FORT SUMTER by Mark Herman is a 2-player card driven American Civil War game from GMT Games.
It is unusual in as much as it is a 'war' game without any actual 'war'. It is a 20-30 minute game set during the secession period in Virginia (April 1861) prior to the Confederacy leaving the United States and beginning the American Civil War.
There are just 8 pages of Rules which makes this one of less complex board/tabletop wargames I have seen and played. There is another booklet, the Playbook, which takes you through an illustrated example of play, but only fully through Round 1 of 3, after describing Round 1 it continues that Rounds 2 & 3 are played in the same manner. The example of play is well illustrated and documented and my suggestion to players new to the game is to locate the exact cards described in (and throughout) the example and play/walk through each step methodically. This doesn't take long but it will teach you all you need to know about the game, even giving reasons for why each card is selected and played, not many game examples are as succinct or as specific.
Each Round is a series of card versus card, each player choosing one card from their hand of four, from these only three will be played in this phase, the fourth card will be used in the 'Final Crisis' (the fifth phase of the Round). Most cards have a choice of Events but some have a single Action. The Events can be Neutral, Secessionist or Unionist meaning that either player can activate them, or only the Secessionist/Unionist player can action them. All cards have a value (the number in the top left corner) which may be in a Blue or a Gray background; this colour doesn't prevent either player using the card to gain the number of tokens from their supply and placing them on the board.
The game is basically about control. You have to use the cards you have to their best advantage so that you can control the necessary areas on the board - deliberately colour coded and shaped, specific 'pivotal' spaces are double bordered - these are, as their title suggests, pivotal to a sides success in the political discussions - for this is sort of what the game is, a political tug of war. If the Unionists win (the goal is to capture Fort Sumter through politics) then the American Civil War is off to a different start. For history fans (or anyone interested) there were two Battles at Fort Sumter, 1861 and 1863, and both won by the Confederates, though at the cost of the Fort being demolished almost to rubble during the second battle - the Rebel flag flying proudly high above the broken and crumbling, but still defiant, stones.
The cards you play allow you to position, move, place tokens onto the map. These are taken from the players own Token Pool which, at the beginning of the game, is empty. Thus the tokens are first removed from the higher number spaces on the token track to the board but when removed from the board they return not to the track but to the pool. Managing your opponent's pool is a strong tactic as it prevents them from using the tokens in their pool and thus receiving the bonus tokens made available when certain spaces on the track are reached.
The fourth phase of card play is the playing of the Objective cards - at the start of the game each player is dealt two Objective cards from which they choose one to keep. Objective cards can gain you Victory points in several different ways, one of which is controlling the area or areas on the board pertaining to the Objective card you hold - in other words the Objective card gives another purpose to your play so make sure you choose wisely, or at least play towards your goal. The card you have left in your hand is put to one side, face down, and not picked up until the endgame.
You play the four phases three times, going through the same rules each time, so that after the third Turn you have three cards face down to one side.
The Final Crisis, a twist to the basic rules, has the players secretly arranging the three cards they put aside. These are then played and resolved one at a time simultaneously. If one player is ready before the other they can, if they wish, place their chosen card face down in front of them until the other player has chosen. Through this phase the only part of the cards that count are the colour bars along the bottom of each card. If the colours match players get to remove tokens from a space that relates to the colour on the card. If the colours do not match then in turn each player can move tokens from their pool to the board or from spaces on the board to other spaces on the board into 'any combination' of their card's colour.
It is the sentence "All removed tokens go to their respective token pool" and the previous text "... can move up to two tokens from any map space .... " that makes me say you need to read the rules carefully, because although it seems clear in the text that you can move any tokens it is not specified as a rule/tactic that this means yours only or yours and/or your opponents tokens. This can be misinterpreted or interpreted as you wish. This may of course be one of those occasions where I may have misread the rules and then continued to play game after game using the rules as I understand or misunderstand them. Rightly or wrongly I play that you can move any token yours and/or your opponents and it hasn't spoiled my enjoyment of the game at all, in fact it is good strategically and tactically.
As I said at the beginning, this is a 'war' game without a 'war'. If you are a collector of GMT Games American Civil War publications then I suggest you spend 20-30 minutes playing this and then go on to either "FOR the PEOPLE" or the "The US CIVIL WAR" as to my understanding these are the only games that chronologically follow and cover the first Battle for Fort Sumter. Many of the other GMT ACW games cover the regular Bull Runs, Gettysburg, battles etc.
After the Secession Crisis (this game) there were several "Battles of ..." Fort Sumter; Sewell's Point, Aquia Creek, Philippi, Big Bethel, Boonville, Hoke's Run, Carthage, Rich Mountain and Blackburn's Ford, these being mostly sea or land skirmishes, before you get to the first Bull Run/Manassas which has been over documented and made into several tabletop games. As always the components are GMT top quality; cards, board, regular small cube tokens and Meeples. Extra pieces in case of loss (Meeple, Blue, Gray and Yellow markers) but surprisingly no spare zip-loc bags which is very unusual for a GMT game. American Civil War and tabletop enthusiasts will appreciate this game, even with its slightly expensive (for a card game) rrp of $42.00.
The American Civil War provides a great source for wargame designers, GMT Games have at least 15 that cover different Battles, or the same battles from different perspectives, and so it was a pleasant change to be in at the political crisis meeting that determined the splitting of a Nation. Players who enjoyed GMT's "Nixon/Kennedy" game or found it rather too complex will find FORT SUMTER a much easier and more friendly non-war dramatisation.