Fort Sumter – Review

Written by davidepessach

Fort Sumter

GMT Games is a company that manufactures and sell wargames and boardgames. The former is its specialty: if you are so inclined (a ‘grognard’, that’s how a hardcore wargamer is called) you can basically play dozens of conflicts in pretty much all the eras of human life, from antique history to the contemporary era with their games.

But GMT games have lately begun to move toward more abstract games, simulations that delve into the realms of politics, diplomacy, somewhat limited conflicts. Twilight Struggle, one of the best-selling boardgames ever (and one of the best received from public and critics), a simulation of the Cold War, is the perfect example of a more-approachable-than-wargames product published by GMT. Their COIN series, focused on counterinsurgency situations, is another example counting eight episodes as we write this.
Now GMT Games is beginning to port their games to the digital format with the help of Playdeck; Twilight Struggle was the first one (for obvious reasons) and it is now the turn of Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter
1 Fort Sumter is the port of a political boardgame from GMT Games

A Fort started it all

So, what is Fort Sumter?
Fort Sumter is a fort built back in 1816 on a small island near Charleston (South Carolina – you can still visit the place), and it marks the first battle of the American Civil War as the Confederates attacked it on 12th April 1861. Around this iconic battle, GMT has built a board game that simulates the crisis that led to the actual war. It is a political abstract game in which armed conflicts have no place but everything happens through play of cards and tit-for-tat mechanics.

The game is played in three turns plus a final crisis phase. In each turn, every player receives four event cards and two objective cards. The players secretly choose one objective card and proceed to play.
Then the game alternates between players playing event cards. If the card played has the same faction symbol of the player it can be used for the event itself or for the points written on it; if the card belongs to the opposing faction only the points can be used.
The events give specific advantages on the board (tied to the theme on the card) that are usually more powerful than the points; the points indicate how many influence cubes the player can place on the map. The player having more cubes on a spot ends up controlling it.

Fort Sumter Maps
2 The map of Fort Sumter is an abstract one, it represent concepts rather than places

Not really a map

Now, the map…
It’s not much of a real map as it contains abstract political categories: armaments, public opinion, secession, government. Each category has three spots on the map. The game pushes the players to build a strategy for owning as many of these categories as possible using points and events and, at the same time, following the objective chosen each turn.
One of the three spots belonging to a category is the main spot. If you happen to control this at the end of the turn you can shuffle around cubes in that category, a very neat advantage.

Besides this main mechanic, players get punished for placing too many influence cubes too quickly since these are limited and their number outside the map tied to specific political bonuses and maluses.
At the end of each turn players score points according to their control of the map. Also, every turn players keep one card in reserve to be played in the final crisis.

At the end of the three turns, the final crisis triggers. Players play the three cards in their possession and get to place influence cubes according to a slightly different set of rules.

Fort Sumter review
3 In the final crisis phase the rules change and the gameplay takes an interesting twist.

Now, players familiar with Twilight Struggle and other card-driven games have probably already recognized the main engine of Fort Sumter as a lighter version of Mark Herman’s signature CDG system. It is, in fact, the case, as the game is way more approachable than any other CDG game produced by GMT Games. The limited amount of spots on the map and the fact that events are much easier to understand make Fort Sumter the lightest and quickest GMT game that I have played, and by far.

It is also a very enjoyable experience as the tit-for-tat mechanic with the hidden information (the cards) work well together to create interesting decisions and dilemmas. It is a very compelling card game that shines if played against a human opponent; this is the reason the board game was actually so well received and has many enthusiasts praising it.

Fort Sumter is a very compelling card game that shines if played against a human opponent.

A videogame from a board game

The electronic version main contributions are obviously the interface, the automatic rules enforcing, the multiplayer and the AI.
The interface is ok. There is always a lot of information on the screen but, thanks to the very good tutorial, everything is clear and will soon become second nature.
We didn’t like one thing though. Fort Sumter is an historical game and GMT has always included the explanations of the events in their booklets. These explanations are also present in the electronic version but they are confined to a section that is not accessible while playing…this part is in fact accessible from the main menu and it is not readable during a match, a very bad decision that I hope will be corrected soon.
The rules enforcing and the multiplayer both work like a charm. It has to be noted that the game has a pretty limited amount of players so it is not easy at all to find buddies to challenge…you better bring your own friends over.

Fort Sumter Card Gallery
4 The text explaining events and characters is there but misplaced in a card gallery, not accessible from within a match

The AI is a mixed bag. Sometimes it is very efficient in cornering you, while some other times it loses its mind and let you win easily. I couldn’t understand its pattern but at the time I am writing this is still an issue that the team is trying to fix. Good thing developers are supportive and present on the Steam forum answering questions from the players and trying to help. But the AI being somewhat broken is a big deal for the electronic port of a board game; it is in fact the main reason many players consider buying the port in the first place…

The AI is a mixed bag. Sometimes it is very efficient in cornering you, while some other times it loses its mind and let you win easily.

The audio department is ok. The historical music is a fitting theme, while the famous quotes pronounced by historical characters are a nice touch that is not intrusive nor distracting. All in all Fort Sumter is a good port of a very interesting political game from GMT. The mix between ease of use and learning and the interesting card mechanics and dilemmas is a winning one. With a fixed AI this can easily be worth an 8, especially if you like political games and you are interested in the historical period.


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