Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fortress America

Fortress America is one of my most favorite games ever. It was the next-to-last game produced as part of Milton Bradley's Gamemaster Series in the mid '80s, and is set in an alternate early 21st century where the Soviet Union never fell, and in fact it has conquered all of Europe and the Middle-East, and has influenced successful rebellions such that most of Asia as well as Central and South America band together and join in it a massive invasion of the United States.

The game itself is a fairly light-complexity wargame for two to four players. One player will always play the United States, while the other players handle the invaders. If there is only one invader player, he plays all three invading groups. With three players, one player handles the west and east coast invaders, while another handles the southern invaders. With four players, each power is handled by a separate player.

One of my favorite aspects of this game is the fact that each power group plays differently. While there are definitely similarities to the invaders, the invasion areas for each are different enough that you can't just use the same strategy no matter which group you are playing and expect to win. The western invaders have five American cities to capture right near the coast, but then you have to push inland pretty quickly. The southern invader has to decide if he wants to push straight up or cut to the right, while the eastern invader has to decide if he wants to push more towards the weak southern area or try to push harder into the extremely lucrative by heavily defended NE corridor. And, when playing with more than two players, the invaders can actually come to blows among themselves, as if the invaders win an individual winner is chosen based on how many points they have. Points are earned by capturing American cities, as well as territories with resource symbols and destroying laser stations. I've been the American player before and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by convincing one of the invading players to leave me alone and to attack another invader to grab points. Man, I love doing that.

The American player has a pretty hard time if the invaders know what they are doing, and playing the American is a very different experience. While the invaders are on the offensive, the American player has to balance defense and offense while trying to keep the invaders from capturing 18 or more cities. The American player has two unique things to help try to win. First, each turn you get to place a laser tower in any of your cities. On each turn, each laser tower on the board gets to fire at any space, with a 60% chance to kill any unit in that space. Since you add one every turn, this can add up pretty fast. Second, rather than having the set reinforcements that the invaders have, you draw reinforcement cards every turn. The cards all have different effects, from placing new units on the board in various spaces (sometimes you have a choice, and sometimes you don't, in where the units are placed) to destroying invader units. The cards are the only way to get the unique American units, partisans. Representing minuteman survivalist groups and other "non-traditional" warfighting assets, these units act like regular infantry unless they are by themselves, in which case they fight like hovertanks, representing their use of guerilla tactics when not combined with regular military units.

Combat itself is pretty straight-forward. Infantry and mobile units (like APCs and IFVs) roll a D6, hovertanks and helicopters roll a D8, and bombers roll a D10 in combat. You usually score a hit on a 5 or higher, though if attacking a city or a mountain space you only score a hit on a 6 or higher unless you have "combined arms," which means you have at least one infantry, at least one armor unit, and at least one air unit involved in the attack. This adds to the strategy because to successfully attack these spaces you need to make sure you have the units you want in position to attack. Since infantry are slow, this can often result in a choice to press an attack with armor and air units now, taking the harder to hit number, or waiting a turn (or more...) to bring up infantry while teh American player continually reinforces his position and gets more lasers on the board. Combats go fast, and can be quite tense when one side doesn't have overwhelming numbers.

In fact, the thing that I like best about Fortress America is the asymmetrical nature of the game. Each side just feels different from the others, especially the American side. Also, unlike many of the Gamemaster Series games, this one will not run on forever if the players decide to go defensive. See, the units that the invaders have in their trays at the start of the game are all the units they will ever have. You start with 20, and then on turns two through six you put eight more on the board each turn. After that, you get no more, ever. So, the invader needs to push hard and fast, because by the time you run out of new units the American player will have six lasers on the board killing your units. And more die every turn, which can never be replaced. It can get tense. The American player never runs out of possible reinforcements, so the American player is just trying to hold out as long as possible. Usually if the American player hasn't lost by turn eight, they can turn the tide as they keep getting new units and the invaders get none.

Definitely one of my favorite games of all time, this is the first game ever to get a "10" rating from me on the Geek. Used copies can be very expensive, but if you like light wargames with good production values and high toy factor (as every piece in the game is a molded plastic piece), it could be worth the money to get your own copy.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Buffyquake!