There’s a new kid on the block at Leder Games, and that kid is Fort — a uniquely themed deck-building game for 2-4 players designed by Grant Rodiek and developed by Nick Brachmann that features Kyle Ferrin’s signature artwork (Root, Vast, Oath) so perfectly tailored to the theme.
I originally shared my excitement for Fort in a March 2020 post after playing it at GAMA Expo. Now that I have a copy of the beautiful finished product, thanks to Leder Games, I wanted to share more details about Fort for anyone who might be curious about it.
In Fort, players are kids trying to grow their circle of friends, snag some toys and pizza, and build the best fort. Like most games, the goal is to have the most victory points, and in Fort, there are lots of different ways to score VPs, with those ways varying each game you play.
The gameplay of Fort is driven by a deck of 60 kid cards that players use to take actions throughout the game. Each kid card has a name, one of seven suits (including a wild), some adorably fun artwork, and (for the most part) a public and/or private action, which is how players will take actions.
At the beginning of each game, each player starts with two “Best Friend” kid cards and eight regular kid cards that together form your initial circle of friends, a.k.a. your starter deck. Each player takes a turn consisting of five phases in clockwise order until the game end is triggered.
Each turn starts with a clean-up phase, then the leader (active player) plays a kid card from their hand to perform a public and/or private action, in most cases adding supporting cards matching the suit to modify their action(s). Looking at the example kid card to the left (Kitty), the public action at the top of the card allows you to add a toy to your stuff (i.e., the personal supply on your player board) for every glue icon played, and the private action at the bottom allows you can pay a toy to gain a victory point, again for every glue icon played.
While some actions simply allow you to collect resources, others allow you to put resources into your backpack (to provide more storage space), add cards to your lookout to be used as permanent modifiers, trash cards, score VPs, and perhaps most importantly allow you to build your fort.
To build your fort, you need to spend the specified resources to increase your fort level. Building your fort not only generates victory points at the end of the game, but is also a bit of a competitive race. The sooner you level up your fort, the more options you have when it comes to choosing cards that provide perks (special abilities) and made-up rules (secret endgame scoring objectives). Completing your fort is also one of the triggers for the end of the game.
After the leader decides on an action card, their rivals (opponents) have the opportunity to “follow” the leader’s public action by discarding a card matching the suit, so yes, there’s a bit of “follow the leader” as you might expect in a kids-themed game, coincidentally published by “Leder” Games. I see what they did there.
As the leader, you stingily try to play an action card that you’re hoping your rivals can’t follow so they don’t reap any benefits on your turn. Sometimes having players follow is unavoidable, especially at higher player counts, but also because you have other things to consider when deciding which card to play for your action, but I’ll get into that later.
Next you recruit a new kid into your circle by taking a kid card from the park (public card market), from the park deck, or savagely, from your rivals’ yard (tableau). When you take a card from your rival, you’re thematically stealing one of their friends, but you’re actually taking a card from their deck. Let’s face it — they probably deserved it since they were not playing with them. There’s nothing like taking a kid card from your rival’s yard and hearing them groan a bit because it was a good card they did not want to lose, but it certainly goes both ways, so you’ll be groaning on occasion, too.
With these options for adding cards to your deck, you have just enough flexibility for strategically shaping your deck and will hopefully be able to set up juicy combos for future turns. Even when your best option is grabbing a kid card blindly from the park deck, and you don’t fish your wish, it’s not the end of the world. Every card has its benefits since it can be used to take or follow an action, can be placed in your lookout as a permanent modifier, or can even be trashed if it’s cluttering up your deck down the line.
Now’s a good time to mention that several cards give you the option to trash cards from your hand or discard pile. I like to think of it as refining your circle of friends versus the sadder reality of permanently ditching the ones who aren’t gelling well with others. Again, this gives you more flexibility for optimizing your deck. Some actions even allow you to gain resources for each card you trash, or on the defensive/”take that” side, some that let you discard cards from your rival’s yard!
Whichever cards in your hand that you did not play for your action, with the exception of your Best Friend kid cards, now have to go into your yard to potentially be stolen by your rivals. I’m sure many games have heard of hate-drafting; well in Fort, be prepared for some “hate-recruiting”. Your rivals may recruit one of your stronger cards from your yard just to prevent you from using it.
This is why I mentioned you have a few things to consider when picking your action card. Since kid cards not used for your action will be placed in your yard and can be stolen by rivals, you have to think carefully when deciding which action card to play. You want to consider what you want and need most personally, but then also what your opponents hopefully won’t be able to follow, while also trying to avoid putting juicy cards in your yard to potentially be snatched by friend-hungry rivals.
When it’s not your turn, following your opponents can help mitigate some of this potential loss. Not only can you get a resource or limited action when it’s not your turn, but you can discard cards that you’re not planning to use for your next action and avoid them going into your yard.
The game end is triggered when a player has at least 25 victory points on the victory track, any player reaches fort level 5, or the park deck is empty. You finish the round so that everyone gets the same number of turns, then proceed with endgame scoring. My games have been running about 45-60 minutes, but I think you could get it down to 20-30 minutes depending on how well players know the game and how quickly they make decisions.
After you’ve familiarized yourself with the rules and played a game or two, I strongly recommend the advanced set-up variant of drafting your starting kid cards. Not only does this reduce the randomness of your starting deck, but it also preloads your deck with potentially potent combos. If you have a deck focused on a couple of select suits, odds are you’ll draw more hands that have more matching suits which will allow you to take more powerful actions — but if you don’t vary it up enough, you run the risk of missing out on some sweet following opportunities. It’s tricky to find the right balance, but this is part of the challenge and fun of playing Fort, in my opinion.
Fort is definitely not your average deck-builder; it’s combotastic at its roots and features refreshing player interaction, significantly more so than most deck-builders I’ve played. Fort began as a reimplementation of Rodiek’s 2018 hidden gem, SPQF, and has since been transformed into a streamlined, accessible, mainstream hit in-the-making as a result of Rodiek and Leder Games teaming up together. SPQF‘s ancient civilization-building theme never bothered me because the game mechanisms were fun and interesting, but the re-skin to Fort 100% clicks and seems like it was always meant to be.
Fort stands out to me because the theme is incredibly well-integrated with the mechanisms. I don’t feel like I’m a kid building a fort when I play, but everything from the card suits (squirt gun, skateboard, glue, book etc.) to the resources (toys and pizza) to the fact that your friends might leave you if you don’t play with them, combined with the playful, amusing artwork and kid-centric verbiage on made-up rules and perks cards, makes the design feel tight thematically. Every bit of detail poured into the production of this game to reinforce the theme is very well executed and, from my experience, lends itself to many laughs and smiles at the table, no matter how competitively everyone is playing. It’s not uncommon to hear funny offerings such as, “Toys for glue?…Does anyone want toys for glue?”
Because of theme and the fact that it’s fairly easy to learn, I think Fort will go over well with gamers and non-gamers alike. The theme also makes the game feel light and playful, but it’s meaty enough for heavier gamers, too, since it offers plenty of interesting decisions when building and refining your deck. While there are a lot of icons to familiarize yourself with, the iconography is well done, and between the excellent, helpful player aids and player boards, you will rarely need to reference the rulebook once you’ve learned the game.
For me, Fort will probably most often be played as a filler game in between longer games, or as something on the lighter end of the spectrum for ending the night — but you never know as I could also see myself playing back-to-back games and turning it into a Fort–
Whether you’re a fan of deck-builders, curious to try one, or even just dig uniquely-themed games, Fort is worth checking out. I can only hope that if ever an expansion appears, we’ll see the Fort deluxe edition packaged in a lunchbox…
Credit: Fort: Mastering the Art of Making Friends…or Stealing Them From Your Rivals | BoardGameGeek News