Three Things I Like About: Fortress America

general nerdery

Welcome back another Three Things entry. Today we’ll look back at a board game from my childhood: Fortress America.

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Released in 1987 by Milton Bradley, it was one of the company’s three “Gamemaster” series. (The other two were Shogun and Axis & Allies; I still have a copy of Shogun.) The original box art is interesting in the sense that there’s a prominent “not”-image of Saddam Hussein incorporated into the art.

And for the record, this original box sits on my game shelf – complete with all parts and pieces. While I don’t play it much anymore, it was a common weekend diversion in my home during my high school and college years.

Let’s look at three things I like about this game, shall we?

U.S. Against the World

Designed for up to four players, FA requires one player to be the U.S. with the remaining players working in concert as the opponent. The three invading armies attack from different directions – east, west, and south – and while they dont’ have to cooperate…the best chance for beating the U.S. pretty much requires it.

What I liked about it most was the “come get some” attitude the U.S. player can take. While the initial setup is decidedly against the U.S., that balance shifts as the game progresses. With the steady buildup of the Star Wars defense system, ability to drop forces behind enemy lines due to random partisan cards, and the never-ending well of reinforcements (unlike the opponent invaders, who have a limited number of troops and troop types), the U.S. can grind out a win the longer the game progresses. Which gives more outspoken players innumerable opportunities to trash talk…something I admit do doing way too often in my younger days. (Okay fine…I still do it.)

Unconventional Tactics

If you play as one or more of the invader armies, it becomes quickly apparent that neither going solo nor holding back will win you the game. It’s a delicate balance between using “just enough” force to grab at least half of your victory cities early and retaining enough power to slam through to the ones farther out of reach.

With limited reinforcements available, a player using an invader army has to learn how to juggle resource management, combined arms, and contingency planning if they want to have a chance of reaching the victory goal. This is just to operate as one of the three forces in play; cooperating and coordinating with the other two enemies is also crucial.

I learned early on that straight-up attack-attack-attack doesn’t always work. That lesson in exploring alternatives has stuck with me ever since, and has given me a much greater appreciation in looking at the tactical and strategic options available to you.

Plastic Pieces

This was one of the first board games with parts other than cards, paper, and tokens I’d ever received. The molds were simple but sharp and to a young kid, pretty freaking cool. They sparked the imagination enough that I used to incorporate them into micro-scale battles with the pieces from Axis & Allies and Battleship.

Eventually, my brother and I started creating our own house rules for the game, including mobile lasers, reinforcements for the invaders, and scorched earth tactics. The game got a lot of use even through college, typically as an alternative to A&A when we neared burnout stages with that popular game.

Though I rarely play it these days, I hold onto the box because it evokes a lot of great memories whenever I look at it up in the closet. That’s part of the charm of games, after all.

2 thoughts on “Three Things I Like About: Fortress America

  1. Oh man, I always wanted to try this one. It was advertised on my box of Axis and Allies, along with Shogun. I played the hell out of Axis and Allies, though. Weekend-long games fueled by Domino’s pizza and big bottles of Shasta. About the same time we switched from FASA Star Trek to BattleTech, come to think.

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