FORTRESS AMERICA is a strategic level simulation — based very loosely on the AXIS & ALLIES Game System — of a fictional future invasion of the United States. The game was designed by Michael Gray and published in 1986 as part of the Game Master Series by the Milton Bradley Company (MBC).


2031: The United States, for the first time since the War of 1812, faces a direct invasion of its own soil by foreign enemies.
“After nearly three years of planning and careful preparing, the three superpowers (the Asian Peoples’ Alliance, the Central American Federation, and the Euro-Socialist Pact) are ready to strike. Since the United States would see any conventional force coming over the oceans at them in time to reactivate many mothballed naval units, the invasion force will travel by super-transport submarines. This will allow the invaders to surprise America and give her no time to react before the first divisions are on the coast. On the downside, the three superpowers will be unable to bring their full military might to bear. However, even America can’t hope to hold off the combined firepower of nearly 20 divisions of armor, infantry and aircraft that takes them by surprise …

There is great risk however. Though the three superpowers control many countries in their part of the world, they are NOT the entire world. If this invasion does not succeed in the first few weeks, world opinion would turn against them. Also, the looming fear of America’s ability to produce war material in vast quantities is a factor in invader plans. Finally, there is the question of the American solar sats themselves. Are they only dangerous against orbital and sub-orbital targets, or should ground and air forces also be worried?”
May 22, 2031: The Invaders strike! Here, now, the fate of America will be decided.

http://www.grognard.com/info1/fortress.doc .


FORTRESS AMERICA is a strategic level (brigade/air wing) simulation of a hypothetical future war between the United States and a hostile coalition made up of ground and air forces from Asia, Latin America, and Europe. The game begins with America’s enemies poised to invade the United States from three sides: the Asian Peoples’ Alliance from the west; the Central American Federation from the south; and the Euro-Socialist Pact from the east. The players control one or more of the four ‘Major Combatants’ that, as the game begins, are about to begin the life-or-death struggle to determine the future destiny of the United States. The area-style game map depicts the continental United States and, for purposes of regularizing movement and combat, is divided into ninety-six territories or spaces. These spaces combine to form five distinct geographical sections or regions: the East; the South; the Plains; the Rocky Mountains; and the West. Running along the U.S. border are three separate enemy staging areas each of which is further divided into six invasion zones: one set of invasion zones runs along the east coast; one set is along America’s southern border; and one set of invasion zones covers the west coast. All invading hostile forces must enter play from one of these invasion staging areas. Only the northern border between the U.S. and Canada is completely free of enemy invasion zones. The plastic game pieces represent mobile ground and air units — four identical sets of sixty assorted units per side — as well as important fixed locations, such as major cities and ‘Laser’ satellite weapons sites. In addition, the game includes ‘random event’ Partisan Cards which the U.S. player draws at the beginning of each player turn.

FORTRESS AMERICA is played in game turns which are further divided into four player turns, each of which encompasses the game operations of one of the four major belligerents in the battle for America. The order of player turns — whether two, three, or four players are involved — will always follow the same basic pattern: Western Invader; Southern Invader; Eastern Invader; and finally, the United States player. In the two-player game, all invading forces move first; in the three-player game, the Western and Eastern Invaders move first, followed by the Southern Invader, and, only after all invading forces have completed their moves, does the US player complete his turn. No matter how many players are participants in the game, however, each of the four belligerent’s game operations must be completed before the next player begins his move. A typical individual player turn will proceed in the following strict sequence of game operations: Reinforcements (the Invader players bring new units into play via their respective ‘invasion zones’, and the U.S. player receives one new Laser site and draws random events cards) ; Declare Battles (enemy territories are targeted for attack or occupation); First Movement; Fire Lasers (USA player turn only); Combat; Second Movement; Supply Check (Invaders’ player turns only); and Capture Territory (units move into vacant enemy spaces and convert to friendly control).

Play in FORTRESS AMERICA always starts with the three-pronged invasion of the United States. On the opening game turn, certain rigid ‘invasion turn’ deployment requirements are in effect for each of the four sides. The U.S. player’s forces begin the campaign dispersed across the map with two units (of any type) assigned to each of the thirty American city territories. During this critical first game turn, the three Invading armies are also restricted in what they can do: each is required to attempt to push twenty units (of any type the phasing player chooses) into border territories of the continental United States. Because ‘stacking rules’ (more on this later) apply during every turn of the game, including the first, each invader can use five or six, but no fewer than four of his landing zones to stage for this initial invasion move. Starting on the second game turn, the three Invading players may each bring eight of his remaining off-map units into play; these additional units continue to enter the game until all of the uncommitted Invader reserves have entered the map (turn six). The American player’s reinforcement situation is very different: starting on turn one and continuing through to the end of the game, the U.S. player receives one new ‘Laser’ satellite site at the beginning of each game turn; more importantly, during his reinforcement phase, the American commander also randomly draws two ‘Partisan Cards’ which stipulate the numbers and locations of incoming forces or, alternatively, provide a special ‘one-turn’ combat capability to U.S. forces. Also, the American player is allowed to draw an extra bonus Partisan Card for each City Territory that he recaptures during his previous player turn. Unlike the Invading players who will ultimately run out of reinforcements, the U.S. commander will continue to receive new Lasers and Partisan Cards until the game ends.

Game mechanics in FORTRESS AMERICA, once players become familiar with the somewhat unorthodox game system, are fast-moving and comparatively simple. The rules for movement are a little unusual and vary according to unit type: foot units (all infantry and US partisans) may only move one space to an adjacent friendly or vacant (hostile) territory, and only during the second movement phase; mechanized units (mobile units and hovertanks) may move one area during both the first and second movement phases (but may only enter a friendly-controlled territory during the first movement phase, and — just like infantry — a friendly or unoccupied enemy territory during the second movement phase); air units (helicopters and bombers) may move two and four territories, respectively, during both the first and the second movement phase, and both types of units may fly over both friendly and enemy spaces during either phase. In addition, helicopters may conduct a special type of offensive operation during the first movement phase, only: these units — at the sacrifice of their second movement phase — may conduct an ‘airmobile’ assault against any vacant enemy non-city territory within two spaces of their starting position. Only one type of combat unit in the game has no movement capability at all: US Laser sites, once placed in a city space, are completely immobile.

Unlike AXIS & ALLIES (1981), FORTRESS AMERICA includes rules for both stacking and supply. Stacking restrictions apply to all players at all times: no player may position more than five combat units in a single territory at any point in the game turn; moreover, units forced to retreat in excess of this stacking limit are eliminated, instead. The one exception to this rule involves the use of bombers: an attacking player may stack up to five bombers directly in an enemy-occupied territory (they are bombing the space from above) during a battle. However, bombers performing this mission cannot capture the enemy space even if it is completely cleared of defenders; capture of the vacated enemy territory may only be accomplished by adjacent supporting combat units. Supply requirements differ significantly for the two sides: American units are always in supply, no matter what; Invader units, however, must trace a supply path from the territory they occupy through friendly-occupied or controlled spaces back to an appropriate (force-specific) ‘landing zone’. Any Invader units that cannot trace such a route during the Supply Check phase of the game turn are eliminated immediately.

The combat rules of FORTRESS AMERICA are, quite probably, the most interesting feature of the game system. Unlike AXIS & ALLIES, combat in FORTRESS AMERICA is sequential and NOT simultaneous: the defender fires first and surviving attackers are not allowed to fire until all defending units have completed their attacks and losses (if any) have been subtracted from the attacker’s engaged forces. The actual resolution of individual battles is vaguely reminiscent of the combat procedures for AXIS & ALLIES and WAR AT SEA (1975): a die is rolled for each unit involved in a battle and the outcome of this attack can be either a miss, a hit (the target unit is eliminated) or a retreat/disengagement result (roughly comparable to a ‘disabled’ result in WAS). However, unlike the battle procedures in AXIS & ALLIES and WAR AT SEA, there is only one round of firing in a battle. Moreover, the game’s procedures for resolving combat are different from these alternative titles in a couple of other ways, as well. To begin with, FORTRESS AMERICA includes three distinct (four, if you count Lasers) classes of combat units: infantry, mechanized, and air. Each of these three classes differs in terms of which types of hostile units it may attack: infantry may only attack enemy infantry (if present); mechanized may only attack other mechanized or infantry; only air units (and Lasers) may engage any enemy unit that the attacking player chooses. In addition to these restrictions, each class of unit uses a different type of die to resolve combat: a six-sided die is used when infantry attacks; an eight-sided for mechanized; and a ten-sided die for air units and Lasers. Since hits are typically scored with a die roll of ‘five’ or higher, this use of alternative dice for the three categories of units translates directly into significant variations in the different types of units’ combat power. When resolving battles, fires are conducted, when possible, against enemy units which are equal to or of a lower ‘class’ than that of the firing units. This means, for example, that while infantry can typically only target enemy infantry, mechanized units could — at the owning player’s option — shoot at either mechanized or infantry units. Interestingly, two types of terrain, City Territories and Mountain Territories — although they have no effect on movement — can directly influence combat by increasing the die roll necessary for an attacker to hit a defending unit. The attacking player can negate this defensive advantage, however, by conducting a ‘combined arms’ attack; that is: an assault that, even after defensive fire, is still composed of infantry, mechanized, and air units. The American Lasers, which steadily increase in numbers as the game wears on, represent a special case. These powerful units can attack any Invader unit on the game map and are unaffected either by the defender’s terrain or by the range of the attack. There is only one limitation on the U.S. commander’s use of these weapons: no more than one Laser attack may be conducted against a single territory on any given game turn.

Victory in FORTRESS AMERICA depends on the control of American City Territories. Thus, the game is won — in the case of the Invading player or players — by capturing and holding eighteen of the thirty U.S. city territories through the end of the American player turn. In those games in which there are more than two players, the invader who controls the most cities (assuming the eighteen city requirement has been met) is the winner. The American player wins by simply avoiding the Invader conditions of victory.

FORTRESS AMERICA, like its ‘distant cousin’ AXIS & ALLIES, does not offer any alternative scenarios. However, what it does include — in addition to the several multi-player versions of the game — is a number of optional rules to balance play in those games in which either the skills or the experience levels of the opposing players differ markedly. These handy designer suggestions make it particularly easy to introduce brand new players to the game and, at the same time, to still insure that such an introductory match is both a challenging and enjoyable contest for everyone involved.


As anyone who has taken the time to read my game profiles of AFTER THE HOLOCAUST (1977) and DUNE (1979) can surmise, I am not, as a general rule, particularly fond of Sci-Fi wargames. Hypothetical conflict simulations like FULDA GAP (1977) or THE NEXT WAR (1978) which are — ostensibly, at least — based on good faith estimates of (then) existing force structures and contemporaneous military doctrines fall, in my view, into a completely different category; these types of games, because they are moored to reality, I often find both informative and fun to experiment with and play. In contrast, my feelings about most pure science fiction games usually falls somewhere between mild dislike and outright loathing. There are probably a number of reasons for my prejudice against this speculative genre of wargames, but the most compelling is probably that, with very few exceptions, these titles tend to be both poorly conceived and sloppily executed. I don’t know why, but even good designers seem to get a little silly when they work with science fiction topics. Even more importantly — for me, at least — these game designs rarely turn out to be either particularly interesting or even much fun to play.

There is, of course, always the exception to any rule. And in my case, that exception is the (near future) science fiction game, FORTRESS AMERICA. Against all odds, I have to confess that I really like this cleverly-designed, and nicely executed ‘hypothetical invasion of the U.S.’ board game quite a lot; which is, I have to confess, a bit surprising because I really detested SPI’s tedious and poorly-conceived treatment of virtually the same topic, INVASION: AMERICA (1976). Although the older Dunnigan game attempted to break some new ground, the novelty of using ‘untried units’ added nothing of real value to the SPI game and the air rules were a shambles. Not everyone, of course, will share my deep disappointment with the 1976 SPI title, but at least it appears that, when it comes to FORTRESS AMERICA, I am not alone in my positive opinion of the newer game. According to http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/99/fortress-america, FORTRESS AMERICA currently holds an impressive ‘Geek’ (approval) rating of 6.70/10. This is no mean accomplishment for a game that was published almost a quarter century ago; and that, when it first appeared, was referred to dismissively by more than a few old-time players — myself, included — as “RISK (1959) on Steroids.” That all changed for me and, I suspect for many other players after my first real attempt at playing the game as it was actually intended, with three experienced opponents. The plastic playing pieces may have given the title a CHUTES AND LADDERS (1943) look, but the actual game, I discovered, played very well.

I also suspect that one of the reasons that FORTRESS AMERICA has held up as strongly as it has over time is that the game can be either as simple or as subtle as individual players want to make it. For the casual gamer, it is a fast-moving and exciting slugging match between powerful and relentless Invaders and out-numbered, but tenacious Americans: a sort of board game version of the movie, “Red Dawn.” On the other hand, despite this game’s (hopefully) unlikely premise, its simple game system along with its sometimes wild unpredictability both combine to increase its ‘beer and pretzels’ appeal to the more adventuresome among hardcore players. Of course, for some people in the hobby, games like FORTRESS AMERICA that use little plastic figures of infantrymen, planes and tanks are never going to be that appealing; I understand this prejudice only too well as I was once guilty of it, myself. Nonetheless, speaking as someone who has actually played hundreds of different titles over the years, including a variety of monster games — I and several of my friends, for example, belong to that very small band of dedicated (crazy?) players who have actually played both DNO/UNT (1973) and WAR IN THE EAST (1974) to some sort of historically legitimate conclusion — I personally think that the game architecture of FORTRESS AMERICA contains a number of elements that should intrigue seasoned players. Nor do I offer this endorsement of the game without a bit of thought.

For one thing, FORTRESS AMERICA has a surprising amount of variability and depth built into its relatively simple design platform. Starting with a dystopian ‘future war’ invasion scenario, the game presents its players with a classic military situation: a dispersed, unprepared defender suddenly forced to fight against powerful enemy forces which are all attacking simultaneously on several separate and unconnected fronts. For another, the action-packed, easy-to-learn game system of FORTRESS AMERICA along with its simple ‘move-fight-move’ turn sequence allows players to focus on the strategic elements of the individual battles for control of territories, rather than become bogged down by complicated and confusing rules, and overly-detailed game subroutines. In short, the logical simplicity of the game system allows players to focus their attention on the type of campaign that they want to wage, their short-term and long-range strategic goals, and the territorial gains necessary to fulfill their strategic goals as the game progresses.

Every game of FORTRESS AMERICA will tend to follow its own unique slightly different trajectory because every game will see the U.S. player draw his random ‘Partisan Cards’ in a different order. Nonetheless, some events will repeat themselves in game after game. For example, competent play on the part of the Invading forces’ different commanders will almost always produce rapid Invader territorial gains; famous American cities, one after another, will fall. However, as the campaign grinds on, the once irresistible invading armies will gradually lose combat power through constant battlefield attrition, and the interlopers’ garrisons in the rear areas will steadily become more and more vulnerable to sudden, violent attacks from American partisan forces. Because of this built in game dynamic, most contests will become a ‘nail-biting’ race by the foreign attackers to crush the last pockets of American resistance before the steady influx of fresh units, Lasers, and partisans finally turns the tide against the invading armies. Often, as the game approaches its conclusion — sometime between the sixth to eighth game turn — victory or defeat will hang on the outcomes of a few final, all-or-nothing battles fought for the control of one or two key cities in the American heartland. In addition, unlike many of the more complicated, denser invasion games that have appeared over the years, FORTRESS AMERICA requires only a few hours to play, and not the many, many hours of concerted table-time that most of these other, more detailed, titles demand.

FORTRESS AMERICA, despite its many good points, is still probably not for everyone. Traditional players with a taste for complicated, richly-textured simulations with elaborate, multi-phase game systems will undoubtedly find this title both too simple and, because of its use of plastic game figures, just a bit too juvenile for their liking. Nonetheless, I heartily recommend FORTRESS AMERICA to almost any other type of player, from rank beginner to seasoned expert. In short, FORTRESS AMERICA is a great introductory game, a blast to play for casual players, and still manages to deliver an exciting, surprise-filled change of pace for experienced gamers.

For those players who are interested in game variants or would like additional information relating to FORTRESS AMERICA, or to any of the other AXIS & ALLIES - based games, visit: http://www.grognard.com/ .

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 week per game turn (estimated)
  • Map Scale: not given (area movement)
  • Unit Size: brigade/division, air wing (estimated)
  • Unit Types: infantry, partisans (USA only), mobile unit, hovertank, helicopter, bomber, laser complex (USA only) and city markers
  • Number of Players: two to four (best with four players)
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 3 + hours

Game Components:

  • One 19½” x 33” area movement Map Board (with Terrain Key and Invasion Zones incorporated)

  • 313 plastic Military Pieces (extra replacement pieces are included)
  • 45 City and Laser Pieces (extra replacement pieces are included)
  • One 8½” x 11” FORTRESS AMERICA Gameplay Manual (2nd Edition)
  • One 8” x 10” back-printed Reference Card
  • 30 USA Partisan Cards
  • 90 back-printed cardboard Control/Battle Markers
  • 12 back-printed cardboard Laser Markers
  • 12 six to ten-sided Dice
  • One 8½” x 11” Game Piece Removal Instructions
  • One 8½” x 11” Milton Bradley Product Ad Slick
  • One 4½” x 12” x 20” Game Box (with 32 compartment Storage Tray)

Recommended Related Viewing

This MGM feature film directed by John Milius and released in 1984 stars Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey and Charlie Sheen with Powers Boothe and Harry Dean Stanton.  It envisions a similar invasion of America and is available in both a Collector's Edition and Blu-Ray.


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