When Leder Games announced they are working with designer Grant Rodiek to retheme his game SPQF, I was absolutely excited. Why?
Leder Games is one of my favorite publishers. It's funny to say that, actually, because they have a small catalog of games but Root resonated with me like no other
My wife and I had yet to own a deck-building game
I had always wished for a deck-building game with more theme and player interaction. So I was thrilled to hear Leder Games marketing Fort as a deck-building game about kids building forts and making friends (more on this later.) Plus, the game would allow plenty of opportunities for players to play off of one another's turns.
After about 5 plays in, here are my impressions:
Affordable game that doesn't feel cheap.
Fort comes in a small box (camels from Camel Up 2nd Edition and a piece from Flick'em Up! for sense of scale.) If you own Just One or if you've seen the box from one of your obligatory Target visits to the board game aisle, they're very similar in size. There isn't anything particularly wow-worthy in terms of production but the thick dual-layered player boards add a nice touch of quality to the game. And similar to Root, this game also uses screen-printed wooden bits to add some personality. The box is light and compact and it's satisfying to carry it around because there's so much game potential.
Art is exactly what you'd expect from Kyle Ferrin.
If you're someone whose love for Leder Games is 50% (or more?) motivated by Kyle's art, you'll no doubt like Fort's overall aesthetic. The art oozes with personality and whereas great art in some games can feel flat and shallow (due to a strong disconnect between theme and mechanics), the art in Fort creates an air of lighthearted fun of being a kid. Actually, a nice "mini game" for Fort is relating each kid to a person you know in real life. For example... I immediately thought of @trentellingsen when I saw the character on the yellow player board!
Before we get into more details, here's a quick overview.
Your turns are pretty simple where the main action is playing a kid card from your hand and taking the available actions. The top action is public and available for others to "follow" (copy) the Leader (you) by discarding a card of matching suit, while the bottom action is private. There will be combos where you can augment your card action by adding cards of matching suit, generate tons of points by playing a card that combos off of the amount of pizza and toys you've stored away in your Stuff or your Pack, or comboing off of all of the kid cards you've tucked under the Lookout section of the player board. Then, you end your turn by recruiting (stealing) a friend from another player's Yard or from the common area. Lastly, you discard the remaining cards from your hand. A Best Friend card will stay with you and go to your discard pile, while all other cards will go to your Yard and will be available to be snatched away by others.
So, does Fort deliver on deck-building combo satisfaction? Yes—but it's different.
The thing about deck-building games is that the game grows with you. Whereas some games can feel "figured out" after the first play, Fort is a game that I liked more with each session. My first play felt unsatisfying because I was super inefficient in the way I approached everything. Then on my second, it started to click together. And then by the third, I was stuffing my Stuff and my Pack with tons of pizza and toys much earlier in the game. The great part is that I still have more to learn and have to try incorporating other card powers into my strategy.
So yes, Fort delivers on the kind of deck-building magic that really makes you feel smart when you pull off something amazing at just the right moment. It's certainly different from other traditional deck-builders though, and here's why:
Limited hand size - Most deck-builders such as Dominion give you cards that allow you to draw more cards. This usually results in everyone at the table watching an orchestra of combos by one player that never seems to end. In Fort, you draw 5 cards at the end of your turn and if you choose to follow other players' actions, you'll only have the remaining cards to play in your turn.
Emphasis on player interaction - Continuing from the first point, Fort is not about pulling off private buffet of combos you'd see in traditional deck-builders. You need to learn the interplay of when to save your cards for your turn, following others to squeeze in extra actions that will push your engine forward, and also playing the cards at the right moment so that other players won't be able to follow you.
You can't get too attached to your cards - Friendship aside from your Best Friend is shaky at best in Fort and any cards you choose not to play may end up hopping along to another player's Yard. Or worse, other players could simply take them out of the entire game through an action.
In summary, you won't find a highly tailored deck in Fort compared to most other games in the same genre. But, it's a worthy tradeoff that introduces a host of new opportunities in experience.
Was Fort the perfect deck-builder I was looking for? No, and here are two reasons why.
This is where my personal preferences come in.
#1 - Lack of a "story arc"
I adore games that reward a sense of progression, and I'm not just talking about having an actual narrative you can follow. For other games around similar complexity as Fort, I think of deck-building games such as Friday where Robinson grows from an unlikely survivor to an intellectual with enough battle strength to fight the island's toughest hazards and two pirate ships. I also think of other engine-building games such as Lions of Lydia (a bag management game), and the feeling of reward once your bag is filled with powerful Lydian (gold) merchants. I personally couldn't find that kind of major highlight when playing Fort, despite all of its satisfying mechanics centered on interaction with other players.
#2 - The game doesn't make you feel like you're building a fort
To be honest, when I first heard Leder Games call this a deck-building game about making friends and building forts, I immediately thought about Codename: Kids Next Door. It's an animated TV series I used to watch back in middle school, which featured a band of kids with a high-tech treehouse. My wild imaginations conjured up thoughts of how deck-building would collide with having players build some crazy contraptions for a fort, and well... I was disappointed! And while that was more of a case of having the wrong expectations, "building a fort" part of the game's theme does feel rather shallow.
It may not sound like it but I really do like Fort. I don't think it'll become one of my wife and I's favorites, but I'd love to try it out with 3 players once all the craziness in the world is over.
Here's Trent's review of Fort:
Here's our playthrough video:
Here's another playthrough video but with a chess clock :)