Fort Sumter Review

By Chris / May 26, 2019
Fort Sumter - banner

Galvanize your side in the tense moments before the start of the US Civil War.

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Platforms

Android, iOS, & Steam

Game Length

15 Minutes

# of Players

1-2

Game Publisher

GMT Games

App Developer

@Playdek

Our Rating

Multiplayer Options

  • Asynchronous
  • Cross-platform
  • Local pass-and-play

Overview

Fort Sumter The Secession Crisis 1860-1861 is a hand management, area control, card game from GMT, brought to the digital world by Playdek. In the two player game, one player plays as the Unionists while the other takes the Secessionists, each attempting to best galvanize their side for the pending Civil War. Players take turns playing cards to assert control over areas on the map and earn victory points. After three rounds and a Final Crisis, the game ends with the player at the highest VP total winning. A game typically can be played in about 15 minutes.

Fort Sumter is best framed as being a lighter take on Twilight Struggle. The core mechanics are very similar in that they aren’t war games, but rather political games where you use historical events to exert control over various regions. In Twilight Struggle, those regions are literal countries on the map, in Fort Sumter they are a mix of physical locations and more abstract concept such as Newspapers or Abolitionists. 

Each of the three rounds begins by each player being dealt six cards; two objective cards and four strategy cards. One of the two objective cards are selected and kept hidden from your opponent, while the other is discarded. The players then take turn playing one of the strategy cards from their hand. These can either be taken as an event and have the card text resolved, or they can simply be used to place the specified amount of tokens anywhere on the map, in an attempt to control regions. Strategy cards can only be played for their text if played by the proper side, but any card may be played for their token value. Some cards in the game are playable by either side, but most are aimed either at the Unionists or Secessionists.

The ultimate goal is to maintain influence over the four different region types on the map, these are referred to as Crisis Dimensions. Each type has three locations associated with it, with one being a Pivotal Space, granting its owner increased power. An example of one of the four crisis dimensions is Armaments, represented by a red cannon. The three locations for armaments are Federal Arsenal, Fort Sumter, and Fort Pickens. The Federal Arsenal is the Pivotal Space for armaments, which allows the player which controls it to move or remove up to two tokens (either theirs or their opponent’s) after each player has played their three cards for the round.

After all of the pivotal spaces are resolved, the objective cards are revealed. Each objective card has a location on it and an action. Whichever player controls the location on the card when it is revealed gains one VP. If the player who gained that VP was the one who played the card, they get to take the action listed on the card, which is often a very powerful add/remove/move ability. Should a player control all three zones of a crisis dimension, they receive one VP for doing so.

This process repeats over two more rounds and is followed by the Final Crisis. During each round, one strategy card goes unplayed by each player, and it used in the Final Crisis. It is turned upside down to show one of the four crisis dimensions and each player orders their three cards separately. The first card for each player is revealed and the consequences differ based on whether the crisis dimension of those cards matched or not, with players either adding or removing tokens.

Finally, after the Final Crisis is complete, end of game scoring takes place. This includes the same one VP for owning all zones of a crisis dimension, as well as a bonus VP for whoever controls Fort Sumter, and one VP is you have at least three more tokens in your pool than your opponent. Whoever has the most VP wins, this is usually in the upper single digits, a score of 8 is going to win more often than not.

There are some details I’m ignoring with the token track and the Peace Commissioner which locks down a zone, preventing tokens from being added or removed.

The game requires a bit of a clumsy explanation, but at its core, it’s fairly simple. Play strategy cards to control regions with the goal of controlling entire crisis dimensions and controlling whatever zone is listed on the object card you played for the round. Repeat this three times and then resolve the somewhat random final crisis to settle the last few points.

The key is in the cards, obviously. Most of the actions allow you to add/remove a few tokens from specific zones or types. Some will allow you to return a large amount to your pool and place them elsewhere which can allow for a quick and drastic strategy change. There are penalties for being the first to take too many tokens from the token track, so token management is important.

What does it all add up to? Well, I like it, but I also have some issues. My biggest issue is that in creating such a simple game, there is a big shift towards luck that is probably unavoidable. One getting four cards a turn keeps things quick and simple, but if you are playing Unionists and are dealt three or four Secessionist-only cards, that can tank your entire round, and subsequently the game. If you are able to play cards for their events, you generally get to manipulate at least three tokens in some way, often more. The token value of cards is capped at three and there are bunch which only offer one token. Going back to the previous example, getting three one-value Secessionist cards and a two-value means you will get to add four tokens over the entire round. Your opponent might get to add four on a single card. The counterpoint to this is that the game is meant to be light and quick, so if you get struck down with awful luck one game, no big deal, play again.

I like that the game offers a mix of obvious and hidden information. Each player wants to control all three zones of a crisis dimension, and everybody knows that, which puts that goal right out on the table at all times. The hidden objective each round is usually pretty powerful, so players night prefer to play that one close to the vest and not make their move until later in the round, preventing their opponent from reacting.

Overall, I like what Fort Sumter offers. It’s a quick playing area control game with a good control-influencing system and just enough quirks thrown in to stand out.

Barrier to Entry

Fort Sumter is taught through a full game length tutorial. The tutorial will hold your hand through each move of an entire game, taking care to explain both how to play and why you would want to play certain cards over others. The latter is key here, many games simply teach you the “how” but fall well short on the “why.” It’s great to see Fort Sumter really trying to give you an idea of strategy throughout the tutorial. Of course, you will still do plenty of strategic learning as you begin playing after the tutorial, but it’s nice to get started on the right foot.

The game also features a nice, indexed set of text rules which is great for reference or if you are unclear on some things after the tutorial. The game features a full card gallery which allows you to see every available card if you want need a refresher on what is out there.

Fort Sumter - tutorial

Starting the tutorial

Fort Sumter - menu

Main menu

Fort Sumter - objective

Picking an objective card

Look and Feel 

Fort Sumter looks good, with a nice beige color palette in the menus which gives off an old-timey feel without beating you over the head with it. The game screen adds some muted colors, making everything easy to identify and find at a glance. The game board is well laid out so you can see everything you need.

Control-wise, the game is mostly pretty good. You drag-and-drop cards to play them and can generally drag-and-drop or click twice to move tokens around. Moving tokens gets a little cramped on a phone screen. There is an undo button which is always nice. Pro tip: it gets hidden behind the pivotal spaces popup during that phase, it took me a while to find it which led to much early frustrating.

The game features a pleasant, period appropriate soundtrack and also some historical speech voice overs which add to the flavor of the game. These aren’t perfect, as they will often play over top of one another, but they are a nice touch.

Multiplayer

Fans of Playdek’s other titles will recognize the online system. It is cross-platform, asynchronous (or real time), and features a lobby system for creating and joining games. The game has working system notifications and you can also choose to received email notifications. Online ranking it computed using the popular ELO system where everybody starts at 1500 and sees their score rise or fall with each win or loss.

The online lobby is navigated using Quick Match, Find Game, or Create Game. Quick Match and Create Game are essentially the same, with the latter allowing you to invite a friend while both allow you to chose timeouts for starting the game and for the game itself. Game timeouts range from ten minutes to 21 days. You can also specify if you want to limit your opponents to anyone within a certain ELO rating of you. Find Game lists all open games you can join.

My only real complaint with online play is that the game forces you to hit “login” each time you open it to play an online game. Unless the app is still in your cache from a recent play. I don’t understand why this exists, it should be done automatically as the app is loading to save time. On the nitpicking side, it would be great to get an auto-match feature, but this is a very minor complaint as the lobby system is fully functional.

Single Player

Single player is played against a single AI, there are no difficulty levels. This is a big warning sign for me, but it all depends on how tough that AI is. Unfortunately, I won my first AI game after the tutorial despite having very little idea what I was doing. Now, I have lost to the AI, but only once out of a handful of games so that feels like a fluke. To make matters just a bit worse, the AI is extremely slow at points, particularly (but not limited to) early in the first round of the game. I guess having an open board presents too many choices so it takes a while to crunch the options, but it sure is an unpleasant experience watching the AI progress bar crawl towards empty.

Overall, Fort Sumter misses the mark in single player play. I have regularly been getting defeated soundly in my online games, proving I’m no expect in this game, but I find the AI to be a pushover, and slow to boot.

Update:  A few weeks after release, the app received an update which noted some AI improvements.  We've played a handful of games against AI since and it seems like the AI is better but still not very good.  They will be more likely to take advantage of mistakes, but seem mostly lost most of the time.  I haven't seen another 11-4 victory like our screenshot shows from the original release, but I've still been winning way more often than not.

Fort Sumter - game

Second phase

Fort Sumter - final crisis

Setting up for the Final Crisis

Fort Sumter - victory

Victory!

What Else?

As mentioned, the game provides a full card gallery. I was happy to see that there is a “historical” button you can press in the gallery which will switch from displaying the game rules of the card to showing a brief historical background on the card. The descriptions vary in length, but it is great to see the game provide some historical background for those who are interested.

The Wrap Up

Fort Sumter is a fun area control game wrapped up in a theme of political influence. The game mixes obvious goals with hidden objectives nicely and strips the genre to its core by only allowing three cards per turn. It forces you to decide where you will make your move, and move quickly, creating a nice balance of tactical and strategic gameplay.

The app is mostly very well done. It looks great and mostly plays great too. The complaints are in the fiddliness of moving cubes around on a phone screen and the lacking AI. I hope the AI gets another boost in a future update. A more minor complaint is the weird need to press a button to login each time you open the app to resume an online game. A small issue, but it adds up if you are playing multiple games.

Overall, Fort Sumter is a fun game and the app does the job if you are wanting to play online. If you are looking for a strong single player experience, that simply isn’t what is offered by this app right now.

Fort Sumter offers a great digital implementation of the board game if you want to play online, the weak AI makes single player less appealing.

What we like


- A light, fun area control political showdown

- Solid online play with many timeout length options

- Nice touch to add historical flavor to cards in the gallery

What we don't like



- Only one AI level and it's not very good


- Moving cubes can be a bit fiddly at times on a phone


- Unnecessary extra step in loading online games


Our Rating

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