Fort – Review
I bought Fort with my own money.
Ah the halcyon days of youth. When summers stretched into infinity, winters brought promise of presents, and the world seemed full of promise and hope. Promise is what Fort from Leder Games gives its players. The promise of a perfect turn, the hope that other players will not see your design.
Designed by Grant Rodiek, with art by Kyle Ferrin, Fort is a reimplementation of Grant Rodiek’s SPQF. SPQF is a game of civilisation that in this version has been stripped back to that microcosm of our culture. The playground. Well more precisely Yards and Playparks giving it a distinctly US vibe.
The first thing that will strike you when you crack open Fort is that it is just a fantastic production. Small box, high quality cards, evocative art, and player aids that make playing the game a breeze. The currency of the game, pizza and toys, are lovely hexagonal pieces that slot into these recessed player boards in a satisfying way. A turn order and icon summary card for each player means that once you’ve learned the basics of the game, you’ll find yourself concentrating on the strategy of the game, not the mechanisms that get you there.
At the core of Fort is a deck of friends. Either by draft or random deal you’ll start off with a deck of 10 kids. 2 of these are your best friends and you’ll never get rid of them. Will you? Well, we will come to that.
Every turn you will play with your friends. Well one of them at least. From your hand you’ll play a single card, perhaps boosting it with cards of the same suit. For you that card will have 2 possible actions on it with the ability to do both should you so wish. The other players will look on with wanting at that private action. All is not lost for them as the public action on the card can be used by them for the cost of a single card of the same suit.
Our playtime at an end, the kids we didn’t involve in our hand hang around the yard, looking to see if they can get some better fun with one of the other players. You in the meantime look to the yards round about and the park in the middle of the table to see if you can’t get yourself some better friends.
Except your best friends of course. Best friends will always hang around, getting discarded straight to your discarded pile rather than hanging around the yard. Everyone starts with two best friends and those cards give you fundamental actions you need. They will build your Fort, get resources, and permanently remove cards from your deck. Sometimes best friends aren’t that anymore and over the course of the game you may find yourself getting rid of them for more useful cards. That this feels like a genuine loss is a testament to the game’s setting coming through.
The core of the game has a rhythm of gain and loss. Every turn you must gain a card from another player’s yard or the central park area. On every other player’s turn you must grit your teeth as they pass their eyes over the cards you haven’t used, deciding which ones to take. What you choose to play each turn becomes an excruciating choice of balancing action now with your overall game plan being eroded away in ways you can’t fully predict.
In allowing other players to snatch your unused cards, Fort does something I haven’t seen in other deckbuilders: it involves you in how everyone’s deck is built. I have often found in pure deckbuilders there isn’t a lot of chance to interfere with other people’s deck choices after they are made. Fort changes that completely. It hands you the ability to stop combos in their tracks, to rip the foundations out from under a carefully built engine, to cause chaos. It gives you permission to be childish.
Those engines themselves are satisfying but tricky to build. Sure you can rely on one or two cards, but keeping your deck small enough to do that is extremely tricky when you have to take on more ballast every turn. In forcing you to take on cards, the game puts you in a place where the most efficient play isn’t necessarily the one you want to take. Each card taken, every card played, asks what you’ll leave behind to accomplish your goal.
I’m a big deckbuilding fan, and Fort is my favourite at the moment. Leder have a design and production philosophy I greatly admire. Leder make difficult games approachable with beautiful art, excellent player aids, and a wonderful production. Fort is a game that gives you difficult, but understandable choices every turn and makes every play feel satisfying. It’s a game that wants you to play it, and I thoroughly urge you to do so.