Meandering through an overly-simple deckbuilder that refuses to take risks can be as excruciating as wrestling with an overly complex one, particularly for players familiar with the genre. Fort hops over these potential pitfalls by introducing some original ideas in a charming deckbuilding game focused on providing simple but engaging player interaction.
Fort’s art design gets its wonderful feeling of childlike freedom and fun across.
Designed by Grant Rodiek as a retheme of 2018 release SPQF and published by Leder Games - the studio best known for Root - Fort is a deckbuilding game about a rabble of kids competing to see which of the local gangs can acquire the most stuff and build the best fort.
The artwork is by Root illustrator Kyle Ferrin, who moves away from the softer tones found in the sober woodland warzone to a more eccentric colour palette here. The bright, at-first garish style works to elevate Fort’s already unique theme. It’s a game about kids doing kid stuff; the cards show kids scuffed from skateboarding, careening in soapbox racers, stuffing their faces with cheese puffs and stuck together with glue in shades of paint splashes and crayon scrawls. Fort’s art design - of youngsters with Saturday morning cartoon hues and exaggerated expressions - gets its wonderful feeling of childlike freedom and fun across.
Everything in Fort, from the design of each card to the little pizza and toy box resource tokens, transports the player back to a time where their parents would unleash them to climb trees, capture frogs, build structures out of junk and get up to all sorts of mayhem. The components of the game are well made, with the laminated cards and chunky player boards having a satisfyingly kid-proof feeling to them; you can imagine laying them out for a game on the tarmac of your neighbourhood street. The overall look and feel adds to the charm and whimsy of Fort’s theme.
Fort draws you in with its endearing depictions of pasta sculptures and water-pistol fights, but its gameplay takes it beyond being whimsical and into a deckbuilding game worth paying attention to.
The components of the game are well made, you can imagine laying them out for a game on the tarmac of your neighbourhood street.
Turns move quickly in Fort with a small amount of straightforward steps to complete and actions that are easy for all players to understand. Unlike many other deckbuilders, where your entire hand of cards can be played to buy as many cards as your resources allow each turn, in Fort players play only a single card and take just one other to add to their deck. This forces players to choose the cards they take and play much more carefully, making sure each and every action counts.
Despite how uncomplicated player turns can be, the simple structure opens up a wide range of possible choices and factors to consider. Any number of elements in a single turn can change a player’s strategy, ensuring that Fort keeps things exciting throughout its satisfyingly short playtime of around 20 to 30 minutes.
The recruitment stage is easily the most exciting part of playing Fort. After their own action, the player can choose to take a card from the park - a public row of cards, similar to other deckbuilders - or from another player’s yard. Any cards not used during a player’s turn are placed in their yard, except for valuable ‘best friend’ cards placed in their discard regardless of use. Being able to acquire cards directly from other players keeps the decks small in size and cards constantly moving around the table - encouraging players to rethink any strategies that require a card they no longer have. Having a card taken from you by one player, only to see that card later appear in another’s yard, is a novelty that doesn’t wear off.
Sitting there realising that you’ve left a really excellent card in your yard is an incredibly engaging bit of player interaction.
Deciding what card to play on your turn isn’t only influenced by the actions you want to perform, but also by the cards you want to keep. Sitting there realising that you’ve left a really excellent card in your yard - and hoping that another player doesn’t take it - is an incredibly engaging bit of player interaction. Players will try to discard as many cards as they can in an attempt to protect them, sometimes even trashing certain cards from the game to prevent them from falling into the hands of other players. The recruitment mechanic forces players to consider what they’re willing to do to their own decks in order to stop their opponents from getting a leg up. In my games, this has led to a number of outbursts - including seven very stroppy minutes from yours truly because my opponent trashed a card I really wanted from their deck.
These moments of player interaction are further developed with Fort’s follow mechanic, which enables players to perform actions outside of their own turn. Cards in Fort will often show two separate actions: one public and one private. Whereas the private action can only be performed by the current player, the public action can be performed by everyone regardless of whether the active player even does it themselves. As long as a player can discard a card matching the suit of the current card in play (split into suitably kiddy items such as skateboards, glue, books and squirt-guns), they can benefit from another player’s move.
Strategies are not formed in a vacuum and players don’t stick to their side of the table. Instead, they physically reach across to take cards.
Not only does this affect the strategies of the opposing players - a few more resources or additional victory points gained in-between turns can change the outcome of the game - it can greatly influence the decisions of the current player. They might choose not to play a card just to deny the other players the opportunity to perform the public action - especially if they are only a few pizzas or toys away from upgrading their fort or filling their backpack.
The recruitment and follow mechanics don’t just encourage everyone to stay engaged throughout the game, they foster an atmosphere of deep connection among the group. Strategies are not formed in a vacuum and players don’t stick to their side of the table. Instead, they physically reach across to take cards or peer over to see if the public action listed on their opponent’s card is one that will help them.
There are a wide variety of ways to gain victory points in Fort, both turn-to-turn and during its final tot-up. As well as points, there are a number of rewards to earn from upgrading your fort using pizza and toys, in the form of made-up rules, perk cards and, ultimately, the magnificent macaroni sculpture for an extra score bonus. (Don’t get too excited - it’s just a card, not an actual pasta creation.) Made-up rules provide players with a hidden objective - such as gathering a certain type of resource - for extra points at the end of the game. Perk cards, meanwhile, offer players abilities to help them along their way, such as enabling players to take an additional card or action on their turn.
Adding a level to your fort feels like a long-term investment for the end-game, as well as having an in-the-moment benefit.
Both made-up rules and perks are taken on a first-come first-serve basis from the middle and a facedown deck, respectively. There are some perks that I found clearly better than others, such as providing a permanent upgrade to player storage versus cards that are one-use only. This might seem unfair at first, but it provides an incentive for players to upgrade their fort before their opponents to claim a valuable boost. Adding a level to your fort feels like a long-term investment for the end-game, as well as having an in-the-moment benefit.
The resources needed to upgrade a player’s fort can instead be spent to gain more victory points using card actions, pushing them further along the scoreboard. Other points grabs use suits, cards put to one side and other elements, saving on precious resources; I’ve won multiple games having only upgraded my fort two or three times.
Making the snap decision between upgrading your fort and keeping resources for card combos comes together brilliantly with the flexible ethos of Fort’s gameplay. One player might decide there’s a perk card that makes investing resources in upgrading their fort worth it. Whereas another might decide that their resources and actions are better spent elsewhere. Both of these approaches are perfectly viable; in fact, players will rarely find a single strategy and stick to it. Instead, they’re likely to hop between many different strategies, keeping players deeply engaged in the game and avoiding a fall into autopilot mode.
Fort is a game that fosters social interactions and emotions above everything else.
Fort is an excellent deckbuilding game because it’s about more than just the cards and player decks - it’s also about what your opponents are doing. It’s a game that fosters social interactions and emotions above everything else. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t reward individual thinking and clever strategy, but it’s impossible to succeed without engaging with the other players at the table.
Fort isn’t rewriting the book on deckbuilding. Instead, it’s the kind of lighthearted book filled with crayon scribbles and glue-stuck pages you could pass around to your entire family during a summer vacation, before having an animated conversation about it over dinner.
Buy Fort from Leder Games.