Island Fortress Review: Let’s build these walls!

Sections: Board, Exclusives, Originals, Reviews, Strategy

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Title: Island Fortress
 Price: $50
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Publisher: Frost Forge Games
Recommended Age: 13 and older  
Playing Time: 45 minutes to an hour
Pros: Good depth and decision-making
Cons: Odd theme, bit of a learning curve

Island Fortress is another Kickstarter-funded game, one that made a stretch goal, so it included an extra large wooden “governor” piece. The game is loosely around building, well, an island fortress, or at least one wall of it. From 2 to 4 players rush to do so in as pleasing a way as possible for the governor; presumably the winner gets to build the other three walls of the fortress.

The components are all nice enough, although the wall pieces are a little dark, sometimes making it tough to read a player’s insignia unless looking for it (by the second game, you’ll have it down). A similar problem happens with the jade and builder pieces, which come in two forms (small and large); it’s easy to pick the wrong one until you get a feel for them.


Let’s Get Building!

Play begins with players bidding jade (the currency of the game, though there is also “treasure”) for the governor’s favor. The winner gets to go first, as well as a free block of stone to help him build.

After bidding, each player in Island Fortress plays a phase, after three phases it’s bidding time again. There is *much* you can do in these phases. A basic set of moves for a turn might be recruiting convicts/laborers, buying blocks of stone, and using convicts/laborers to install those blocks of stone on the wall. You convicts/laborers (builders) generally die after building, but half the laborers–rounded down–survive. Building is harsh work!

You can only build on the wall section your taskmaster is on–there are more sections with more players–but you can move your taskmaster in a phase, or use the taskmaster to re-activate one of your earlier actions. As the wall builds higher, you’ll need more builders, so usually you’ll use the “double action” option to get more builders. Stones cost money, and there is also the option to work with your treasury, increasing your income or getting other bonuses.


Guts and glory…. but mainly points.

Victory in Island Fortress is achieved by points, and players get points for all sorts of wall-related things. Completing a row, completing a tower (the top part), completing a section…it all adds up. What keeps the game from being a “build as quickly as possible” fest are the bonus cards (and yes, you can use a phase to get more of these). Put your stones on the wall in a certain configuration (for example, as pictured), and you get permanent bonuses. It may not be exactly thematic, but making the governor happy is a good thing, I suppose.

This does lead to about the only design weakness of the game–the rich get richer, and a player that satisfies a few more of these early on while other players are doing whatever can get an early lead, giving him enough bonuses to build much more quickly…leading to a bigger lead that can snowball.

The other issue is the theme, which is a bit odd. The designers have done a truly amazing job making wall-building interesting and deep, but talking gamers into the game in the first place can be a bit tough. The game is also a little complicated, requiring a commitment to wall-building to get over the initial hump of getting all the rules down (players can make most any action at any phase, meaning you have know all the rules before making that first move).

There’s more fun in this box than meets the eye, but ultimately it depends on the gaming group to get the most out of Island Fortress.

Product Page [gamesalute]

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