Fortress America Board Game (2012)

From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Fortress America is a Board Game from Fantasy Flight Games.

fortamericaFew games bring about more emotional reaction than Fortress America, in my experience.  It has come to epitomize the American style of board game.  You either love it or you hate it.  There are very few who are in-between those extremes about this game.  This game has a lot of history for me and for others in the gaming community.  And that history has brought out these reactions.  I own and have played the original for years and have thoroughly enjoyed it, so my history with it is already fairly positive.

Originally part of Milton Bradley’s Gamemaster series that included Axis & Allies, Samurai Swords, Conquest of the Empire and others, it fell into obscurity for years after, while the other games in its line saw new life being republished by other publishers.  A game of it’s time, it is a throw back to the old Cold War paranoia that those my age knew and loved.  Thanks to Fantasy Flight Games and Wizards of the Coast, no longer does Fortress America lie in the shadows of our memory as a game we once played.  It has been resurrected!

From the inside cover of the rulebook:
“One Nation, Under Siege”

For those that did not live in the “dark times” us old folks called the Cold War, Fortress America was born of an idea that America may one day be invaded by its enemies.  Many likened it to the classic 80s movie, Red Dawn and in many ways it is very similar in theme.  But unlike the recent remake of Red Dawn, this remake of a game is as good if not better than the original.

The concept behind the game is simple.  If back-story to your game is important, here it is in a nutshell. America is being invaded by three fronts – east coast by the European Socialists,  the south by the Central American Federation and the west coast by the Asian alliance. (For some reason, Canada stays out of this one)  Why invade America, you ask?  Well, apparently the world is a little angry that the US built the equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s SDI plan with lasers in orbit to shoot down missiles and they thought it best to just invade us.  For those that remember the original back-story, there are some subtle differences to modernize the storyline, but in general that’s the basic sense.  Quite a few people are up in arms over the tone of the rewritten background, however.  They are upset mostly because it sort of makes the US seem like the bad guy more than the old one. But we are here to play a board game and not a role playing game.  Leave the drama at your RPG table.

There are several units in the game and Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) has done very well with the plastic units.  I have always loved the way FFG does their plastic pieces for their games.  In this game, there are Infantry, Tanks, Mobile Units, Helicopters and Bombers.  The US also has Partisans as well as Laser Units.  On the surface, because of the extra units, it looks like the US has all the advantages but in truth there is balance if the invaders work together and play their cards right, figuratively.

NOTE:  Some Assembly Required.  The Laser units and the helicopters require some snapping together in the new version of the game.

Invaders takes their turns first so the US gets to take the beatings first.  Each round, the US gets two things – a Laser unit and at least one Partisan card (more if he takes back cities).  These are the US’s version of re-enforcements while the Invaders get a fixed number of units each round until they run out.  The object of the game is for the Invaders to take 18 of the 30 cities and the US to keep that from happening.  The invaders have a limited time to get reinforcements so they have to accomplish thst in those turns or the US can go on the offensive.

Mechanically, the advantage goes to the defender, which in most cases is the US.  Unless things are going really really well for the US, nine times out of ten the US is the defender.  The defending units fire first and the attacking kills do not get a chance to fire back.  That is a huge factor in the game.  Couple that with the unit limit in each territory and the attacking player has to think about his attacks before committing.

The Lasers are the most dreaded thing if you are an invader.  There is no defending against them, and in certain circumstances they nearly can’t miss.  If you are the US, these little helpers can not come soon enough and you have to keep your cities in order to place them.

From the inside cover of the rulebook:
“Every army dreads fighting a war on two fronts – the United States is about to face three.  Will Fortress America survive?”

Fantasy Flight Games can’t remake a game without adding a little something to it, and I have enjoyed their additions every time they have.  First, they gave a nod to the fans of the game who made house rules and actually gave a function to the Mobile Units other than canon fodder.  They can move units as well.

They also added a few aesthetics that help in play, including the US Turn Track and the Capture City Track.  There are some minor adjustments they made on the map as well.   As I said before, the minis are much nicer and much more detailed.

One interesting change that I like, even though there is a downside to it, is the custom dice.  The shape of the dice is the same.  There are  6-, 8-, and 10 sided dice. However, in the case of the 6- and 8-sided dice, instead of numbers, they have symbols on the dice representing hits, misses and retreat/disengage.  They left the 10 side alone because laser hits can be varied depending on a card in the Partisan deck.  I am not a  big fan of that because when you lose them, you have to go to the manufacturer and get new ones but with a little thought, standard dice can be used in a pinch.

Fantasy Flight also added new optional variant rules to make things more interesting.  The most notable one is the Invader card option.   With these, the Invader player can forgo a number of re-enforcements in exchange for a card, which gives him certain other advantages.  However, these cards might have requirements on them.  For example the Marching from the South card requires one mineral territory, one agricultural territory and 2 oil territories. Each Invader has 8 cards available to them.  Most notable of these cards are the Footholds.  The cards allow the Invaders to move up their invasion zones deeper into enemy territory by establishing certain cities as footholds.  From America’s point of view that is bad enough but what is worse is that one particular foothold is a permanent one – once San Antonio is placed, there is no taking it back.

What they changed is as good as what they did not change.  The basic mechanic and flow of the game is unchanged.  The heart of the game is unchanged.  It is still the fun war game I remember from the late 80s.

In conclusion, the Fantasy Flight Games version of Fortress America is a brilliant update of a classic board game.  As a game, it is a plain and simple war game where the dice are as much a factor in deciding your fate as your strategy.  There is always the strange and unique case where a single Infantry unit holds a city from an insurmountable force.  It is rare but I have had it happen and that one-turn delay in the Invaders’ plans can really help the US player survive. It is semi-cooperative for the Invaders and the American player stands alone.

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their board game “Fortress America” check them out at their website, and at all of your local game stores.

Product Summary

Fortress America
From: Fantasy Flight Games (licensed through Wizards of the Coast)
Type of Game: Board Game
Game Design by: Michael Gray, Kevin Wilson
Cover Art by: Scott Schomburg
Additional Art by: Ben Zweifel, Jason Beaudoin (miniature design)
Number of Pages: 24 page rulebook
Game Components Included: game board, reference sheets, various other sheets, various counters, dice and plastic figures
Retail Price: $ 79.95 (US)
Number of Players: 4
Player Ages: 14+
Play Time: 1 to 2 houras
Item Number: VA83
IBSN: 978-1-61661-398-3

Reviewed by: Ron McClung