Fort – A Review

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that my wife and I travel a lot. Usually, I like to bring a smaller game with me, so during those down periods, we will have something to play. Usually this means a card game, and because my wife love the game so much, it usually means that we will be bringing Phase 10 with us. As far as card games go, I really do enjoy playing this one, but I have played it so many times, that I need to put aside for awhile. So when I started to prepare for a three week long Iceland trip, I started to look for a new game that I could take with me that would be refreshing, and a little more complicated. That is when I found one that might work from Leder Games, the king of board games with only four letters in their titles. I thought the theme, and the use of a simple resource management mechanic combined with deck building might make for the perfect game to bring on this trip.

THEME

You are a kid who likes to hang out with his friends, eat pizza, play with toys, and most importantly, build a fort in your backyard with this group of companions. Like any group of friends, there is a rival group of friends who want to outdo you by eating more pizza, playing with more toys, and making a better fort in their backyards. Of course, the friends that are collected are fickle. If you don’t play with them, they will run off and join some other group to help them build their fort, so it is important to make sure that they get some use. You can always make sure that they remain your friends forever by giving them a prestigious position in the lookout, but if you do that then they loose their special abilities, and can only help out by helping with which resources they bring to the mix. Of course, your best friends will never run off, and will always be by your side, and they will also help you come up with your own special rules to help you make the best fort possible.

I absolutely love this theme, and it works so well with the gameplay. The amount of characters that are represented in this game are numerous, and there are only a few repeats of cards. The fact that you bribe these kids with pizza and toys just adds to the overall theme, and there are moments when you want certain kids to play with you, so you are always looking at the ones that did not get used by your rivals. Certain kids get passed around all over the place, making the most popular kids in the game. Despite this, it is not as immersive as some of the other games I have played, though it does work well with the story that it is telling.

Rating – 8

GAMEPLAY

Leder Games is known for its complicated games that take multiple plays to become comfortable with the system that they have built. This has been a turn off with my wife who like medium level games where she can wrap her mind around the system rather quickly. Out of all of the Leder Games that I have played, this is the one that is the least complicated, and can be learned in fifteen minutes. Even though this is the case, it does take a couple of games before you can start to develop of strategy with the game.

At its heart, Fort is a deck building game. Each player has a player mat where they will pay attention to the resources they collect, and the level of their fort. They will also have a collection of ten cards to start off with, five of which will always be in their hand. Each card will have two actions that a player can take if they play that card. The top action is a shared action that if the other players meet the requirements of that action, they can do the same thing. The bottom action is a private action, and can only be used by the person playing the card. These actions allow you to do certain things like gain resources such as pizza and toys, build up your fort, or move a friend of yours into the lookout. A combination of these things set allow each player to reach a winning condition that will being about the end of the game.

Each card also has a suit with it that can trigger certain things from taking place if enough of the same suit is played. This means that if a player plays his or her cards right, they can use all of the cards in their hand at their turn. This is important because any cards that are not played go into the player’s yard unless it is one of their best friends which instantly go into their discard pile.

The last action that a player takes on their turn is to add a new friend to their deck. This is where the game can get a little brutal, and shows you what kind of friend you really are. The selection comes from three cards that are always shown from the unused deck of cards, or the cards that are out in other players’ yards. This means that the card that you did not use and were hoping to use at a later date could be stolen by another person and end up helping them instead.

The gameplay is not that complicated, even though there are a lot of actions that a person can perform. The design of the game was smart enough to give every person a cheat sheet that explains what each of these actions are and how you can use them. It does take one play-through to start to formulate a strategy that might work for you, but a game does not take long enough that you feel like you can’t collect everything up again and play another round after you have figured out how everything works together. Of course, the first play takes a little longer than following games, but when you get into the groove, a game plays around thirty minutes.

The gameplay also represents the theme well, and it creates a fun experience. Like most Leder Games, it has a learning curve that might discourage certain players, but if they can get over that hump, I believe they will eventually come to enjoy the game.

Rating – 8

ARTWORK

I may be a little biased, but I love Kyle Ferrin’s artwork. It is one of the things that always draws me to Leder Games. His cartoony figures add as much to the game as does the gameplay. Fort may be the game where his artwork fits in with the theme the best. Playing the game, and seeing all of these children sketched as cartoon characters, it makes me feel as if I am a part of some Saturday morning cartoon that never actually got produced. Each of the characters are completely different, and there personality seems to jump off of each card.

The design is not only based upon the drawings either. The resources that you gather are nice chunks that have a toy box or pizza painted on one end. They fit in nicely into each player board. The player boards themselves are these chunky pieces of cardboard that has indents in them that allows for fun manipulation of all the piece that you collect throughout the course of a game. And on the back of each board is the background of each player’s best friends which though not necessary, is a still a nice detail that adds to the overall enjoyment of the game.

Basically, I don’t think that there is any game that Kyle Ferrin could not do the artwork for that I would not be drawn to, and is one of the main reasons that I like to bring this game to the table. It is a little deceiving though. These characters that look like they could have been drawn by Charles Schultz make the game appear like it could be enjoyed by a much younger age. But this just adds to the nostalgic feeling that I get when playing this game.

Rating – 10

INTERACTIVITY

The game is fun to play because of your always changing deck. This deck changes not always because of the cards that you pick up from the big deck, but because of the cards that you take from other players’ yards. It makes this fun interaction take place during the game. This gives you the ability to manipulate other people’s hands, and at times, it hurts when a friend that used to be yours shows up in somebody else’s hand, especially if that kid has a power that you desperately need.

This interaction does add a little bit of fun to a two player game, but because only one kid from your yard can be taken each turn, your hand does not change that much throughout the course of a game. In a game with more players, this interaction becomes more important. Players can gang up on another player if they see that this person is getting closer to one of the win conditions. One player could lose a lot of their cards making their hands less powerful and they would need to build up their group of friends again. It adds for some fun moments and the kids that get traded around start to get their own personalities that add to the overall story you are creating as well.

Players are also interested in what other people are doing during their turn. The shared action on the cards allow the other players to do something even when it is not their turn. It also forces you to think about which card you are going to play because there are times when other players cannot do something with that shared action, and you will want to think about whether or not this is a good time to play that kid. It just means that you are constantly thinking about what other people are doing while planning out your strategy as well.

The design of the game was put together so the various players around the table are interacting with each other, but that interaction works better on higher player counts than it does with only two players. It is still fun with two players, but I find myself wanting to play with at least three.

Rating – 9

EXPANSIONS

Leder Games is known for their expansions to their games. They know that some games can lose their edge if you play them over and over again because it feels as if you are playing a round that you have already experienced. When they design their expansions, they do it in such a way that does not just add new cards to the game, but also adds new rule sets, so the game feels just as fresh as it did the first time that you played it. I have the feeling that Leder Games has these expansions already in mind when they release their games because the original boxes seem to have spots for these expansion already in them. The game, Fort, is no exception. They have just recently released the Cats and Dogs expansion that is packaged in a nice card box that slides in nicely next to the original deck of cards.

The cards add three new ways to enjoy the game. You can play with the dogs who will always be loyal to the player who can lure them into their doghouse, or the cats who are fickle and will jump around the table to different players sometimes granting them special things, sometimes hinderances, or both at the same time. They do add some victory points for the players at the end of the game, so it is important to pay attention to them while playing the game, but the dogs have the potential of becoming a distraction for the players; whereas, the cats can sometimes be forgotten if you get to involved with what you are doing with your fort.

Still they are both fun, but if you decide to add them to your game of Fort you will want to make sure that you are first very comfortable with the game. They do throw a big enough monkey wrench into the gameplay that it can make the game unbearable if you play with them before you are ready. When you do start to add them, I would recommend playing one at a time before adding them together. I would suggest starting off with the dogs because they are more apart of the gameplay; whereas, the cats can become an afterthought, and you might forget to hand off one to another player. But once you become comfortable with them, they become the only way to play the game.

Rating – 8

OVERALL

I love playing this game, and always look for a way to bring it to the table. The theme is great enough that it will attract others to it, and the explanation of how to play is not that hard that you can teach it relatively quickly. But this is not a game for everybody. Like most of Leder Games, the learning curve of this game to make it feel like you know what you are doing takes a little time, and it might discourage some people from playing again. Still, it is the most accessible of all the games I’ve played from Leder Games, and a great gateway game to get those other games of theirs to the table more often. If you are a fan of Oath or Root, you will love this game as well. It also plays a lot quicker than those other games, making it more of a casual game to play.

Overall Rating – 4.3 stars out of 5

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