Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Purchase Decision - Island Fortress

hey all !

I've decided to start a small segment that i will call...
"A Purchase Decision"

just an idea i had in mind and decided to go full steam ahead with it, and see where and how it turns out

basically the idea of "A Purchase Decision" ( aka APD ), is just to state out what i thought of while deliberating whether or not to buy a particular game.

i'm not sure how each of you decide on what game to purchase ( art, newness, designer, etc etc ), but for me, each purchase goes through a very vigorous and tough selection process, which usually also includes the reading through of the rule-set.
so i thought i would just list through my thoughts on how the game is going to play like and what i considered before i made ( or did not make ) the purchase

if you do read through it, i hope that whatever i had to say might help as well in your game purchasing decision ! :)

well, on to it then !

Island Fortress

the game in question this time is "Island Fortress" by Bryan Johnson

Brief History

for those that have been monitoring the gaming scene for awhile, this is the game that initially started as "Huang Di". it went through a long and quite sad process in trying to get published. it was picked up twice by different publishers but both failed on their end to get Bryan's game to the market
he finally Kickstarted it and it is out now in the market

Game Info

Island Fortress plays 2-4 players and has an existing expansion that lets it play from 5-6 players
Published playing time is 90mins
Mechanics - Role Selection / Secret Goals / Resource Management / Pattern Building

How it Might Play

The game has a fixed number of rounds per player set
( it may end earlier if the entire wall has been fully built )

What happens each round is as follows
1) players collect income ( usually 3 jade per round, may be modified by treasure tokens )
2) players bid to be governor & start player ( gives you an extra tile action which is pretty useful )
3) players in turn order play a role card and determine what action to take ( this is done thrice )
4) players check for scoring and end game conditions ( players score for building a majority per row or by building the topmost tower of the wall )
5) end of round

it seems simple enough and i guess it truly is.
the bulk of the action comes in the action phase when players play their role cards

just 2 of the 5 role cards available to you

some of the actions that the role card enables players to take are:
1) build a wall segment ( pay the appropriate cost depending on the level it is built on )
2) complete a favor card ( these cards require you to build specific patterns on the wall, scoring them give points and in game benefits )
3) replace wall segment ( pay double the cost to replace an opponent's tile with yours )
4) collect treasure tokens
5) converting laborers into convicts ( basically increasing your pool of available workers )

sample of how the favor cards look like and what it asks of you

Once the end game condition(s) have been triggered, there is a final scoring for majorities on any uncompleted rows and levels and the player with the most points is the winner.
There are end game scoring opportunities as well, where the player with the most treasure tokens, most workers, and most money will received additional points.
The only negative end game scoring position is the player who owns the least number of treasure tokens.

What I Like ( from reading the rules )

Role Selection
what attracts me to the game is that firstly, it has a role selection mechanic
i really like role selection and i find that it brings a particular tension to a game.
in most role selection games, there is a timing to use each role and a limitation to how often you can do this. and this is evident in Island Fortress
each role provides you with a different ability, and once used, you cant use it again in the round unless you "buy it back" or "pay a repeat cost".
these terms basically mean that if you have a token that lets you reuse a person, you can, but the token is hard to attain.
the repeat cost is simpler because you merely need to pay a cost, but it can only be done once a round and it must be done in conjunction with another role card

Hidden Goals
the game has hidden goals ( same as Ticket to Ride's end game goal cards )
each player is trying to build the wall to a particular pattern / style, and by successfully doing so, he/she will gain a certain number of points
and not only that, there is an engine building system in these goal cards
each card successfully finished provides you with either immediate benefits ( in terms of resources ) or/and in game benefits ( increasing your income or your bid value for the governor )
it is subtle but seems very rewarding
only concern is if it leads to a runaway leader problem

Multiple Uses for Role Cards
i love games where a card can be used for multiple things and this is incorporated in Island Fortress
each role card has either 2 or 3 uses for it. for example, one of the card lets you build a wall, replace a wall, or score your hidden goal. another lets you take resources or buy treasures which helps you get even more resources later in the game.
this makes selecting a role more crucial and tense

Mid Game Scoring
in Island Fortress, the mid game scoring seems to add a certain layer to the game as it rewards points for the player that completes a row in a wall section and also for the player who has the majority in that completed row
this could lead to a nice back and forth on trying to complete a row first while still achieving a majority presence. the game also affords scoring more points for building the tower ( the highest point of the wall ). so you have to build up discreetly and strike at the right moment ( perhaps with a double move )
it could lead to frustrating moments as well i guess, but i wont know till i play it

What I Dislike ( from reading the rules )

Runaway Leader Possibility
it could be possible to have a runaway leader problem as there is no in game catch up mechanism
if you're down you're down, do your best and hope for a slip up

Rule Book doesnt have much quick point references
the rule book doesnt seem user friendly for finding points of interest mid game. too much text, not enough pictures for examples

Similar Art for Player Walls
the walls for each player really look the same. only distinguishable by a symbol. quite a waste as it is the main thing that everybody will be looking at. tough to decipher may lead one to make a game changing mistake

Playing Time
i dont think it will play in 90mins.
a 4 player game lasts 12 turns. i think it is probably a 120mins game

May not be easy to swallow for a not so experienced gamer
or maybe the better term is that a not as experienced gamer may not be able to be competitive in the game on his/her first play through

Conclusion - Bought

thats all that i have for Island Fortress
in the end, after going through each point and reading the rules, i made my purchase and i hope to table it some time soon !

gosh, this feels like a review of a game i havent played. :(
sorry if it seems that way

one day i will try to post an actual review of it or at least a review of another game



  1. Maybe we will play this on saturday! :D

  2. this is a good review. I found your site through your post in the Boardgame Geek facebook group today.