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Subject: A missed opportunity, but still a good purchase for the right customer rss

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Pete Belli
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Fortress America is a futuristic wargame depicting an invasion of the United States by a coalition of forces from Asia, Latin America, and Europe. It was published in 2012 by Fantasy Flight Games and is a redesign of the classic Fortress America produced in the 1980s by Milton Bradley. I purchased my copy at a game store in a nearby town shortly after it was released. Since busy Geeks frequently scan the first paragraphs of a review to find a quick summary of the game, I'll offer this evaluation:

If you already have the original edition of Fortress America, buying the FFG version isn't something I would recommend with great enthusiasm... unless you're a collector.

If you want to own Fortress America but don't want to buy a vintage MB game, purchase the FFG version.

Now, please take a few minutes to enjoy my analysis of this fascinating game.





Comparisons to the previously published classic Fortress America will be inevitable in any review of the FGG version. However, the new edition must be judged on its own merits. A large percentage of the potential customers for the 2012 version will be exposed to the Fortress America mystique for the first time. These Geeks deserve a fair and honest appraisal of the FGG version so they can make an informed purchase decision. As I mentioned in the introduction, if you want to savor the Fortress America experience a copy of the 2012 edition is the most accessible option.





The classic edition of Fortress America reflected a comic book perspective on the Cold War which captured the mood of the wargame hobby after the publication of the SPI game Invasion: America and the release of the film Red Dawn. The iconic Saddam box cover and super cool miniatures combined with a delightful play experience to create one of the most popular wargame titles ever published.

While there are a number of changes in the FFG version (and these will be discussed later in the review) the essential elements of the classic Fortress America experience remain intact. The game has always been fun to play and features a relatively mild learning curve, at least by the standards of wargame complexity. The different challenges faced by each of the invaders has always been one of the advantages of the Fortress America scenario. New players can be guided into a leading a regime with missions and objectives which suit that particular Geek’s level of wargame experience.

The opportunity for a truly challenging four player session with three invaders struggling to defeat the United States has always been the jewel in the Fortress America crown. There a few better games for a group of four in the wargame hobby, even though (in my opinion) the Euro-Socialist Pact gets the dirty end of the stick. The game also offers a wickedly tense contest between two players and will strain the brains of two veteran players maneuvering their tanks and army men on the Fortress America battlefield. The awkward three player session never appealed to me.

The subtle tactical elements of Fortress America and the delicate relationship between the various unit types has always been a lure to all types of board game enthusiasts. In a larger strategic sense each setup can be slightly different depending on the basic plan adopted by the commanders. With a decent variety of strategic options available to the players, Fortress America stays fresher longer.





The deluxe FFG version of Fortress America is an expensive, high quality production. This is as it should be, since the original MB edition was a superb example of craftsmanship. For this reason -- and because I am a devoted fan of classic Fortress America -- this review will include an extensive discussion of the components.

The game includes hundreds of plastic miniatures. They are professionally sculpted and meet production standards typical of the board game hobby in 2012. A few of the figures are outstanding, while some of the others didn’t impress me at all.

The new laser installations are great in spite of their huge size. The detail on the new city markers is excellent. The new bombers are cool. I didn’t appreciate the new hovertank miniatures at first glance, but after extensive play I discovered that the vehicles look great on the board. The new Robo-Osprey helicopters look flimsy and unattractive; they also seem to have been molded with the tail section pointed down instead of up! The new mechanized units are acceptable, but the infantry figures were uninspired.

The awkward pose of the soldier looks weird from certain angles, and I was almost convinced that the figure was taking a bite out of a huge submarine sandwich. The partisan figure with the reversed baseball cap reminded me of Kevin Costner in a really bad movie called The Postman, and the gray color was an odd choice. Since the infantry figures are substantially larger than the army men in classic Fortress America there is additional crowding in many sections of the board. I should probably mention that the FFG version does not include any extra miniatures, and this could be a problem if something gets lost or is broken. The sizes and colors don't match the original edition.

OK, the miniatures are still cool. I love my plastic army men and little tanks, and these are no exception. Loud shouts of "Wolverines!" errupted during our weekend session whenever a partisan unit rolled well. Even on the wrong side of 50, stuff like this gives me pleasure.

My set was 100% complete and in good condition. I’ve seen a few comments about missing laser parts on BGG, but since FFG will probably move rapidly to fix any of these problems it will only be a minor inconvenience. Trust me, you won’t need to deploy all 11 laser installations anyway… more on that later.





The functional presentation of the terrain on the board is outstanding. The original Fortress America map was good but it could have used a little less orange and a little more beige.

The classic Fortress America board contained a few ambiguous boundary crossings that could create confusion about which territories were connected. Perhaps as part of an attempt to appeal to owners of the MB version, the folks at FFG have included a few additional problems on the new map. Now each malfunction junction on the FFG board will require the players to expend time and energy discussing the correct alignment of the boundaries. This mistake was inexcusable.

The board includes a number of goofy embellishments that detract from the quality of the presentation. The map contains images of a compass, bullets, and an ammo clip plus fake creases and a few artificial smudges or stains.

No, no, no, and no!

A wargame map should provide a visually attractive and clearly defined playing surface; it is not a collage of military clip art or a canvas for artistic expression by a modern graphic designer with too much computer access.






I’m not sure what FFG was thinking with these charts. The gritty background and small typeface make the reference card difficult to read, and the information wasn’t displayed all that concisely in the first place.



Part of the potential audience for the new FFG version consists of geezer Geeks who need reading glasses, and this is the demographic group with the most disposable income to spend on nostalgic products. The original MB charts were superior. This seemingly minor issue is part of a trend I observed in the FFG version. More on that later.




 


The partisan card deck represents a similar visual vexation. While the written descriptions on the cards are (in most cases) an improvement on the text in the original MB edition the graphic design is muddy and indistinct.



The utilitarian style of the original Fortress America cards provides clearer visual cues for players seeking information in the heat of battle. The graphic design on the FFG cards might be another example of an artist with too many hours spent tinkering on the computer.

BTW, most people seem to prefer the smaller box used to package the FFG edition, but many gripes have been heard about the lack of a storage tray.





What about the fresh concepts developed for the FFG edition? How do the changes in the map and the new rules affect the play experience in a typical Fortress America session?

I didn't like the dice with the symbols.

The ten turn time limit might be provide a good incentive to sluggish players new to the game. Experienced players who keep the momentum flowing will probably finish in fewer than ten turns.

The new Mobile Unit Transport rule might be awkward to explain in terms of modern military doctrine but it adds several interesting elements to the FFG edition. Now that a mobile unit has the ability to “carry” an infantry or partisan unit the speed at which play develops can be increased by savvy commanders.

The new rule benefits the U.S. player greatly because he can form rapid response formations in reserve positions behind the front line. The transport rule also allows the American player to withdraw infantry units quickly in the face of an enemy pincer movement. The new maneuver option helps the western invader because that commander’s strategy always placed a premium on mobility and a prompt advance across the Rocky Mountains.

The southern invader will find the new rule helpful but the eastern invader will see few advantages. The assault by the Euro-Socialist Pact emphasized brute force instead of sweeping maneuvers. The additional mobility, while potentially helpful, could offer few tangible rewards.





My reaction to the map changes was mixed.

The decision to drop Buffalo and replace it with Las Vegas was outstanding. I really enjoy the tug-of-war that develops in the southwest following this change. I also like seeing the new units built in Pittsburgh now that Buffalo has been removed.

Adding an urban area in Colorado Springs and removing Kansas City was an odd choice, I don’t understand it and I don’t like it. The new event card that provides the U.S. player with another laser installation in Colorado Springs is an awkward design decision. If the card appears early in the game the laser might get off a couple of shots before it is destroyed, because the invaders will attempt to capture Colorado Springs quickly with or without the laser installation. If the card appears late in the game, forget about it!

(One of the veteran Fortress America players in our session this weekend used a laser tower from the original MB edition to represent the “early prototype” described on the event card. That was quite creative!)

The new oil resource territory and the new mineral resource territory was a fine addition to the FFG version. Hey, what about a new oil resource marker in North Dakota? The whole place is in the middle of an economic boom! Seriously, choosing the locations of objectives in a wargame is a thankless job for the designer or developer. After creating a few conflict simulations of my own, I understand the dilemma.



 


One of the features of the FFG version is the addition of the new attacker event cards. These did not inspire me.

Our weekend session included four veteran players, and each commander had at least 20 years of experience with Fortress America. None of us wanted to use the new cards. While a few of the events were mildly interesting, most of the stuff reminded me of crappy Axis & Allies variants from the 1990s. I wouldn’t use them unless I was being held at gunpoint by a crazed Fortress America fanboy.





The new version of Fortress America shows an unfortunate lack of attention to detail by the FFG team.

The backstory first presented by FGG spawned a storm of controversy and was deleted. The “new” backstory is just a rehash of the old 1980s Fortress America scenario and does not create a mood to match the theme. With so many fascinating modern narratives available, the cut-and-paste assembly of the scenario background left me cold.

People will say this is only a game and the scenario background doesn’t influence the play experience. Nonsense. Would these same Geeks enjoy a fantasy battle game featuring a struggle between the Lollipop Guild and the Care Bears? Theme matters.

I mentioned the unpleasant elements of the map and the charts earlier.

The text on the optional attacker cards collides with the seemingly generic identification of the attacking powers on the map. For example, the deck for the eastern invader (a.k.a. Euro-Socialist Pact) includes cards like Soviet Hovertanks, Red Dawn, Der Kommissar, and Do Svidaniya Atlanta. Soviet Hovertanks? I though the U.S.S.R. collapsed 20 years ago, but perhaps Comrade Putin has restored the Party to its former glory…

The rule booklet has created confusion with the helicopter “scouting” rule. There are a few other minor issues. With over two decades of institutional memory in the wargame hobby available to FFG, an intelligent observer must wonder why the company couldn’t make Fortress America the most polished reprint ever created by mortal man.

One more thing, and then I’ll shut up.

The artwork on the front of the control markers is excellent, particularly the Soviet eastern invader symbol. I approve. The back of the counter (which simply read “BATTLE” in the original edition) is a blurry blob of color that features a type of helicopter not present in the game. Attention to detail is the hallmark of a carefully crafted wargame design.




Owners of the original MB edition can implement the more interesting changes from the 2012 version in their old copy of Fortress America with little difficulty. I ignored Colorado Springs and the 31st card with the new laser. I added Las Vegas and the new resource areas (plus North Dakota) and have been fooling around with the transport rule. It ain’t military reality, but the transport rule adds new depth to the play experience… and who said Fortress America was supposed to be real anyway?

Collectors who would like to own both editions can place an order for the FFG version. I see no reason to have both games on my shelf, so I’m only keeping the original.

Younger players who never had a chance to enjoy the original version should buy this FFG game, unless you’re willing to spend big bucks on a used copy of the MB edition… prices appear to have spiked recently. The not-so-lovingly crafted FFG version does not have a fraction of the charm of the original Fortress America, but it will do. Buy it, play it, love it.
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David Dawson
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I wouldn’t use them unless I was being held at gunpoint by a crazed Fortress America fanboy.


Definitely one of the more terrifying prospects in gaming, I imagine.
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Mark Chaplin
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A very well considered opinion, Pete. Thanks for posting your review.

Will I buy this now? Probably.



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Pete Hornburg
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I appreciate your informative review! Very disappointing about the hard to read map features and design blunders. You'd think they'd get it right.

One thing I recall about the original is a long playing time, but that might have been because we were mostly all new players. So the turn limit, I guess, could be a good thing.

Its been a long time since I played the original, so I apologize in advance if this is a stupid question- but will this version play faster than the previous?
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Jeff S
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Good review.

I haven't put all my helicopters together yet, but the first one I tried had no problem laying flat.

Also, I like the dice - I don't mix them up with required dice rolls for other games all jumbled in my head.
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Jeffrey Speer
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People will say this is only a game and the scenario background doesn’t influence the play experience. Nonsense. Would these same Geeks enjoy a fantasy battle game featuring a struggle between the Lollipop Guild and the Care Bears? Theme matters.

Lollipop Bear Claw: The Guild vs. the CareScare. Sounds pretty good to me

Thanks for the informative review.
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Eugene
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...Graphic design is muddy and indistinct...The graphic design on the FFG cards might be another example of an artist with too many hours spent tinkering on the computer.

It's not that hard, really. They just run it through the FFG Awesomizer Filter and crank the murk up to 11.

Thanks for the excellent overview of this new FA edition. I might have to pull my MB one out soon and give it a whirl with the new rules changes.

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Barry Kendall
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Good review, Pete. I find myself wondering whether these days FFG "vets" a re-design with any gamers outsider their own house. Since they held the rights to FA, it would have risked nothing to invite player input through a survey, particularly one targeting previous FA owners/players, about improvements in an updated edition.

I liked the original game, agree with you that the Eastern invader has the toughest nut to crack of all, share your dismay over the elimination of KC for Colorado Springs, and really wish at least one new unit type would have been added, perhaps two (tactical aircraft and AA missiles), to freshen combat and planning considerations.

I would like to hear a bit more about why you dislike the new cards, and also whether the larger size of the Infantry pieces makes for crowding in the board spaces (especially when sharing with a laser weapon). Apart from this, your review is quite solid.

Still pondering "to buy, or not to buy" but leaning "not" after what I'm hearing.

Although the mech-transport ability has me pondering whether it could serve as one of, perhaps, several distinctifying elements for Invader Characteristics. For instance:

Eastern Invader may use tanks to transport infantry, not just mechs.

Western Invader may use technology to convert overrun Laser Weapons for his/her own use.

Southern Invader may place one friendly Insurgent for every Insurgent deployed against it by the US Player.

This could, of course, be tried with the original edition. I really like the new laser weapon pieces but can't stomach the thought of buying essentially the same game over again just to get 'em.

Wish it had been "Reins of Power" instead!
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Eugene
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Nonsense. Would these same Geeks enjoy a fantasy battle game featuring a struggle between the Lollipop Guild and the Care Bears?

Damn straight I would. Far more appealing than some more stupid orcs.
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Nick Szegedi
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one thing I agree the most is the small Font sizes/prints on the charts and the Map board itself... I pretty much can read them at the age of 39 but a friend whos is a bit "older" may not see them as much... I know most is irrevalent to gameplay but, it would make it more enjoyable if you can read the texts even if it is mostly for "flavor"!

I Loved playing this as a kid and it's cool now... I love the new updated pieces especially the Stealth Bombers and the Laser Units!
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Thanks for the review, Pete. Once again, I feel fortunate to have the original rather than the latest FFG remake. I'm still waiting for them to knock one out of the park.
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Mark Bigney
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Sphere wrote:
Thanks for the review, Pete. Once again, I feel fortunate to have the original rather than the latest FFG remake. I'm still waiting for them to knock one out of the park.


I like to bash FFG as much as the next Natus, but it is difficult to argue that their edition of Cosmic Encounter is anything other than definitive (even if you don't like Cosmic).
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Gyges wrote:
I like to bash FFG as much as the next Natus, but it is difficult to argue that their edition of Cosmic Encounter is anything other than definitive (even if you don't like Cosmic).

Haven't seen that one. I did own the original Eon game with all 9 expansions at one time. Now I've got the Mayfair version, but it doesn't get off the shelf much. I have considered picking up the FFG Wiz-War, mostly because the components are so much nicer than in my set.
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Pete Belli
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...will this version play faster than the previous?


Things might reach a climax faster, because the mechs can carry infantry into battle. This can speed play if the commanders decide to perform that maneuver.

Other than that, I think we're looking at three hours in a multi-player session.
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Pete Belli
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I would like to hear a bit more about why you dislike the new cards, and also whether the larger size of the Infantry pieces makes for crowding in the board spaces (especially when sharing with a laser weapon). Apart from this, your review is quite solid.


The larger infantry figures do lead to crowding issues in some of the spaces. It wouldn't bother many people, but I never like jumbled clusters of figures on my game maps.

Many of the attacker card event cards are weak and add little to the theme. A few of the interesting cards are spoiled by rules clutter (Why do I need to control LA before I can use western invader helicopters to transport my infantry?) and other events sound like regurgitated A&A variants. The map overlays for New Shanghai &c annoy me, but that is entirely subjective because I don't like the rule anyway.
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Mike Spartz
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LA before I can use western invader helicopters to transport my infantry?


Probably because of LAX. All the cards like that are actually fairly thematic because they all link to landmarks in the cities they tie to. For example, the free laser card goes with Colorado Springs because that's where norad is.
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Pete Belli
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Probably because of LAX. All the cards like that are actually fairly thematic because they all link to landmarks in the cities they tie to. For example, the free laser card goes with Colorado Springs because that's where norad is.


Good point on NORAD.

You haven't sold me on LAX...

...and why do I need to control San Francisco to use refractive armor on my bombers and helicopters?

Rules clutter, in my opinion. shake
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garygarison wrote:
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Nonsense. Would these same Geeks enjoy a fantasy battle game featuring a struggle between the Lollipop Guild and the Care Bears?

Damn straight I would. Far more appealing than some more stupid orcs.


Fuzzy Heroes

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Richard Hutnik
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pete belli wrote:
Quote:
Probably because of LAX. All the cards like that are actually fairly thematic because they all link to landmarks in the cities they tie to. For example, the free laser card goes with Colorado Springs because that's where norad is.


Good point on NORAD.

You haven't sold me on LAX...

...and why do I need to control San Francisco to use refractive armor on my bombers and helicopters?

Rules clutter, in my opinion. shake


They need to get the tech from Silcon Valley to power the refractive armor?
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Omega2064 wrote:
garygarison wrote:
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Nonsense. Would these same Geeks enjoy a fantasy battle game featuring a struggle between the Lollipop Guild and the Care Bears?

Damn straight I would. Far more appealing than some more stupid orcs.

Fuzzy Heroes

Smurf Wars
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Mike Hoyt

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People will say this is only a game and the scenario background doesn’t influence the play experience. Nonsense. Would these same Geeks enjoy a fantasy battle game featuring a struggle between the Lollipop Guild and the Care Bears? Theme matters.


Best line in an excellent review! Made me laugh out loud.

Sigh. I have the orginal and was looking forward to the reprint, with some faint thoughts of using the additional figures for other games if nothing else. But the different sizes and colors pretty much rules that out.

Cluttering up the graphics and leaving/creating ambigious boundaries is inexcusable. Adding superflous cards etc... I dunno know. The first news about moving two of the cities suggested a familiarity with the game that boded well, maybe they even made it better! But sounds like not so much.

Well your posts have certainly been informative Pete, thanks for the great work.
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Thanks for all this great information. One question re: Partisan Cards. You mentioned the writing is better and the new laser in Colorado card, but other than that, are the events on the cards the same as those in the old version or are there entirely new partisan situations to play with? Specifically is the game-changing "All lasers hit on a 3 or up" card still in there? Thanks!
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Aaron Gelb
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pete belli wrote:

Even on the wrong side of 50, stuff like this gives me pleasure.


I wanna be just like you when I grow up...
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Murray Fish
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Great review, thanks for posting.

Not sure if I can justify purchasing this one without a trial game, but I'll keep an eye out for it at conventions and see if I can manage to wangle a game for myself.

Quote:
Even on the wrong side of 50, stuff like this gives me pleasure.



Yes!
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Pete Belli
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Cooz wrote:
Thanks for all this great information. One question re: Partisan Cards. You mentioned the writing is better and the new laser in Colorado card, but other than that, are the events on the cards the same as those in the old version or are there entirely new partisan situations to play with? Specifically is the game-changing "All lasers hit on a 3 or up" card still in there? Thanks!


Only a handful of the events on the original cards have been changed, and most of these changes are minor.

This article provides analysis of the new FFG deck:

Changes to the Partisan Card deck in the new FFG version compared to the original Milton Bradley edition
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