Fort Review - Great Game That's Not Really About Building Forts

Introduction 

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 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.

Final Thoughts

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 :)



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50 days ago

The more I play this game the more I like it. I actually really love the theme of, if you don't play with a friend, then someone else could invite them over to play. Which is represented by the Yard. It is far from perfect with the theme but a discord server I am a part of with over 1200 gamers is creating a Fort tournament just for fun. The player interaction with more players I think is also much better. 2 player, the game is fun but the more you have, the more choices you have for Yards etc... and following actions.

Supporter49 days ago

Woah, that's a lot of people for a game that's so new! And I'm looking forward to being able to play this with more than 2 players. I could easily see it being more fun.

Overall, I like games that make you consider multiple possibilities of what others might do, and Fort has several layers of that going on despite being a rather simple game.

50 days ago

Does you deck fell like it gets more efficient as you play or is it a case of being a constant ebb and flow the whole time with you having to maximise efficiency of what you have in that moment?

Supporter50 days ago

I'd say the latter captures the game's feel a whole lot more. It's very much a tactical game where you really need to be observant of others and that's quite rare among "purer" deck-building games.

49 days ago

Nice, I can see how that sets it apart, I do like games with something of a follow mechanic. Or games where the active player choses an action (usually with some bonus for chosing it) and everyone else get to do that action. I think it keeps everyone engaged in the game.

Supporter52 days ago

I'll probably buy it eventually since I love the small form factor and the art. The theme has grown on me since I diid like the theme of the original game better. Great write up though, so I know what to expect. For me the biggest point against this one is probably that it doesnt feel like building a fort since I really do love the theme and gameplay coming together.

Supporter51 days ago

That was the biggest bummer for me too :(

My wife and I got a pillow that says "Let's build a fort!" when we first decorated our place after getting married, and I was pretty excited by the idea of a deck-building game where you're literally building forts. The gameplay itself is really good if you want a relatively quick interactive deck-builder though. I'd be glad to play this with a group but I just wouldn't play it too often with my wife for 2p.

Supporter53 days ago

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.  I'm definitely going to have to do a bit more digging before I decide 100% I'm going to add it to my wish list.

Supporter53 days ago

For me, this game still falls under more of a "pure" deck-builder even though it's so different. And within that category, I'd probably prefer #Fort just because it's filled with opportunities to play off of others at the table and that's a rarity within the genre (and I can only imagine it being even more fun with more than 2 players.) It's not the ideal game for me because my wife and I like deck-building when it's combined with other mechanics. I did have a lot of fun playing 1v1 against Trent but when it comes to game time with my wife, we'd prefer something a little more drawn out and with a little more theme.

Supporter53 days ago

The fact that it can play at more than 2P is a huge plus for me.  A lot of deck builders don't offer that.

49 days ago

Sounds like there are lots of dissappointed folks, I just listened to a rather scathing review on one of my favorite podcasts as well

 

Supporter53 days ago

Finally got around to writing this

51 days ago

This is an interesting review Phil, I am intrigued by your expectations. It sounds like if the game was marketed differently or if it had a different theme with a similar play style you might like it more. I had heard from someone else that the fort building aspect of the game is underwhelming and that makes sense as you are just moving up a notch on that track...Do you feel like if that aspect of the game was improved you would have had a more immersive thematic experience? I am thinking rethemeing the game as a pirate game and instead of a fort track that is your progress on the map towards "x marks the spot"? Would that be something that would have impacted your experience more?

Supporter50 days ago

Hmm good question.

1. I wouldn't have liked it more if it had been marketed differently or if it had a different theme. While it would've helped me not jump to my own wild imaginations about the potential of a fort-building game, I just wouldn't have had as much interest. The reason why the "building forts" part stuck out to me in the first place was because (1) it made me think of my cartoon watching days and (2) I loved the idea of a deck-builder that would reward a feeling of progression throughout the game.

2. Would I have liked the game more if the fort level track had been different? Yes, but only to some degree. If it's just a simple visual upgrade or retheme then it really wouldn't matter all that much to me. I feel like Leder Games did a fantastic job with the retheme but I think there are some limitations when it comes to modification vs. coming up with an entirely new game. If their aim was to focus on accessibility, player interaction, and playing off the theme of being a kid and making/stealing friends, I'd say they were very successful. I think "building forts" part was always meant to be more of a shallow thematic touch and that's fine. I think my idea of a fort building game would've only added complexity into the game. For example, I'd imagine fort level ups/upgrades to unlock your choice of a part of a fort that would improve/strengthen your engine, and by the end of the game, all players would have a very different looking fort depending on their choices. 

Edit: And again, I enjoy the game. It's very different from other games in the genre and the reason I like it as much as I do (even with some of my gripes) is that it's centered on player interaction. Fun theme and art, presents difficult choices to make as you try to get into the heads of other players, and plays quickly without overstaying. If anything, I'm just a little disappointed that it probably won't be my wife and I's favorite to play together :)

49 days ago

I absolutely understand all of your points, you had high expectations and a vision in your head of what the feel of the game would be and it did not really live up to that! totally understandable! 

I think my heart behind asking about a retheme or something along those lines is based in reorienting those expectations. Say the game was never marketed as a "build your own fort" type of game and it was billed as something completely different with similar mechanics. I guess I am asking what you said in your edit...is the game itself, ouside of your expectations, a good game still even if it did not live up to what you have hoped it would be! And it sounds like you would say it is like an 8/10 when you were expecting a 10/10. Fair to say?

Supporter49 days ago

If I were to look at the game "objectively," I'd give it somewhere between 8 to 9/10. It's a fun, solid game that I'd be down to play when someone wants to. And the only reason why I don't rate it any higher is that I prefer games with more feeling of progression because they're more memorable and play out so differently with each game (e.g. #Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure, or games I haven't played like #The Quest for El Dorado)

So, while I'm over myself in terms of the game that I had wished for, I know that Fort isn't the typical game I would have gone out of my way to buy if I'm looking for a game to play with my wife (who also shares similar preferences.) If playing with more than 2p was a regular thing for me, than yes, I'd definitely get Fort. It's a wonderfully interactive deck-builder and I love games that really constrain or expand your moves based on the possibilities of what other players might do.

Hope that answers your question!

49 days ago

That is helpful! This game to me feels like a warm up game. Where you come to a friends house to play a big time game, but you pull out Fort before hand to warm up the brain. Not sure if that is good or bad but it is the vibe I am getting. 

I like the interactive nature of the game though! Big time selling point!

Supporter49 days ago

Oh for something that plays in 20-40 min, Fort is an awesome warm-up. And it has plenty of moments like

"UGHHH you're just waiting for me to play this aren't you"

"Aghhh that's the card I wanted"

"Noooo I don't have the resources to follow you" 

and that really is a big selling point for a deck-builder.

48 days ago

I love when a game has specific lines that you associate with it

49 days ago

Yaaaa that is what I like to hear! I like that tension for sure!

51 days ago

Just seeing this! I am gonna give it a good read today and I will ask any questions as they come!

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