Ethan Van Vorst
-Soviet Union suffers worst wheat harvest in 55 years.
-Labor and food riots in Poland. Soviet troops invade.
-Cuba and Nicaragua reach troop strength goals of 500,000. El Salvador and Honduras fall.
-Greens Party gains control of West German Parliament. Demands withdrawal of nuclear weapons from European soil.
-Mexico plunged into revolution
-NATO dissolves. United States stands alone.
Ok, so that's not exactly the setting for Milton-Bradley's Fortress America. In actuallity that's the opening cues for the movie Red Dawn, although the two are so close as to be largely interchangeable. It's clear that at least in some part the designers of Fortress America drew heavily from Red Dawn to establish the game's premise, and for any fan of the movie (like myself) there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The game is arranged for 2-4 players. It plays more straightforward with 2 players, however it plays more realistically with 4.
An abbreviated story for the game reveals that nuclear terrorists destroy the oil fields of the Middle East. This of course makes oil a far more valuable resource that it already is, and with nowhere near enough to continue using it at current levels the United States instead invests in a new-fangled solar powered satellite system. The energy gathered via this method cures the United States' energy ails. In addition to this the US places SDI (Star Wars) equipment onboard each of these satellites, creating an orbital defensive net which provides an umbrella over the continent, rendering nuclear warfare obsolete. The world, as a direct result, plunges into anarchy and chaos. Eventually three major coalitions of various continents band together to invade the US and "correct" the problem. The US, confident of it's laser relay defensive net, has let it's conventional forces weaken substantially to the point where it's military is a shadow of what it once was. Thus the invaders find a country with a less than nominal military, but one that can quickly gain power in a short amount of time, provided they can keep the invaders at bay long enough to get their laser relay system in place...
As gameboards go, I think the map for FA is very attractive. It displays the United States "lower 48" contiguous states, separated into 5 geographical zones; Eastern, Southern, Plains, Mountain, and Western Sectors. Thirty cities are located around the board with the largest concentration being in the Northeast. Three invasion zones are on the map, one for each Invader. To the west, coming off of the Pacific Ocean, are the landing zones for the Asian People's Alliance (yellow), from Mexico and the Gulf the Central American Federation (blue), and from the Atlantic Ocean the Euro-Socialist Pact (red). Several zones on the gameboard are marked as being of significance to Invaders; Agricultural, Mining, and Fuel icons decorate said zones. They are primarily used for scoring purposes, as well as unit placement zones for certain Partisan Cards. The board itself is trifold and very sturdy.
Photo courtesy of Wayne McCaul/BGG
The game boasts close to 350 plastic playing pieces and each side gets roughly 60 units made of a mixture of hovertanks, helicopters, infantry and other such items in their own specific color. The US receives a number of additional units called Partisans, as well as Laser Relay Towers and City pieces.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kalgreen/BGG. Image shows Central American Federation (Southern invader) pieces; 2 Infantry, 1 Bomber, and 1 Mobile Unit, as well as a number of Control Markers.
Each piece has it's own specific movement and attack value. Infantry, by far the most numerous piece each side will have at it's disposal, is very slow and weak. The Bomber, on the other hand, can move vast distances to make attacks and is very powerful, but is provided in extremely limited numbers.
The Partisan piece is unique to the US arsenal and are drawn from Partisan Cards (more on this later). They are a slightly lighter green than the standard US pieces. They are noticeably more formidable than standard Infantry and become more powerful when they are placed in a zone by themselves, as opposed to with other units.
Image courtesy of Jeremy Kalgreen/BGG. Three US Partisans and a US Hovertank unit.
Twelve dice are also included; Four D6 (red), Four D8 (white), and Four D10 (blue). Anyone familiar with standard RPG style games like AD&D will recognize these immediately.
Picture courtesy of Jeremy Kalgreen/BGG.
Grey plastic Laser Relay Towers, for US use only, are included in the game, as well as small grey plastic representations of cities. There are 30 Cities and 12 Laser Towers.
Picture courtesy of Jeremy Kalgreen/BGG.
Fortress America comes with a deck of 30 "Partisan Cards" for use by the US only. It is entirely via the use of these cards that the US receives reinforcements each turn. The cards themselves are of sturdy cardstock and depict TV text on the left describing the situational source of the reinforcemnts in question, as well as a set of instructions on where to place them. On the right is a listing of what units, and how many, are to be placed in the areas described on the left. The number and types of units to be deployed are denoted by the silhouettes on the right.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kalgreen/BGG. The Partisan Card above details that 3 Partisan Units and 1 Hovertank can be placed in a specific sector. Note the silhouettes on the right portion of the card.
The cards are beautifully done and provide the game with an incredible amount of flavor. When the card is drawn at the beginning of the US player's turn it is read aloud to the other players, setting the tone for the round and often having a direct and immediate impact.
Angry rebels band together in the Plains Sector to repel the invading hordes. Place units separately where possible. (3 Infantry, 3 Partisans)
Legions of Liberty destroy one invading unit in two different enemy-occupied USA Cities.
The NRA organizes a rebel training camp in one Rocky Mountains Sector territory (3 Partisans, 1 Hovertank)
Partisan Minutemen spring up in the Eastern Sector. Place units separately where possible. (2 Partisans, 1 Helicopter)These cards often have direct ramifications for the Invaders and can wreak havoc on them provided the timing for the card draw is right.
The board comes with a handy reference chart cardpiece, similar in fashion to those included in Axis and Allies.
Image courtesy of Emiliano Liverani/BGG.
On the reverse of this card are two "special rules" segments for the Helicopter and Bomber pieces. I found that once one knows what dice each unit attacks with, and what that unit can kill and in what order, the card typically will spend most of it's time in the box. The rules listed on the back are a handy quick-reference on how Helicopters and Bombers work, should questions arise during gameplay.
Photo courtesy of Wayne McCaul/BGG.
As a lifelong Axis and Allies player I was expecting setup for Fortress America to take a substantial amount of time. But I was extremely surprised to find that it takes a scant 15 minutes, even if the game has a novice player included.
The US places City markers on each City listed on the gameboard. The US then places two units in each city. The composition of this is not set, so the US player makes the determination as to what he/she wants their forces to be comprised of and where. The Invader players have a more typical setup, although a surprising amount of latitude is given here as well. The Invaders must start out with a set number and type of pieces; 8 Infantry, 4 Hovertanks, 3 Mobile Units, 3 Helicopters, and 2 Bombers (exactly 1/3rd of their supply). The Invader player is allowed to place these units in any composition they want in any invasion/landing zone they want, provided they do not exceed 5 pieces max per zone. This rule is key and applies to both sides and is integral to gameplay.
The game plays rather easily and surprisingly quick, which again impressed me as I'm a regular player of Axis and Allies and expected a 10 hour game. Expect the game to run between 3 and 4 hours, depending upon each player's experience with the game.
Once all players have set their pieces in place gameplay proceeds from the Western Invader (yellow) to Southern (blue) to Eastern (red) and finally to the US. The game includes several phases which help organize it for easier play.
Phase 1: Reinforcements - Invaders, after the initial turn, receive 8 pieces from their tray. They are given the final decision on what pieces to place as well as where. The Invaders receive approximately 6 turns worth of reinforcements, at which point said reinforcements run out and the Invader must make due with what they have on the board. The US player draws reinforments from the Partisan Cards listed above and must place them in the area/s specified on the card itself. Two cards are drawn by the US player by default, although if enemy controlled cities are recaptured by the US player they may draw an additional card as a reward.
Phase 2: Declare Battles - At this point the player (be they Invader or US) pronounce where they will attack and with what units. A Control Marker (very similar to the Territory Markers from A&A) has an emblem of that Invader on one side, and on the other the word "Battle". When a zone is contested the Control Marker is flipped over to the "Battle" side until the conflict is resolved. A Battle must be declared before hostilities begin or the zone cannot be attacked.
Phase 3: First Movement - Similar to the Combat Movement phase from Axis and Allies, this is where players may move their pieces into position for an attack on an adjacent enemy-controlled zone.
Restriction: Only Armor and Air units may make First Moves. Infantry and Partisans are not allowed to do this.
In essence players use First Movement to put themselves in a better position for an attack. If an Infantry or Partisan unit is already adjacent to a contested zone it may participate in the battle.
Phase 4: Fire Lasers (US only) - The US Player may fire all Laser Relay Tower weapons at enemy units of their choosing. More on this later.
Phase 5: Combat - Players do battle with each other. This is not limited to US versus Invader. Indeed, one Invader can attack another if the opportunity or need arises (and it frequently does).
Phase 6: Second Movement - Somewhat similar to the Non-Combat Movement phase from Axis & Allies, players are at this point allowed to move foot units (Infantry and Partisans) to reinforce positions recently taken, or to bolster the front or move towards it.
Phase 7: Supply Check (Invader Only) - Each Invader player must do a Supply Check at the conclusion of their turn. Essentially an Invader must trace a line of zones back to their original invasion areas, be they in Mexico or the landing beaches. If the Invader unit/s cannot do this it is "cut off" from supplies and is destroyed. Keeping supply corridors open is a big key to the game and said corridors should be kept at least moderately guarded to prevent supply cutoffs. US forces do not suffer the Supply Check penalty and can fight behind enemy lines indefinitely without worry, unless of course they're destroyed during battle.
Phase 8: Capture Territories - If the player (be they US or Invader) has successfully captured an enemy city or territory the transaction is completed at this point.
The above will initially come across a little convoluted to a novice, but after two or three rounds it will become second nature and the game will go by that much faster.
Helicopters are a particularly precious piece that is cherished by each player (although I suspect the Invader player will treasure it more than the US). Helicopters have a very unique attribute called the "Special First Movement Ability". Helicopters can move two spaces and are fully capable of landing behind enemy forces. If a helicopter does so with intent to capture an empty enemy-controlled zone it sacrifices it's entire turn and cannot participate in any combat. Provided that it passes supply check the helicopter will capture the zone at the end of the player's turn. What makes this so attractive is that helicopters can literally "pave the way" inland towards the much desired Plains sector of the US. Invaders will be able to move their forces more quickly if the land they are travelling over is already controlled by them, else they have to conquer zones one at a time, making for a time consuming game. The Helicopter is already a formidable piece in and of itself, but this special ability adds dramatically to it's value!
Photo courtesy of Ronster Zero/BGG. The image details an early turn in which the Eastern Invaders are in the process of moving units from their landing zones (denoted by the lined corridors in the ocean spaces) inland. Washington DC is one of (if not *the* most) contested zones in the game. Note the large mass of US troops just behind the front line.
Bombers are the heavy hitters of the game. The Bomber uses a D10, giving it a potential 60% chance for a successful kill, plus an additional 10% chance of making the target unit to become disengaged or retreated (more on this later). A Bomber may pick any target it wants, a luxury which the other pieces (save for the aforementioned Helicopter) do not have. Each Invader has a precious 6 of these in their supply, so they are often used sparingly. Bombers have the ability to "stack" over a contested zone. In effect the player can disregard the 5-unit maximum rule by placing as many Bombers as they desire over the battle. In this way an adjacent zone may have the maximum 5 units in it, ready for an attack. But the same player may then place as many Bombers as he/she may have over the zone, bringing the grand total to a potential 11 units making the attack on the zone, dramatically increasing one's chance of success. A Bomber may move 4 spaces, giving it far better range than any other unit in the game. Because of their strong attack power and great range ability Bombers are high priority targets for both sides to attack, so they must be guarded carefully!
Photo courtesy of Mike Fassio/BGG. The cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco have fallen to the Western and Southern Invaders. US forces are consolidating to form a defensive "wall" to prevent Invader forces from moving further inland. If only Jack Bauer had been working at CTU Los Angeles that day...
One of the first things the player will notice that seems particularly unique to Fortress America is the combat sequence system. In this case the Defender actually fires first, and then the Attacker. Naturally this gives a substantial boost to the Defender, who in this case is far more often likely to be the US. On paper and in real life this seems utterly ridiculous, but in the game it is a necessity. Without it the US would fall very quickly and the game would lose much of it's challenge.
All Defenders (be they US or Invader) will defend on a roll of 5 or better, regardless of what die they are rolling. Coupled with the ability to "disengage" an enemy unit by rolling a 1, this means that the Defender effectively has a 50/50 chance of successfully defending against an attack, even when the lower end units (Mobile Units, Infantry) are used.
As an example, let's say that the Western Invader decides that they wish to attack and take Seattle. Seattle is defended by two Infantry while the Invader is using a Helicopter, 2 Hovertanks, and 2 Infantry. The Defender (in this case the US defenders of Seattle) will roll first with 1D6 for each Infantry. Any infantry that rolls a 5 or 6 will kill an Invader Infantry unit. If they roll a 1 they force an attacking Invader unit to "disengage", meaning that piece is not allowed to participate in the attack. Not quite as good as a kill but effective nonetheless. If the Defenders kill the two Invader Infantry the Invader will have only 3 units to attack with instead of the planned 5, decreasing their chances of success!
Photo courtesy of Roy Hasson/BGG. The Western Invader has progressed deep into US held territory and is threatening Milwaukee. An Invader that has pierced this far into the US is very, very close to victory.
Individual Unit Attacks and Combined Arms
Each unit has it's own attack value and uses a specific die to reflect this. A D6 unit has lesser chance of killing an enemy unit than a D10 unit.
D6 - Infantry, Mobile Units (and sometimes Partisans)
D8 - Partisans, Hovertanks, Helicopters
D10 - Bombers, Laser Towers
Partisans are a special case. When one thinks of partisans one thing should come to mind:
Wolverines!! (I'm sorry...I had to! )
Partisans are homegrown militia and minutemen styled groups. And they work in a unique fashion. When Partisans are in a zone by themselves they attack and defend with a D8. When they are grouped with other units, including other Partisans, they use a standard D6 like any other Infantry would use. There is much to be said for keeping Partisans by themselves in zones.
This brings us to what the game refers to as "Combined Arms". This occurs if the Attacker has elements of each type of unit in it's attack force; Infantry, Armor, and Air. When this occurs the Attacker may attack on a 5 or better die roll, increasing their chances of success. Without the Combined Arms item in place, by default the Attacker hits on a 6 or better. That said it is important to keep Infantry as close to the front as possible and moving them inland quickly is imperative for the Invaders. Otherwise as the Invader reaches deeper into America's breadbasket they'll have weaker hitting power.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Sears/BGG. In this image the US is holding it's own against the Western and Southern Invaders, but is suffering terribly against the Eastern Invader (red). Washington DC and Philadelphia have fallen, and the "Reds" are poised for easy conquests of the Northeastern cities. The US needs to do something, and fast...
At the beginning of their turn the US player may place a single Laser Relay Tower on the gameboard in a friendly city. Each turn the US player makes laser strikes against Invader targets of their choosing. A D10 is used and on a score of 5 or better a hit is made. There is a single Partisan Card which allows a one time "3 or Better" hit ratio. For all other turns the US essentially has a 60% chance of destroying the enemy target. One or two Laser Relay Towers are a hindrance to the Invader, but by the time the US has acquired 6 or 7 they can become a very serious liability to them. For this reason they are very high priority targets for the Invaders. If an Invader manages to take a city with a Laser Tower in it, that Tower is destroyed. The US player may place another tower at the beginning of the next turn in a friendly city but the one that was lost is gone forever. Only the US may make use of Lasers. Lasers will often decide the winner of the game, hit or miss.
Photo courtesy of Rory Saam. Note the placement of the Laser Towers, typically well behind the front lines. The US has the potential to kill 3 enemy units when their turn comes. It may not seem like much, but it adds up!
Winning the Game
The Invader forces win if they can successfully take and hold 17 US cities in their sway by the end of any turn. At this point the winning Invader is determined by several factors:
-How many Cities they control
-How many Laser Towers they have destroyed
-How many Resource zones are in their possession
Points are allotted for each item above, and the Invader with the most points wins the game.
The US wins the game provided they can successfully keep at least 13 cities in their control and manage to destroy all Invader forces, or if the Invaders concede defeat. I cannot imagine a game going past 12 Turns unless everyone was rolling horrifically bad. The game will usually be decided by Turn 7.
For the Invader the main strategy is simple. Move hard, move fast, and get inland quickly! Because Bombers are a prime target for Laser strikes keep them in groups instead of spread out whenever possible. Bypass cities like Seattle and Dallas and push hard to the Plains Sector. And always try to keep at least some minor garrison units in cities far to the rear. Use combined arms whenever it is possible.
For the US things are slightly different. The US player will want to play a delaying game for as long as possible. Creating defensive lines in places like the Rockies will help stanch the flow of Invader troops to the largely lesser defended interior areas. Partisans are ideal for plugging holes in lines of this type. Try to keep your defensive lines two deep to prevent Invader helicopters from "hopping" behind your lines. Place Laser Towers as far from the front as is humanly possible and safeguard them when possible; they will likely be the ultimate decider of the outcome of the game. When the opportunity arises to retake an enemy controlled city, do so as it gives you an additional Partisan Card for use at the beginning of the next turn. If given a choice, it is sometimes better to kill a lowly enemy Infantry than a higher value unit if doing so prevents the enemy from using Combined Arms. Remember, the Invaders will eventually run out of reinforcements...if you can hold them back long enough you will eventually gain enough strength to do a little pushing yourself!
Photo courtesy of Emiliano Liverani/BGG. The infamous Saddam Hussein box cover. Even more disturbing (and I'm surprised by how few people see this) is the image of an eyeball-free man screaming in agony to Saddam's lower right.
This is a very fast-paced and high-adrenaline game that I'm surprised doesn't get more recognition than it does. The game plays out as a "race against time" for the Invaders, usually with the US player hanging on by their fingernails for one or more turns. It is at this point where the game is at it's most intense with players scrambling to move troops to the front as fast as they can so that they can win the game. Given that Fortress America is essentially a 3 versus 1 game it is amazing how well balanced it is when one would get the idea that it wouldn't be possible.
Photo courtesy of Kenyon Daniel/BGG. A custom made Fortress America gameboard. It is the most beautiful board I have ever seen. Where do I order?
In conclusion I am of the opinion that this is an absolutely wonderful and well made game. If one offers to play they will most certainly be able to count on me being willing to join a match. To date this is, in my humble opinion, the best Game Master game I have played. A definite must for anyone wanting a relatively quick and exciting game!
A solid gold 8.5 rating from me.