Saturday, 25 April 2009

Fortress America

Fortress America is another old game that Han found on eBay. This is one of the games from the Milton Bradley GameMaster series, which included Axis & Allies (1984 version) and Samurai Swords. Quite a good find - the game is complete and in good condition.

The backstory is a fictitious future-age scenario, where USA is being invaded by 3 armies, an Asian bloc, a South American bloc, and a European bloc. Well, the game was published in the 1980's, so "future" may actually mean now, or a not-as-distant-as-before future. The invaders have a limited number of units, and whenever they lose a unit, it is gone forever. They do not receive reinforcements. At the start of the game each invader gets to deploy a number of units, and after that for each turn they get to deploy an additional fixed number of units. The Americans only has as many units as one invading army, but they are all deployed at the start of the game. Every round the Americans draw two cards, which usually give some reinforcements. The Americans also get to build a laser weapon every round, and each laser weapon has the chance to shoot down one unit that the Americans choose (usually they'll try to shoot down the best units - bombers).

The invaders win if they capture 18 cities (out of 30), and the Americans win if they can prevent that. If the invaders successfully conquer America, they compare the number of cities they control, and the invading army that controls the most number of cities wins.

Combat is done by dice rolling. There are movement rules and combat sequences and retreat rules, similar to many games in the GameMaster series. But there is one unique rule that I don't remember seeing in other games - the restriction in targeting enemy unit types. If an infantry unit makes a hit, it must choose to hit the enemy's infantry type unit first if possible. If there are no more such units, then it must choose to hit the enemy's mechanised type unit (hover tanks or mechanised infantry) if possible. If there are no such units left, then it can choose to hit an air unit (bomber or helicopter). This makes it important to have some infantry units to try to take hits for the more valuable units. The better units, like bombers, have no restrictions when choosing which enemy unit to destroy. However, it is not always best to choose the "most valuable" unit. Combined arms is another consideration. When attacking cities or mountainous areas, you need to roll a 6 to hit, but with combined arms (having all 3 types of units), you hit on a 5 or 6. So sometimes as a defender it is better to pick units to kill so as to make your opponent lose the combined arms advantage.

Look at all the cool units.

Han setting up his American forces at the start of the game.

The round city markers are collected by the invaders when they successfully capture a city.

The laser weapon at Milwaukee.

The eastern front. The light green units are American partisans. They fight better when they are alone.

The western front. San Francisco still holding out, but not for long.

The southern front. Some partisans popped up here.

Very very red. These are European communists.

In our game I played the three invaders, and Han played America. The invaders attacked from west, south then east (I guess Canada is friendly to USA). Han rushed his inland units to the frontlines as quickly as he could, but not before I was able to capture quite many border cities. Cities in the west and south were more sparse, which meant they were easier to capture because of the smaller American forces. But it also meant the invaders would soon run out of targets, especially for the western invaders, who would need to cross much vacant land to reach more cities. There were more cities in the east, which meant a tougher time for the eastern invader, but also more opportunities for them. The American cities fell one after another. There were some pockets of resistance here and there, but the American soldiers and partisans were simply overwhelmed by the invaders. Around New York the Americans managed to put up a good fight, but eventually the eastern invaders wore them down, and they did not get enough reinforcements to be able to match up with the subsequent waves of attackers landing at the American shores. By the end of the 4th round, Han conceded defeat. I would surely be able to capture 18 cities by the next round.

~ Round 1

~ Round 2

~ Round 3

~ Round 4

I find the game to be simply too tough for the Americans, especially when played as a 2-player game, where one player plays all 3 invading armies. If the invading armies were played by different players, then there would be some competition and fighting among them. If one invader is about to make the game end while leading in number of cities controlled, the other two invaders will try to delay the game end or even attack that leading invader. The Americans can then use this to their advantage, because this buys them more time, and time is on their side. Every round they build more laser weapons. Every round they get new inforcements, while the invaders only draw units from their respective fixed pools. I have a feeling that this game needs to be played with 4 players in order to be balanced.

That said, I definitely had a lot of fun playing the aggressor. Lots of dice rolling. The combat resolution is a bit more complex than Axis & Allies or Samurai Swords, but once you get the hang of it it's quick. This is a fun game to play when you're in the mood for something Ameritrashy. I'm sure Han will have fun with his two boys when they grow older.

Han later read the rules again, and found that we had played some rules wrong. (1) During combat, the more power units shoot first, i.e. bomber - helicopter - hover tank - mechanised infantry - partisan - infantry, not the other way round. This may not make a very big difference. (2) Game end condition is checked at the end of USA's turn, i.e. even if the invaders manage to take 18 cities, the Americans still has the chance to capture some cities back. This probably would not have made much difference in our particular game. (3) Partisans can appear behind enemy lines, which means the invaders will need to garrison conquered cities. This would make a difference. The invaders would not have been able to push so many units to the front line.


Cecrow said...

I find this to be a very balanced game in most matches. Your yellow and blue invaders look to be advancing normally, but I've almost never seen red run riot like that, especially in the northeast. I think Han left himself too vulnerable up there and could turn the whole game around next time with more concentration in that area. The key to a USA win is recapturing cities, which increases their reinforcement rate, and definitely to take advantage of appearing behind enemy lines.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Indeed in this game Han wasn't very successful in recapturing cities. In the north east my red invaders were initially stalled, but after a few battles of attrition, Han couldn't reinforce that area (not drawing the right cards) and his troops there were soon worn down, while I still had enough red troops lining up to storm the shores. Once I broke through, there was no stopping the red army.

In the games that you have played, were the competition / distrust / betrayal among the 3 invaders an important factor in balancing the game? Or they just tend to cooperate mostly?

Mr P said...

That looks like a seriously cool game. Thank you for posting it and bringing it to my attention. I'd love to find out more about it.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Unfortunately this game is out of print. You can try your luck on eBay.

Anonymous said...

The invaders tend largely to cooperate. I think you'll find on BGG a general dislike of the rule encouraging them to be competitive with one another. Possibly this is because Yellow and Blue tend to collide immediately, while Red rarely gets involved. Through experience I'm sure you'll find matches become closer rather than a landslide victory, although the USA will always remain the tougher side to play.

Cecrow said...

That was me ^

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Thanks Cecrow. Indeed Han commented afterwards that he could have deployed / mobilised his troops better. We hope to play again and see how things work out. I actually have never browsed the BGG information for Fortress America, because I have never expected I would ever have a chance to play this game. That's refreshing, because I'm experiencing the game from scratch (other than knowing such a game exists and the general theme), compared to many other games where I already know so much about gameplay and mechanics beforehand.