"L'état, c'est moi."
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Caution: May contain wargame like substance
Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis - 1860-1861
A game for 2 players by Mark Herman
Published by GMT Games
"Assuming it to be possible to now provision Fort Sumpter, under all the circumstances, is it wise to attempt it?"
- Abraham Lincoln
Fort Sumter is an intriguing title from legendary designer Mark Herman, who is well known for his long list of design credits including the Great Battles of History series, Churchill, Empire of the Sun, and Fire in the Lake (to name but a few of his storied list).
This game is a somewhat of a departure from his usual fare in that it's meant to be a quick "20-40" minute game.
One of the first things I notes when I received this game is that it was not in one of the standard GMT sized boxes.
My initial thought was that is was the same size as the old AH/VG games, but it's a little smaller (though not by much). In any event, the box is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things, but I certainly appreciated the form factor and would love to see more games from GMT in this kind of box, if only to take advantage of the ever in short supply shelf space around the house!
Inside this smaller box you'll find the usual high quality GMT components, including a 20x14" map, wooden pieces (grey and blue cubes, two white meeples, other markers), a rule book, a play book, and a deck of cards.
I have to include this picture from the game's image gallery because it's simply wonderful.
Photo by BGG user Ivan Dostál
Fort Sumter is an area control game and plays similarly (though clearly not identically) to 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis. The map has a dozen areas under contention and also has a Final Crisis track.
Each round, players are dealt two objective and four strategy cards.
The cards are of the Mark Herman card driven game mould, with a number representing an operational value for the card and an event, and players will have to choose how they want to use the card - for the points, or for the event. On the bottom of each card is also a coloured stripe with a crisis dimension, which is used in the Final Crisis phase of the game.
There are also objective cards, which are used by players to select which area of the map they are hoping to control in order to score a victory point.
A round lasts three turns, and the remaining strategy card is set aside for the Final Crisis at the end of the game.
There are three rounds in each game, however there is a Crisis Track with a starting, escalation, tension, and final crisis zone, and the game could end early if both players enter the final crisis zone.
Using the operations value of a card allows you to play your tokens onto the map, or to use the event obeying the text on the card. Tokens placed on the map come from your token pool, but if you are short, you must take them from your crisis track.
Once the final crisis stage of the game is reached, the cards that were set aside are retrieved by both players, both players are topped up to three cards if they are short, and then using the stripe on the cards, one at a time, additional actions are taken and points scored.
The entire rule book for this game is a mere eight pages long, and the twenty-eight page play book has an extensive illustrated example of play.
At the end, the player with the most VP wins Fort Sumter.
Those that know me well know that the American Civil War (ACW) is not a subject I'm all that interested in, and what I do know of it is largely from overheard debates from war gamers that are (and those almost invariably are really into it) or from popular culture. Fort Sumter is arguably fundamentally more of a political game given the elements that triggered the ACW were well established beforehand. The crisis around Fort Sumter was merely the catalyst that allowed the war to happen, not unlike the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand set the dominoes of World War I tumbling.
From the perspective of history, Mark Herman has clearly done his research. One need only look at his body of design work, not to mention the detailed designer notes in the play book. The cards and their events, the crisis track with its three dimensions, and the twelve areas on the map, all speak to the historicity baked into the design.
The game itself is more abstract. Like 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis, the game is a combination of bluff (which objective I am targeting this round), canny guesswork (I think you're going for that objective and I want to stop you), and the luck of the card draw (ever present in any game with cards).
The outcome of the card play actions and reactions are victory points, and then the final crisis round is the final opportunity to tip the scales in your favour.
The abstraction of the game play vs. the historical underpinnings means two things to me I can remain blissfully unaware of the actual sequence of events the game is trying to represent. I do not mean this in any negative way - on the contrary, it allows me to more easily experience and enjoy the theme.
The flip side of this argument is that for those who care a great deal about the history of the events, not to mention the historicity of the game itself, may find themselves grumbling the the disconnect between what they may wish to do and how the game actually plays out.
I, for one, will let the ACW historical buffs have that latter debate. I find Fort Sumter as a game engaging despite the subject matter, and one that should be satisfying to anyone looking for a short but entertaining and thought provoking session.
Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.
Among my favourites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, Terraforming Mars, Gloomhaven, War of the Ring, and Power Grid.
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Thank you for the great review.