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Subject: The Best of 1980s American Kitsch rss

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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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When I received Axis & Allies for Christmas in 1992 I noticed an advertisement for an over the top game: Fortress America. The premise seemed silly back then. The Soviet Union had disappeared shortly after we learned about them in fourth grade. I pretty much forgot about Fortress America until I became a boardgamer and joined BGG in 2005. Still, the game was hardly on my radar.

Over the years I’ve become interested in the idea of culture as a reflection of society. During one late night discussion with some friends I brought up Fortress America, as a reflection of the renewed Cold War of the 1980s. We decided the time had come to play Fortress America and watch Red Dawn. The later was a disaster. I thought I could get a good chuckle out the movie, like you can in something like Jaws 3-D. I found the movie to be dull in just about every way. We rooted for the Hind Gunship when it blasted our 1 dimensional horseback heroes. It was just too humorless. It is the only Harry Dead Stanton movie that sucks.

Fortress America was another thing altogether, and happily we played it before watching Red Dawn. This game is, as Jeff Spicoli would say, “totally awesome.” So you don’t have to like Red Dawn to like this game. You don't have to be a neo-conservative to enjoy Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf and its over the top sequels. Hell, I even wrote a review for that game: http://videogamegeek.com/thread/738948/did-george-w-bush-pla...

I suppose when I play a game I can lose myself in the competition and the strategy. I can see beyond the politics and enjoy the game, and laugh at it. I love American kitsch. There is none better in the world. Indeed, I always play Fortress America with tongue firmly in cheek and if possible with background music from Twisted Sister, Guns N Roses, and of course Rick Derringer’s “Real American.” If I had G.I. Joe on DVD I’d put a muted version on in the background. Well, I’d turn the volume up for “Cold Slither.” (http://www.joeheadquarters.com/lyricscoldslither.shtml)

Before I continue, if you have not read Pete Belli’s great review, check it out: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/511304/fortress-america-a-fa...

The only thing we disagree about is Jennifer Grey. I prefer Lea Thompson.

Gameplay (63/70): Fortress America could be subtitled “Reagan’s Nightmare.” At the end of the 20th century America has reduced it defense budget and concentrated upon solar power. I guess Jimmy Carter won in 1980 (note that Carter greatly expanded the defense budget in 1979). The result is that worldwide communism, actually in decline when Fortress America was published, is poised to invade America from three sides. The dirty commies are represented by these invaders:

The Red Hordes



The Yellow Peril



The Monroe Doctrine in Reverse



Fortress America is a one against three game in the tradition of Axis & Allies. The game is defined by the variation in the units each side has at their disposal. The three basic types are infantry, mechanized, and air. Each is rated separately for movement, battle dice, and the kind of casualties it can inflict. This forces players into a combined arms approach while making the units unique is a blessing. This is a step up from Axis & Allies, where all units rolled 1d6 and there are few limits on what they could damage.

The Units


You may wonder how America can take on so many invaders. Won’t this be like the Alamo, a glorious failure? The Americans have three advantages. The most considerable is a laser (courtesy of that solar power project) that allows them to target any unit on the map. Each turn, the Americans get one of these beauties, and by turn four their effects really do begin to tell. Since your force pool is limited, each loss by the invaders is painful. Another advantage is partisan infantry, which appear, with other units, through card draws. What would a Red Dawn knock-off be without the cry of “wolverines!” You can also cry “the redcoats are coming!”

The Spirit of ’76!


The invaders have limited forces, must maintain a supply line, are running against the clock. All of these play a big part in limiting their power. However, I find the biggest disadvantage they have in a 3 or 4 player game is that there can be only one winner, a mechanic used well in both Friedrich and The Napoleonic Wars (Second Edition). The result is that the dirty commies are also in competition with one another. On that note, a game in the tradition of Man in the High Castle should have been made for this gorgeous map.

Beyond these points, there are other things that make Fortress America a fine game. There are stacking limits of five units per area, which prevents the bane of all games in this tradition: blobbing. So what you have is a contest between asymmetrical forces, fighting in the most off-the-wall situation in wargaming history. Unit variety keeps things fresh and there is honestly never a dull moment. This means that Fortress America is that rare blend of kitsch and good gameplay. It brings a smile to the face even as it frustrates.

Accessibility (10/10): The rules area a breeze, and I found after one reading I was ready to play. The print is large and legible, and the examples are useful. Given the graphics and the theme, I’d say this is a great introductory game for anyone above the age of 12. The charts are big, sturdy, and not at all confusing.

Components (10/10): The units have an appropriately futuristic look. The hovertank is particularly cool. The map is hard mounted, functional, and effective. When laid out, Fortress America looks sharp and has aged very well. It is perhaps the best looking game from the 1980s, a decade where wargames were known for their ugly maps.

East Meets West!


Theme (10/10): Fortress America invokes its loopy theme in several effective ways. The plot given is ludicrous but fun, and yet I like the fact that they never wink to the audience. It is far too easy to do that, and it is an aspect of our postmodern sensibility that, while at times effective, has become banal. Call me a romantic, but I like things done in deadly earnest. Then there is the box art. My words cannot do it justice, so I will let Saddam do the talking.

Amazing Box Art


What I love about 80s culture is that it was blunt and wore its heart on it sleeve. Hell, Castro showed up on G.I. Joe to buy Cobra Commander’s base. I hate the ideas behind a film like Stallone's Cobra, but it is so blunt about it that I laugh. Fortress America is in that tradition. Not only does it tell you something about the renewed (although waning in 1986) Cold War paranoia, but the game is infused with cultural references, both overt and subtle. The obvious one is Red Dawn, but anyone else think of airwolf when they look at those helicopters? The only thing missing is an event card for rock music with a subliminal message.

Airwolf?


Overall (93/100): Fortress America is an artifact of its time. Historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and others could find much to talk about just by looking at the game. Ah, but playing it is where you’ll really come to love it. Best of all, you don’t have to like or watch Red Dawn to “get it.”

What do I get out of the game, beyond the fun? Let’s just say since 1945 Americans have been a quest for an enemy to vanquish. We’ve declared war on communism, poverty, drugs, and terrorists to name but a few. I’d say this mentality has done us more harm than good, but at least it gave us Fortress America.

I’ll leave with some wisdom from Sylvester Stallone:

"We just happened to come along at the right time. This country has needed to flex its muscles again. You might say America has gone back to the gym...I think the intelligentsia should understand that this country now is functioning on emotional energy more than intellectual energy...President Reagan has provided has provided this country with a lot of incentives to feel better. When you think about what it was coming off of with the last three presidents, Reagan has been a godsend. The country’s esteem is on the rise."

The Future?

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Rob Arcangeli
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This game should be rebranded as "Hot Shots! The Board Game".

Great breakdown of the game
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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Fourth grade? How much younger are you?
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C. J. Robinson
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OK, now I just have go out and buy this game. Great review.
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Dave C.
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Fun review! I LOVE this game.

As someone who graduated high school in 1987 (thereby seeing Red Dawn as a High-school Junior) I must admit that I totally agree with you on the movie. My memories of it were that it was awesome. I re-watched it about a year ago, having not seen it since about 1990, and . . . wow.

My wife actually sat in the room as I watched it (working on her laptop - she would never agree to sit and watch this by choice) and about three quarters of the way through, I turned to her and said: "My God. This isn't interesting or exciting in ANY WAY. It's not even good in that 'so bad it's good' way."

I couldn't believe it. I WANTED to like it. I TRIED to like it. But I just . . . couldn't.

Thankfully, we still have Fortress America!
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Cooz wrote:
"My God. This isn't interesting or exciting in ANY WAY. It's not even good in that 'so bad it's good' way."

I couldn't believe it. I WANTED to like it. I TRIED to like it. But I just . . . couldn't.

Thankfully, we still have Fortress America!


My exact reaction as well. It came from the same guy who brought us Conan the Barbarian.

I really wanted to laugh. I really did.

But there is always Cobra and No Holds Barred...
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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whac3 wrote:
Fourth grade? How much younger are you?


Almost 30.
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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gittes wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Fourth grade? How much younger are you?


Almost 30.

Youngin'
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gittes wrote:
Cooz wrote:
"My God. This isn't interesting or exciting in ANY WAY. It's not even good in that 'so bad it's good' way."

I couldn't believe it. I WANTED to like it. I TRIED to like it. But I just . . . couldn't.

Thankfully, we still have Fortress America!


My exact reaction as well. It came from the same guy who brought us Conan the Barbarian.

I really wanted to laugh. I really did.

But there is always Cobra and No Holds Barred...



Maybe if Charlie Sheen drank the deer's blood and then muttered . . . "I vant to crrrush the Cuban Paratrooperz . . . zee dem driven bevore me . . . and heer zhe lamentation of dere wiimen." . . . it would've been . . . better?

Of course, it also goes without saying that if Frank Cobretti showed up in the middle of the Colorado winter driving a jet black Mercury and spraying the Reds in all directions with a "Never-needs-reloading" Uzi in each hand, then this would have instantly morphed into the greatest '80's action movie of all time!
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Cooz wrote:
Of course, it also goes without saying that if Frank Cobretti showed up in the middle of the Colorado winter driving a jet black Mercury and spraying the Reds in all directions with a "Never-needs-reloading" Uzi in each hand, then this would have instantly morphed into the greatest '80's action movie of all time!


Followed by him cutting a pizza slice in half with scissors.

Of course if there is some alternate 80s world where rouge cops slaughter villains, I'm sure he did do that during the great commie invasion. Now I wonder what Jack Burton, Robocop, and Dutch would be doing during all of that.

I 'd love play game set in the 80s action/scifi universe. You'd get to talk a lot of shit before wasting criminals, aliens, monsters, and corporate hacks. It would be awesome.
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Adam
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gittes wrote:


I’ll leave with some wisdom from Sylvester Stallone:

"We just happened to come along at the right time. This country has needed to flex its muscles again. You might say America has gone back to the gym...I think the intelligentsia should understand that this country now is functioning on emotional energy more than intellectual energy...President Reagan has provided has provided this country with a lot of incentives to feel better. When you think about what it was coming off of with the last three presidents, Reagan has been a godsend. The country’s esteem is on the rise."


I think Jello and the boys said it best...

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Dave C.
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gittes wrote:
Cooz wrote:
Of course, it also goes without saying that if Frank Cobretti showed up in the middle of the Colorado winter driving a jet black Mercury and spraying the Reds in all directions with a "Never-needs-reloading" Uzi in each hand, then this would have instantly morphed into the greatest '80's action movie of all time!


Followed by him cutting a pizza slice in half with scissors.



Oh YES!

That would be part of the finale - as he celebrates his victory while standing on an overturned Russian BMP, eating the pizza with Lea Thompson hanging on his arm:

All complete with a HEAVY dose of synthesizer-sampled trumpets or maybe, just MAYBE, if the producers could afford it - a closing song by Kenny Loggins.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Cooz wrote:
Oh YES!

That would be part of the finale - as he celebrates his victory while standing on an overturned Russian BMP, eating the pizza with Lea Thompson hanging on his arm:

All complete with a HEAVY dose of synthesizer-sampled trumpets or maybe, just MAYBE, if the producers could afford it - a closing song by Kenny Loggins.


I opt for "Power of Love" or "Real American."
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gittes wrote:
Cooz wrote:
"My God. This isn't interesting or exciting in ANY WAY. It's not even good in that 'so bad it's good' way."

I couldn't believe it. I WANTED to like it. I TRIED to like it. But I just . . . couldn't.

Thankfully, we still have Fortress America!


My exact reaction as well. It came from the same guy who brought us Conan the Barbarian.

I really wanted to laugh. I really did.

But there is always Cobra and No Holds Barred...

I remeber seeing the ads for the movie in theatres, thinking it looked stupid and later seeing it on broadcast TV and feeling that impression was confirmed. So I just assumed I wasn't the target audience.
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This is a great review of a game I love.

My only issue is that you have used many pictures from other people. You might want to mention them and give them credit.

Besides that, a top notch job!
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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ronster0 wrote:
This is a great review of a game I love.

My only issue is that you have used many pictures from other people. You might want to mention them and give them credit.

Besides that, a top notch job!


I have been using pictures since 2008 or so and no issues have been brought with regards to this, but you are right some credits would have been good. I'll do it for my next reviews.

btw, I am a fan of your pictures.

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A great little review!

You hit on a lot of points and nailed that weird nostalgic X factor that really makes the game work; it's something that I'm not sure the reprint (no matter how well produced) is going to be able to achieve, I'm afraid.

I busted it out for the first time with some friends and they just loved the vintage look of everything. You can't beat an old-school Milton Bradley logo on something, can you?

I've got a few quibbles; Giving the rulebook a 10 might be pushing it (it's probably one of my least favorite rulebooks of all time) but hey, I'll save that for my review of the game and leave you to your own opinions.

Great stuff!

I almost gasped when I saw the last photo of the review. I've got the game in-progress set up on a table right now and it looks almost exactly the same as in that photo, although in my game the Western Invaders are tracking along the farthest-north territories and trying to hook down around Minnesota.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Yib-Yab wrote:
A great little review!

You hit on a lot of points and nailed that weird nostalgic X factor that really makes the game work; it's something that I'm not sure the reprint (no matter how well produced) is going to be able to achieve, I'm afraid.


My thoughts as well. They should stick with the 80s style if they want it to work.

Quote:
I've got a few quibbles; Giving the rulebook a 10 might be pushing it (it's probably one of my least favorite rulebooks of all time) but hey, I'll save that for my review of the game and leave you to your own opinions.


Perhaps I'm just too used to wargame rulebooks, so a rulebook like this makes me go "whew!"

I find in wargaming rulebooks are often in the eye of the beholder. People say Here I Stand is the epitome of wargame rulebook writing but I beg to differ.
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You hit on a key point though. For game balance, each player must to play to win. If the invaders cooperate fully, there is almost no way for the American to prevail. But..... once the invaders start looking to the end game and picking off each other's units, the American just might scam a victory.....

This game ALWAYS comes down to the bitter end. Tense to the last.
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Moshe Callen
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TedW wrote:
You hit on a key point though. For game balance, each player must to play to win. If the invaders cooperate fully, there is almost no way for the American to prevail. But..... once the invaders start looking to the end game and picking off each other's units, the American just might scam a victory.....

This game ALWAYS comes down to the bitter end. Tense to the last.

Since I think the game shines as a two-player game, I must disagree.

In a two player game (equivalent to one in which invaders cooperate) the Americans can win but its not easy. There are a lots of tactics needed. For example, when I first played, I put weak units it the most vulnerable cities and strong units in the least accessible to invaders. Yet since new units on partisan cards come from lots units, this is precisely the wrong way to do it.

That's just an example.
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Maybe the old president Bush saw this box in a shop one day and couldn't shake that feeling of dread left by the notion of Saddam invading US

How cool is the CRT graphic on the cards?
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whac3 wrote:
gittes wrote:
Cooz wrote:
"My God. This isn't interesting or exciting in ANY WAY. It's not even good in that 'so bad it's good' way."

I couldn't believe it. I WANTED to like it. I TRIED to like it. But I just . . . couldn't.

Thankfully, we still have Fortress America!


My exact reaction as well. It came from the same guy who brought us Conan the Barbarian.

I really wanted to laugh. I really did.

But there is always Cobra and No Holds Barred...

I remeber seeing the ads for the movie in theatres, thinking it looked stupid and later seeing it on broadcast TV and feeling that impression was confirmed. So I just assumed I wasn't the target audience.


Speaking as someone who, as a US high school junior, WAS the target audience when it was released, it was awesome . . . then. I guess you just had to be there.
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Cracky McCracken
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Thanks for the great review! This is pretty much the number 1 must-buy game of 2012 for me.

FA is very tough on the American player and i'm looking forward to seeing how some good old fashioned 1980's Ameritrash sits with today's 21st century gamers (can you play it co-op? waaaa 3 against 1 sounds hard... how's the AI for the American side?)

Bring it on FFG!!!!
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Darrell Hanning
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A fun review to read, but a bit of a misplaced paean to a game that is a total rip-off of SPI'S Invasion: America (right down to the factions involved), which preceded it by ten years.
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Holy Philip K. Dick references batman! After reading this article I feel the need to dust of my never played copy and have some fun.
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