ‘filler’ and ‘main course’ and I think it needs to be approached with that in mind. I’m certainly keen to play it more and excited to further explore combos and strategies. There is a lot of re playability in it and if you like deck-builders it’s certainly a variation on the genre that is worth a shot. If you want to know more about the game or pick up a copy for yourself, you can find it on the Leder Games Shop page, or at your local game store!

The copy of Fort used for this review was provided to The Boardgame Detective by Leder Games.

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