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.

(Quick shameless plug: go forth, buy my new book, Games’ Most Wanted. Post reviews online. Help spread the word to your gamer friends, spouses, and family members. Oh, and the Kindle version is now available for you e-reader types. And now, back to the blog…)

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.

Gamers’ Most Wanted


Quick update of sorts, since I’m absolutely slagged on time:

The title above is actually a reference to a book I’m currently finishing co-writing with Fear the Boot‘s Chris Hussey (also a newbie BattleTech writer). It’s a book for Potomac Press that will see publication in November this year June/July of next year (in time for convention season) – at least, last I heard from the editor. We’re about 7 chapters from completing the first draft…and all 7 are mine. (Then again, we’ve kind of split the book 60/40ish, so…) What’s holding things up is my juggling another book – a complete sourcebook being written for CGL’s BattleTech line with a first draft due in mid-March. I recently had to kick-start a rewrite of said book since my initial approach became increasingly convoluted and messy the further I went, so it’s a race to see just how much I can push into the remaining 28 days before deadline.

Anyway, GMW is a book about games. More specifically, about tabletop, board, and computer games, their culture, their impact, and their fascinating history. Each chapter features 10 “subjects” related to the chapter theme and we’ve really tried to reach out far and wide to include as much about the games and the culture of gamers as possible. It’s a book written for gamer geeks and their significant others (and parents, if you want to go that far) and it’s been an absolute blast to write.

Here’s a taste of some of the chapters we’ve got going. (Note that this is first drafting; material subject to change between now and publication.) Continue reading

Memorex Memories

courtesy of swishphotos

My entertainment complex hasn’t changed all that much since my humble beginnings with the audio experience back when I was a teenager. (Isn’t that when most guys get involved?) Of course, by that time, I’d been “indoctrinated” with piano lessons since I was 5, impromptu drum lessons by my uncle when I was 11, clarinet when I was 12, and sax when I turned 16. Add in string bass at 17 and you’ve got the idea.

I was a band / music geek. I did concert / wind ensemble, marching band, jazz band, musicals. Name it, I played in it.

Ok, so when I turned 15, my parents bought me my first “cabinet stereo”. Up to that point, I’d been suffering with a cheap-o Sears boom box that had detachable speakers and a tape deck. The sound was horrid, but it was my first stereo. So I got really excited when I saw the size of the gift…I had done some research and wanted a Blaupunkt ensemble – the best there was at that time, in my opinion. Alas, no.

It was – yep – a Sears model cheap-o all-in-one cabinet stereo. With phonograph (no CD). And the speakers, again, sucked. Please note – I did NOT own any LPs at this time. Just tapes. Lots and lots of tapes.

Still, it was all I had.

I used that stereo (abused, is more like it) into my freshman year of college. Even saved up and bought a Sony CD player for it. And when the first stereo war erupted on the dormitory’s floor….I promptly lost. Badly. It was like a cricket playing at a Metallica concert.

I suffered shame and humiliation – and determined to junk that piece o’ crap first chance I had.

In the meantime, my dorm roommate (#2) introduced me to a wonderful little trademark called “Dolby” and a button called “surround sound”. I was enthralled. Never had Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader sounded so…so…COOL.

I added such distinctions to my wish list.

After Christmas of my sophomore year, I went audio shopping. I NEEDED something to play my tunes, and not the ancient system my parents guarded. So I ended up compromising for price and sound, and bought a Fisher receiver, with dual video, 5 aux, 300 watt internal amp and Dolby surround sound. Added two floor speakers, each rated at 150 watts (and I think, 8 ohms), a 200 watt sub woofer, and two 50 watt “front channel” side speakers.

Yes, I dominated stereo wars for the next year and a half, and I only made it to ‘6’ on the volume dial. And *I* was the Resident Assistant! So we would borrow my setup for our weekly Floor Movie Night in the lounge….. Ahhhhh….. I should’ve charged admission…but my supervisor wouldn’t let me. So I settled for two cans of pop per person, which got put into a community ice tub for everyone to mooch off of.

That system traveled with me when I moved into the Real World and my wife “inherited” it on our wedding day. [Aside: She still kids that she married me more for my stuff at the time….] I kept all of it intact until the sub woofer finally failed in 1997, the side channel speakers in 1998, and we ‘traded’ the floor monsters to my father-in-law when we moved to D.C. He gave us his 250 watt custom-built shelf-mounted speakers instead, as they were more compact for our now-smaller living room. (Those are now residing with a friend as we ‘graduated’ to a full surround-sound setup.)

The Fisher got company in 1995, when I replaced the single-tray Sony CD player for a Pioneer 6-track cartridge one. Added a nice Sony VHS Hi-Fi that same year for a better “theater” sound (the mono-line RCA wasn’t cutting it anymore). Also dropped in a Panasonic dual cassette deck, at my wife’s insistence. Then added a Sony DVD player in 1999, but that failed in 2001, so it was replaced with a nice Toshiba model. An additional Allegra DVD/VHS component was added in 2003, though it split time between the bedroom TV and the main setup, for additional recording options (I was dabbling in video editing for a while).

Still have all of it, though we’ve since added a dual-tuner satellite DVR to the happy mix – and next week, we’ll add a HDVR. No matter what type of entertainment we want to watch or listen to, it all went through that reliable Fisher. I’ve never had to crank it past ‘2’ on the volume dial in years.

When we moved ‘up’ to a full 5 speaker + sub surround system, I donated that venerable Fisher to a friend. As far as I know, it is still working…

The only thing missing is my PC hooked up to the whole shebang, but that’s a tad difficult, seeing as the PC is in another room. I did have them mated a long time ago and played the entire Doom game on it….talk about creepy! Best time I ever had at 3 in the morning. Well, almost….

I *do* listen to music a lot in the car as well, but sadly, I don’t spend as much time or energy on it as I do at home. Considering I’m not in the car as often…. Well, I *did* splurge and replace my VUE’s in-dash deck with a nice CD/mp3 radio. No need to replace the speakers, though – they sound just fine cranked up to 11.

So next time you guys visit, allow me to show you how the Memorex commercial REALLY works, okay?