Local designer Bryan Johnson will be at Knight Moves Cafe at 7pm on Friday, February 28 to teach you his game, Island Fortress!
So, what’s the deal with Island Fortress?
Governor Cortland Hansen and his chosen architects have begun to build Fort Aldenford on Alcott Island – a vicious and unforgiving penal colony. You are one of these architects and must control your band of unruly convicts in order to build your reputation on the island!
What makes Island Fortress special?
Island Fortress takes a bunch of mechanisms that feel familiar – role selection, resource management, area majority, and pattern building – and integrates them in a really unique way. I love that competition tends to be tight throughout the game as everyone struggles to earn their reputation in the form of victory points. Multiple paths to victory bring the game to life – even when I’ve exhausted my resources near the end of the game, there are still ways to earn a few extra points. There are lots of opportunities to pull off some clever tricks in order to claim an advantage.
The artwork in the game is beautiful and functional, evoking a dangerous, harsh, environment while providing a clear play space. While artwork doesn’t usually make or break a game for most players, it definitely adds to my experience with the game.
Alright, so what’s the gameplay like?
Architects hire laborers and recruit convicts to construct pieces of the fortress branded with their seal. Earn victory points by having the most presence in different sections of the fortress, completing levels, and building patterns into the wall that are pleasing to the governor. As such, a major part of the game is acquiring jade and spending it on workers and fortress blocks.
Players start the game with a stash of 12 jade and 3 favor cards that show patterns an architect can build into the fortress in exchange for rewards, with more complex patterns offering higher rewards. The game is then played in rounds.
At the beginning of each round, players collect a small income and then bid jade to earn the Governor’s favor, which confers advantages to that player, not the least of which is the ability to go first. Players then take turns in play order, starting with the player that won the Governor’s favor.
On a turn, a player chooses one of five role cards and an associated action to perform. In a clever twist, each role has multiple choices for actions, providing lots of options while also forcing players to use their resources in clever ways. The roles are:
Recruiter – Add workers to your team – whether they be skilled laborers or unskilled convicts is up to you.
Planner – Purchase wall blocks or get more favor cards – if you’re lucky, maybe you’ve already built some of those patterns!
Builder – Build a wall block by adding it to the fortress! But be warned, the island’s conditions are brutal and the labor is grueling – any convicts will surely perish in the work, and even some skills laborers will be lost. All in the name of reputation, right? If you’ve no block to build, the Builder role also allows you to play completed favor cards for the reward or even replace blocks build by other architects with your own.
Treasurer – Increase your money stores by gaining some jade, or seek out treasure that is worth points and can increase long-term profits.
Taskmaster – Your taskmaster piece dictates where you are allowed to build. This card allows you to move that piece. However, it also gives the valuable option of repeating a previously played role, giving you an opportunity to get exactly what you need!
After each player has taken three turns (and played three role cards), the round ends and the next round start with income and petitions. The game ends either after the fortress is built or after a set number of rounds, whichever comes first. Bonus points are scored, and the highest score wins!
I think I get it. Who do you recommend this game to?
Island Fortress is a great choice for players looking for a tight competition in which it feels like not only are the other players in your way, but the game itself is fighting your efforts. Resources are very tight and it is difficult to determine how to prioritize your actions, especially when you are racing an opponent to a building site. The game also escalates really nicely, maintaining that same level of competition throughout.
Like the island environment, the game can be pretty unforgiving – successful architects will contribute to the building of the fortress while maintaining a surplus of resources – not an easy task.
The game is definitely easier to learn for people who are familiar with the mechanisms here, though I’ve had success teaching the game to people who have limited board gaming experience. Players that are new to this style of board game would definitely benefit from some early-game guidance from more experienced players so they do not fall behind early on.
I highly recommend Island Fortress to players who love deep strategy, but you don’t need to take my word for it! Come down to Knight Moves on Friday, February 28 and learn the game from the man himself, Bryan Johnson!
Players: 2-4 (up to 6 with expansion)
Time: 60-120 minutes (longer with more players)
Game Elements: Role Selection, Resource Management, Area Majority, Pattern Building, Bidding