Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Retro board game - Fortress America

Published by Milton Bradley in 1986 using a design by Michael Gray, Fortress America is a kitschy thematic wargame that covers the invasion of the U.S.A by socialist armies from Asia, South America and Europe. Only the northern map edge remains safely neutral as Canada refrains from entering the general US-bashing.

All invaders have identical order of battle but choose reinforcement order after turn 1

While outnumbered and attacked from nearly every direction the U.S. forces have the advantage of partisans and other reinforcements through event cards as well as solar-powered lasers that gradually come into play. The invaders hold the initial advantage and must advance quickly to defeat the U.S.A. before lasers can weaken their forces.

However, if the U.S. is defeated then individual victory goes to the invader that has captured the most cities (10 victory points), lasers (5 VP) and resource territories (3 VP). This can lead to rivalry and open warfare between invaders.

It had been at least 15 years since I played the game and I remembered it as being fairly good fun for 4 players, with the U.S. player relying on a strategy of trading space for time while trying to get the invaders to fight each other.

The invaders must grab cities to defeat the U.S. and also want to take out lasers as quickly as possibly (they are built in cities only), with resource territories a distant tertiary objective. They must also consider supply lines and the risk of partisans appearing as well as the possibility of another invader striking at them.

U.S. forces are spread thin as the invasion begins - no partisans or lasers are in play
Recently I had the opportunity to play it again, although only with 3 players (necessitating that one player take on the role of both Asian and European invader). The game turned out to last very long, turning into an unusual protracted battle with huge swings in the number of controlled cities. The invaders regularly pushed the U.S. into loss territory, but could not hold against counter attacks and the game only ends if the U.S. holds less than 13 cities at the end of their turn.

After it finally ended with a victory for the invaders we talked about the high points of the game, the mistakes, the strategy and so on. A couple of points that stood out:

  • The use of dice from D6 through D10 but keeping the target number to destroy an enemy unit constant (always 5 or 6 depending on terrain) is really efficient for quick combat resolution. It avoids addition and subtraction, consisting instead of a fast sort that all players can do easily.
  • The combination of combined arms to overcome terrain penalties and the targeting system makes for interesting battles with calculated risk taking.
  • The supply rules rarely seem to come into play, partially due to map scale and layout and partially because of the balance of forces. However, when out of supply does occur it can change the board immensely.
  • It is unclear if the deck of cards can be reshuffled and used again. We played it as 'when you run out, you get no more reinforcements'. This puts a constraint on U.S. forces (60 + the card effects) similar to the invader limit (60 each). In a long game this means a battle of attrition can be won by the invaders if they can destroy lasers quickly enough.
  • The rules are written quite verbosely, but are clear and don't seem to suffer from any obvious exploits or other issues.
Few U.S. cities remain but partisans fight back and threaten invader supply lines

One thing that all players agreed on was that it was actually excellent fun and if the game hadn't taken so long I expect we might have had a re-match immediately. I've re-rated the game an 8 out of 10 on Boardgamegeek after this play, previously I had it down as a more average 6 out of 10.

I think the game is getting a re-release sometime in 2012. It might well be worth checking it out, do not mistake it for a R.I.S.K. type game - this is good fun with quick game play and does not devolve into 'biggest stack' type strategy.

U.S. forces are reduced to mostly isolated bands of partisans

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