Genre: Deck-Building Card Game
Player Count: 2-4
Play Count as of Review: 7
- Fort is a game where players are children trying to build a fort (among other actions). It can be classified as a deckbuilder as it fits some of the similar traits held by other games under that genre: cycling cards, public market, constant shuffling, etc. It does however have some interesting wrinkles that make it stand apart from its contemporaries (more on that below). Fort does have a thick board with an inlay (which is very high quality) and that board is there to track your progress, hold your resources and provide you an overview of how a round progresses. I really appreciated the board as it made it easy to see exactly how yourself and your opponents were faring in the game. It kept your pieces centralized and provided iconography to keep the game organized (such as where to place cards during certain phases). I have gotten more into deckbuilders recently and one of my biggest gripes is keeping track of where my opponents are at in relation to myself. Fort provides all the information easily for our viewing pleasure.
- Fort differs from other common deckbuilders by allowing players the opportunity to play up to all their cards in their hand as a bonus for one central card. When playing the same icon, it has the possibility of working as a multiplier that can really strengthen a cards value and produce some incredibly strong combos. This isn’t a game where players build an engine; it’s a game where players are perfecting suit management.
- In my opinion, Fort looks great. Art is subjective but Fort stands out compared to its contemporaries in my opinion. The artwork is colorful and flavorful and provides each character with a little substance behind each illustration. The best friends have their own backstories to add some flare to the game as well. The cards use icons that send many of us down the nostalgia road with images of skateboards and supersoakers (and more!). Unfortunately, I feel like the theme doesn’t resonate much beyond the illustrations. I never feel like I am building an actual fort or that the fort I am building does anything. I know the fort grants benefits as you level it up but I fail to see the correlation that was fort building when I was a kid and what happens in the game. I also don’t see how stuffing a pizza into my backpack will help me build a fort. There are mentions of pizza and toys but after a few rounds, they just became orange and blue cubes. These may sound like nitpicky gripes but I really enjoy the worlds that board games can immerse ourselves in and Fort felt very surface level in its implementation.
- Don’t let the cutesy artwork and kid-friendly theme fool you however; this is not a family game like Kingdomino or Sorry!. Fort has a medium complexity to it that may make understanding the rules, concepts and flow of the game difficult for inexperienced or younger players. There is a lot of iconography (which is explained in a wonderful reference page seen below) but it could be daunting for new players faced with cards that have their own unique hieroglyphics plastered everywhere. This isn’t to say that learning and enjoying this game is insurmountable but a prospective player may be wooed by the cute artwork and not realize they are in for a midweight experience. Speaking of the iconography, I never felt comfortable understanding the different images even after multiple plays. I was always cross-referencing and double-checking the reference guide. The iconography never felt intuitive to myself and I am no stranger to complex or icon-heavy games.
- Speaking of fort building, I believe that Fort suffers from an issue where the player that levels their fort up first will definitely be on the inside track to complete their fort first (and thus end the game and possibly win the game). This makes sense; a player that has moved up a track before other players should complete their fort first. Unfortunately, being one step behind another player typically leads to a hole that a player cannot dig themselves out of. Building the fort seems to be the best path to victory due to the amount of points a player receives for completing their fort. Yes, like other deckbuilders, Fort provides players the opportunity to score points in multiple ways but they are far more situational and need to not only be collected over multiple rounds but also appear in your deck at the same time (for best utilization). Rushing the creation of the fort is straightforward and an easier strategy for players to cling onto when first introduced to the game. Even after multiple plays, it still felt like this was the best course of action for me even when I tried to go down other paths. I do play with a competitive group so it makes sense that they would stifle my plans but it honestly felt like building the fort up was the only strategy that was ‘safe’; especially when you could play the card and ensure your opponent(s) would not get to benefit off the public action.
- It feels like Fort throws players into the midgame and they never leave. Whereas many deckbuilders have players start with weak cards that they try to jettison over the course of the game so that they can eventually utilize expensive high powered cards, Fort stays comfortably in that midgame range that players familiar with deckbuilders will know as the phase before they start really firing their engine off. Players can make powerful combos by playing multiple cards but there are not cards that players are gunning for each time they play due to their power. Players will grab what is best for them and their hand (typically) instead of maneuvering for something of ‘high value’. This is great in my opinion as players do not need to spend rounds removing dud cards from their deck (but they can) or having turns where they can do little to nothing of substance but I can also see it frustrating players that are used to targeting that incredibly powerful card(s) as they try to complete an engine that isn’t necessarily being built. Knowing that it is the combos and not an individual card that is the key to the game should help alleviate that issue.
- Fort features interaction by allowing opponents the opportunity to take an unused card from your play area instead of just the public market. This small wrinkle adds a depth of strategy to each turn as players will be tasked with answering the question of ‘do I take this card that is much more beneficial to me but doesn’t impact my opponent negatively at all OR do I take this other card that is only slightly helpful to me but does negatively impact my opponent’? Each player turn you’ll be faced with that decision and after a few turns where you have seen your opponents deck(s), you’ll know exactly what will hurt them the most. Due to the interaction, I found Fort to be less of a deckbuilder and more of a tactical game of responding to what your opponent(s) is doing. Players will spend more time optimizing and maintaining their deck as opposed to the traditional ‘building’ of a deck. However, that interaction is also entirely on the players to monitor. If left unchecked, a rival player could create an elite combo that propels them to victory very quickly. Players need to not just be aware of what their opponent has done this turn but also what they have done the previous rounds as well to put themselves in a successful position. I did not find that we ever built large decks so while keeping track of potentially four players decks seems like a lot, you’re more than likely seeing the same fifteen cards over and over again.
- Fort offers variability in that the scoring objectives and bonuses each game are unique. The scoring objectives are chosen by the player from the stack of objectives based on leveling up your fort. Game bonuses (that typically alter a rule/action in the game to the players benefit) are randomized for each game so it is rare to see the game bonuses in back to back sessions. That being said, it felt like players gravitated toward the same hidden scoring objectives each game and when they did branch out, it was not as beneficial as they wished. Some of the scoring objectives felt more aligned with a higher player count than a lower one as well (such as only building to a level two fort). I feel like it looks like their is a variety of different options for players but in reality, the same options tend to be chosen over and over again.
- I found the actual gameplay of Fort slightly disjointed. In a handful of two-player games, our hand sizes never grew to any sizeable amount and with a discard pile, a yard pile, a draw pile and the cards in your hand, it felt like we were constantly shuffling our cards. Our highest hand count at the end of a game was nineteen cards. With five in your hand, a possible four in the yard and the remaining in the discard or draw piles, the decks were small. This proved troublesome as you can play off other players turns to perform their public action (as long as you can match the icon). Maybe I feel spoiled thanks to the deckbuilding apps that I have been playing but the constant shuffling was a consistent criticism each time we played. It hurt our ability to plan ahead for our turns as we played a card on an off-turn only to have to reshuffle, draw a new card and then figure out what our optimal course of action was, which meant not only surveying our needs but also what our opponents had just done. This bogged down the game and made what should have been a ten to twenty minute game a thirty to fifty minute game (with added time depending on the player count). Once we start getting closer to the hour mark, I personally would rather be playing a heavier game or a game that I have more fun with. Fort felt like a game we should be able to breeze through (we can play a two-player Azul in ten minutes) but Fort just never clicked for us. I am certain with even more plays, we would get comfortable and get to a place where games are short but I do not feel like Fort provided me with the enjoyment I would want to learn it so well to be able to play so quickly.
- Fort is a good game. There is a similar yet different strategy with each game you play and the different player counts change the game enough for players to make the experiences different (thanks to the interaction). It feels like an anti-deckbuilder with the actions and for that reason, it will either draw players in or alienate those that do not appreciate the change in formula. Fort was not for me but I can appreciate what it offers. Would I turn it down if someone wanted to play it? Probably not. Would I pick this as a game for game night? Nope.