Games Explained: Fort Sumter by Mark Herman & GMT Games

Welcome to Katie’s Game Corner and welcome to a new series of posts, where I will be trying to help you understand some of the games that I think are the most accessible when it comes to wargames and historical boardgames. There are so many amazing games out there, new and old, that can seem so intimidating at first, when in reality, they just need a little bit of love and little bit of explaining. The first game I’m going to talk about in this series is Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis 1860 – 1861 by Mark Herman. A game that ticked a lot of boxes for me and a great game to kick off the series.

Fort Sumter takes all of the best parts of a well curated card driven game and condenses them into a 25 minute game, portraying the Secession Crisis of 1860, and being a 2 player game that does truly play in around 25 minutes, it is so accessible due to play time, set up and ease of learning and so easy to get to the table without losing the strategy of a longer wargame. During the game, one side will depict the Unionists and one side will depict Seccessionists as you take on a political tug-of-war, gaining points each round. 

During the game, the Unionist player represents the people that were opposed to the disunion of the northern and southern states and uses the blue tokens during the game. The Secessionist player represents a political movement attempting to preserve a dying culture built on slave labour. It’s an important piece of history to learn about and Herman helps us to do that with his extensive playbook and thoughtful design. 

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The Attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861 began the American Civil War. Confederate Brigadier Gen. Beauregard demanded the surrender of the Union garrison of Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC. It’s a piece of history that I didn’t know a lot about when discovering Fort Sumter but lots of research and interest in the game changed that. Herman has taken a time in history that was horrifying and treated the subject with much elegance and respect, Fort Sumter doesn’t glorify the events that happened but rather, breaks them down into tiny capsules of information in the form of event cards that anybody can digest. Trying to condense that historical event into a brief blog post is proving to be difficult, so I included the playbook so that you can have a read of Mark Herman’s short explanation. He really does it a lot more justice than I ever could and explains it so well. You can find that here: PLAYBOOK

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One of the main mechanisms in Fort Sumter is the card driven game system in which you will use strategy cards during your turn to take actions. These actions can be used for the value on the card to place tokens onto the board or used for the historical event, which will also instruct you to place or remove different tokens on the board. The cards are combined with an area control mechanic to place, move and remove those tokens. The location of the political capital tokens determines who controls different areas of the board.

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It’s a quick game. The first time I played it I think it took around 45 minutes. After that, it was easily a 25-30 minute game. A game that grabs you. As soon as you’ve stopped playing, I can guarantee you will want to play again. It scratches that itch of playing a political boardgame without having to set up a million counters, 500 cards and a whole lot of table space, without compromising gameplay, strategy or depth which is a huge bonus.

There are three rounds during the game, finished with the Final Crisis phase. Each round, there are certain actions you will take during your turn, which are all card driven. You’ll get four strategy cards, and two objective cards to choose from and you’ll only keep one of these cards. Both players will then take turns playing the strategy cards for their value or events until both players have played three cards. You’ll be using these cards to try and take control of different areas of the board, as if you were trying to take control of different states and pivotal spaces. You will set aside the fourth card for the Final Crisis phase. The Final Crisis phase is scored in a different way to the rest of the game and it’s worth remembering that throughout the game. 

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After playing all of your cards, there will be some scoring and onto the next round. A very brief overview of how the game works but a way to help you understand. The actions that you take during the game are simple, it’s the thought that you put into those actions that takes a lot of careful planning and creates a tense game throughout. There’s a lot of decisions to be made and you only have the time and hand size to commit to some of those decisions. 

Fort Sumter is a bit like Twilight Struggle’s younger sibling or 13 Days’ sophisticated cousin, it’s the perfect entry to the card driven system and uses similar mechanisms to those we know and love. It won’t provide you with a detailed insight into what happened during this historical event but it will certainly give you a taste…