“Build the most awesome fort while making friends and eating pizza.” – BGG description
This month the card game Fort (Leder Games, 2020) joined my collection and the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself had a chance to try it several times during our week-long summer vacation. We enjoy the game, in no small part to the excellent marriage of theme and game mechanics.
Deck Building games are not my usual game mechanic-of-choice. Indeed, according to BoardGameGeek, I actually own only four games using the mechanic with two of them joining the collection in August 2020. I don’t consciously avoid deck builders; two others in my collection are Quarriors (Wiz Kids, 2011) and Trains (AEG, 2013). The RockyMountainNavy Boys really enjoy Quarriors (so much so they bought several expansions on their own) and Trains is usually a good time when it hits the table.
In Fort, players are the leader of a neighborhood club of kids. Your club starts with two best friends and eight other friends. The objective of the game is to ‘play’ with your friends to collect ‘stuff’ to build a fort and earn victory points.
The integration of theme and game play in Fort makes the entire play experience most fun. Every turn (day?) you start by gathering friends you didn’t play with but are in your Yard and move them to your Discard (telephone friends?) pile. Then you get to ‘play’ one friend from your Hand (your club can have as many as five friends in your hand). Each friend has two actions; a Public action and a Private action. You can do one, or both, actions as long as at least one of the actions is fully completed. You can also add other friends of the same ‘suit’ to play to increase the action. So if you play Patch (Add one Toy to Stuff for each Book) and add in Bones (both Book Suit) you get two toys. Regardless of if you played the Public or Private action, other players have the option of discarding a friend in their club/hand of the same suit and ‘following’ the Public action. Your club of friends may have been the first, but you are being mimicked by others! The actions you take will often lead to increasing the Stuff you have (Toys and Pizza) or can be used to build a bigger fort. Building a fort takes Stuff; the larger the fort the more Stuff needed. Larger forts also have more room for keeping Stuff in your Pack and more space for Look Outs (friends always available in your fort) that add cards to actions based on their suit. Sometimes that action might call for you to let a friend go because just like in real life sometimes that friend just isn’t right for you (or your game engine).
Next, you get the chance to ask new friends to join your club. Each turn you can recruit one new friend, chosen from either the Park or from another players Yard. This is the real deck-building aspect of Fort as you try to build a group of friends that power your ‘game engine’ strategy to victory.
After recruiting a new friend, you have to ‘go in’ for the day. Your Best Friends go to your Discard pile for they will never leave you except if you choose to Trash them like they moved away. Any other friends in your hand go into your Yard because you didn’t ‘play’ with them. Remember, friends in the Yard can be recruited away during other players turns! Finally, you replenish your hand from your Draw deck; these are the friends that will be with you as the other clubs execute their actions. These friends are going to be the ones allowing you to ‘follow the leader’ during other player’s turns and (hopefully) advance your scoring. End-game scoring is triggered when one player reaches Fort Level 5 or when their score passes 25 on the Victory Track.
I really enjoy the fact that the theme in Fort and game play build a natural narrative. We often find that in playing, we drop into using non-game terms for actions, like “Choose a new friend” instead of ‘recruit’ or “Send the friends you didn’t play with outside” instead of ‘discard.’ The use of toys and pizza for Stuff is brilliant. Indeed, the entire game builds upon the narrative of friends at play in a very natural way that makes playing Fort feel as if we’ve been playing it since we were little kids.
If there is a drawback to Fort, I have to say it’s grokking the iconography in your first play. It’s not hard, it just takes a bit getting used to it. Just like joining a new group of friends they already have their own ‘language’ and you need to catch up – which you will do quickly. The first play (or two) of Fort also can go on far longer than the 20-40 minute playtime on the box. That’s because all your friends are unique, and figuring out how to play with them takes a bit of time as you get to know them and see how they can help your club.
Finally, you can have fun in Fort by trying to pick which friend you are. Personally I feel like Bones. His Public Action of “Trash a card in your hand or discard pile Then Score VP times the number of Books” is like the friend who forms a study group that eventually helps you get better grades (VP?) but takes friends away from play. I can also see myself as Einstein (Public Action – Add a Pizza or Toy to your Stuff) but his Private Action (Score VP times number of Books Then Trash this card) seems a bit harsh. Then again, it sorta fits the nerd stereotype of the friend everybody wants to have in class but doesn’t really want to play with around the neighborhood (or maybe they can’t play with because he’s too busy studying).
Title quote (slightly modified!) from the movie Stand by Me.