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Forts, Food Fights, and Ferraris at GAMA Expo 2020

Candice Harris
United States
Los Angeles
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
My first GAMA Expo experience was a success, in spite of everything going on in the world with the coronavirus. I met and elbow-bumped some awesome people, hosted on BGG's livestream for the first time, and managed to squeeze in a bit of gaming every chance I had! I played a couple of great games with Eric that he's already posted about — Stick 'Em and Man muss auch gönnen können — so I won't double up on those. Instead check out these other games I played (sans Eric) at the show that might be of interest to you...

• As I was wandering around my first night at GAMA Expo 2020, I stopped at Game Brewer's table to play Arve D. Fühler's Festo! I was immediately drawn in by the rainbow of bright and colorful cubes — plus there was an empty seat at the table practically calling my name.

While Festo!, released in 2018, is not "new" per se, I had never heard of it and was curious to try it once I heard it's a blend of worker placement and area control that plays in 60 minutes or less.

Board Game: Festo!

Here's a description from the publisher:
It's a big feast in the magical kingdom of Gloutama, where you take on the role of an ever-hungry halfling that goes to the market to gather all sorts of wonderful ingredients from elves, dwarfs, pixies, trolls, orcs and wizards so that you can cook up dishes that will have every creature in the kingdom licking their fingers.

In each of four rounds in Festo!, players try to gather as many ingredients as they can by placing their servants next to the different races in the game — but each round consists of two phases in which the players roll three dice that determine whether races are available this turn or not. Some races might be totally unavailable because of this, so players have to decide how many of their servants they want to place during each phase. Once this is done, majorities determine who gets what.

Who will be the cleverest of all halflings? Play Festo! and find out!
In Festo!, at its core, you're collecting ingredient cubes to use for cooking dishes that give you victory points, but the way you achieve this, I found to be quite interesting.

Players are placing workers each round to essentially bid for ingredients and/or actions. Each round starts with a preparation phase in which an event card is revealed with an effect impacting the current round and resources are refreshed on the board. Then the active player rolls three dice at the beginning of their turn to determine which action spaces are temporarily blocked. Sometimes this dice roll will make you absolutely cringe if you need a specific ingredient or hope to perform a particular action.

Board Game: Festo!

This is followed by the tough decision of determining how many workers you want to allot and the timing of when to place them since each round has two work placement phases. Should I hold back most of my workers in phase 1 to see where my opponents place theirs to hopefully gain a competitive edge? Should I hold back workers in the hope that the blocked-off spot I really need will be freed up during the second phase? Or should I go big and place most of workers during phase 1 on a particular spot to scare off my opponents?

This is probably a good time for me to mention that turn order matters. I repeat, turn order matters! This is the type of game in which you need to monitor what your opponents are going for so that you can plan accordingly either offensively or defensively. This is why winning the majority for the "1st player" action space doesn't simply make you the next first player, but instead gives you the ability to choose who becomes the next first player. In most cases, going last seemed better so that you can make your decisions after everyone else. However, this means you'll be last when it comes to the cooking phase, so someone could very well snatch up the dish you've been working towards cooking. Lots to think about with this one for a shorter, lighter game.

Board Game: SPQF
• I arrived at GAMA very excited to check out Leder Games' upcoming release of Grant Rodiek's Fort, a deck-builder with a twist for 2-4 players that plays in about 20-40 minutes. The game is Leder's reimplementation of Rodiek's SPQF, which he originally released in 2018 through his own Hyperbole Games.

In February 2020, after I had mentioned that I'm always on the hunt for unique deck-building games, a new friend introduced me to SPQF. I ended up immediately buying a copy on the GeekMarket and played it three times before heading to GAMA, so it was awesome to play Fort and have a relatively fresh comparison to SPQF. Here's the essence of Fort as described by the publisher:
In Fort, you're a kid! And like many kids, you want to grow your circle of friends, collect pizza and toys, and build the coolest fort.

From gallery of candidrum

By doing this cool stuff, you'll score victory points, and at the end of the game, the player with the most victory points wins! Your cards not only let you take actions on your own turn, but also let you follow the other players' actions on their turns. Will you devote yourself to your own posse, or copy what the other kids are doing?

But be careful as your carefully constructed deck might start losing cards if you don't actually use them. After all, if you don't play with your friends, why should they hang out with you anymore?
Off the bat, I was drawn in by Kyle Ferrin's playful artwork, which has everything I love about his signature Root artwork tossed into a blender with a Charles M. Schulz Peanuts vibe that puts a nostalgic smile on my face every time I see it. Beyond the amusing artwork, the game mechanisms are integrated well with its unique theme and deliver just the right dose of player interaction. Being a fan of SPQF and Leder Games, I suspected Fort would be a hit for me.

In Fort, players are kids who are growing their circle of friends (cards), collecting pizzas and toys as resources, and trying to build the coolest fort. Players start the game with a deck of eight kid cards and two "Best Friend" kid cards, then draw their initial hand of five cards.

From gallery of candidrum
Player aid

On each turn, a player chooses a kid card from their hand to play as an action, optionally playing additional cards with a matching suit to modify the number of times they can perform the action. Then each rival player has an opportunity to "follow" and take the same action a single time by discarding a kid card from their hand with a matching suit. The card suits (skateboard, glue, squirt gun, etc.) are not only appropriate, but they accentuate the playfulness of the theme and had everyone at my table smiling every time we played our kid cards.

Then the active player must recruit a new kid card from any opponents' yard (tableau) or the park (common card market). Each player's yard will have kid cards that they didn't use on their previous turn that are essentially up for grabs, so while you're growing your posse and building your deck, your rivals might be stealing your friends!

The only exception is the "Best Friend" cards as they always stay in your deck —unless you decide to be an awful friend and trash them from the game! I love this twist on deck-building and think Fort nails it thematically.

From gallery of candidrum
Player board (with plastic cubes as prototype components)

Each player board has room for four toy and four pizza resources, a backpack for additional storage, and a lookout area for slotting cards that serve as permanent modifiers. As players increase their fort levels, they increase their backpack and lookout storage capacity. When hitting fort levels 1 and 2, players gain "made-up rules" and "perks" cards respectively. Made-up rules cards are secret objectives that score at the end of the game, whereas perks cards are played face-up and provide players with a unique effect, either ongoing or a once-per-game effect.

Fort does an excellent job maintaining the core mechanisms of SPQF, while streamlining a few rules, sprucing up the theme, and improving the iconography to provide a more accessible and even more fun gaming experience. I think Leder knocked it out of the park with its first release of a reimplemented design, and I'm stoked more people will be hipped to Grant Rodiek's awesome design work.

Board Game: Downforce: Wild Ride
• I also made a pit stop at Restoration Games' table to take the Downforce Wild Ride expansion for a spin. Prior to this show, I had never played Downforce. Little did I know how much I'd enjoy it! In Wolfgang Kramer's Downforce, 2-6 players compete to make the most money by racing million-dollar cars and betting on which car will win.

The first phase of the game is an auction to determine which players will control which race car(s). Each car is auctioned with a power card that will give its owner a unique ability to use during the race. In my three-player game, we each ended up with two cars and two power cards, but we could keep only one of those cards. The trick here is that the money you spend on race cars and power cards will be deducted from your earnings at the end of the game. Therefore, you have to balance trying to win auctions for cars/powers with which you'll have the best chance of winning the race (based on your starting hand of speed cards), while still spending as little as possible.

After the auction phase, the race begins! Players take turns in player order playing speed cards and resolving them to move cars around the track, with most cards moving multiple cars — often ones that you don't own. The challenge is to use those cards so that movement for an opponent will be wasted while your movement still takes place.

Along the way are betting phases triggered when a race car crosses over a yellow betting line. Then all players secretly mark off which car they think will win the race on their personal scoring sheet. Cars are ranked as they cross the finish line, then final scoring takes place to determine who made the most money.

From gallery of candidrum

The Wild Ride expansion, which hit U.S. retail during GAMA Expo 2020, includes a double-sided game board with two new tracks, 3D ramps, and wild animals. We played our game on the "Aloha Sands" side of the board with the ramps, which I found to be super fun. I had some epic flips and sound effects, but you'll have to use your imagination. The ramps are a great way to move your cars more efficiently since you can make jumps and fly past other cars. In order to use the ramps you need to meet or exceed the ramp's speed minimum, so managing your hand of speed cards to take advantage of the ramps is crucial.

The "Savanna Stretch" side of the game features wild animals that traverse the track, blocking the way. The animals move ahead after a car passes them, which makes the track more difficult for the lead car, thereby serving as a catch-up mechanism for the trailing cars since the road opens up for them. Between the ramps and the wild animals, this expansion adds more strategic options to the base game.
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